Priscilla moved desks at work. It was a weird power move on her boss Brenda’s part. The director of another department, Regina, was encroaching on what Brenda considered to be their department’s cubicle space. In order to preserve the space, for what Priscilla wasn’t sure, Brenda moved Priscilla to one of the empty cubicles. It was a weird move. It made her much more separate from the rest of her team. She now had to get up and walk to the opposite end of the floor to speak to any other member of her team in person. She’d resorted to sending a multitude of emails instead. She was nothing if not ultimately very lazy. Jacklyn said Priscilla was the laziest active person she knew. She ran jazzercise class three times a week and took dance classes another night, but she would do almost anything to avoid moving when it wasn’t strictly necessary.
In any case, Priscilla’s new desk was situated in what was popularly referred to as No Man’s Land. There were several open cubicles, but few people to fill them. There was, in fact, only two other people out in No Man’s Land. One was an incredibly quiet woman named Shannon. She worked in the cubicle that was directly beside Priscilla’s new cubicle. Priscilla hadn’t talked much to Shannon, primarily because Shannon didn’t seem to talk to anyone ever. Priscilla was looking forward to a great many silences to share with Shannon. The other person was an equally as quiet twenty-something guy named Jonas. He worked in a cubicle far in the corner of No Man’s Land. Priscilla didn’t even know which department he worked for. She was fairly certain it wasn’t her own, but she couldn’t be sure. She never saw him in meetings. She never really saw him anywhere, except for the odd occasion she happened to walk past his corner cubicle, which was few and far between. She really only went past there when she was on her way back from the washrooms on that side of the building. She rarely used those washrooms because they were frigid and the lights flickered. It was like peeing in a meat locker while waiting for some creepy guy with a hook for a hand to murder her.
Priscilla moved first thing on a Monday morning. She had to get the company movers to walk her belongings over to her new desk. It seemed ridiculous, considering all she had was a company computer, phone, and one measly half-filled box of office supplies. She could very easily have done it herself, but it was apparently a liability. The company didn’t want her to hurt herself moving her mostly empty box of staples, scissors, and post-its and then sue them. It was actually pretty good practice because she definitely would sue if she thought it would mean she never had to work again.
Shannon barely looked up as Priscilla took her new seat for the first time. Priscilla smiled at the side of her head anyway. They were going to have to sit beside each other for a while; she figured she might as well make the best of it. She contemplated asking Shannon how her weekend had been, but it felt like it might be too much for Shannon to handle. Also, Priscilla didn’t really care how Shannon’s weekend had been.
An hour later, Shannon began eating carrots for a snack. It was a very appropriate snack because she chewed like a rabbit. Priscilla wasn’t thrilled about this. She had issues with the sound of people chewing at the best of times. She hoped carrots were not a regular snack choice for Shannon. Maybe it was a one-time thing. Maybe she normally ate soft foods, nothing but bananas and blueberries. That would be ideal.
On Tuesday, Shannon brought an apple for a snack as well as carrots. Shannon ate carrots loudly, but it was nothing compared to how she ate apples. She managed to crunch and slurp at the same time. No Man’s Land was so unnervingly quiet that the sound of Shannon eating her apple literally echoed. It was too empty. There weren’t enough people or things around to absorb some of the sound. Priscilla looked over in stunned silence, unable to help herself. Shannon didn’t notice. Priscilla craned her head slightly to see if Jonas was reacting to this monstrous eating the same way she was. Jonas had his head bent forward, evidently focussed on his own work. Priscilla was amazed.
She complained about Shannon’s eating habits later that night over dinner with Tallulah and Rosalyn.
“It literally echoed,” she said, still stunned.
“I would have to kill her,” was Tallulah’s blunt response.
“You would have to?” Rosalyn asked incredulously, turning to look at Tallulah with one eyebrow raised. Tallulah nodded seriously.
“Picture it,” she instructed, dropping her fork on her plate. “The office is completely quiet. No one speaks. Jonas could be dead for all you know. And then suddenly, Shannon starts tearing into an apple with the ferocity of a rabid badger. Juice trickles down her chin. It’s as if she’s chewing on the bones of her enemies. Jonas really is dead. Shannon snapped his neck with her incisors and chewed his leg off at the hip for an afternoon snack.”
Rosalyn and Priscilla stared at her for a moment.
“Christ, that took a turn,” Rosalyn commented eventually.
“You know, I don’t feel like that’s as far from impossible as it probably should be,” Priscilla remarked. Rosalyn just shook her head as Tallulah held out a hand to Priscilla, as if to say her point had been proved.
On Wednesday, Shannon added pudding to the mix. Priscilla hadn’t ever seen an adult eat a pudding cup. Shannon slurped it. Even soft foods weren’t safe. It didn’t help that she ate it after she’d already devoured an apple. It set Priscilla’s teeth on edge. It had only been three days. She had no idea how she was going to manage to remain sitting next to Shannon for as long as it took for Brenda to properly stake her territory. Priscilla was beginning to think she’d need to get a different job. She kept glancing over at Jonas to see how he was coping with it, but his head never moved. She was beginning to suspect that he was in fact dead.
Later that day, she walked past Jonas’ desk on her way to the freezing bathrooms. She’d chosen them specifically so that she could get a closer look at him. Maybe he’d developed an eye twitch as a result of listening to Shannon eat for prolonged periods of time. She slowed as she walked past his desk, glancing over in what she hoped was a discrete manner. He didn’t even look over at her. She thought that was odd. Maybe he was blind. Or deaf. Maybe he was blind and deaf. And then she noticed that he was wearing headphones.
“It makes a lot more sense now,” Priscilla said to Tallulah and Rosalyn later that night. “I didn’t even know that was an option.”
“I have a lot of respect for Jonas,” Tallulah replied.
“Me too,” Priscilla agreed.
“I’m glad he’s not dead,” Tallulah added.
“Me too,” Priscilla nodded again.