Sacrifice. Short Story.

She sat at her desk, fingers flying across the keyboard, only pausing momentarily so she could pick up her cup of coffee and have a quick sip. It was dark outside, the windows appearing to be completely black. The office fluorescents were unfathomably bright, soon a few would be turned off and she would begin to see dots of light more clearly through the window. For now her attention was focused on the screen in front of her, making sure there were no mistakes.

She paused, stretched and sighed. She glanced around the office, there were three other people left, soon they’d leave. Well, all of them but Mildred. Mildred was always the first in the office and always the last to leave. Nancy didn’t know what Mildred did exactly, no one really seemed to, but it apparently kept her quite busy. Nancy didn’t know how Mildred’s husband stood it, and their poor children must spend most of their time alone in the house. Nancy shook her head and looked back at the screen, she had to focus. Get this done. She took another gulp of coffee, leaving another red smudge on the white cup, and got back to work.

She was distracted by the flickering lights. They had been doing that lately and management kept promising they’d fix it. Nancy was starting to get a headache. She stopped and reached into her bag, feeling around for the pain killers. After digging through what seemed like layers upon layers of rubbish she finally found the small container. She dry swallowed two and looked back on her screen. She wouldn’t get much done until they kicked in, but it would be something.

Half of the lights went out. She didn’t glance around. It was just her and Mildred left and Nancy was almost finished. She added a full stop and clicked save. She’d read over it in the morning, that wouldn’t take too long, but it was mostly done. She could get the final few bits done before the meeting tomorrow. She stood from the desk and stretched, then she began to tidy her little cubicle. After putting the coffee mug in the dishwasher, she gathered her things and left, calling out goodbye to Mildred. She got a distracted “uh-huh” in return. Nancy stepped into the lift and pressed the lobby button. She’d have to pamper herself tonight. Well, not pamper, that would be too exhausting, but do something nice. Maybe a bath or a glass of wine and crappy movie. Maybe even take away. She looked down at herself. No, no take away’s tonight. There had been far too many during this latest project. She didn’t want to gain any more weight, her work clothes felt uncomfortable enough as it was. Something easy though, maybe a salad or some of the left over chicken.

She got into her car and drove out of the parking lot. She always hated it at night. It was well lit, but mostly empty and the lighting seemed to make it even more eerie. It felt like everyone had fled the building. The lights had been recent enough installation, someone had gotten attacked by a junkie. Nancy had only gotten fourth or fifth hand reports on it all. One of the upper managers had his wallet stolen. Cars had been broken into before and nothing had been done, but once his wallet was stolen lights were added along with a camera or two. The drive was short and she always felt guilty for not walking, but on nights when she knew she’d be late, she drove. It was safer. She’d have to walk through the deserted business district alone before reaching her house.

She lived alone, she hated having roommates. As soon as she was able, she got a loan and bought her own house. She was much better off. Occasionally she considered getting a roommate to ease the bills, but that was usually followed by the decision that she was being insane. She liked the space she had, she liked not having to ask permission about people visiting or staying over. Besides, it was handy to invite her friends over for nights in.

She changed out of her work clothes quickly, then went to the kitchen to figure out what she was going to eat. Her stomach grumbled sullenly, she hadn’t eaten since one o’clock, and that was only a small sandwich. She looked in the fridge, studying everything. She’d have to do a shop soon. She grabbed out a few things and threw them in the oven. While it cooked she poured herself a glass of wine.

After dinner she watched TV, barely able to move from the couch. She vetoed the idea of a bath for fear she’d fall asleep in the thing. She went to bed early and quickly fell asleep.

In the morning she woke, showered, dressed and left the house. She drove again, no doubt she’d have extra work tonight. She clocked in and though she was a little early, Mildred was at her desk, typing away. Nancy idly wondered what kind of drugs Mildred must be taking to keep on top of things. When her computer booted up she opened up the documents she needed and got to work.

When the meeting rolled around she felt confident she knew what she was doing and that she had everything under control. Afterwards, she knew she knew nothing and that she was so behind, she would never finish it by the deadline. She sat down at her desk with a fresh cup of coffee and, wanting to cry, she started working again. She left the office at twelve, Mildred was the only other person left. When she got home Nancy skipped dinner and went straight to bed, she had to be up in seven hours.

She arrived in the office at 7.45, the only other person there was Mildred. Nancy made a beeline to the small kitchen and put on a pot of coffee, while she waited she looked at Mildred, trying to figure out how exactly she did it. The lights were flickering again. Her eyes burned, she was so tired, so very, very tired. She drank a cup of coffee, then poured another. She sat at her desk, at least her chair was somewhat comfortable and she got to work.

She stopped working at eight. It was dark outside. She was too tired to continue. She was getting paid overtime, but it wasn’t enough. She’d come in early and get more done once she was rested. She logged out and left. There were five other people in the office, Mildred was still plugging away.

The next morning she arrived early, feeling much better, and started to work. She flew through it and by lunch she felt like she was making real progress. She ate at her desk, initially the plan was to get more work done, but as she ate she wondered about Mildred. Maybe her marriage was on the rocks and she stayed in work to avoid home. It seemed the most likely thing to Nancy. Mildred never looked very attractive, nor did she seem like a very pleasant person. She was always curt and sometimes a little spiteful. She spoke her mind, which at times was refreshing, but for the most part was infuriating. Obviously what ever job she preformed kept her from getting fired. Nancy had seen her having quiet but intense arguments with some of the higher ups a good few times. Mildred kept herself aloof from the office atmosphere, popping in for the parties for only as long as deemed polite before she left. Nancy had no problem with that, hell sometimes she did the same, but she still had friends in the office, still went out to lunch with people or went out for drinks. Nancy had never seen Mildred accept any invitation that was extended to her. When she was done eating, she started to work again, but still, in the back of her mind, she wondered.

That night, Mildred stood from her desk, picked up her bag and went towards the lift. Nancy didn’t notice at first, but then the lights flickered, she glanced up and saw Mildred was leaving. Actually leaving. For the first time since Nancy started working here, Mildred wouldn’t be the last person in the office at night. She felt a strange sense of accomplishment flow through her body. She did it. She really did it. She worked for another hour, then went home, making sure to set her alarm early. She wanted to be in first too.

Mildred stepped into the elevator and collapsed against the wall, almost sobbing in relief. She was free, really, actually free, she could go home at any time now, she could spend time with her family, she could have a life. She felt a brief pang of guilt for not trying to warn Nancy, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it, she needed a replacement and one had finally been found.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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