Gallant looked at his watch, compared it to the time on his phone, and then the clock on the break-room wall. Knowing that his phone was the most accurate source, he adjusted his watch accordingly. He was tempted to adjust the clock on the wall, but there was no step-stool or ladder handy, and he knew one should never stand on a chair when one wants to reach something up high.
He opened up his lunch, which he brought from home, and packed the night before so he didn’t have to do it in the morning. An apple, a salad with chicken breast, a bottle of water, and a bag of carrots and celery. He wished that it was Hummus Friday, so he could have something to dip the carrots and celery into, but it was Wednesday. Gallant knew it was important to give yourself things to look forward to. He knew a treat every day ceased to be a treat.
That didn’t mean that the afternoon was devoid of treats. He got to work ten minutes early, which meant he could take his lunch ten minutes early as well. He also planned to work ten minutes later, which meant that, if he wanted, he could have a full forty minutes for lunch. The thought of all of that free time made him giddy for a second, but he quickly calmed down. He knew that too much free time led to idle complacency, and quietly scolded himself for thinking it in the first place.
His moment of self-reflection was shattered by his co-worker’s arrival to the break-room. His co-worker did not get to work ten minutes early, and yet there he was, mere seconds after Gallant’s arrival. Gallant knew for a fact that he had arrived twenty minutes late, with some cock-and-bull story about a sick relative. Gallant knew it was important to tell the truth, but Gallant also knew that nobody liked a tattle-tale.
Gallant’s co-worker proceeded to grab the coffee pot while the coffee machine was still brewing, sending piping hot streams of coffee onto the heating element. Each “TSSS” the burning coffee made shot knives through Gallant’s heart, and Gallant had no idea how his co-worker could just stand there, pouring coffee into his oversized “World’s Awesomest Employee” mug, oblivious to the coffee he was wasting, not to mention the damage to the company’s equipment.
Gallant wanted to say something, but he knew nobody liked a bossy-pants.
“NOTHING LIKE THAT FIFTH CUP OF THE DAY, AM I RIGHT,” his co-worker shouted, clearly using his outdoor voice.
Gallant knew that too much caffeine led to hypertension, headaches, and a host of other health problems, which is why he limited himself to a cup of green tea in the morning. Gallant considered telling his co-worker that he was endangering his health, but he knew nobody liked a know-it-all.
Gallant’s co-worker plopped down at his table, and sat right next to him. Even though Gallant knew the proper thing to do was to ask if he could join him first. Even though there were plenty of tables in the break room. Even though basic propriety stated that you should sit ACROSS from your table mate, so as to respect their personal space.
Gallant always respected people’s personal space. It’s why he chose to live alone.
Gallant’s co-worker dumped his greasy sack of fried lunch all over the table. Gallant observed from the logo on the bag that his co-worker walked around the corner from the office to procure his food, which meant that he started his lunch-break a good ten minutes before Gallant did. Gallant knew that although nobody liked a tattle-tale, people appreciated learning their goodwill was being taken advantage of, possibly via an anonymous note.
Gallant’s co-worker looked at his greasy pile of slop, and then Gallant’s nutritious, well-balanced, homemade lunch. “I SHOULD REALLY PACK MY OWN LUNCH,” he shouted, mouth full of seasoned curly fries, “BUT WHO HAS THE TIME. IS THAT CELERY? LET ME GET A STICK, I HAVE ALL OF THIS EXTRA RANCH DRESSING, WASTE NOT WANT NOT.”
And then, without asking, Gallant’s co-worker took a stick of celery, and swirled it around in his vat of ranch dressing for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, he shoved it in his maw, with a wet, sickening CROWNCH.
“WHAT YOU UP TO TONIGHT, G,” his impossibly loud co-worker prattled on, “BUNCHA US ARE GETTING TOGETHER TO HAPPY HOUR IT AT 5PM. DON’T TELL ANYONE, I’M PROBABLY GONNA GET THERE AROUND 4:45 TO SNAG A GLENGARRY TABLE, THAT ONE BY THE WINDOW. YOU IN?”
Gallant was seconds away from replying that he would literally rather die, but he knew not to misuse the word “literally.” The point was moot, because just then his co-worker’s phone rang. His co-worker sang along with the ringtone for a full 30 seconds. “COME ON RIDE THE TRAIN, HEY RIDE IT! COME ON RIDE THE TRAIN, HEY RIDE IT! COME ON RIDE THE TRAIN, HEY RIDE IT! COME ON RIDE THE TRAIN, HEY RIDE IT! COME ON- HELLO! HEY, YOU SON OF A BITCH, HOW THE FUCK IS YOUR SHIT.”
Gallant knew to answer a phone promptly when it rang. Gallant knew not to sing at the top of his voice in a public space. Gallant knew not to swear in a work environment. Gallant knew all of this. Gallant knew that he was alone in knowing this. Gallant knew that the world was more like his co-worker than it was like him. Gallant knew that he was alone, and grew more and more alone every day. Gallant knew-
“HEY, THAT’S LITERALLY THE BEST FUCKING NEWS, YOU SHOULD COME OUT AND WE’LL LIFT A COUPLE IN HER HONOR. COPACETIC? SHIT, YEAH, MY MAN.”
Gallant’s co-worker hung up his phone without saying “good-bye.”
Gallant couldn’t take it anymore. He blurted out, “Literally is a very overused wo-”
His co-worker cut him off. “THAT WAS MY BROTHER. MY MOM’S TESTS CAME BACK CLEAR. BEEN SICK FOR MONTHS. I JUST SAW HER AT THE HOSPITAL THIS MORNING, AND THE DOCTORS WERE STILL TELLING US IT WAS TOUCH AND GO. THE FUCK DO THEY KNOW, AMIRIGHT?”
Gallant had lost his mother to pancreatic cancer a year and a half ago. Gallant knew it was wrong to be jealous of other’s good fortune. Even when they clearly did not deserve it. Gallant knew that the universe was unfair, and rewarded the wrong people, while allowing those who lived righteously to suffer.
Not that his co-worker’s mother deserved to suffer. Although, surely, if she had raised a son like his co-worker, then she was not of the same caliber as his mother.
Gallant wondered why he bothered, sometimes, quite frankly. Always doing the right thing was hard. He wanted to sleep in. He wanted to get to work late. He wanted hummus today.
“That’s wonderful news,” Gallant said to his co-worker. “I went through a similar thing a few years ago, and I have to say, you’ve handled it very well. I had no idea she was even sick.”
“YEAH, WELL, IT’S LIKE SHE ALWAYS TOLD ME, ‘LIFE IS A PAIN IN THE ASS, EVERYONE KNOWS IT, DON’T BRING PEOPLE DOWN, AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, DON’T BRING YOURSELF DOWN. AT THE END OF THE DAY, WHAT WE DO DOESN’T MATTER, SO JUST HAVE FUN. DON’T HURT NOBODY, BUT BESIDES THAT JUST HAVE FUN.’”
Gallant rolled those words around in his head. It was patently terrible advice. Literally the worst advice he had ever heard.
With that, his co-worker got up, and without picking up his trash, went back to his cubicle.
Gallant picked up his co-worker’s trash, along with his own, and threw it out.
A few minutes later, he pushed his chair over to the clock on the wall, and climbed up on it to adjust the time. He slipped and broke his arm. His co-worker, who handled workman’s comp for their company, got him a fat settlement.
Gallant donated the money to a pancreatic cancer charity. Gallant always thought of others.