Safe to say

By Matthew Harrison

At Jessie’s prompting, Martin rose to present the results—and the wind surged against the Boardroom windows. Directors looked at him questioningly. Martin took a quick breath and began.

At first, it went well. With Jessie’s comforting presence, the right phrases came to him easily— “giving the punters what they want,” “hitting the high notes,” “leveraging our assets.” The wind died down. Martin was just coming to, “more visibility on our earnings,” when he paused. “I mean…”

What did he mean?

Hail rattled suddenly against the windows. The directors jumped.

Behind Martin, Jessie hissed, “The write-offs— ‘over the hump.’ ”

“Sorry, lost the plot!” His heart pounding, Martin smiled shakily. He resumed. “More visibility—and more granularity. We are gaining traction, getting into a good place. Momentum is building. We’re on track for new horizons.”

The hail pattered into silence. Board members visibly relaxed. Even the chairman, whose hand had been hovering over the security button, was nodding. Out of the corner of his eye, Martin saw Jessie smile.

He was about to conclude when he remembered the write-offs. “I’d just like to mention–”

The windows resounded to a fusillade of hail. The chairman rose. “I don’t know what you’ve got up your sleeve, Martin,” he said loudly against the uproar, “but we’ll take a rain check.” Board members smiled in relief.

Jessica swiftly gathered up their papers. Gripping Martin’s arm almost painfully hard, she steered him out of the Boardroom. Wind growled ominously around the building.

 

“You have to take it seriously, Martin.”

Back in the relative security of the Finance Department, deep within the complex, Jessie could be direct.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t think–” Martin said.

“You have to think.” A lock of hair had fallen over Jessie’s eye; she swept it back with an unsteady hand. “So many powerful people listening—whatever you say will get amplified, and God knows how the weather will react. Think of Stowcroft…”

Martin nodded miserably. Stowcroft had had a real hurricane—they’d lost twenty people and half their building, all because of a few direct words from their CEO.

Even here, they had to be careful. Already, the blinds on the interior window were beginning to twitch. You couldn’t hide from the weather for long.

Jessie began again. “The chairman could easily–”

The blinds flipped up, the floor vibrated, and Jessie quickly changed her tone. “We have to walk before we can run,” she said loudly, waving Martin out of the room. She picked up her handset. As he went back to his seat, Martin heard her firm voice; “…almost blew a fuse… back from the brink… cover our backsides…”

The department quietened. Martin thought admiringly of his boss’s strength. Would he ever learn to speak like her?

office-buildings

It was lunchtime, and the weather was calm enough for Martin to go outside. In a way, it was safer there because although you were unsheltered, people were dispersed, and any careless talk had less chance of getting amplified. Nonetheless, Martin kept close to the shopfronts.

He bought his sandwich, and on the way back, he passed a gift shop. And there he had a thought. Why not? He went inside and flipped through the cards. These had the usual anodyne expressions of affection, regret, recollection— indeed with the weather as it was, they could hardly say anything original.

Here was one card; “To someone special,” it read. “Skies are blue/Because of you/Stay true/And I’ll be too.” Nice—but was it quite what he meant?

Oh, what fool that he was! That was the point—you couldn’t say what you meant, you had to use clichés or you were done for. The weather would find you out.

He took it to the counter. The shop assistant gave him a look as he paid. What did she mean? She’d stocked the thing, hadn’t she? Martin left the shop in a huff.

The wind caught him in the doorway, snatching away the sandwich bag, almost pushing him over. He felt a surge of fear—was the weather reading his mind? But as he braced, he saw a small group ahead of him scatter. The wind must have been for them. He snatched up the sandwich bag and hurried back to his building.

 

Jessie wasn’t in. Martin left the card on her desk and went back to his cubicle to rework the presentation. They would need it for the analysts meeting. And then he had a thought—autocue! Script the words in advance where no one else would see them. Delightedly, he found the place where he had stumbled and carefully typed the caption, “Write-offs are behind us, we’re over the hump.”

Later that afternoon, Jessie called him into her office. “Thank you for this.” She held up the card.

Martin started to explain, but Jessie put a finger to her lips. “Very sweet.”

She looked tired. And no wonder, having to fend off life-threatening weather and manage him and the Board and everything else at the same time. He felt a pang of tenderness.

Jessie must have sensed his thought. “It is hard,” she said. “When I started the job, we could say what we meant. But now the weather’s like this, it’s corporate-speak or die.”

Martin nodded, amazed that she dared say so much. And indeed, the floor trembled beneath them, and the desk rocked.

But Jessie hadn’t finished. “You see, Martin, I have hopes of you. It is easier for a man to say this stuff. Women keep wanting to analyze, to express things their own way.”

A draught burst in and flipped loose papers into the air. They had to stop.

Jessie looked at him in mute appeal.

“Consider it done,” said Martin.

And as he went back to his desk, and calm settled again, Martin felt he passed a stage. He could take it on his shoulders, he was on course for higher things, he was one of the boys…

 

Matthew Harrison lives in Hong Kong, and whether because of that or some other reason entirely, his writing has veered from non-fiction to literary, and he is currently reliving a boyhood passion for science fiction. He has published numerous SF short stories and is building up to longer pieces as he learns more about the universe. Matthew is married with two children but no pets, as there is no space for these in Hong Kong. Visit his website at matthewharrison.hk.

Advertisements