Excerpt of Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
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You Don't Know
What's in My Heart
WE WERE FRACTIOUS AND overpaid. Our mornings lacked
promise. At least those of us who smoked had something to look
forward to at ten-fifteen. Most of us liked most everyone, a few of
us hated specific individuals, one or two people loved everyone and
everything. Those who loved everyone were unanimously reviled.
We loved free bagels in the morning. They happened all too infrequently.
Our benefits were astonishing in comprehensiveness and
quality of care. Sometimes we questioned whether they were
worth it. We thought moving to India might be better, or going
back to nursing school. Doing something with the handicapped or
working with our hands. No one ever acted on these impulses,
despite their daily, sometimes hourly contractions. Instead we met
in conference rooms to discuss the issues of the day.
Ordinarily jobs came in and we completed them in a timely
and professional manner. Sometimes fuckups did occur. Printing
errors, transposed numbers. Our business was advertising and details
were important. If the third number after the second hyphen in a
client's toll-free number was a six instead of an eight, and if it went
to print like that, and showed up in Time magazine, no one reading
the ad could call now and order today. No matter they could go
to the website, we still had to eat the price of the ad. Is this boring
you yet? It bored us every day. Our boredom was ongoing, a collective
boredom, and it would never die because we would never die.
Lynn Mason was dying. She was a partner in the agency.
Dying? It was uncertain. She was in her early forties. Breast
cancer. No one could identify exactly how everyone had come to
know this fact.Was it a fact? Some people called it rumor. But in
fact there was no such thing as rumor. There was fact, and there
was what did not come up in conversation. Breast cancer was controllable
if caught in the early stages but Lynn may have waited
too long. The news of Lynn brought Frank Brizzolera to mind.
We recalled looking at Frank and thinking he had six months,
tops. Old Brizz, we called him. He smoked like a fiend. He stood
outside the building in the most inclement weather, absorbing
Old Golds in nothing but a sweater vest. Then and only then, he
looked indomitable. When he returned inside, nicotine stink preceded
him as he walked down the hall, where it lingered long after
he entered his office. He began to cough, and from our own offices
we heard the working-up of solidified lung sediment. Some people
put him on their Celebrity Death Watch every year because of the
coughing, even though he wasn't an official celebrity. He knew it,
too, he knew he was on death watch, and that certain wagering
individuals would profit from his death. He knew it because he
was one of us, and we knew everything.
We didn't know who was stealing things from other people's
workstations. Always small items - postcards, framed photographs.
We had our suspicions but no proof. We believed it was
probably not for the loot so much as the excitement - the
shoplifter's addictive kick, or maybe it was a pathological cry for
help. Hank Neary, one of the agency's only black writers, asked,
"Come on, now - who would want my travel toothbrush?"
We didn't know who was responsible for putting the sushi roll
behind Joe Pope's bookshelf. The first couple of days Joe had no
clue about the sushi. Then he started taking furtive sniffs at his
pits, and holding the wall of his palm to his mouth to get blowback
from his breath. By the end of the week, he was certain it wasn't
him. We smelled it, too. Persistent, high in the nostrils, it became
worse than a dying animal. Joe's gorge rose every time he entered
his office. The following week the smell was so atrocious the
building people got involved, hunting the office for what turned
out to be a sunshine roll - tuna, whitefish, salmon, and sprouts.
Mike Boroshansky, the chief of security, kept bringing his tie up to
his nose, as if he were a real cop at the scene of a murder.
Copyright © 2007 by Joshua Ferris. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Little Brown and Company.