the short story project


Patrick Fitzsimons


Simon had always been a somewhat peculiar character, as most people saw it. To him, his life was entirely normal, systematic and regulated; order was what he liked and silence was what he cherished. Working from home would have been his dream but, for want of the possibility, he had taken an office job downtown, high up in one of the city’s many skyscrapers. Amongst the clouds, he’d escaped the din of the traffic, but traded it in for the din of vapid colleagues with little to no decorum. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.


His office was very much his home. There was a lot to see from the 28th floor; everything that lay beyond any buildings under 28 storeys, to start with. They’d built a restaurant on the 40th floor just before he started, so when HR announced that requests were open for which floor staff wanted to work on (first come, first served), the majority of his colleagues had dashed to request at least the 35th floor. Not Simon: who wants to be so close to that kind of racket? And who wants to pay for lunch every day? The 28th floor was seen by many as the basement of the high-rise, but this was precisely its allure for Simon; he liked his privacy. Besides, it meant less time in the elevator with his raucous colleagues, who would chitchat about, well, nothing in particular, but the time it took to reach the 30th, 31st, 32nd floor from the ground was evidently just too much to bear in silence. Simon had no idea what floor any of them were on, nor did he know their names; he would exit on the 28th floor — no goodbyes, as he had extended no greetings, and so there were no circles of tokenistic pleasantries to complete before exiting — and he would get to work. After all, that was the reason he was there.


Out of the group he was hired in, the only others who had been placed there were those who had neglected to return a preference form. Simon was surrounded by a lack of initiative, an unbearable insouciance; those who surrounded him, from 9 AM to 6 PM, every single day, were the bottom-feeders who had not even bothered to fill in a simple form, to express an interest one way or the other, and so they would simply spend the majority of their time on their phones. 


The desks directly adjacent to Simon’s were empty, as per his special request, fulfilled by HR if for no other reason than to appease the one eccentric employee who had actually requested the 28th floor. He had designated these spaces as a quiet zone: phones on silent, indoor voices, windows closed, and no loud typing. He had stuck some posters to this effect on the windows by the empty desks: “Don’t wait to be told, put your phone on silent mode!”, “No need to shout, we’ll figure it out!”, “If you’re here to click-clack, please turn back”. They seemed to serve their purpose; rarely, if ever, did anyone from that entire floor come to speak to him. He liked his colleagues for ostensibly respecting his rules, but there were some who did not put their phones on silent mode, creating a chaotic sub-space that was utterly incongruous with the rest of the floor. And what could he do? They were at their own desks and they had not made any such rules for themselves. Rules and regulations could only extend so far when you created them of your own accord.


He had never understood the need for such jingles, yet it exasperated him in ways he struggled to articulate. If you were actively engaged in back-and-forth messaging, did you really need to be notified of every reply? And why so audibly? He could not abide such indolence at the workplace, though no one else seemed to care. The most absurd tone he had heard (and he had heard it many times by now) was one of a car unlocking: beep beep, beep beep, beep beep, always two discrete, successive beeps, unless messages were flooding in so rapidly that the jingles flooded together to become indiscernible from one another, in which case it was all the more maddening.


Sometimes, walking to work in the mornings, he would mistake birdsong in the trees for the arrival of yet more invariably insipid messages to the phones of his colleagues. His calvary would begin before he even arrived. He would whistle to himself to drown it out, and find himself thinking of the same thing. The quickest, though equally as unnecessary (and, therefore, tedious) tone was one that seemed to be the sound of metal tapping quickly against glass. One night, while having a drink to unwind and forget the day’s vexations, he (lightly, carefully) placed his glass down on the table, and it seemed to reproduce that infernal noise and suddenly, he could take it no more.


The very next morning, Simon rode to the 28th floor as he always did. Calmly, he set his phone down beside his work laptop. He gave a cursory glance to his agenda for the day; it would not be of much concern to him now. He had set himself a time, 8:45 AM; he was ten minutes early. He decided to saunter around the office — rather out of character for him — allowing, intrepid, the superfluous and bothersome sounds to wash over him. He would do it when he heard the whistle tone three times in rapid succession.


It didn’t take long. Five minutes, perhaps, and he sent his first and last message to the Floor 28 Whatsapp group: Good morning all! By the time you read this, I won’t be with you anymore. Or perhaps I will be, if you’re quick — none of you miss a single notification because none of you work in silent spaces, after all! Goodbye. A flurry of sounds came from every corner of the office floor, an overwhelming cacophony triggered by the same damned message, that he could well have just said out loud, being received by the entire floor simultaneously. For something so coordinated, it sounded awfully discordant. 


He rode the lift to the 40th floor and didn’t even need to prepare himself; he was calm and composed, as he always was, but he had simply had enough. No one turned to look at him, no one seemed to see what he was doing, no one even seemed to register his presence as he approached the observation deck. He swung one leg over the barrier, then the other, and then he let himself fall.


The people up above might have gasped, or they might not; he couldn’t hear them, didn’t care to hear them, over the rush of air finally drowning out all noise. He knew at what point he was passing his office — 30% dead — because he recognised his posters. As he plummeted past, he couldn’t help but realise his alarm would be going off at that very instant to tell him it was time, but he was not there to silence it; he had broken away from his routine. He panicked, but by the time he had assimilated the situation he was 60% dead, then 90%, and then it was over.


He had crashed down onto a parked car. The impact of his landing had caused it to malfunction, and now it was repeatedly locking and unlocking, emitting a noise that seemed all too familiar to him. Birds whistled in the trees around him, as though taunting him, as he lay contemplating his decision. He regretted having jumped before switching off his alarm.