Terrible Relief (Flash Fiction)

Bob took a shot of water from the paper cup and filled it again. The water cooler glugged. He undid his top button and drank again. The taste of paper tainted the cold water. He crumpled up the small cup and went back to his cubicle.

The water helped to stop the sweat that was beading on his forehead, but his stomach still twisted in tight knots. He blinked at the computer screen in front of him and plugged numbers into the spread sheet in small intervals and thought about the enchiladas he had for lunch. That decision, then so wonderful and tasty, was quickly becoming costly in hindsight. A gas stirred within him, and Bob positioned himself for a small amount of pressure relief.

“Bob!” said Brian as he stuck his head into the cubicle. “Dude, drinks after work, right?”

Bob nodded quickly and squirmed in his seat. He clenched his muscles and urged his flatulence patience in its delayed release.

“Cool! Where should we go?” Brian asked.

“I don’t care, man. You pick the place.”

“Well, I was thinking we could hit that new place down—”

“Yeah, let’s do it,” Bob said. His breath was becoming shallow. “Just send me a text. I’ll meet you there.”

Brian nodded. “Cool!” His steps faded down the carpet pathway that spanned through the cubicles. Bob lightly sighed to himself. The gas had retreated from its exit point, but it was still ready for departure. He relaxed his body and waited.

“Bob,” said Harken. “Good job on that report last week.”

Bob’s body clinched as if one giant muscle. “Thanks, Mr. Harken,” he said carefully. He could hear the strain in his own voice, but the background noise was enough to conceal it from his new visitor.

“Just keep it up,” Harken said. “Ya know, we’ve got a board meeting next week. I was thinking about bringing you in so you could share some of your ideas. What do you think about that?” Mr. Harken’s cheesy expression made it clear the decision was already made.

“That sounds ground, Mr. Harken,” Bob strained. “I can’t wait.”

“Good!” Harken gave the thin cubicle wall a slap with his palm and went about his day.

The pressure inside Bob had reached its breaking point, so much so that he felt a small cramp coming on. He relaxed his insides and tried to distract himself by focusing on the screen. He put his palms flat on his desk and felt the pressure move down. He shifted his butt in his seat and repositioned his weight so no sound would be made. The relief was astounding. Bob felt the heat, long and sustained, pass from him and into the cheap office chair. He let out a heavy sigh. The smell that followed was immediate.

“Hi, Bob,” said Catherine. She stepped just inside of his cubicle with a smile. “Brian said you guys might be going out for drinks tonight. Do you mind if I come?”

Heartbreak spread across Bob’s face. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. His entire being became an apology. Catherine was beautiful before him and he felt so sorry.

Catherine, bless her heart, she tried. She really did. Bob could see it in her eyes. He watched as her face went from a pleasant greeting to a small concern to a slow and painful sour. She tried to ignore it, then tried to endure it, then finally had to make her escape. Bob didn’t stand up to try to explain. He hung his head in his own stink.

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