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Fruits of Labour

by J. R. Lowe about a year ago in Short Story
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Being stuck working for a narcissistic, homophobic, self-indulged boss would be a nightmare for any employee. Unfortunately for Austin’s boss, karma was making its rounds.

Todd was perhaps the worst boss to have ever existed. Not only was he abhorrently stupid, but it seemed he put the entirety of his limited brain capacity towards making life as miserable as possible for his employees. He was ambiguously aged, with leathery tanned skin, frown wrinkles, a short-back-and-sides haircut, and an outfit that somehow always incorporated a designer belt. “Somewhere between twenty-eight and forty-five” was the verdict Austin and the other employees had come to under hushed gossip in the lunchroom.

Austin had been hired two weeks ago but it had only taken him a matter of minutes to realise it was a toxic work environment due to Todd’s overbearing micromanagement and sheer arrogance. The doors were flying off the hinges in the office as a result, with employees either resigning or being fired and new employees being hired to fill the gaps almost every week. Somehow, Todd had managed to maintain a careful balance such that his business had never been understaffed. Still, it was almost impressive how poorly he treated his employees given that the success of his business hung in the balance of adequate staff members. All it would take was for a few more staff to quit in rapid succession and his company would be in serious trouble.

Tuesday mornings were when the weekly ‘catch ups’ with all twenty-seven of Todd's staff were held, which really were just an excuse to dish out some back-handed compliments and destroy his employees’ self-esteem. Austin and eight of the other employees sat around the meeting table while the remaining seventeen clung to the outer walls like nervous cattle in a slaughterhouse. Todd sat at the head of the table clicking his pen and watched the clock on the far wall tick over to 10:01am. Suddenly, Jenny burst into the room and tried to subtly join the others at the edge of the walls. She looked flustered as always, with a look of sheer panic in her eyes like a scared mouse. Jenny was an anxious woman in her early twenties who mostly kept to herself, but she was perhaps one of the kindest people in the entire office.

“The catch ups are scheduled for 10:00am for a reason you know, Gemma,” Todd said coldly without looking up from his laptop that was positioned perfectly in front of him.

“I-it’s Jenny, sir.”

Todd ignored her and started the meeting. He had an abundance of terrible traits, but his worst feature was his inability to listen to anyone but himself.

“So, we hit a new low with sales this week. I think we need to start focussing on a better business strategy, particularly in regard to digital marketing. You guys have been doing better over the last few weeks, but it’s still sub par.”

Kaylah, who was head of the marketing department suddenly piped up from her seat at the table, “Well last month was pride month and so we spent a lot of time producing content which would attract more interest from the LQBTIQ+ community, particularly as they make up a large portion of our clients. It was a bit short lasted, but I think my team produced a relatively good outcome.”

“Mmm, well...” Todd said, clearly looking uncomfortable, “I suppose better marketing which targets other population groups would be more effective. Besides, this pear tree will be the only thing letting fruits into this office if you catch my drift,” he chuckled, gesturing towards the plant which sat beside him on top of a small desk in the corner of the room. The plant was about three feet tall and sat in a hideously bright orange ceramic pot. There was an awkward silence as everyone stared at Austin to see how he would react. To their surprise, he looked rather calm.

“I think that comment was a little distasteful, Todd. Especially in this day and age.” Austin said.

“Oh, I’m joking, Austin, lighten up, would you?” Todd said smugly, patting Austin rather condescendingly on the shoulder, “We all know this is an inclusive workplace. I have no problem with you or your husband. Just don’t go bringing any of that lovey-dovey stuff into the office, alright? I don’t care if anyone is a bit fruity, just don’t go rubbing it in normal peoples’ faces like myself.”

Austin raised an eyebrow and there was another moment of painful silence as everyone sat in sheer shock until Todd finally continued his rambling.

“Anyway, moving on,” Todd chuffed as he stood up from his seat and began pacing towards the plant, “What I want to talk to you all about today is workplace structure. I like to think of this pear tree as a symbol of this workplace. Sometimes you have to trim a few branches, and remove the deadweight, but if you water it regularly, and give it enough light, it’ll grow some astoundingly delicious produce - the fruits of our labour one might say. Unfortunately, the other week we had to trim one of the larger branches of our workforce with the resignation of Dayana.”

“Resignation? Didn’t you fire her for being too… what was the word you used? Outspoken? She was the chief advisor, it’s literally her job, or at least it was.” Kaylah scalded.

“And now it’s Austin’s job,” Todd replied bluntly as he came to a halt in front of the side desk, “Dayana was rude and didn’t know what she was doing. She was a diversity hire from a few years back when we were getting some nasty reviews about being a white-supremacist workplace. Unfortunately, coming from the Caribbean didn’t make here too great at her job. I had to let her go.”

“Wasn’t she one of your top employees though?” Austin asked.

“And how would you know, Austin? You’ve been here for two weeks. You only spoke to her for a couple of days when she handed over to you.”

Austin waved his hands in frustration. He knew that arguing with someone like Todd was completely pointless.

“Anyway, as I was saying, Dayana had to go, which meant pruning back some of our workforce.”

Todd grabbed a pair of scissors from the side desk and lifted them up towards the tree. Everyone stared as Todd began to close the scissor blades over one of the smaller branches, until Austin spoke up cautiously “I don’t think that’s a go-”

“Stop interrupting me, Austin.”

“No, I know, but I’m pretty sure tha–”

“I said stop!” Todd snapped, raising a finger to his lips to silence Austin’s protests. Austin sighed in defeat as Todd turned back to the tree and continued to cut off one of the tree’s stray branches, before placing it rather bitterly on the desk and continuing his monologue.

“What I’m saying is, even though we’ve had to trim back a bit, this pear tree can still flourish. In fact, sometimes trimming back the branches can actually be beneficial for growth. Do you all see what I’m saying?”

“Wasn’t that tree a parting gift from Dayana though? Kind of ironic don’t you think?” Kaylah asked.

“Yes, it was. But that’s not the point,” Todd snapped.

“Wait, why would Dayana give Todd a parting gift if she was fired?” Jenny asked, and then suddenly looked shocked as she realised she’d spoken aloud.

“I don’t know, I suppose she felt guilty for the lack of work she had contributed,” Todd shrugged, “Now for the last time everyone – shut. Up.”

Todd took a seat back at the meeting table and opened a document on his laptop while everyone nervously waited.

“So as I said before, we’ve hit a new low in sales and need to make a few changes in terms of processes and procedures to ensure we produce high-quality work. Especially since that seems to be lacking lately,” Todd said as he shot a sharp glare in Jenny’s direction.

“Can I say something?” Austin chimed in. Todd sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Fine. Be quick.”

“I think the cause of the drop in quality may be a result of poor management and a stressful work environment.”

“Oh don’t be ridiculous Austin, there’s nothing wrong with my management style. I’ve been doing things this way for years.”

“You’re not even listening to anyone though. You’re arrogant, unempathetic and completely blind to the needs of your employees. This business has by far the highest staff turnover rate I have ever seen.”

“If staff aren’t a right fit for this workplace, then they aren’t encouraged to stay.”

“Well forgive my straightforwardness but I think that’s a very ignorant approach to the issue.”

“So what are you saying? That I’m the problem?”

“Well… Yes, or at least your management style is. It’s awful. You can be quite rude if I’m perfectly honest.”

“Excuse me?” Todd snapped. His face was reddening and a huge vain protruded from his forehead. To have an employee speak so lowly of him in front of the entire company was utterly humiliating. It was demasculinising.

Austin continued nevertheless, “Well you clearly lack basic manners when interacting with employees and you seem to have some issues with… homophobia, among other things of course.”

“Oh so you’re pulling THAT card?” Todd spat, rolling his eyes, “You know what Austin. I thought you were different to those other fruits that are always so sensitive and opinionated. Kicking up their feet about every minor inconvenience that comes their way in an effort to do everything but their damn jobs. But you’re not.”

“Well I think that’s a bit to-”

“You’re fired. I want your desk cleared by the end of the day. Now get out.”

Austin sat back in his seat in shock. He’d worked for bosses with short fuses before but Todd was by far the worst. Jenny stepped forward nervously from the side of the room, “That’s not fair. You can’t just fire people on the spot like that,” she gasped.

“Unless you want to be fired as well, I suggest you take a step back and stop interrupting, Gemma.”

Jenny’s mouth dropped open, she was clearly offended, and in a moment of bravery she looked Todd in the eye, “Well then I quit,” she said proudly.

Todd glared back at Jenny, infuriated by her lack of obedience.

“Fine. There’s the door,” he spat, gesturing towards the exit.

“Screw it. I quit too,” Kaylah said, standing up from her seat, “You’re an absolute ass anyway, Todd.”

Austin was still sat in his seat watching everything unfold in front of him. Suddenly the room was roaring with the voices of all twenty-seven employees, as resignation after resignation was yelled at Todd’s pale and shocked face. One by one they began to walk out of the office, lead by Jenny and Kaylah, until only Austin and Todd remained.

They both sat at the table in shock amongst the rubble of Todd’s company, completely stunned at everything that had unfolded.

“You never let me finish what I was saying earlier,” Austin said, “I know your company probably won’t survive this, but for future reference, Todd, if you’re going to make metaphorical speeches about the ‘fruits of your labour’ with a fruit tree as a prop, then at least make sure you use an actual fruit tree.”

“…What do you mean?” Todd asked, still dazed and confused at the chaos that had unfolded.

“That’s not a fucking pear tree, Todd,” Austin said bluntly, pointing at the plant on the desk in the corner, “It’s a Manchineel. They’re toxic.”

With that, Austin stood up from the table and walked out the door, while Todd sat in disbelief, alone in an empty room, with nothing but the Manchineel tree and bright red blisters on his hands where sap from the broken branch had leaked onto his skin.

Short Story

About the author

J. R. Lowe

I confess, I don't exactly have a specific topic or writing style, or an organised train of thought for that matter. On the plus side, that means there's probably something here everyone ;)


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