Cutting designs had always been dreadfully boring, but Stephen was sure that he would be significantly happier if he didn’t have to cut out dozens of them a day.
Drumming his fingers repetitively on the metal table, he willed his mind to think. Once he finished this, he would finally be given the opportunity to comb his hair back and retire for the weekend.
Stephen’s back thumped painfully against the wooden chair he was sitting in. He scrambled to a decent sitting position, nearly falling on the floor in the process. Mentally, he calculated as fast as possible. It was the 21st, wasn’t it? If Thursday had been the 20th, then it was a Friday, which meant
“Yes?” he asked, much too quietly for his own liking.
Stephen watched as his manager’s cold, black eyes zeroed in on Stephen’s unbuttoned shirt. Stephen tried to offer him a smile, but his lips would not move, and he dared not frown at his manager. He could not look away; instead, he stood frozen in place like a possum that was playing dead.
His manager, in turn, stared witheringly at him with an expression that was terribly similar to that of a bear about to feast on its prey.
“Hold out your hand.”
Stephen’s brows twitched. Each movement of his was delayed. Had there been a new development in the weekly inspection that he hadn’t realized?
“Hold out your hand,” his manager repeated flatly.
Stephen bit down on his lip to restrain himself from asking why – after all, he already knew the answer he would be given.
He extended his arm, but his fist refused to unclench. Breathing unevenly, he lifted one finger in hesitation, finding it difficult due to his trembling. He shouldn’t have to take this long to follow such simple instructions.
Stephen glanced up at his manager, noting every aspect of him. His manager’s eyes always glinted when he was upset.
Why weren’t they glinting now?
His manager stood silently, his posture picture-perfect and his gloved hands at his side. He made no move to reprimand Stephen.
It was unnerving. No matter his desperate wishes, Stephen could not possibly understand what was going on inside of his manager’s mind. All he did understand was that he’d been told to do something, and he’d yet to do it.
Stephen let his hand lie flat, his skin deathly white. His blue veins snaked down his wrist, and Stephen thought he was able to see his blood pumping through them, fast and rapid.
“Here,” said his manager, reaching into his pocket. As his hand bent, his gloves folded upwards, revealing a strip of pale skin. Stephen risked looking away from him and onto the spotless tiled floor.
He placed something onto Stephen’s hand, the fabric of his ivory gloves brushing softly against his palm. Stephen was ashamed to admit that it was, without a doubt, satin. Stephen felt what he had been given, feeling the rough ridges of what had to be wood. Stephen looked back. It was a knife. A knife.
“It’s made out of hickory,” his manager supplied. “It’s a little old; I’ll give you a new one later. Use this one for the time being.”
Stephen’s shoulders were taut. He studied the knife, mesmerised by how smooth the blade looked and how straight the handle was.
He ran his finger against the metal of the tip. His manager’s head tilted to the side ever-so-slightly, giving him a soundless warning, though Stephen did not know if it was an order. Stephen pressed – not hard enough to cause serious damage, but enough to observe the aftereffects of his action – and watched as blood began to trickle from the cut he had made.
“Why?” was the first thing out of his mouth. Instinctively, he braced himself for a scathing comment.
“Your old one was rusted,” came his manager’s curt response. He was already beginning to walk away, the heels of his polished shoes clicking on the ground. “Have the last design out to me by midnight!” he called, his voice edged with annoyance.
Stephen blinked, paralyzed. He did not know if he should feel frustrated at himself or utterly annoyed at his manager. Perhaps a bit of both.
Finally, he exhaled, slumping in his seat, his unfinished design in front of him. Those cursed gloves.