Hang In There! says the poster, and just beneath this peppy instruction is a photograph of a sloth hanging languidly from a branch. Its little black eyes gaze out, curious, while a superior half-smile on its mouth shows its true colours. “Oh yeah, you hang in there,” that smug mouth seems to say. “I’ll even provide the noose.”
Gordon wants to punch that fucking sloth right between its beady eyes.
The poster turned up in the office three weeks ago, pinned to the noticeboard front and centre amongst line graphs and sales charts. Gordon doesn’t know who brought it in, and he hasn’t a clue if the intention was to boost department morale or to wind him up. But he daren’t ask his team about it. If he knows who the culprit is he’ll be too tempted to fire them on the spot. He can’t afford another summons to HR.
He stares the sloth down. The creature’s claws look to be directed at the annual profit chart, pointing at every downward trend that has led up to the current month’s ghastly flatline. “See that?” the creature seems to say. “See the failure? Do you smell it? You stink of it.”
I can smell it, lazy boy, thinks Gordon. Don’t you worry.
The stench can’t be ignored. It clings to him, sour and cloying. He is yet to wash away the sweat that poured from his skin in yesterday’s meeting with the MD. It had been sweltering in that conference room. His neck had swollen and bulged over his shirt collar. Perspiration had trickled down his back and his brow. And yet the MD himself had seemed oblivious to the heat, even when delivering to Gordon the biggest bollocking of his life. It was a telling off so good and proper that it had sent Gordon running back to his office like a scolded boy banished to his bedroom, and there he had hidden all night, too ashamed to go home and look his wife and kids in the eyes.
“It’s your fault,” Gordon tells the sloth. “Things have gone from bad to worse ever since you’ve been hanging in there.” He nods quickly, assuring himself of the truth. “We were in a slump before you, that’s all. Just one of those things. It happens in business. But you…” He jabs a finger in the sloth’s direction. “You’ve made it into an entire fucking collapse. You’re bad for us. You mess with our heads. The whole team knows it. It’s a curse. It’s those beady fucking eyes of yours.”
“Talking to yourself, love? Or Sammy?” It’s Janet, the cleaner, hovering in the doorway. Who knows how long she’s been standing there, listening for scraps of gossip that she can dish out in the staff room later. She’s sporting a wide, toothy grin. Chipper as a chipmunk, she is, despite the clock reading 6.30 a.m.
Gordon slicks back his dishevelled hair. “Sammy?”
“That’s what I call the sloth. Isn’t he lovely? I’m glad you like him.” She steps into the room and turns her toothy grin towards the poster. “D’ya know, I saw it down the market one Saturday morning and right away I thought of you.”
Ah. So it was Janet who brought the little bastard into Gordon’s world, was it? He ought to have known. Chipper as a chipmunk. Just the type to go in for peppy posters.
“I heard your department was struggling a bit,” Janet says in a whisper loud enough for the receptionist to hear three floors down. “You know how word gets around. And I thought Sammy the sloth might bring you and your team a bit of motivation. Hang In There! You know? Are you hanging in there, Gordon love? Be honest.”
Gordon’s fingers dig into his thighs. He gets up from behind his desk, strides over to the poster, gives the sloth a final, withering look and snatches it from the noticeboard. He shreds it in a frenzy, ripping chunks of it away with his teeth and spitting them out onto the floor. His face turns red. A vein protrudes from his forehead.
Janet stares at him, clutching her hands to her chest. He stares right back, absorbing her shock and disappointment and fear.
“Sorry, but…” he says. But there’s isn’t a ‘but’ that fits. He walks away from the pile of shredded sloth, collects his suit jacket and heads for the door. Janet leans away from him as he passes her.
Hang In There! Hang In There! Hang In There! goes the mantra around and around Gordon’s head, all the way home.
He manoeuvres his car onto his driveway and notes the time on the dashboard. His family will be up and at ’em inside — kids packing their schoolbags, wife dressing for work, dog snaffling leftover breakfast crumbs from the kitchen floor. They’ll be able to smell the sour stench of failure on him, just like that sloth.
The garage door slides open and as Gordon pulls in and parks up he is faced once more with those beady fucking eyes. Regenerated, teleported, and taped to the garage wall.
Gordon rubs at his eyes with the heels of his hands, and still the image of the poster remains. And right beside it, hanging from a nail which has been driven deep into the brick, is a thick length of rope.
Hang In There!
“Let’s do it then, lazy boy,” he mutters.
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