In a little over two hours, Bill Frederik would be dead.
A death by character flaw.
You see Bill was a team player. He would ruthlessly sacrifice himself to make sure others around him were taken care of, no matter the cost.
Work, church, a neighbor, a friend, wherever a need he’d go out of his way to meet it.
It was just part of who he was. A learned response from younger days.
Days when he’d come home from school, to find his mother passed out from all the drinking. And as the oldest child he quickly made it his job to take care of his brother and sister. Then in the morning, he’d check to make sure his mother was still breathing, then nurse her back from the dead, only to start the whole process all over again when he got home from school.
Selfless sacrifice was the only life Bill knew. A way for him to hear his mother tell him he was a good boy for helping out. An affirmation that just drove him to work harder to please her and make life easier for everyone else.
That’s why he could never say no. When someone in authority asked for help, the compulsion to dive in took over. Only this time, the cost would be higher than he’d want to pay.
You see it all came to a head when Bill’s firm asked him to move to the London office. And while the thought of uprooting the family from Atlanta to London was unfathomable. He felt compelled to do it. He needed to hear the powers that be tell him he was a “good boy”.
That of course would come after Sabine hit the roof and told him to pound sand after she found out they had to move again.
“What? You’ve got to be kidding!” Bill thought back on the night he first told her about the move.
“It’s not going to be for forever. Maybe two years,”
“Two years!” He could see she was about to explode.
“Look, I don’t want to move either. But they need me in London. I have to do it.” Bill needed to hear those words.
Who’s going to help me with the twins while your working twelve to fourteen hours a day? Sabine’s face was bathed in panic.
Bill knew how hard it was to chase two toddlers around on the nights he made it home before bed time. He couldn’t imagine how Sabine made it through the day. But with her mom close by, they seemed to have made it work.
“I’m sure I can get them to cover the cost of a nanny. They know the boys are young.”
Sabine rolled her eyes. Once again he was putting the needs of others before her and the family. But he never saw it that way. They were just an extension of himself. Another sacrificial lamb he would have to use to hear those words.
Bill snapped to as Eliot hit the office window next to the desk.
Standing outside in the London drizzle, Eliot tipped back his hand with the little finger and and thumb splayed out wide as he chugged a pint.
“C’mon to the pub laddie.” Eliot’s voice was muffled by the window. “All work and no play makes Billie a dull boy.”
Looking up at Eliot, Bill motioned to his desk.
Raising his voice though the glass he yelled, “I have to finish this for Monday.”
Smiling Bill waived him on.
Eliot gave a shrug as he turned and headed to the cub. After looking right and letting the Black Cab pass, he bounded across the rain soaked street to the pub on the opposite corner to the left.
Bill could see him shake off his umbrella and make his way inside. He thought about calling it day, but just another hour or so and he would be at a clear stopping point, which would make it easier to pick back up tomorrow and finish things up over the weekend.
Two more solid days of work and he could take a few days off when Sabine and the boys got in next week.
By eight o’clock, Bill was able to pack it in. Another thirteen hour day was behind him and that pint was sounding better by the minute.
Grabbing his umbrella he headed out the door. He turned up the collar on his jacket as the cold wet weather sent a chill across his neck.
Texting Eliot Bill asked, “You still there?”
“Yes. It’s about time you called it a day. You’re going to kill yourself with hours like that.”
Bill smiled. He knew if Eliot had noticed his sacrifice, it was only a matter of time before he’d hear those coveted words from the powers that be.
Wearing his eighty hour work weeks as a badge of honor Bill shot back, “Been working like this all my life. I’ll be fine”
Rubbing his tired eyes he stuffed his cell phone in his pocket. Looking up and to the left he could see the pub and that the coast was clear.
But unfortunately, as he stepped into the street, he never saw the big letters under his feet that said “Look Right.”
This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by Jinn Zhong…
The Japanese word: Karōshi (過労死)
From the Wikipedia entry:
Karōshi (過労死), which can be translated literally as “death from overwork” in Japanese, is occupational sudden death. The major medical causes of karōshi deaths are heart attack and stroke due to stress and a starvation diet.
These weekly scenes & stories are part of an ongoing project codenamed “Garage Fiction”. Since January 2015, three writers (Jinn Zhong, Dogwood Daniels and Me) have committed to writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week. We post on Fridays and dissect on Tuesdays via podcast.