Plastic shrapnel bounced off Koning's torso
"I just…I mean…look at this. How am I supposed to say no to him again?" Project Manager Willem Koning lamented.
Project Director Edvin Jonasson stared hard at his underling, his face not betraying the jumble of conflicting thoughts running through his mind. He looked at the plastic model on his desk in front of him, and resisted the urge to examine it more thoroughly.
"You're not going to say no to him again," Jonasson finally said. He knew his voice sounded stern, but the edge he purposely added to it was artificial, though he didn't think Koning could tell.
"I'm not?" Koning's look of surprise had a hint of optimism to it. Jonasson quickly shut it down.
"No, you're going to fire him. And if you don't think you can do it, then I'll do it, and I won't hold it against you," Jonasson replied. He meant it, too. He knew how everyone felt about Lindahl. Hell, he liked the guy as much as anyone else.
Koning sighed reflexively. They both knew the day had been coming, but days like that always arrived quicker than anyone wanted. "No. I can do it myself. I'll let you know right now that I'm going to hate you for this a little bit. Everyone will." There was no anger or bitterness in the manager's voice.
"I know. I hate myself a little for this already. But you know as well as I do that the time he is wasting by pretending he can just do whatever he wants is going to catch up to all of us eventually. The VP is already breathing down my neck, simply because breathing down people's necks is at the top of her job description. What do you think would happen if she heard about Lindahl's little projects?"
"Well, I imagine your neck would start to smell like mint and cabernet. And then you'd start hounding me, and I'd resent you for it. Then I'd start hounding Lindahl, and he'd resent me for it, but not before giving me that sad puppy dog look he has when he thinks you're crushing his dreams. Then I'd resent myself, and then I'd be the one drinking wine in my office and trying to cover it up with too many breath mints."
It was Jonasson's turn to sigh reflexively. Lindahl's sad puppy dog look truly did make you feel like a bastard, though he supposed that was the trade off for his infectious laughter that always cheered up the entire department like nitrous oxide was being pumped through the AC vents. Morale was going to plummet, he thought. His eyes strayed from Koning's distressed grimace, back to the model on his desk again. Koning followed his boss's gaze, and this time they sighed in unison. They might have laughed at their synchronicity if they hadn't been so occupied with hating the circumstances that lead to it.
Jonasson's earlier resistance escaped him, and he found himself spinning the small merry-go-round with his finger tip. He ran his finger down the slide, pushed the teeter totter up and down, and gave an under-duck to the small plastic figure sitting on the swings.
"It's almost creepy, isn't it?"
Koning's voice seemed slightly far away, as if he was standing ten meters away instead of just one. Jonasson started to feel a strange happiness come over him. It was a mild euphoria that reminded him of Lindahl's laugh, which reminded him of the sad puppy dog face, which reminded him to stop fingering the damn toy and remember that his job wasn't the only one at stake.
"Sorry, what did you say?"
"I said it's almost creepy. There's just something subtle about it, something under the surface that evokes nostalgia and childhood and fond memories. Or maybe I'm just a sap." Koning shuffled his feet nervously as his boss stared into space, apparently mulling over his words.
Jonasson finally spoke after an uncomfortable 15 seconds. This time, the edge in his voice was not artificial. "No, it's not creepy. It's sad. It's sad that we can't do something a little different for once, because a licensed IP makes more money than anything original these days. It's sad that money rules everything, even children's toys. It's sad that I understand why it's necessary for things to be this way, and that I usually don't give it a second thought. But the saddest thing? The thing that just makes me want to tear out what's left of my hair? The saddest thing, Willem, is that a grown man can't do what he's told long enough to keep the job we all know he considers his dream.
"It would be great if we could do a playground theme, or a park theme, or whatever. But it's not in the cards, and everyone gets that except Lindahl. We all ignore reality sometimes, Willem. If we didn't, he'd have been fired years ago because, and I know nobody likes to think about this, we let him get away with behavior that would have been cause for termination if it came from anyone else. I don't know if it's that damn laugh of his, or his child-like earnestness, or what, but I'm breaking that spell. You can't ignore reality forever. We can't ignore reality forever. If Lindahl wants to try and ignore it for the rest of his life, that's fine by me. But he won't be doing it here, because I like my job, Willem. And if you like your job, you'll go tell him he's being let go, hate me for it for a little while, and get the fuck over it."
Jonasson's eyes began to water as he spoke the word "fuck". For another man, having to blink back tears might have undermined the intensity of the speech, or perhaps even caused a subordinate like Koning to lose respect for him. Willem Koning, however, only felt shaken at the sight of his 62-year-old boss's glistening eyes.
"Edvin, you know I'll do it. I think…I think I just need to remember that before Lindahl, this place wasn't some dank black hole where joy went to die. It's always been a nice workplace with its ups and downs. Sometimes it's relaxing, sometimes it's stressful, but we all love our jobs here. Lindahl's absence isn't going to ruin that."
Jonasson dabbed at his eyes with a tissue from his desk. He gave himself a mental pat on the back for fighting to save Koning's job years ago, during the company's biggest financial struggle of their long history. "No, it's not going to ruin anything, of course. I'm sure some people will be sour for awhile, and they'll blame me, but eventually things will go back to normal."
"I'm starting to think that we haven't known 'normal' in quite some time. Do you ever remember feeling like this? Before Lindahl, I mean?" Koning didn't wait for an answer. "I mean, I'm actually starting to feel pretty gung-ho about showing the door to our resident slacker, but then I look down at that little playground…" Koning's voice drifted off sleepily.
Jonasson looked down at the model again. He thought about Koning's words, and somewhere in his mind he made a connection. He felt the familiar pull to pick up and examine Lindahl's creation, and he realized with sudden clarity that it actually frightened him. Jonasson picked up the model, and stood up from his chair. Before Koning could say anything, the director hurled Lindahl's pet project against the far wall of his office. Plastic shrapnel bounced off Koning's torso, repelled by his business casual armor, as the startled manager attempted to assess what had just taken place. He turned to look at the now scratched and dented wall, then back to his boss.
Jonasson sat down in his office chair without a glance at his shaken employee. He moused away the screen saver on his computer, opened up his email, and began deleting anything containing industry buzz words. It was an activity that always calmed him, and gave a surprising amount of satisfaction. He heard his office door open and close as Koning left to tell a very nice man that his dream was not terribly marketable at this point in time, and that he would need to seek employment elsewhere.
The director's eyes were now curiously dry as he skimmed through the contents of each email. Many could be deleted after simply reading the subject line, but some of them were more misleading. Delete. Delete. Delete. Oh, yes, I know how important ergonomics are, thank you HR. Delete. Delete. Delete. The next email was from a project coordinator named Chad, who worked at the Connecticut office thousands of miles away. The subject line had seemed very promising.
"Oh Chad," Jonasson said to no one in particular. "I was considering sending a reply, until you mentioned 'core competencies'. I no longer wish to 'touch base' with you, I'm afraid."
The mouse pointer hovered over the "delete" option. Jonasson could hear voices from somewhere outside his office. Somebody sounded very upset.
"Slette," said the project director, the word barely a whisper as his eyes began to water again.
when he arrives
the lighthouse will be deserted
and he will crash upon the rocks