I’m keeping my head down, low profile, hitting the keyboard and watching the day slowly grind away until I can clock out and become me again.
Soulless Boss has been going relatively easy on me lately. I say ‘relatively’ – he’s still an unspeakable cunt, of course, but it’s others who are taking the full force of his shitcannon, and while my heart may or may not bleed for them, I welcome the diversion.
I’m in my bubble… doing my work… doing my work… watching the clock… no alarms… no surprises…
I look up. Soulless Boss is stood with a suit who is smiling inanely at me.
Soulless Boss says, “Luci, this is Phil. He’s new, working in the offices. He’s on his orientation month and today he’s in our department. I want you to show him the ropes, give him a feel for what we do.”
I raise my eyebrows. This is something new. It’s years since anyone trusted me with new meat on their orientation month, not after what happened last time…
Soulless Boss is giving me The Glare. It says, ‘I don’t want a repeat what happened last time.’
I think about it. Obviously the temptation is there to have a little fun but I’m jaded. Older. I’ve taken too much shit recently, and If I’m honest, I really don’t need the hassle.
I sigh. “Okay, Phil. Pull up a chair.”
Phil pulls up a chair. Soulless Boss struts away.
I say, “Can I make you a drink, Phil?”
Phil says, “I suppose a beer is out of the question? HA HA HA!”
“Hmm. Ha. Yeah. We’re all out of tinnies, Phil, so it’s only tea or coffee for now.”
“I’ll have a tea.” He winks at me. “Brew it strong, yeah?”
“Yes. I’ll do that.” I realise that I despise Phil. It didn’t take long.
I make him his tea and I think he seems familiar but I can’t place him.
“Here’s your tea.”
“Ah! Magic!” He takes a slurp. “Nice and strong. *wink* Magic!”
Yes. I definitely despise Phil.
I show him the ropes. Open a few documents, explain the process. Reprographics.
Phil yawns. I can smell booze fumes on him. White wine, I think. I should know. It’s often my cologne of choice too. But Phil is new. I’d have thought he’d be keeping naughty little habits like that under wraps for the first few months, or weeks at least.
I hate Phil just a little less.
The afternoon drags on. Phil says he’s nipping to the loo. He disappears for half an hour. He comes back smelling of fags and Monster Munch. I try not to smile.
“Got lost?” I say.
I hate winkers.
Winkers are wankers.
While I show him ‘the ropes’ Phil keeps up a steady stream of petty complaints about the factory, about where his desk is, coffee breaks, holiday allocation, canteen food, bitching about fat people in the office, bitching about thin people in the office, bitching about smelly people in the office.
All valid points but I don’t want to hear them from him.
I don’t reply.
Phil falls silent.
Phil’s head starts to nod.
Phil falls asleep.
Gently snoring, Phil slumps slowly forwards gracefully, until his forehead touches the desk.
I watch, slightly mesmerised.
A streamer of drool comes out of his mouth and puddles on the desk.
I leave him like that, get on with my work.
Phil sleeps for an hour and twenty minutes. In that time he has a dream in which someone is chasing him (No! No! Get away! Get off me you bastard!) and he has a dream that is funny (Ha. Ha ha. HA HA HA HA HA! EEEEH, HA HA! Oh dear me, ha ha!) and he has a dream where he is a dog (woof woof woof grrrr pant pant woof).
I prefer all of this to having to talk to him and having him wink at me.
At four o’clock he sits bolt upright.
He slurs, “Dentisht appointment.”
He wipes the drool from his mouth onto his sleeve, grabs his bag, and without another word he leaves.
I watch him go, then get on with my work.
Twenty minutes later the I.T. manager, Judith, wanders over looking confused. She’s carrying two mugs of tea.
“Hi Luci. Erm… isn’t Phil the new chap sitting with you today, on his orientation thingy whatsit?”
I say, “He was but he’s gone. Dentist appointment, apparently.”
“But I brought him a cup of tea! Strong, how he likes it!”
“I’ll have it. Cheers.” I wink at her.
She frowns. “Oh. Ok. Well, technically he’s supposed to clear any dentists appointments with me, but… well… he’s new, I suppose. I’ll talk to him about that tomorrow. What’s that on your desk?”
“Yuck! Why have you got drool on your desk?”
“Ask Phil. He left it there.”
“Did he? Oh… well why don’t you clean it up?”
I look at her. “In case he wants it back.”
A long, drawn out, uncomfortable silence follows. Judith’s mouth opens and closes a few times.
I slurp my tea.
And then it suddenly comes to me why I recognize Phil.
I say, “Judith, who is Phil here to replace?”
She blinks a few times, smiles weakly. “He’s here to replace… Phil. You remember him?”
“Yes, Judith. Yes I do. Phil who had a chip on his shoulder?”
“Well, yes, yes he did. A bit. I suppose.”
“Phil who liked a bottle of wine or two of an evening? Phil who used to disappear for hours at a time? Phil who was always sneaking fags in the bogs?”
Blink blink blink, shaky lip, weak smile. “Yes. Phil.”
“Phil who was always bitching about his workmates? Phil who you thought was pissing in the kettle? Phil who set the unions on to you for attempted constructive dismissal and who won a payout and got you a written warning?”
Judith doesn’t answer. Her eyes are welling up.
“Malingering Phil? Disgruntled Phil? Absent Phil with the eight dead grandmas and twelve dead grandpas and the two hundred tooth extractions and the fictitious chemotherapy? Vet Phil and Doctor Phil and Dentist Phil? Phil the living fucking miracle because he should be dead after all the shit he’s had and days he’s had off, Lazarus Phil who rises from his death bed at the last minute before disciplinary procedures kick in? Is this the Phil we’re talking about here, Judith?”
Judith is still smiling but tears are rolling down her face. Poor, poor Judith. Poor Judith on sixty thousand a year, poor Judith who hasn’t got a clue what her job is supposed to be, poor Judith who spends her days making her staff cups of tea to keep them sweet and to stop them from telling the boss that she hasn’t got a fucking clue.
I sigh, pass her a tissue. “Just answer me this, Judith. You spend six years, six long years trying to get rid of Phil and eight months after he fucks off you hire a dead ringer with the same name, the same habits, the same bloody smell. Why?”
Judith blows her nose, wipes her eyes. Shrugs. “Better the devil you know, I suppose. You don’t know what you’re getting with new people, do you? They might be… they might…”
They might be good at their job. They might be better than you. They might be a threat. They might take your job. Better to make tea for the inadequate than be defeated by the competent.
I say none of this to Judith.
I say, “Maybe you’re right. Better the devil you know.”
I give her a smile and another tissue and she takes herself off to the toilets.
I hear Soulless Boss hiss in my ear: “You did it again, didn’t you?”
I say, “Yes. No. I don’t know. Maybe I did.”
He says, “I don’t know why I trust you, why the fuck I put up with you, Lucifer!”
I don’t turn around, just continue with my work.
I say, “Better the devil you know.”
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