I guess it started around 6 o’clock. Everything was quiet and serene up until then. But ever since 6 o’clock it’s been all beeeeep. beeeeeep. beeeeeep.
At first I thought it was the microwave in the breakroom, maybe someone had abandoned their Hot Pocket or Lean Cuisine and the microwave was crying for them to come and rescue the freshly nuked meal. Kind of like a “Seriously, your fucking food has done been baked for ten minutes now so come remove it, asshole” reminder beep.
We get a five second reprieve in between beeps. Sometimes, during the fleeting silences, I delude myself into thinking, hoping that this is it, that was the last beep. “Listen you guys! The beeping’s done!” I fantasize saying to my co-workers, and we’d all jump up from our seats and embrace in a frantic circle of relief.
No. No, there it is, nevermind. The next beep is always there, creeping up around the corner, nipping at the heels of the previous beep.
Sometimes, I forget about the beep. I force myself to sink down within my thoughts and I eventually tune it out. But then there’s always another noise to bring me out of it — Eleanore slamming a desk drawer or Eleanore yelling into the phone or Eleanore turning up her rap music — and the very next beep makes my shoulder twitch all the way up to my ear. And then for a split second, I have a shoulder earring, and that’s pretty weird.
We sat here silently and motionless, continuing to work, but with muscles still from the tension the incessant beeping had caused, until Eleanore finally decided to seek out its origin.
A digital voice recorder was sitting atop a shelf around the corner from our area, and an alarming red exclamation mark flashed in sync with the high-pitched beeping. Whatever this thing was, it didn’t belong to our specific department and all of the daylight people were gone for the day.
Help was futile.
Three hours later, I knew we had hit dire straits when I was clear on the other side of the building and could still hear it chiming within my skull, because by that point the noise had been seared into my ear canal. It’s like psychological war fare.
I stormed back to my desk and sat down. I sat for fifteen seconds before rising. It was time to take a stance. I marched over to the machine and inspected it. Bob joined me and together we followed the power cord to the socket, but it was taped to it. I picked the heavy equipment up and prayed for a power switch, but there was none. Finally, I yanked a plug from the back. The only thing missing from the scene was an angry mob chanting “Attica!” while taking power cords hostage.
The red light stopped flashing but remained a very serious shade of red, and the beeping morphed into one consistent tone of emergency, like it was shrieking, “You are SO fired.”
I nearly gulped, but then it shut off, stopped beeping altogether. We were enveloped in silence.
Kim called out from her cube, “Who did it??” and Bob proudly announced that I had saved the day. I was pleased, and had a fleeting realization that if Collin hadn’t gone home sick, he’d probably have tried to take credit for it.
We returned to our seats and went back to work, basking in the silence. “I can’t believe it took three hours for us to finally do something about that,” Bob laughed. “I kind of miss it now,” he added.
And then it started again. I was going to unplug it and keep the plug out, but Kim wussed out at the last second and said, “We really shouldn’t mess with it since we don’t know what it is.”
Bob and I distracted each other by exchanging our favorite moments from various seasons of The Real World, but then we were starting to embarrass ourselves with how much we remembered (and cared) so I got up to make some tea while he undoubtedly tried hard to act like that exchange never took place.
I feel like this is some sort of subliminal training session, like I’m going to leave here tonight and begin gutting albino priests without giving it a second thought. Tomorrow morning you’ll find me on rooftops, sniping at homeless people and any other stereotype my company secretly wishes to eradicate.
I really want to fuck up that machine’s day with a rifle. SEE? I’m halfway to an assassin without even trying.
Sometimes Bob will laugh about it. He’ll just let out this crazy ass laugh, it’s not a happy laugh, but more of an unstable, We’re all mad here chuckle — he’s just laughing because a psychological break is right around the corner and we all fucking know it. And on top of all that, we’ve been instructed to keep track of every single record we look at during the shift, so really when you put things in perspective a constant electronic siren is pretty much the perfect soundtrack to an evening of scratching tick marks in a notebook.