No one who had known Will Elliot during any period of his life could have hoped for him to be anything other than what he had always been.
Reaching for the last cardboard sleeve from the depleted pile next to the stirrers, he turned towards the curious woman at his side, who, he thought, had just issued a pointed sigh. Her coffee cup was naked, desperately needful of the item which he had just obtained, and which he thoroughly intended to use in clothing his own cup.
He smiled winningly at the lady, whose eyes, incredulous, stalked his morally unburdened passage across the coffee shop and out of the swinging door.
Such was Will’s way.
Crossing the busy road with a confident stride and unhurried pace (which seemed, unaccountably, to provoke some horn-beeping), Will entered the glossy-fronted office building which housed him from nine to five.
‘Alright Tina?’ He always issued the casual greeting to the receptionist, but she’d learnt by now not to give a response unless she wanted to be reminded of her severe insignificance when Will completely ignored her answer.
Noticing the cough-plagued colleague who had just entered behind him, Will hastened past Tina’s desk and swept into the lift, hitting the ‘close’ button repeatedly. The shutting doors were a little more lethargic than he would have liked, and caused him to be put under the tiresome obligation of feigning mystification as Bob gestured, waving his tissue and benevolently flinging germs all over his surroundings, to hold the lift.
Intensely irritating to Will, especially since Bob could just have easily taken the stairs and polluted their atmosphere instead, without putting Will to the trouble of having to display a degree of politeness.
He arrived at floor six to a chorus of chattering flamingos, who hushed one another and dispersed as he passed the water cooler.
‘Kelly’s had to leave, Mr Elliot,’ chirped Lisa as Will approached his office door, ‘her daughter was sick at school, poor dear.’
Even Will’s grimace of acknowledgement was difficult to adopt, considering how little the child meant to him, and how it really was more inconvenient to be missing one permanent employee on a team full of temps than to manage for a whole day at school without Mum as an on-call nurse.
‘Jeff’s said he’ll cover, Mr Elliot, so no bother. He’s happy to stay late, what with the wife on her girls’ holiday and all.’
‘The person, be it mother or father, who allows their child to catch such infectious diseases must be intolerably stupid, Lisa. Jeff needs to stay late anyway to finish that report. Kelly will just have to log on from home, or catch up on Monday.’
‘Right, Mr Elliot.’ Timid little Lisa seemed somewhat troubled but Will, never bothering to delve deeper into the potential causes of his employees’ upset, ignored her disbelieving stare and entered the cocoon of his office. Reclining in his expensively-orthopaedic office chair, Will turned on the fan adjacent to his desk.
Through the glass panels on either side of his door which afforded him a view (however many potted plants he tried to place in front of it) of the entire floor and its picturesque grey cubicles, he watched the overheating bumble bees working away at their machines in much the same way that King Eurystheus might have sat back and relaxed while Hercules conducted his twelve labours. It really was an unfortunate happenstance that the little workers didn’t have any air conditioning on such a sweltering day.
But it is a truth universally acknowledged that a manager in supervision of such a large staff must be entitled to some extra privileges for his dedication and generosity. So Will had no cause to feel guilty about having the beautifully ventilated air all to himself.
A sudden burst of verbosity and tears issued forth before Will had even noticed that the door had been opened, entered through and once more closed.
‘Mr Elliot, it will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you – ‘, Shelley blew her nose before continuing, ‘how jolly unfair it is that none of us got our bonuses this quarter. Now we’ve all been under a lot of stress and I think to stop them just like that without any hint of an explanation or apology of some form is just quite simply…’
The more Will saw of this office, the more he was convinced that he would never see an employee whom he could really admire, or attribute any degree of competency to. He was quite sure that he’d sent a perfectly clear email to the entire team, outlining their unacceptable level of grumbling since his promotion to team leader as the main cause of his suspending the bonus. He knew that he’d laid out the details of their individual weaknesses, for the sake of their own improvement, and that he’d asked his secretary to forward the email to everyone. Their indignity and pretence of ignorance was simply mystifying.
‘Shelley, you pierce my very soul,’ he cut in, disregarding the fact that she was still babbling away, ‘I am half-agony, hearing your sorry tale, but half-hope, that I may be able to convince Mr Davis to reconsider. I’ll look into it.’
‘Mr Davis, sir? Oh I am dreadfully sorry. That’s ever so kind of you. You see I thought – ‘
‘Never mind, never mind. Just close the door behind you.’
Shelley scuttled out, thanking him once more, and he watched her report the news to her fellow flamingos, at the water cooler just behind the pillar, which they presumably thought Will couldn’t see from his office. Davis really would be better able to deal with a matter like that than Will.
The remainder of the day passed uneventfully, with just a few emails to send, deferring tasks which suited others better than himself; skilfully practising the art of delegation, much to the advantage of his own workload.
As Will took the lift down to the car park on the lower level, he recalled his lucky escape from Bob earlier. Imagine how awful it would have been if he’d ended up like Kelly’s sickly child.
His step on the concrete echoed in the petrol-tainted air of the underground enclosure as he clicked the key to unlock his blue Audi, parked in the spot adjacent to the lift which he had just exited. He commended himself on his proposal (approved at a recent board meeting) to allow managerial staff priority parking.
Sliding into the driver’s seat just as Miranda, one of his staff, emerged from the lift, burdened with a laptop bag and three lever arch files, and supported by thin heels, he nodded without returning her half-wave.
‘There weren’t any spaces this morning. Had to park across the road – and with all these bloody things to carry. But what can you do?’ she laughed.
‘What can you do?’ Will repeated with the obligatory sympathetic smile, pulling the door to as Miranda tottered off with her cargo.
Let other pens dwell on moral revelation and reform; I quit such impossible subjects before even attempting to embark upon them, knowing full well that Will would remain as selfish as ever he had, always maintaining that frustrating obliviousness to the fault which made it so very charming.
I wrote this for the JaneAusten200 short story competition, which asked for a response to this quote from Mansfield Park, in 2,017 words or fewer: ‘Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure’.
Check out the winning entries here:
Let me know if you think you’ve spotted all the Austen allusions 🙂