He wasn't as unpleasant as his colleagues made him out to be. He wasn't cruel or unreasonable, but in their line of work, he had to be firm. He had to draw a line under things that may have been tighter than in other industries.
He was efficient. He was quiet. Unassuming. People tended to think this meant he was nice. Pleasant. Affable. And, perhaps, outside of his career, he was. But no one who worked with him ever found that out. To put it bluntly, no one ever lasted long enough to.
Ultimately, he was fair. If you did as you were meant to, you wouldn't cross him. He understood that mistakes happen. But he would also say that they only happened once. The way he said once was the only warning you got. For most people, it was the only warning they needed.
The people above him considered him an asset, yet treated him as a liability. He knew this. He allowed them to do this. He didn't raise his voice or argue when they yelled at him for the most benign mistake as if he, personally, was responsible for it. He would sit there, in the small, uncomfortable chair they provided for him, or whichever poor soul had the misfortune of suffering their ire that day, and he took it. He knew it wasn't personal. Not that kind of personal, anyway. They didn't hate him. After all, he had done nothing for them to hate him for. They just yelled. Most people at that level within the company considered, in all sincerity, yelling to be their job.
He also knew that they would never dare to do anything but yell at him. He was efficient. He ran a tight ship. His people were never the problem. The problem was something else, and it was something for the people above the people who yelled at him. So he kept on doing what he was doing.
He would know something was wrong when the yelling stopped.
That isn't to say he enjoyed it. They were loud. Performatively so. He knew the others who shared their floor heard it. It was for the audience. Not the target. An old way of doing business. But like him, they knew that it was only yelling. A show. Not an indictment of the man or his work. If people thought there were real, in your face, consequences for even the most minor of transgressions, they worked that little bit harder to avoid them. So everyone played their role. If only because, even in their office, even in their small, uncomfortable chair, no one ever actually saw who was yelling at them.
He wasn’t unpleasant to look at. He had no deformities. He was neither attractive nor unattractive. In the rare few moments that he had added to conversations regarding personal lives, he had let it slip that he was a bachelor, but that he also led a quiet and satisfying social life. He had worked there for nearly 30 years now and that was all anyone had managed to sneak out of him.
He dressed sharply, a clean, pressed suit each day. A plain tie, rotating through a few, appropriate, colours. His shoes were always glossy; freshly buffed – and not against the back of his trouser leg either. He was a man who put his elbow into it.
To any normal person, he was just another man heading into his 50s. There was nothing wrong with him, at least, nothing that wasn't cancelled out by things being wrong with others. The one vice he would admit to was a single cigarette each day, at his allocated break time.
Even so he was still the unpleasant one. He didn't resent the term. He didn't care enough about it to. This was his job and, to a point, part of his job was to endure these slings and arrows. Like the people above him with their yelling, there was no reason to take it personally. These people, the ones on an equal footing with him, the ones who competed with him – whether he wanted it or not – they may have been more personal, but what could they do? He was quiet. He did his work. He managed his own people. He didn't cause drama. He didn't retaliate. He was just there, and for him, that was all he needed to be for these people. Another shape in the room. Another middle manager to pad out someone else’s budget.
He knew, of course, that the day would come when being the unpleasant one would flip into being an actual liability. The day when the yelling would stop. When he would have to deal with the cosmic debt that he had accumulated.
These thoughts were never thought during the work day. Only in his living room. Sitting in his red leather chair. The one his grandfather bequeathed to him. Who, in turn, had inherited it from his grandfather. The thought about who he would bequeath it to would try, and fail, to weasel its way into his head as he relaxed, his shoes off, after work. Each day, for an hour after he got home, before he even took the now wrinkled and worn suit off, he would sit in the chair and he would read.
Some days there would be a snifter of brandy. Others would be another cigarette, although not the kind he took to the office.
Here at home he wasn't the unpleasant one. He was just Burt. He wasn't a manager. He wasn't the efficient, well mannered worker that most people either avoided or feared to see. He was just simply Burt.
Burt wasn't unpleasant. He didn't talk much, of course, but that was because for the most part in his two bedroom apartment, there weren't many people to talk to. The paintings on the wall certainly didn't say much and since there were no other people who shared the apartment – aside from the occasional single night visitor – conversation was at a minimum.
He did talk, of course he did, he wasn't entirely unfeeling, to his fish. The fish was a small as-seen-on-tv, get-it-for-your-kids, flush-it-when-it-dies goldfish. Like all of its kind, it lived in a small glass bowl-
“I’m a male.”
“A male. A man, if you care. Not an it. I’m not an object to be referred to as if I am disposable. Now, be a good lad and just tell them the rest so we can get on with it, will you?”
“Forgiven. Just, you know, for next time.”
“Mistakes only happen once.”
The fishes name was-
“Get it right now.”
The fishes name was-
“Is. I’m not dead yet.”
“One day you’ll do me the pleasure,” Burt’s voice filtered in from the living room, almost sounding bored. “I am bored,” he replied.
“Not bloody likely,” the fish said. “Finish the fucking story.”
The fishes name is Heinrich.
“Finally he spells it right. No, it genuinely took him five tries. Then he still looked it up. It doesn’t look right. This guy.”
The fishes name is Hinreich and he lives in a small glass bowl, with colourful glass stones at the bottom and a small hollow castle where he hides. He hides from the light that comes on when anyone opens the fridge door where his bowl inexplicably lives.