Image: Henri Matisse, 1907, Blue Nude (Souvenir de Biskra)
D. M. Kerr is the writing name of a Canadian writer currently living and working in Singapore, where he teaches game design and business. His work has been published recently in Founders Favourites, in the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library’s So It Goes magazine and in Page and Spine. He’s not the type to play practical jokes.
Memo to Self: Get Laid
Not many people at Karlina’s company got a desk by a window. Karlina didn’t get hers — with a view of the parking lot of the building next door and a glimpse of the ravine beside — through merit. It just happened to be free the day she started work.
She shared the view with a guy named Bregg, who had been with the company a dozen years. The first few days they were cordial, but they soon descended into frosty silence and then outright hostility because of one thing: Bregg’s messy desk.
Karlina had no problem with untidiness, but Bregg bordered on hoarding. His desk overflowed with wax-paper wrappers from fast-food restaurants, yellow telephone message slips, and crumpled drafts of old educational manuscripts. Crumbs of chocolate muffins infected the whole mess with oily brown stains. Bregg’s speciality was mutilating Styrofoam coffee cups with a ballpoint pen while he jabbered on the phone. He would then leave the cups, still leaking their black sludge, on the crease where his desk met Karlina’s.
Karlina tried, as she settled into work and diminished expectations of what her graduate degree in English would get her in life, to show Bregg how a desk should be kept. She kept her own desk clean and then, as Bregg responded with further clutter, properly colour-coordinated.
She developed a habit of putting a bright yellow pad in the middle of her desk when she left for lunch or in the evening. Over the pad she fanned a selection of red and blue ballpoint pens ready for immediate use on her next task. She carted all her completed textbook drafts to the shredder. Incomplete drafts she filed in her desk drawer. She left her day timer open, its Must Do’s and Should Do’s penned in a steady, elegant hand. She pushed her chair right up against the edge of her desk and arranged her keyboard symmetrically about its lip.
Bregg began to pile his unedited, overdue manuscripts between his chair and hers.
He often came back after dinner, because that pile kept growing. In the morning, Karlina had to sweep the takeaway dinner refuse gingerly over the divide. When she complained, he mumbled sorry, but she couldn’t detect any sincerity in it.
Then, one morning in April, she arrived to see a ball of pink crinkled paper all the way over by her computer monitor. A security access slip.
It couldn’t have been accidental.
He must have thrown it over the fact the chief editor had praised her and had lit into him at yesterday’s staff meeting.
But it wasn’t just the slip. Her pens were askew.
Then, in horror, she saw what had been done with her pen. Scrawled in blue, under her crisp pencil markings ‘Format exercises for Chapter 10’ and ‘Memo to Joyce’ was:
Memo to self: —
Karlina let her bag drop to the floor. She gripped the back of the chair with an unsteady hand. She forced herself to breathe: in, then out. She had a panicky feeling her desk was now infected: touching it or sitting down at it would sully her.
‘You bloody bastard.’ She flipped her day timer’s page over. She fought the urge to throw her remaining pens at Bregg’s desk. But, deep down, she felt an unexpected satisfaction. Yes. She had him now. No HR tribunal would overlook this.
She pulled out her chair, and sat down heavily, all the while mentally preparing the memo she would write. Only then did she glance at the freshly opened page of her calendar. In red pen now, in the same scrawl, someone had written:
Matt 416 429 4061
Karlina felt even more violated, and her satisfaction vanished. She tried to scramble her mental memo back from the HR, to erase even the admission she had considered writing it.
She pulled the crumpled security slip from under her monitor and spread it out.
Rosehill Stationery Supply
Matt. She used to type his essays, through most of her undergraduate years. He had been inclined to make those jokes, no matter how much Karlina said he shouldn’t treat women like that. He had, though, never played those pranks on her.
After university, someone had said, he hadn’t made the grade for a good job. ‘You know what? He’s a delivery boy for a stationery company.’ Delivery would certainly have given him after-hours access. How he had found her desk she had no idea.
Karlina detached the two pages of her calendar and folded them together with the access slip to make a little booklet. She dropped the booklet into her purse. She glanced over at Bregg’s desk. That mess she could live with, today.