Bob looked at the paper in his hand and then the screen. Back to his hand, back to the screen. He read each number, one at a time, in sequence to himself. The paper and the screen matched perfectly. His fingers trembled, and his heart began to pound as if he were sprinting up Mount Everest. He closed his web browser and pulled a blank sheet from his desk. He took in long breaths as he recorded each number from the ticket slowly onto the page. He checked the numbers transcribed and gave each one a tick of verification. He pulled up the website for the state lottery and clicked the link for the winning numbers. A second set of ticks were placed below.
“Bob,” called a voice from behind. He spun in his small cubicle to see one of the many interns looking at him. She was familiar, but he didn’t know her name. She was the short blonde with cute curls.
“Yes?” he asked.
“Harken wants to see you again.” She walked off before he could respond.
Bob slid the orange and white checkered ticket into his front pocket and headed for the corner office. He paused halfway. He was surrounded by cubicles of dingy white, each holding its own prisoner. The prisoners wore white shirts with ties or monotone skirts of modest length, and they spoke in dull, depressing tones. Copy machines churned reams of paper. Fax machines clattered and jammed. A discord of soulless phones rang without relent. The mechanical rainfall of keyboard clicks filled the air. Bob noticed for the first time in nearly ten years that there were no windows that looked outside.
He pushed the door open and sat down. Mr. Harken, a skinny man with puffed hair and an Adam’s apple the size of a small boulder, watched three more minutes of ESPN before turning his attention to Bob.
“Well,” he said with a shallow smile, “Bob. Here we are again. I thought we had talked last week, and in that talk we figured out what you were going to do in order to give me a reason not to fire you. Apparently,” he said, propping his expensive shoes up on the desk, “I was wrong. So I guess we’ll have to start over. But you’re in luck, Bob. I’m in a charitable mood this morning. I’ll let you go first. Is there anything you’d like to say?”
Bob smiled. It was a smile that moved like an earthquake across his mouth, long and wide and permanent.