FICTION: Temporary Workspaces by Daniel McLeod

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We lost the window in our room today. It wasn’t transparent, only translucent. Even so, the light it filtered into our small white room evoked fantasies of a life outside. Mind you, the window didn’t look out on (or blur) any real outdoors; it just took light from the warehouse, which in turn took light from outside via translucent ceiling panels made of cheap plastic. These ceiling panels, aged and grey with dirt, guaranteed an overcast quality to any light that might pass through. So by the time the light finally made its way into our small white room it was, as you might imagine, distinctly pallid.

But it was something, and now it’s gone we’re in a fully enclosed box. Six of us, in a box with a faulty air conditioning system and a quickly rising ambient temperature. The air conditioning’s intake, I discovered, is directly beside its output; so it sucks air out of the room, cools it (sometimes), and blows it back in. Luke’s computer overheated yesterday and when Ivan from IT came round to fix it he laid on his stomach under Luke’s desk, unscrewed the side panel. “Jesus,” he says, “This thing’s dusty.” I look down, eyes skimming over Ivan’s exposed back end, shirttails riding up to reveal small clusters of coarse black hair spun in tufts, and I agree. Ivan goes, “Have you been blowing dust into it?” – his tone of voice, completely serious, indicating that to him this is a real possibility. Luke gazes at him, “Um, no. What do you mean?” To which Ivan responds, “Computers don’t get this dusty on their own.” And together we all think, obviously they do, Ivan, we aren’t manually stuffing dust through the fucking computer fans. And please, pull up your goddam pants.

I work in the proofreading division at a company that designs and prints funeral stationery for dead people across the UK. I edit eulogies, trite song lyrics, lousy poetry. Occasionally, in the summertime when fewer people are dying and I have a lot of free time on my hands, I’ll write my own. On the whole it’s dull work, but it’s got to be done. People’s loved ones die and need commemorating. These things are important for grieving souls. On average in the UK 1,640 people die each day. If you look at it morbidly this death keeps me in clothes and shelter, puts food in my stomach. Even so it’s eternally boring.

All this window business started in earnest a few days ago at the beginning of the week when Carl, who’s in charge of all the construction that’s going on, came into our room and assessed the glass. I turned and said to him, “So you guys are removing the window then?” Reason I said this is that a man came round at 5:25 on Monday and started unscrewing the frame from the other side. We could see a vague shape in a reflective vest and hear the drilling – the running joke is that it’s a low-budget rendition of Stomp. Of course we gave up any attempt at work with only five minutes left in the day. “Well,” says Carl, “I thought it was a window but it turns out it’s just a piece of glass in a hole.” And as he turns to leave, disappearing safely out of sight, our group of six descends into a discussion on the nature of frames and apertures – namely, what is a window, if not a piece of glass in a hole?

It’s part of a plan to build a new workspace. This space we’re in, it’s temporary. Our box isn’t meant to be permanent. Rather it’s a transitional room they’ve dropped us into while our new office is being built. When our new office is built it will be beautiful. We’ll have transparent windows that look out over the warehouse ceiling – fields of pink and beige fiberglass and a thousand shining silver wires to hold the below plaster panels in place. Our new office will have the highest-grade air conditioning system, with fans to circulate optimal draft and an air intake that draws fresh air directly from the outside car park. Our temperature will be equitable. Our desks will be arranged in sociable clusters – just enough to stimulate professional connection, but with careful seat assignment to prevent inappropriate sharing. An email was circulated to inform us we can have artwork for the walls, and we are free to submit our creative ideas.

Despite knowing this workspace is temporary, it does present challenges at times. There’s comradery but the atmosphere is claustrophobic and plants have been disallowed on unveiled grounds by HR. My attempt at engaging in a reasoned discussion to improve air quality was blithely ignored. The work is monotonous and the temperature’s hot – such that today, for example, it set off a disturbing chain of events: Jason’s melted brain melted mine, mine melted Luke’s, Luke’s melted Yasmin’s, who was getting felt up by Umar (the tall designer) when Sharon coughed and announced, “The air is full of bones.” But if there’s one thing you learn spending so much time editing eulogies and memorial bookmarks it’s that all workspaces are temporary. We come into this world, we work in small, white windowless rooms, and we leave – and in the space between we find ways to get by, hold ontological discussions about windows and compile lists of puns contained within the names of the dead, like ‘Was Miriam May Ballyn?’, ‘Was John Frederick Porley?’, ‘Did Sheila Mary Sandercock?’, and ‘For goodness’ sake Muriel, Wake!’


Daniel McLeod

Daniel McLeod was born in Vancouver. After studying literary
linguistics at the University of Nottingham, he moved to London where he
now works as a writer and editor, biding his time until he can adopt a cat.

If you enjoyed ‘Temporary Workspaces’ leave a comment and let Daniel know.

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