They stood on the street, squinting and weak as newborns, each clutching a cardboard box and a sheaf of legal documents. The head of HR had escorted them downstairs like convicts. The elevator ride was silent. When it opened on an intermediary floor, a businesswoman took one look and said that she’d wait for the next elevator, as though layoffs were contagious. As they exited the building, the head of HR shook their hands one by one while the doorman pretended to watch security cameras. In hindsight, Peter wished that he had spit on her proffered hand, or at the very least refused to participate, but his mind was full of static and he shook it out of habit.
The women were huddled under nearby scaffolding and cycling rapid fire between stages of grief. The former head of their former department was stuck in bargaining, upbraiding herself for a missed deadline and unanticipated vendor complications. The intern had settled squarely in anger, bringing up her lawyer uncle for the fourth or fifth time since arriving downstairs. The head of HR had been quick to explain the loopholes around at-will employment: no one had done anything wrong, but the free-market economy left no room for unprofitable ventures, which their department had become. Already one woman was talking about spending more time with her kids, and another mentioned a side project she’d always wanted to expand.
Peter tried to think about what he might want to do, but all he could think about was the call he had scheduled with Erin that afternoon. Would anyone let her know what had happened, or would she assume that he’d forgotten? He’d always liked Erin, their contact at the company who provided the software his department used, or used to. She had the kind of voice that made the world seem softer and more benevolent, and sometimes he even pretended not to know how to do something so that she would walk him through it.