ACT ONE

The office manager pulls me aside. She catches me Monday morning coming out of the elevator.

“Um, hello. If you have time now, can I talk to you about your hours last month?”

Sweaty palms, a hard swallow, stomach-dropping sensation. “Of course. I have some time.”

We walk around the corner into her office. I sit down across from her and take a sudden interest in the framed flower prints she has hanging behind her desk.

“Last month you had sixty hours of 1901 with no narrative.”

The case code 1901 designates ‘general overhead’ and is billed to the company rather than a client. The majority of the time you bill to 1901 when you work on internal company projects that have no relation to outside cases. In my case, I bill to 1901 when I cannot remember what I did on a given day or if I didn’t do anything at all.

“I’m assuming it wasn’t all down-time,” she says, eyes blinking rapidly.

“No, not at all,” I reply.

“Right. Well look, from now on you need to include a narrative to explain what you were doing, even if it’s just a few lines.”

“Oh, right. I didn’t know we needed to include narratives for 1901 entries. I thought it was only for specific cases.”

Inner monologue screams: lies! Damned lies!

We exchange pleasantries and wrap things up. I walk back to my cubicle burdened by the irrefutable fact that the hammer has dropped. It’s time to buckle down.

ACT TWO

The end of the month rolls around and I go online to fill out my timesheet. Once again I’ve failed and there are an inordinate number of entries billed to 1901, a clear indication that I have not been working. I start to fill out the first entry.

Case Code: 1901
Narrative: Photocopied marketing documents for backup binder.

Ok. It’s not so hard to come up with plausible narratives. I fill out the next few entries but then creative urges take over.

Case Code: 1901
Narrative: Heroically moved storage boxes from 14th floor to 10th floor.

Case Code: 1901
Narrative: Wrestled with thoughts of own mortality and endured a spiraling existential panic. Also, used hole-puncher without injuring self.

Case Code: 1901
Narrative: Switched the transmitter to a sub-government frequency and contacted Igor Krynzinski in Human Resources. Informed him that Delta Black Eagle was live and told him to take out the secondary targets first. Shredded any remaining evidence. Completed covert strike on the 14th floor where I successfully repossessed three coffee mugs, seven NutriGrain bars, a box of sugar packets, a half-full Honey Bear, and a photo of the VP’s 3rd wife.

I thought of sophomore year. I thought of  F. Scott Fitzgerald. I clicked on the final entry of the month.

Case Code: 1901
Narrative: He walked briskly through the dimming hallways of William, Pierce, & Lord, his footsteps echoing off the marble floors like the long-forgotten thoughts & premonitions. Reaching the building’s eastern-most office, he adjusted his white seersucker blazer, combed back his hair, and knocked three times on the ancient oak door. With a slow gracefulness she opened the door to let him in. “Caroline,” he began. “Wait,” she said, her strained voice stopping him where he stood. She looked up at him with her pale green eyes, eyes that hinted at things unsaid, sacred truths yet to be shared, at the unspeakable moment they shared that summer twilight before the war, holding each other in the glow of effervescent lamplight on the front porch of her family’s estate. Her eyes held him there, pinned like a moth against the all-consuming flame. “Oh, I’m a sorry mess,” she exclaimed, tears filling her eyes. “The copier is jammed again!” He held her, realizing that this finite moment would never return, that the frailty of their love would crumble in the harsh light of his deception. She cried against his shoulder, her body wracked with doubt. “I know,” he said softly, feeling her slip away. “But the IT guys are on their lunch break.” The printer whirred in the background and the overhead the vast constellations spun indifferently.