Steve makes the tea. When his colleagues are struggling and voices are raised, he goes out into the kitchen and, unbidden, he takes down the mugs – the ill-advised Jim’ll Fix It mug for Jenny, and the Winnie the Pooh mug for Laura – and he makes them tea, taking it through and putting it down on their desks, whether they’re there or not. If they are, he puts their mugs down with a flourish but not a word, letting them look up and thank him and hear his “oh, it’s nothing” and see his retreating back because he wouldn’t need their thanks – it is just what he does. If they’re not at their desks, then he leaves the tea and he returns to his own, listening out for the “thank you” that will come, first from Jenny, then from Laura, and playing it cool as to whether he will own up or not to the generous deed. It could be him. It could be Dave. It’s unlikely to be Dave. That bugger will parch himself if there’s a risk he has to make tea for anyone else. He’s like that, is Dave. Last one to the bar when there’s a danger of it being his round. First in line when someone else is paying. There are words for that. They’ve all been said, none of them by Steve, and most of them when Dave’s not in the room.
Steve makes the tea. When there’s the weekly staff meeting and the targets are going to come up again and Accounts Annette has been doing the books and they won’t come to anything like they’re supposed to, he makes sure to nip round to Tesco beforehand and buy a packet of Ginger Nuts. Jenny likes Ginger Nuts. Laura prefers the Garibaldi. He’ll often pick them up too, even though the raisins make him think of squashed bugs. If it’s a really bad meeting, he’ll get a nice Battenberg. Everyone likes a Battenberg. Apart from Dave, who looks at it with suspicion and declines as if he’s been offered scrofula in cake form. Nonetheless, Dave excluded, there will be thanks when the box is found in the kitchen, and they’ll probably know it was him. They know he’s partial. But he won’t put it down on the expenses, not like Dave would – has done with rather more than cake, if truth be told. Annette doesn’t have to thank Steve for his generosity, but then she does have other things to worry about right now.
Steve makes the tea when the auditors come in and they go over the books and Accounts Annette walks out mid-morning, saying she wouldn’t return even if she was paid, and reminding anyone who’ll listen, anyone who isn’t trying to find the paperwork they’re saying has been misfiled, that she hasn’t, in fact, been paid for three months now. Steve offers her a chocolate Hob Nob before she goes. She doesn’t take it well. Jenny and Laura are too busy for drinks and, besides, the Jim’ll Fix It mug has finally been binned. Or taken by Annette as compensation for something.
Steve makes the tea when they come for the desks. And the computers. Jenny has followed Annette out of the building by now, and Laura is only in to collect her things. She doesn’t stop for Battenberg or the Oreos he’d thought would brighten the occasion. Peanut butter, too. She hadn’t even smiled when he’d told her how they eat them over there.
Steve puts what’s left back in the Tupperware box in the kitchen. And it’s only then that he realises that someone has walked off with the kettle. He makes do with the orange squash Dave left behind when he was ‘encouraged’ to leave. Or resigned before he was sacked.
He’ll need to get himself a new mug, though, when that time comes. His own – a deliberately ironic, office laugh-provoking, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe – had been dropped. Through the window and onto the concrete outside. An accident amidst all the removals, no doubt.
Orange squash in hand, Steve pads through the empty office, glad that the carpet, at least, has survived the last few weeks, and he gently pushes open the door to his office where his computer now isn’t. He lingers for a moment on the threshold, knowing that something is different. Something is missing.
The faded rectangular space on the door eludes him for a good few seconds, and it’s actually the neat screw holes advertising the absence that eventually draw his attention.
Oh, Steve thinks, disappointed. He’d have wanted to keep the nameplate as proof of this first management role. He’d have liked it for his kitchen wall. He could have looked at it when he was making the tea.
Mike Hickman (@MikeHic13940507) is a former academic (allegedly a doctor) and writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including a 2018 play about Groucho Marx. He has recently been published in the Blake-Jones Review, Bitchin’ Kitsch, and the Cabinet of Heed.