CTRL + RETURN

The moment you hit send you know you’re fucked. Still, there’s a chance that if you move fast enough you can rip the cable from the back of your computer and prevent the email from blasting out to the group distribution list. Processing that thought takes less than one second and is accompanied by what feels like a full quart of adrenaline hitting your bloodstream with the force of a speedball. And so down you go, oblivious to the perilous state of your heart, which is already jackhammering an exit from your chest, into a briar patch of dust bunnies and dog-eared copies of The Economist and paper bag sarcophagi of rancid half-eaten lunches. Another second. You find the wire and yank so hard that your elbow smacks the underside of your desk and launches a Starbucks cup filled with two days of tobacco spit onto the carpet next to Alvarez’s foot. He recoils and fires off automatic rounds of trilled and profane vernacular but you barely hear it because you’re back on your feet in a modified three-point stance, your chair capsized next to you, your hand on the desk for support, your face six inches from the screen, searching for the parenthetical that will save your life: Outbox (1). 

The outbox is empty. You click Sent Mail and there it is, your unintended reply to sixty-seven recipients, several of whom are so senior they haven’t acknowledged you in the elevator for the two years you’ve been employed here. You’re an analyst, which in the hierarchy of this bank, is the biological equivalent of a single cell organism. Your role—insofar as your superiors bother to confer one upon you, usually around 9 p.m.—is strictly defined: to create perfect Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. You have never created a perfect Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Your spreadsheets need to be triple- and quadruple-checked like passports at Ben Gurion. You simply can’t be trusted. This isn’t necessarily a disqualifier for advancement—no one here trusts anyone else. Nevertheless, you’d like to be known as a can-do kind of guy, more like Alvarez, a bond math genius who speaks three languages and teaches Excel modeling to the first-years at the end of a hundred-hour week.

The death of this better, future self becomes plain as you read through the names on the distribution list a second time. You might have survived—probably not, but it’s comforting to think this—if the email had been limited to internal personnel. This is not the case. There are names here you don’t recognize, with dreaded extensions like @davispolk.com (the firm’s lawyers) and @wicklandcapital.com (the firm’s clients). You have never met any of these people because you’re not allowed out of the building unless there is a fire. The sight of their names as recipients to one of your emails—this email—has a vertiginous effect. You flip your chair over and sit.

Are you hyperventilating? You loosen your tie and unbutton your shirt.  A trapped gust of musky heat wafts out as from a crowded, long-sealed sauna. Your deodorant’s chemically-engineered Sport Plus fragrance has all but surrendered to superior fear and panic pheromones. You grab a tin of Skoal from your desk drawer, pinch off a wad and tuck it into your upper lip. Time to focus. Perhaps you’ve overestimated the damage you’ve done. You scroll down to the first paragraph and try to extract a plausible secondary meaning, but it doesn’t get any better. In fact, it gets worse. 

Dear Assholes, the email begins.

What were you thinking? Bonuses are due to hit next week! It’s impossible now to summon the rabid glee you felt as you pounded out sentences like Suggestion 14, Analyst Showers: Helpful for washing off the scum that accumulates during any interaction with Management (NB: risks include substitution of gas for water). 

Faded, too, is the perverse logic for hitting Reply All. Certainly you’ve had worse weeks. Just last month you worked three straight all-nighters. After almost seventy hours of continual sentience, the VP on the deal, Leo Kenner, screamed at you for improperly formatting a paragraph in Arial font. You were so tired and hungry and, frankly, hallucinating that you went back to your computer and changed the entire PowerPoint to Garamond—wrong again—and sent it off to the client. Kenner came around the corner a few minutes later with a heavy, corded phone and launched it at you from twenty feet. “Your new name,” he said by way of explanation, “is Shithead.” 

Probably, it was an accumulation of grievances that caused you to snap, grievances absent not just redress but any hope for redress. That, and a sick thrill in seeing the huge block of names as addressees, your giddiness metamorphosing with the expanding word count into a full-fledged fantasy (I’ll never send this but I could, I could) until somebody walked behind you and you—Shithead!— freaked out. You keystroked for Alt-Tab to hide your document but instead hit Ctrl-Return and sent it.

Deep in the analyst farm someone yells “OHHHHHH!” many decibels over the norm associated with trading blunders or animal porn.  Waves of laughter ripple through the vast trading floor.  People begin to stand.  They look your way, waiting, it seems, for something to happen, an event of some kind. This strikes you as Roman in an oblique way, maybe even older than that—the desire to bear witness to spectacle.

The spectacle is you. You’re about to be fired. The crowd-heads swivel and you follow their gaze to the double doors of the lobby through which two guards move like lions released from the gate. Kenner is a step behind them wearing an expression that might be described as pre-homicidal. 

They round the corner. Here they come. 

Be strong, you tell yourself. Be the man who wrote the email.

Photo Credit: Brett Jordan via Unsplash

About the author

Cullen McMahon holds an MFA in Fiction from Brooklyn College. He lives in Connecticut and is currently at work on a novel. You can reach him at cullenkmcmahon@gmail.com.

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