INT. OFFICE BREAK ROOM – NIGHT
After hours. LAURA, 24, pushes a mop across the floor, humming along to the music in her earbuds: Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” Physically, she looks very put together, wearing a crisp uniform despite the fact that there’s no one around to impress.
There’s a little bit of dance in Laura’s step, but she’s not completely present, the repetition of her job having gotten the better of her.
Suddenly, DANNY, 28, jumps out from beside the vending machine, screams and makes his body as big as possible. Laura screams back, drops the mop. She pulls out her earbuds and smacks Danny on the arm.
Danny’s more than pleased with himself, evident not only in his actions but in his overall carriage. He’s a loafer and wears his status proudly—unkempt clothes, tousled hair—yet he appears to put a lot of effort into being apathetic.
Jesus, Danny. You scared the shit.
out of me.
Do you know how long I’ve been
waiting here? What have you
Oh, I don’t know, maybe picking up
the slack of the guy who has time
to lay in wait for an hour.
Almost two. I really have to pee.
Great, you can mop while you’re in
She floats the mop handle in Danny’s direction. Instead of catching it, he lets it fall to the floor.
Have you done any work tonight?
As he leaves the room:
Lighten up, Laura. As long as the
trash cans are empty in the
morning, nobody cares what we do
Laura shakes her head, picks up the mop, and goes back to work.
INT. OFFICE BULLPEN – LATER
Danny is sitting in an employee’s cubicle, multiple windows of porn open on the computer monitor.
Laura pushes her supply cart down the hall, stops at the cubicle. She sees what Danny’s watching and scrunches up her face in disgust.
What are they doing to each other?
Danny is unfazed by being caught. Without missing a beat:
I could show you how it’s done.
You’re gonna feel awful if you
She picks the employee’s nameplate up off the desk.
…Steve Osborn fired for looking
There’s no password on this
computer. As far as I’m concerned,
Steve Osborn brought this on
You’re an asshole.
A loud CRASH comes from a nearby office. Laura and Danny peek around the cubicle.
A middle-aged MAN staggers out of his office, disheveled, shirt untucked, white dust in his hair and on his shoulders. He walks down the hall, loosening a cord from around his neck.
Laura and Danny look at each other, wide-eyed.
What the fuck was that?
Trying to kill himself? I’m pretty
Go after him. He might need help.
You go. You look like the type that
swallowed a handful of pills as a
lovesick teenager. Give him some
Laura ignores him and goes to the man’s office. The name on the door says WILLIAM FELLNER.
INT. WILLIAM’S OFFICE – CONTINUOUS
Laura enters to find a gaping hole in the ceiling, busted tiles on the floor. The metal frame that holds the tiles in place is bent and hanging.
Danny shoves past Laura to survey the damage.
That guy’s an idiot if he thought
this ceiling would
(shakes his head)
And I’m the one stuck being a
janitor. Guess you’re really gonna
earn your nine bucks an hour
Laura continues to stare at the ceiling, mouth agape, speechless.
INT. MEN’S RESTROOM – MOMENTS LATER
Laura enters cautiously.
William stands in front of the sink, looking in the mirror as he takes long, deep breaths. His shirt is soaked with sweat.
He doesn’t answer, doesn’t even acknowledge that Laura is there. Deep breath in, deep breath out.
I’m alive, right?
Then, no, I’m not okay. But thanks
Get the fuck out!
Laura cowers a bit as the words echo against the bathroom tile. She backs out of the room.
INT. WILLIAM’S OFFICE – LATER
Laura tries to put the office back together as best she can. She picks up the broken ceiling pieces while Danny rifles through William’s desk.
Stop going through his stuff. It’s
disrespectful. What are you looking
for anyway? Clues?
If by “clues” you mean drugs and
alcohol, then yes. Trust me, anyone
desperate enough to try hanging
himself in his office has got a
little contraband tucked away
Are you gonna help me or not?
I don’t see why we’re wasting our
time here. It’s not like nobody’s
gonna notice what happened just
because we run a vacuum over the
Shut up, Danny. Just do your job.
What’d he say to you?
She looks up at the hole in the ceiling.
He didn’t say anything.
INT. MEN’S RESTROOM – LATER
Laura props the door open and enters with her mop and bucket.
She looks around, not sure if William is still inside. At the very least, he’s no longer standing at the sink.
She starts to mop the floor, then a voice comes from one of the stalls.
You came back.
He steps out of the stall, faces Laura. He is decidedly calmer than he was during their last encounter.
The mop stops for no man.
Not even one who tries to hang
Laura isn’t sure what to say to that. They make uncomfortable eye contact.
What’s your name?
You go into my office every night.
I know for damn sure you’ve been in
there tonight. You know my name.
I’m just trying to make small talk.
I can leave again if you’d like,
but sooner or later this bathroom’s
gotta be cleaned.
No, no, don’t leave me. Please, I
can’t be alone right now.
I’m not as hopeless as you think.
You don’t know what I’m thinking.
Oh, no? You gonna tell me you don’t
think I’m an absolutely pathetic
excuse for a human being? I should
be checking myself into a mental
institution instead of hiding in
this bathroom, right?
I try to keep my thoughts focused
on things like scrubbing toilets
and scraping the caked-on food off
the microwave walls. A girl doesn’t
want to start getting ideas, you
I don’t want to be saved.
Well, then it’s a good thing I
didn’t bring my magic mop with me
tonight. Excuse me…
She starts to clean the floor again, forcing him to move to the side or else get mop water on his shoes. He watches her for a moment, then:
If I was in your position, I might
be a little nicer. What if
something you say sets me off and
makes me want to kill myself for
So this time wasn’t real? What was
it, a dry run? Seems to me like it’s
just another thing you can add to
the list of stuff you probably
fucked up in your life.
Whoa, big talk from such a little
Yeah, I’m not much for canned
wisdom. I deal with enough bullshit
everyday as it is.
You want to know why I did it?
Not really, but I can’t stop you
from telling me.
Well, I wouldn’t want to burden you
with something so insignificant.
Laura’s annoyed now. She’s had enough of this guy and his nonsensical whining.
Oh God, fine, just say it.
I was trying to get to the better
I don’t know what that means.
How many times have you heard
somebody say that when a person
dies they go to a better place? If
that’s true, it makes me wonder
what the hell we’re all still
hanging around here for.
Bad choice of words. But
seriously… My life is shit, you
life is shit–
Speak for yourself.
She looks down at her mop with disdain, hates to admit to herself that there’s truth in his words.
The point is we keep being sold
this idea that there’s something
better just waiting for us. I say, no
no more waiting.
Yeah, you are.
Look, none of this is helping me
get my job done any faster. Are you
done trying to kill yourself for
I can’t make any promises. The
better place is calling. You know
From out of nowhere, there’s a BANG and William’s brains are splattered against the wall behind him.
Laura wails, tries unsuccessfully to catch him as he drops to the floor.
Holy shit! Oh my God!
She turns to find Danny standing there with a gun.
I told you I’d find something cool
in his desk drawer.
Danny, what the fuck did you do?
Gave him what he wanted.
He spins the gun around his index finger like a cowboy, but fumbles the move and drops the gun. Danny and Laura both flinch as the gun hits the floor, slides and lands at William’s feet. They’re relieved that it didn’t go off. Danny gestures toward the mess.
I sure as hell ain’t cleaning
Laura, nearly hyperventilating at this point, continues to cradle William in her arms. In her head, the song plays again: “Uptown Girl,” her momentary version of a better place. Her eyes focus on the gun in front of her.
Michael P. Adams is a native Californian and a graduate of San Jose State University’s MFA program. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in New Plains Review (Editor’s Prize winner), Gigantic Sequins, Cardinal Sins, Nomadic Journal, Chicago Literati and others.