James Butt

Photo Credit: Kyle James/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Photo Credit: Kyle James/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Mark was fired that morning. I’d known he would be since Tuesday when Justin, our manager, took me aside.

“We didn’t make forecast again,” he said.


“I’ve been directed to let someone go. You and Mark are close, I wanted to give you the heads up.”

It wasn’t a heads up, it was a test. Another of Justin’s stress tests.

Mark had been my cubicle neighbour for three years. Each morning he would come to my desk and chat. I’d never got chatting as a thing, but he’d be there every morning, chatting, about sports mostly. I couldn’t say who his teams were or who his money players were; that’s what he called them, money players, like he had a vested interest in their performance.

I’d known for three days, but didn’t tell him. I thought I might; we were friends, in a sense. He had us over for dinner once, me and Angie, and I think that’s where Angie and I unravelled, emotionally, that time we went to Mark’s for dinner.

That’s not why I didn’t tell him about his being let go. It wasn’t his fault; Mark didn’t break us up or anything like that; he and Lisa were great hosts for dinner. It was their baby, more than anything. I didn’t think about it while we were there, but it became clear to me in the car after, on our way home. Angie didn’t want to go to dinner that night, but I pushed it. We still had points to make and sides to take at that time. And I pushed it.

It was a little after ten when Justin asked Mark to see him in the boardroom. They left together and I knew how these things go, that Mark wouldn’t be allowed back to his desk. Someone from HR would come down soon enough and put all his personal effects, all those little items to make his workspace viable, into a nondescript banker box, to be shipped off to last known address. Before that, before the HR person appeared at Mark’s desk, I snatched one of his sports figurines from his computer monitor and put it in my desk drawer.

It was exactly like many of the figurines inside Mark’s house, the one I took off his computer. They were of sports stars, their likeness trademarked for their reproduction in as many poses for as many sports I could name. His house was filled with them. Collectibles, he called them.

“It’s a bit much, I know. And with the baby, I’m starting to trim the numbers back, but it’s hard to let them go, when you’ve been doing something for so long,” he said. “Ten years now, or almost. That’s a long time to be invested in something.”

Lisa and Angie got along just fine. They talked about the baby. Mark and I chatted about something, but I was distracted by the figurines. Thousands of them, and they took up so much of everything, their presence was oppressive.

“The baby’s fussing,” Lisa said from the kitchen, returning me to the conversation. “He’s been fussing all day today. Is it all right if I bring him out here while we eat?”

Angie looked at me. I nodded to both her and Lisa. “That’s fine,” I said. I hadn’t heard him fussing, but I wasn’t listening for it either.

Lisa disappeared deeper into the house, and soon came back with the baby and placed him in his crib next to her chair. He made baby sounds that I could’ve got used to, but I guess it was considered fussing. Angie moved closer to the crib and looked down at the baby. She looked at me, and I think I still loved her at that moment.

“Is it okay if I pick him up?” she asked Lisa.

“Of course.”

Angie raised him out of the crib to her shoulder. She bounced a little and made her own cooing sounds, sounds I knew I would’ve loved to be used to. She stayed that way for most of the evening, that’s what I remember, with the baby at her shoulder, no longer fussing, just cuddled into her body. I think we had soup for dinner.

On the way home, Angie was quiet and stared out at the black night that sped by her window.

“To be honest, I was freaked out by all the figurines,” I said, to kill the emptiness between us. “And who serves only soup for a dinner?”

She didn’t respond, but kept her focus on the blur outside the car.

“The baby was cute, though, that’s for sure.”

Angie didn’t say anything right away, she let my words hang there around us. The view outside continued to wind away without a true image, blackness broken by moments of bright only so often.

“He was beautiful,” she said after a while. “Perfect.”

“I could try the pills again,” I said. “Doctor Adams said they could help, once the stress is controlled. It’s just the stress, Angie. Once I get clear of that, we can try again.” She never took her attention away from the window.

I don’t regret not telling Mark before they fired him, that he was about to be fired. It wasn’t personal, at least that’s what I’ve told myself. I debated telling Angie about Mark when I got home. It probably wouldn’t make any difference to her.

pencilJames Butt is an Information Architect for a telecommunications company in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A graduate of Dalhousie University, his time is split between the excitement and spontaneous nature that is family life, and the crafting of short fiction based upon those experiences. Email: james.butt[at]

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