Disappointing Nelson (The Temps’ Revolt)

“He was judging me,” she diced the onions thick and fast, letting both sting behind her eyes.

The room judged her in return. “How’d he do that?”

She slid the onions into the sizzling pan, and let it spit and hiss while she thought up a response.

“He eyeballed me the entire time.”

“What was he doing in the basement?”

“They’d shoved the two of us down there, out of sight.”

She’d sat there all day, typing, while he hovered overhead, forever watching her. It was unnerving, his constant disdain from his gilded frame. He and she were entwined, thick as thieves, at first.

She did little, stretching out her tasks as long as possible and dawdling on the internet, but then boredom and fear would drive her back to the same tired activity, and so the endless rotation of excel spreadsheets, and procrastination would perpetuate until the damned thing was done.

Still over all of this he remained an endless presence. A presence that shook its head at what she had become, some mindless drone doing pointless tasks that she could have achieved having graduated high school.

He became cantankerous, then forlorn and later he wondered what she could have done, where she could have swerved in her long line of failures to not end up in this position. Largely, though he was disappointed, and that was what grated. He thought she could do better, and he was right. He had been here long before, and better versions of his portrait dotted the halls upstairs, but this one, this one knew he had nothing to prove and that she, she had everything to.

Jess’s friend Bex took over the cooking, she was a psychology graduate making latte art at the local coffee shop, she could understand a mental crisis when she saw one. She also knew the exact way they should be rectifying this, and it wasn’t what they’d been doing now, for far too long.

“We should be psychopaths.”

“Psychopaths?”

“Psychopaths.”

“You think we should murder people?”

“You’re thinking sociopaths,” said Bex.

“That’s not what I’m thinking at all.”

Bex prepared her soap-box address, she was ready to line this out for them, she had thought long and hard about success and how little she had of it, and she knew there was another way.

“Psychopaths, like cream, rise to the top and they get there because they don’t care. About anyone.”

While Bex made coffees, day in day out, for executives, hipsters and the odd OAP, she imagined the lives they held outside. The lives she imagined always seemed so much more interesting than hers. The guy in the suit and tie, with the hidden full-sleeve tattoos, the knuckle rings and the spiky voice, who always had a caramel latte, extra hot, surely had something going on under the surface. The nastier the conversation he was having over the phone, the sweeter his order got. See the coffee she served held many purposes, but largely it was to placate the life of a worker bee. It was to perk up and start again, to distract, to get through, to keep calm, to keep stable. By in large it was to avoid the emotional pain of living, which from 8am-6pm, usually meant the emotional pain of working.

Now a psychopath – would they be subject to such needs? They don’t register anyone’s emotions but their own, they play mind-games and manipulations to get what they want and they think nothing of the moral consequences.

Truth is bendable, post-truth, post-hence.

“A psychopath would get to where they wanted to be, by any means possible.”

Jess stirred the pot. A psychopath wouldn’t be in a basement typing things into a spreadsheet, they’d be head of the company. They’d install some virus, that only they could remove, they’d rewire the building to electrocute the CEO, they’d give everyone food-poisoning, they’d infiltrate the temping agency and take the city.

“They’d infiltrate the temp agency and take the city.”

“Take the what?” Kath eyed them both from over her laptop like they were idiots. While Jess was temping her life away and Bex made babycinos, Kath had it figured out. She had a timeline, it was drawn up on graph paper and stuck to her wall, when she didn’t have company.

She was 25 and yeah, she was off-base. 25 was meant to see her in a non-specific high-ranking career, well on her way to good pay days, a house and a spouse. She was an intern at a small start-up, raking in meagre dough, in the evenings she was teaching herself how to code and doing a little freelancing, on weekends she waitressed events. That summer had seen her hiking up her hemlines, in the interests of better tips. But she knew if she covered enough ground and really leaned in, she get far. Really, really far, hopefully far enough that she wasn’t even in this grey city.

Jess was in the zone, she figured out how she’d make her way through the boredom and misery that was the working life, she’d manipulate her way to the top. Lie, sabotage and steal. She’d looked to government, and seen that it worked.

But first she had to free Nelson.

“He’s a symbol, a guiding light, and he’s just hanging there, gathering dust. In the basement.”

Jess wandered back and forth, while Bex tried to interject, she knew what this was really about, but perhaps this was a chance to test her psychopathy theory. They should work for their own self-interests, seeing as no one else was.

Kath flipped her laptop down.

“You realise I’m online right now. “

They nodded.

“Someone could hack into my laptop’s video and see us planning a heist.”

A smile gathered at her lips, their eyes glistened. Now this was something to sink their teeth into.

For all those under-used, talented people out there, they just needed to re-dedicate themselves to a life of crime.

                                                             ***

The three women sat outside the bar, jammed on a brick wall between cigarette butts and old, discarded pint glasses.

“There are three stages to a heist,” said Skittles, “and none of them involve you.”

Skittles rammed skittles in her mouth and crunched; her hair and her tailoring were razor sharp, as was her tongue. These girls knew little to nothing about the real world, and they couldn’t even come to her with a decent scheme. You don’t steal what you can’t sell.

But Skittles was bored as shit, bartending and dealing here and there held no thrill. She needed her own business, her own crew. In one sentence, they were talking about nicking a worthless portrait due to the holiness of the subject, in the next they were talking about infiltrating the city, making the gophers, the subordinates – kings and ousting everyone else along the way.

That was the sort of heist she was interested in. If you controlled the city, you sure as shit controlled product and distribution. Entrepreneurial is what it was.

She rubbed her hands together and lit a cigarette, Kath caught a light, and exhaled a plan.

She mentioned she had graph paper and pens in her backpack. Skittles ushered them into the basement, where they could get cosy and hash it out.

In the darkly lit basement, with the barrels of beer, and a sticky table they rolled out the paper and defined their plan. First, they would take Nelson, then the temping agency, then the city, then they would take the nation.

Bex leaned back on her deck-chair, while the others squatted on all assortments of chair-like apparatus. “What are we taking it for? And where are we taking it to?”

There were grumbles at the table, and some noises of ‘she’s hit the nail on the head there.’

Skittles banged the table, then scraped her hands together to rid herself of the residue.

“Power.”

Bex nodded. “Power for the little guy.”

Skittles shook her head, “Power for me, I couldn’t give a shit about some little guy. The one’s on top are the ones on top, the ones in the gutter stay in the gutter. No one’s looking at the stars.”

Jess scribbled on the paper as Kath tried to bat her away. “An equal playing ground. How am I ever gonna get anywhere if I can’t get a seat at the table, and the one’s before you got in there easier, because ‘times were different’ but once they got in they rolled up the drawbridge behind them.”

Skittles narrowed her eyes at them. “This some knights of the roundtable shit? Someone insult your honour?”

They all muttered and scuffed their feet against the floor. Skittle drummed her hands against the table, and instantly regretted it.

“We’re not airing our grievances, we’re taking a stand.”

The table turned to their timeline drawer, the one who had absolute faith that if she absolutely just kept going, then she’d absolutely get ‘there.’ Wherever the mystical ‘there’ was. Was it a corner office, a business of her own, a bungalow to call her own, the likeliness of a pension, an occasional holiday? Each year she downgraded her certainties. Was she thinking too big, was she aiming too high? When you can’t get a job that pays, how can you make plans on graph paper that span your life in year-like increments. How can you foresee a future, when it doesn’t feel like anyone is invested in you having one?

When you keep downgrading your abilities, and squeezing yourself to fit into the cage that others built, how do you see past the bars?

Kath started a bullet-pointed list. The first was headed Free Mandela, the second was Temping Take-Down. To Free Mandela they would need:

  • A map of the building
  • A good forger

To take down the temping agency they would need:

  • An insider
  • A map of the building.

The rest of them looked quizzically at her rather limited lists.

“I’m starting to see how your whole ‘timeline’ thing hasn’t panned out,” said Bex.

Jess tapped the table with her pencil, “These are good starting points, but I’m like the insider in both.”

“Well you brought this to us,” said Kath, “You’re the leader, for better or worse.”

Skittles snorted, Bex looked affronted.

“Psychopathy isn’t a plan, I’m not sure it’s even the correct use of the term,” said Kath.

***

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