Leave the Pieces by Jason P. Burnham

I’m supremely competent at my job in three dimensions—it’s the fourth that really messes things up.

“Dustin, you checked that you were capable of duality-simultaneity on your application to work here, correct?” asks my boss, Mr. Hausting.

Yes, but that was a lie, I want to say. Just like your promise to set aside extra time for trainings to help me improve. While I can access the fourth dimension and work in it, I can’t function there and in the other three dimensions at the same time.

“Mr. Manning?” he asks, removing the always greasy glasses from his too pink face for another inevitably unsuccessful cleaning.

“Sorry, yes, I checked the duality-simultaneity box.” Norman Hausting, what a turd. Always saying he’ll help you to your face, then doing the opposite behind your back. Betrayal nestles safely among his shelves of trinkets, walls plastered with diplomas, awards, and family pictures on ski slopes.

He blows on his glasses, as if the grease is miscible with water vapor from his breath. “And yet, you seem to be having difficulty keeping up with these transactions.”

In three-dimensions, we do regular old stock trades. In four dimensions, we trade time. “Had a lot going on at home, sir.” I hope he doesn’t remember it’s just me and my rescue dog, Krissy.

“Ah, I see,” he says. Per company policy, he can’t ask about personal matters, which only sometimes prevents it. He puts his still filthy glasses back on and changes topics. “What are your long-term goals here at Time Traders Inc.? I want you to be successful, but for me to facilitate that, I need to know your future plans.”

Lies. He doesn’t want to help. He wants me to say I’m interested in climbing the corporate ladder so he can tell me the only way to ascend is by working harder, being smarter. If I told him I just wanted to work in three dimensions and go home to Krissy at night, watch basketball, and enjoy life, he would probably fire me. I squeeze my interlaced knuckles together until they’re white.

Tired with my pensive silence, he continues, “Because if you want to get promoted, you’re going to have to get these transactions under control. Not only that, you’re going to have to get ahead. To get promoted, you have to work harder and smarter.”

It’s a good thing this meeting is happening before lunch, otherwise I’d puke. “I promise, I’ll get things under control.”

“Okay,” he nods, pacified, that smug, self-assured rich white guy boss smile. “I’ll be checking your numbers over the next few months and then we’ll meet again.”

I’m halfway out the door when he tacks on insult.

“And Dustin, fix your white walls problem—you’ve worked here far too long to have such a soulless office.”

Ironic. I nod so as not to yell and head to my blank-walled office—who cares what’s on the walls when you stare at a computer all day? That’s where I pay attention to the backdrop—mine is Krissy trying to catch a treat, the biscuit hovering mid-air the moment before it smacks the brown and white speckled fur between her crossed eyes. I wish I could bring her to the office for moments like this when there’s nothing more I need than a giant Great Dane hug. A hug to make me feel better about all the time I waste having two jobs in one—completing my work in the fourth dimension, then redoing it in the first three at home. Working in four dimensions without duality-simultaneity (i.e. the ability to work in all four dimensions simultaneously) is like two posters hanging on the same wall trying to draw one another from memory when all they’ve ever seen of the other is one side of a frame.

Time for my lunch break hobby—searching wistfully for a job in three dimensions that I know I’ll never take. There’s no technical reason you can’t come back to the four-dimensional workforce after leaving, except that the people working in this field are technically jerks. Much like cooties in elementary school, groupthink projects inferiority upon those leaving four dimensions, an inadequacy surmised to, ludicrously, be transmissible.

Capital Traders, a subsidiary of Time Traders Inc., seeks well-qualified applicants for mid-level stock trader position. No higher-level trading required.

Intriguing. “No higher-level trading” is code for no fourth-dimensional work. Pay is better, only three dimensions. Ugh. I would feel so dirty, so incomplete; these are the mental blockades 4D-ers drill into you. There’s a prestige that comes from working in the fourth dimension. Not that anyone who occupies only three dimensions cares or even notices.

My peanut butter sandwich is gone, so I close the browser window and go back to the picture of Krissy trying to catch the treat. Maybe next time I’ll have the guts, old girl.

The four-dimensional workspace resembles an empty hologram deck from a certain popular science fiction series. However, our green gridlines are a warping of space-time that mimics our office walls and barricades us from accidentally coming out of 4D and corporeally lodging into a wall.

Stack: green brick on green brick.

I’ve heard others see it differently, but for me, it’s like an old arcade game—green, red, and purple bricks. Clients want more greens, fewer reds, and if they know what they’re asking for, purples, despite their rarity.

Disperse: red bricks.

I made my own codes to reflect it as I see it. Disperse randomly scatters the red bricks to maximize their distance from one another. If you let reds sit together too long, they’ll cancel out greens. While greens and reds are surrogates for actual, real dollars, the purples represent pure time. Purples lengthen clients’ life expectancy. Only clients with way too many greens ever encounter a purple. If the people with few or even a moderate amount of greens knew the purples existed, there would be riots in the streets. Unfortunately, nobody’s figured out how to apply purple bricks to animals or I’d have loaded up some for Krissy—she’s getting old for a Dane.

Isolate: purple bricks.

I stack purples into the farthest column from the reds to prevent purple degradation. This client’s portfolio has seventeen purples, the most I’ve ever handled. I’ve heard rumors of portfolios with upward of a hundred, but even seventeen seems absurd, unfair.

Repeat stack loop: continue current green brick assemblage.

This client is approaching an eighteenth purple, judging by the number of greens I’m amassing. My coworkers say how you group the time bricks doesn’t affect their growth, but I’ve generated many a purple by stacking greens into skyscrapers. This brickscape resembles Tokyo, so I’m thinking a purple is inevitable. My strategy would work even better if I didn’t have to go home and reconfigure the assets in three dimensions every night.

Uh oh. Getting windy in brick Tokyo. The “wind” is what my coworkers call market fluctuations, but I only see them as the teeter-tottering of colored bricks.

Suddenly, my office phone rings.

“Uh, hello?” I exit the interface—it’s too disorienting to try to talk on the phone while in 4D.

“Dustin, you working the Belon portfolio?” Mr. Hausting barks.

I squint at the interface, green gridlines still hovering in front of my eyes as if I’ve just looked into the sun. “Uh, yeah… yessir, why do you ask?”

“Market fluctuations are wild today, but he just called and said if we can net him extra time today, he’ll triple our commission,” says Hausting, greed, not to be mistaken for joy, in his voice.

“Sir, I…” I think of Krissy, waiting at home.

“This is precisely what I mean, Dustin. You must do this. Increase the time dividends on that portfolio, today.”

“What if the market is too volatile?” I ask, then mute the phone and bang my head against the desk.

Hausting clears his throat. “Do this and I’ll cancel our next performance evaluation.”

I lift my head off the desk. Is it that obvious how much I hate them? I unmute the receiver. “Yes sir, Mr. Hausting.” The line disconnects.

Big sigh. Two o’clock. I can do this and still be home in time for Krissy.

Split stack: all bricks.

I split the skyline in half, piece by piece, until it resembles the urban sprawl of Houston.

The “wind” calms, the stacks stabilize, but no purples are going to form in this configuration.

Stack: green brick on green brick.

The green bricks reaccumulate, Tokyo-esque again, and immediately destabilize.

Shit.

Split stack: all bricks.

How am I going to get a purple from this? Maybe…

I close the 4D interface and open a web search engine.

How do tall buildings resist high winds? Who knows? Maybe this will work.

I scroll the results. Strong cores, reinforced steel, blah, blah, blah. I can’t make the bricks any stronger than they already are.

Tuned mass damper. Oh… what’s this?

I read intently. An automated counterweight at the tops of some towers that repositions itself based on wind direction. I could program something like that…

I reopen the 4D interface. The Houston layout greets me.

Stack: green brick on green brick.

I watch the market fluctuation wind. To my view, it’s coming from the left.

Reinforce stack: green bricks, right superior.

The towers accumulate green-brick growths at their tops. The swaying stops.

That was… easy.

Suddenly, the six tallest brick towers collapse.

“Mother of God.” My stomach falls through my chair. Holy shit, I’m going to get fired.

I grimace, look from the floor to the screen, where, to my immense surprise, are six new purple bricks.

I yelp. Part happy, part relieved, part excited. Whew.

I scan the interface again, just to be sure. Seventeen before, now twenty-three. Oh my God, I’m going to get promoted. Wait, do I want to get promoted?

Who cares! I close the 4D interface, my heart thudding against my ribs; it sinks when I see the time. Nine o’clock.

Oh God, Krissy.

Maintain current configuration: all bricks.

End program.

I have to get home. I quickly move the files I’ll need to rearrange in 3D to my laptop and sprint out of the office. I don’t bother updating Hausting; I know he’s long gone.

Krissy was okay other than a full bladder and a raging appetite, but shit am I getting a late start on 3D rearrangements. I blame Hausting.

Krissy kicks at something she’s chasing in her sleep. She’s a Great Dane mutt, but whatever she’s mixed with didn’t bump up her energy—she’s happy to lay her enormous head across my legs as I work on my laptop in bed.

Krissy snores, peanut butter drool hitting the sheets. She was found in a puppy mill, skin and bones. That was back before I started at Time Traders, when I had time to take care of her through growth spurts, shots, and the journey of eating real food again. I knew she would be big and I got a king-size bed just for her. She needs to be comfortable for the remainder of her short life—she’s six and Danes only live 8-10 years.

Two more years…

I minimize the proprietary 3D trading interface, scrolling social media to distract me from the possibility that Krissy might only have two years left. This goes on until I feel guilty about being unproductive and get back to work. Then more existential dread and more social media; it’s a brutal cycle.

I inhale sharply, pause the dreadscrolling.

Capitalism makes you feel worthless when you’re unproductive because, as a system, how much we produce is capitalism’s unit of measuring worth.

I think back to the excitement of the six purple bricks I concocted earlier. For someone else, not me. Who said social media was never insightful?

Krissy has stopped snoring and flipped onto her stomach, placing a paw on my arm.

“I’m okay, pup.” I pat her head and she drapes herself across me, the signal for nighttime walk. “Already?” Her ears perk up and I check the laptop. 2 AM? God, I need a new job.

I put on Krissy’s leash and take her down the elevator, across the street, and into the small park. It’s a balmy night, wind blowing in off the bay. It’s been a while since I’ve taken Krissy out this late. Tomorrow is going to be so painful at work.

Krissy howls. Krissy never howls.

“What happened, pup?” I yell.

Krissy limps over, holding up her back right leg. In the crescent moon, I catch a glimpse of an S-shape slithering away, and with it, the shake of a rattle.

“Oh my God!” What is a rattlesnake doing here? “Did you get bit?” I ask, furiously trying to examine the paw in the light of my cell phone. She’s whimpering and rolls onto the ground.

When I touch her paw, it’s wet and the smell of iron is in the air. “Oh my God, Krissy you’re bleeding!”

Krissy stands on three legs. “What the hell do we do?” I ask her. She whimpers.

“Let’s… we have to go to the vet. Can you walk?” Like she’ll respond. “Car? Car ride?”

She howls mournfully.

Her backside is weak from pain and I help her along—no easy task to partially carry a Dane. We make it to the car and she lays meekly across the back seat. Goddammit. If Hausting hadn’t made me stay late…

We blow through red lights to get to the 24-hour emergency vet and find nobody in the waiting room.

“Can we help you, sir?” asks the Latina woman, sleepily managing the front desk. Her voice is groggy but concerned, Krissy whimpering, blood staining the foyer.

“Yes, my dog was bitten by a snake. Please help.” Hot tears streak down my face, my voice cracking.

The lady vaults the desk and helps Krissy and I into the emergency area.

The woman rubs my shoulder. “It’ll be okay sir, we’ll take care of her,” she says, leaving me in an exam room to wait for the vet.

The door opens, and in steps a young white woman with close-cropped black hair, blue scrubs, and no hint of the late hour.

“I’m Dr. Price. Tatiana tells me your dog was bitten by a snake. Do you know what kind?” Dr. Price is already tut-ing to Krissy, calming and examining her as she asks her questions. Krissy whimpers, but cooperates amicably.

I shake my head, trying to remember how to speak. “I… rattlesnake?”

Krissy mewls as Dr. Price probes the bite wound with a small cotton-tipped wooden applicator. “Sorry pup, have to see how deep it is.” She looks up at me. “Any unusual symptoms? Lethargy, vomiting, muscle spasms, passing out?”

“Ugh, no, thank God! I would be a puddle.”

Dr. Price scrubs anti-septic across the area. “She’ll need to be admitted for at least twenty-four hours. The bite isn’t very deep, but to be safe, I’ll give her anti-venom, intravenous fluids, anti-inflammatories, pre-emptive antibiotics, and painkillers.” She nods to let me know she’s finished.

“Will she be okay?”

Dr. Price nods again. “I think so. The wound isn’t very deep and she hasn’t demonstrated any symptoms. We’ll know by this afternoon if what we’re doing is helping her turn the corner. Any other questions?”

“How long will her recovery take?” Unbidden thoughts of work creep into my consciousness, specters of colored bricks. I need to start coming up with an excuse so I don’t have to go in. A sick dog won’t cut it, but if Krissy is down for a while, I’m not leaving her.

“It depends, a week or two.”

There’s no way they’ll let me off that long. And yet, if I hadn’t been up so late working for them…

Dr. Price hears my worried swallow. “Let’s get through this next twenty-four hours and we’ll reassess.” She squeezes my hand, which I hadn’t realized she was holding. Nurses come into the room and start putting in intravenous catheters and hanging fluids. I give Krissy a teary squeeze and Dr. Price has to pull me. “They’ll take good care of her, Mr. Manning.”

I sob. “Thank you, Dr. Price.”

“No problem.” She smiles and her eyes practically shine. How is she so awake? “Anything else I can do for you?”

The words come out before I can stop them. “How are you so present at this time of morning?”

Dr. Price chuckles, a deep, comforting belly laugh. “Mr. Manning, I love my job. Plus, this is my daytime. Once this shift is over, I go sleep in my blackout-curtained room. When I wake up, I don’t come back to work for two days, during which time I play with my kids: human, canine, feline. Every day I come to this hospital, I thank God for what I have.” Dr. Price smiles and leaves, the same spring in her step.

I need a new job.

In the waiting room, over bleached linoleum and under glaring fluorescent lights, I pace back and forth, both for Krissy and for trying to come up with an excuse for work. I’m overthinking this—I just need to call in. What could go wrong?

“Hello, you have reached the desk of Mr. Norman G. Hausting, manager of Time Traders Inc. You have reached this voicemail outside of normal business hours.”

The message goes on and on and I still don’t know what I’m going to say, but the tears are hanging on my lower lids, waiting to fall.

“…please leave a message after the beep and you will receive a callback within one business day. Thank you.”

“Hey Roberta, it’s Dustin Manning. It’s about 3 AM and I’m at the hospital,” not a lie, “with a very ill family member of mine”—true—“who has had a terrible accident.” Also true. My voice cracks. “I… I just don’t know what’s going to happen. The doctor says the next 24 hours are critical.” Completely true. “I’m not going to make it to work tomorrow… er… today, I guess. It’s Wednesday morning but we just got here, so I doubt I’ll make it in on Thursday, either.” They don’t have to know I’m at the veterinary hospital.

“I’ll…” more tears, thinking about how Krissy might not make it through the afternoon. “I’ll call back tomorrow with an update. Please text me when you get this voicemail.”

3:15. Krissy has been back for half an hour. Nobody else has come in so I have the entire lemon-lime scented waiting room to myself to pace out my anxieties.

I scroll frantically with trembling fingers through Krissy’s old pictures on my phone, dragging all the way back to when she was a rescue puppy just eight weeks old. Those first emaciated pictures are almost too tough to look at.

We spent so much time together, me nursing her back to health. We were already inseparable by the time I started my Time Traders job. She grew so quickly, from visible ribs to king-size bed domination in a year. That was part of why I got the Time Traders job in the first place—I needed extra money for eight cups of dog food a day, pet insurance, and a bigger apartment.

I hit the picture from a few years back of her trying to catch the dog treat and missing—my desktop background at work. The one I always look at before… job hunting.

As I open the JobMonster app, Dr. Price comes out. Seeing her face brings butterflies to my stomach.

She senses it and smiles. “Krissy is doing really well, all things considered.”

My ears perk up. “All things considered?”

“Sorry; turn of phrase. I’m referring to the bite. Fluids are up and running. We gave her a tiny dose of sedative to calm her while the pain meds and anti-inflammatories kick in. Her labs are fine so far. Would you like to see her?”

“Is she on a bunch of machines?” The thought of it brings me to the edge of dry heaves.

“No machines, just a couple drips,” she says, squeezing my shoulder again. “Come on back.”

I follow Dr. Price through the swinging doors and see Krissy on a surprisingly sizable dog-hospital bed.

“Not as comfortable as the king-size at home, huh girl?” She wags her tail and lets out a weak woof that about shatters my heart.

“I’ll let you two be,” says Dr. Price.

I pick up one of Krissy’s paws in my hands and Dr. Price is halfway out the door before I call for her. “Dr. Price?”

She peaks back in, a question on her brow. “Yes?”

I look at the floor, unable to make eye contact because it feels so awkward to ask. “Did-did you always love your job?”

She cocks her head to the side. “Mr. Manning, I’m not sure why you’re asking me about my job satisfaction.” She sighs and I peer up to catch her gaze before quickly looking away. “But if I had to guess based on my prior experience with midnight calls, you’re feeling guilty about Krissy here and this must somehow be related to your work.”

My eyes dart up to her. There’s that deep belly laugh again.

“Oh, you thought just because I’m a vet, I can’t read people?” She smiles, disarmingly. “Looks like I’m right, from that hole you’re glaring into the linoleum. Mr. Manning, I don’t know if you don’t have anyone else to tell you this, but if your job did this,” she says, waving at Krissy, “then might I suggest you consider alternative employment?”

Her face is squashed with worry. “And might I suggest that you do it soon? Great Danes only live 8 to 10 years.”

And with that, Krissy and I are alone.

“Hey Roberta, it’s Dustin Manning again. Sorry to keep leaving you messages on off hours, but things have been hectic here.” It’s true. “My family member is still in the hospital. The doctors say she’s getting better, but she will need full-time care when she leaves for at least a week and there’s nobody else in town to do it except me. It’s Thursday at around 6 AM I won’t be back on Friday, but I’ll give you an update on Monday.”

It’s all true. Krissy is doing better, but she’s going to need to take it easy and have around-the-clock care through the weekend. Good on her word, Dr. Price finished her shift and went home to her family, replaced by the next vet, who, while competent, was not quite as nice. We got the all-clear and left mid-morning with a bag full of prescriptions—someone would need to administer meds around the clock. I GroceryDoor’d a few huge things of peanut butter to put all the pills in. Krissy is going to love it.

After it was evident Krissy was going to be okay, I got back on JobMonster. That 3D job at Capital Traders was calling to me and I started to apply for it when a related listing came up at a completely different trading company. Better pay, much better hours, and there would never be any pressure to work in four dimensions. No stigma from not working in four dimensions because they only knew and worked in three. And no worries of running into Norman G. Hausting at a company retreat. The thought of never seeing his pinched pink face, the grease-stained spectacles, blurring the light streaming in from his corner office windows, gave me goosebumps.

I applied, right there in the waiting room, as Krissy was waking up from her sedatives. Hopefully I’ll get the job—I am, after all, very good at what I do in three dimensions. And who cares if I stumbled upon a new technique to rapidly generate purple bricks? They aren’t my bricks.

But even if I don’t get the job, hitting submit on that application has finally liberated me from the burdens of faking my way through duality-simultaneity and having to work two full-time jobs.If I don’t get it, I will get something else. It’ll pay me. I’ll be fine, Krissy will be fine—no, she’ll thrive. There will be more walks in the park, rattlesnake-free parks. Maybe I’ll even pick up a hobby or two. Drink a beer, watch basketball, hang up a picture of Krissy and me. Who knows, maybe I’ll just exist.


Jason P. Burnham loves spending time with his wife, sons, and dog. You can find him on Twitter.