Unsplash provided by photograph Greg Rakozy
[Is the Sky Blue? - flash story]
"Is it possible?" Gary asked, standing in the cubicle entrance, laying his hands on either post so he spanned the opening like a door or barricade.
Eugene stared at his computer screen, struggling to find the appropriate words to answer. Internally, he felt shaking from the constant stress start again. "Well, with the deadlines and personnel available--"
"I asked you a yes or no question," his boss and company owner gritted out. "Why do you always make it complicated? I want this done. The client, one of our best, wants this. Your job is to make it done. Understood?"
Gripping his hands under the desk, Eugene froze his face before turning toward Gary Bergerson, "Yes, sir."
"Great, I want to see the budget on my desk by three so I can present the numbers to Naylor Holdings tonight."
"Yes, sir." Eugene responded, mentally canceling his lunch and two other urgent tasks in his head for people other than the owner. As soon as Gary walked away, he called the beta team supervisor and the accounting manager to rearrange meetings.
He had the printout on Gary's desk five minutes before three. It would have been faster to email it, but the owner hated email, insisting on the personal touch. Privately Eugene wondered if the boss had dyslexia since he refused to read anything longer than a few sentences. Eugene had been reprimanded several times with, "I need the bottom line, not explanations."
"What the hell are these numbers?"
Eugene's developing ulcer, which worsened whenever he skipped meals, twisted at the explosion. He squeezed his hands to control the shaking. "The budget you requested for Naylor Holdings, sir."
"Are you kidding me? They just want a small tweak to our basic program. It shouldn't take longer than a couple weeks at best!" Gary roared.
"Sir, the change is hardly small. At least 200 lines of code will need changing. Then program will need to be tested. And they have backward compatibility built into their contract--"
Gary interrupted. "Twelve weeks? They need it in four."
"I understand the time frame sir, which is why I made two budgets. The first was least cost scenario since you were doing this as a favor." Eugene gestured to the report, and Gary started turning pages. "If you look at the second budget, that includes rearranging personnel from other projects--"
"And we lose the early finish bonus on the Birt contract. What the fuck? Getting it done in three weeks basically will cost us a year's profit? You told me this was possible."
"Sir, as I tried to explain earlier, our personnel are stretched at the--"
"You know Scott, I am tired of your bullshit. You are fired."
"Get the fuck out of my office."
Hands still shaking, Eugene walked out thinking, Well that wasn't so bad. He nodded to Gary's secretary, then stopped a second. "Could you ask Mike to meet me my desk immediately?"
"Certainly Mr. Scott, what shall I tell him it is about?" The immaculate secretary pushed a button, turning on her hands-free phone.
"It's a security concern. Tell him it would be good if he got there before me."
Mike was still huffing when Eugene strolled into his cubicle where he had been managing the three programming teams and the quality testing department, forty people in all. Only the owner and his brother-in-law, the head of sales, rated rooms with doors.
"What's up, Gene?"
"I've been fired and thought you would like to see me pack up." Eugene put down the empty box he picked up when he passed the copier on his way back.
"Fuck, and congratulations." Mike shook his head. Programming, accounting, and security were at odds with sales, and they all hated being there since the original owner had retired and passed on the company to his youngest son two years ago but the economy meant the resumees most of the managers have been sending out hadn't received much in the way of response. The Director of Human Resources was the most recent to successfully jump ship, but then Gary treated all of the women on the management team like crap, so she was willing to take a pay cut to switch companies. "He hasn't even called me, and he let you walk around unescorted?"
"Yep. Guess he didn't pay attention during the discussion we had after Angela left?" Angela had been the HR Director. At that time Programming and Security had sat down with all the managers to develop an exit strategy procedure. Requiring escort, locking out passwords and user names, and collecting equipment all had been covered. HR could have done a lot of damage with access to wipe out all payroll and personnel records. And that scenario didn't come close to what Eugene could do since he had overseen the programming of all the security measures. And unlike Angela, he had been actually fired instead of resigned.
"You're home early." Jordan gave Eugene a quick kiss on the cheek when she came into the kitchen where he was washing dishes. The clock only showed six; usually Eugene pulled twelve-hour days plus a commute, leaving home at six am and getting home often after nine.
Eugene nodded, his face still frozen from the morning argument and his voice deadened. "Got fired today, so thought I would make lasagna. Should be ready to come out in another hour."
"I'm okay." He said, scrubbing the saucepan. "Really."
"No, you are not." His girlfriend stated, putting her hands over his in the suds. "Let that soak." She pushed gently on his hands until he let the pan sink to the bottom of the water. "Let's go talk."
Eugene looked over at the timer. On top of the stove was a baking pan lined with sliced bread covered in butter and garlic to put into the oven when the lasagna come out to rest. His eyes darted around the room, taking in everything there and the nearby dining room visible from the kitchen.
"The wine on ice." Jordan opened the fridge. "The salad is ready. You got everything ready. Even the table is set and the candles are ready to go. Come on." She pulled him to the living room.
"I just wanted everything good." He explained as she leaned against him on the sofa. "You do so much. Making the food, cleaning house, everything. I thought I could do something."
"It's okay. You were working sixty and seventy hour weeks."
Eugene looked down at his lap where his hands were gripped together. He still felt like he was shaking. "And now I'm not."
"We have money saved. It's okay."
"I hate job hunting." Eugene whispered.
"I know." Jordan pulled her feet on the couch and leaned closer. Eugene wasn't much for touching in public, but he would hold onto her at night.
Releasing his fists, his arm went around her, pulling her head into his shoulder. "I hate working...for people."
"Same as always." He told her about trying to explain the juggling of priorities to the owner, the interruption and demands, and the end result of the budget. She responded with all the appropriate sighs and sympathies, asking questions to pull the teeth of the story.
After Eugene had finally wound down, Jordan asked, "Why do you think you have so much trouble?"
"People say they want precision and truth in their analysis, and they really don't."
"Well, do you think you could learn to say 'yes' or 'no'? It would help soothe things." She suggested, having run into the issue with him at home.
"I've tried." He kissed her on the forehead. "But people think they are asking a yes or no question and they really aren't. I'm an analyst; my job is to make certain the management has the tools to make an informed decision. I would not be doing my job if I didn't make sure they understood the question they were really asking."
"That kind of arrogance really puts the management on edge, hon."
"I know." He shrugged, bouncing her head a little. "But I just can't be a 'yes' man. If you were management, shouldn't you know what things really cost? Not just in money, but time and resources?"
"Yes, I guess so." She changed position so she could watch his face better, putting her feet in his lap to keep physical contact he needed even if he wouldn't admit the comfort of touch. "But don't managers know how to ask the questions? After all they are the managers."
"No, they don't."
"Well, they ask bad questions." He started removing her shoes, looking pensively down while she tried to read the emotions on his frozen face.
"Okay, so give me an example."
"They ask questions like, 'Is the sky blue?'" He frowned at her slightly swollen ankles.
She worked museum and spent most of her day on her feet. They had met just over a year ago when he reported a display description was incorrect. He had been right to the annoyance of her management. Two things he excelled at, being right and being annoying. But he had paid for the new plaque, and then asked her out on a first date ... a year ago today. How had he remember when she hadn't? That had to be what the lasagna was about. She had remembered the day they had met two months ago, and he had gotten her flowers the next day as an apology. Guess he didn't want to be caught out again on another anniversary.
"Yeeesss?" She stated the obvious answer to the question, not sure where he was going.
Eugene looked over at her, and his face finally unfroze enough for a twitch of a smile. "Except when it is not." His hands wrapped her ankles and started massaging. "Is it blue right now?" He nodded at the picture window in the living room.
"Well, yes--no, it's sunset. Wow, the sky is spectacular right now."
"Yeah, in another hour it will be black. And then there are clouds, so the sky can be blue AND white, or just white, or gray if cloudy enough, even black. During tornadoes, it is green." He glanced up at her again as his voice gained its usual cadence. "So, really, the sky is usually a color other than blue. It is black at least half the time for night, and may be any of a number of other of colors during the day. So, is the sky blue - yes or no?"
The alarm buzzed. Gently moving her feet, Eugene got up and went to the oven.
Standing up, she followed him into the kitchen. "I get it." She watched as he pulled out the lasagna. "So questions like, 'is the sun shining?' really bug you."
"Actually that one is a yes." he said, putting the garlic bread in for a quick toast.
"Is the sun shining? It is always yes."
She sputtered a moment while he handed her the salad and dressings. "What about night?"
"Just because we can't see it, does not stop the sun from shining." Eugene's brown eyes twinkled as he grinned.
Following him with the food, Jordan shook her head in disbelief as he placed the lasagna on the table. "Because it is a star. So for rhetorical type questions where people expect a yes-or-no answer, you can't give one and ones where they really are asking a question about status about if it will rain soon, you give them a yes-or-no which really isn't the answer to the question they were asking."
He held out her seat, and she sat down.
"People don't know how to ask questions." He went back into the kitchen just as the garlic bread smell entered the dining room.
"You are a crazy analyst; you know that right?" Jordan yelled after him.
Bringing back the bread on a serving plate, he placed it on the table before grabbing her ponytail and pulling back her head then kissing her thoroughly. "Yes, and you love me."
After she remembered how to breathe, she responded while he poured the wine, "Yes. Lord grant me patience, I do."
"And I love you." Eugene sat down across from her at the table. "Will you marry me?"
"Is that a yes-or-no question?" She smirked at him.
He burst out in true laughter for the first time in months. The job had been killing him inside-out. "Yes, it is a yes-or-no question."
THE END AND BEGINNING
(words 2,103 - 1st publication 1/31/2016)