Leonard Figsby was a small, unassuming man who had worked for the company for as long as anyone could remember. His desk was at the back of the office, near the copier but separated from it by a cubicle wall. Leonard was not the sort of person that people noticed, but had they been keeping track they would have known that he owned five ties, five short-sleeved work shirts, three pairs of slacks, two pairs of brown leather shoes. These he kept fastidiously neat and in perpetual rotation, wearing the same outfits from day to day, week to week, without deviance. One could only assume he did the same with his undergarments.
Leonard took one week of vacation every year, the last week of July, when he would visit his sister in Florida. In his ten-plus years of working, he’d only taken one unexpected day off, when his mother passed away. Otherwise, he was a model employee, always an hour early to work and never leaving before five o’clock. His lunch hour began at noon every day and he was back to his desk and working by ten to one. He was never observed taking a personal phone call, never used the internet or his work e-mail address for any private reasons. No one was quite sure of what he did at the office, but everyone was positive that he did it efficiently.
Leonard didn’t interact with anyone in the office except for work reasons. He might smile blandly while passing someone between cubicles, or nod politely at a co-worker in the bathroom, but he never spoke of his weekend life or took interest in the lives of others. Except for one. One person in the office, Leonard was quite fond of. She had blond hair which cascaded down her back like rivulets of amber syrup, soft, smoky blue eyes that pierced and seduced Leonard mercilessly. Her puckered lips were usually drawn into a knowing smirk that played casually at the corners of her mouth, her skin was as unblemished as a field of newly-fallen snow. She was Eleanor Valentine, the office receptionist. And Leonard loved her very much.
Eleanor and Leonard had a daily ritual: every morning at 9:15, Leonard would get up from his desk and get two cups of coffee from the office break room. He liked his own coffee black, but into the additional cup of coffee Leonard put a splash of cream and one teaspoon of sugar. Then he would carry both cups to the front of the office, where Eleanor would usually be just settling in, and offer her the coffee with cream and sugar. Eleanor would smile sweetly, her gleaming white teeth beaming pure, hot light straight into Leonard’s chest, and in her sweet, sing-song voice, say, “thank you very much, Leonard,” while taking the coffee. Though this exact same scene played out virtually every morning since Eleanor started working at the office two years ago, it still filled Leonard with such incredible feeling, and every morning he would have to suppress his elation and effusive love to demurely respond, “you’re very welcome, Eleanor,” and return to his desk with the cooled, black coffee.
This was Leonard’s only non-work interaction at work, taking between forty and sixty seconds to complete. It was the only thing he looked forward to every day.
One Monday morning at 9:15, Leonard got up from his desk and went to the break room to get two cups of coffee. He carried these two steaming cups to the front of the office where Eleanor was setting her purse down and taking her coat off, having just arrived at work. Leonard waited a moment for Eleanor to settle, then handed her a cup of coffee prepared just the way she liked it. She smiled at Leonard, nodded, and said nothing. Leonard stood silently for a second too long, and an uncomfortable stillness began to fill the air between he and Eleanor. Feeling embarrassed, Leonard stammered, “you’re very welcome, Eleanor,” and hurried back to his desk, splashing his hand with some warm coffee as he rushed.
At his desk, Leonard despaired. She didn’t say it, he thought. She didn’t say “thank you.” Logically, he knew it was silly. Who cares if she didn’t say the words? She was clearly appreciative. Still, it gnawed at his insides and tortured him until Leonard couldn’t stand it. She didn’t say it. After a while, Leonard realized that he was less upset that she hadn’t said “thank you” than he was that she didn’t say his name. She didn’t say, “Leonard.”
Tuesday came, and Leonard again retrieved two cups of coffee from the break room and brought them to the receptionist’s desk. Again, he proffered Eleanor her cup, again she took it from Leonard and smiled weakly without saying a word. Leonard was mollified. He couldn’t even blurt out “you’re welcome,” he bowed his head and rushed back to his desk, spilling coffee all the way. In private, Leonard was devastated. She didn’t say it again, he thought, she didn’t say my name.
For the rest of the day, Leonard did no work, save for obsessing about where things had gone wrong between he and Eleanor. To his memory, their daily interaction had gone on unimpeded, uninterrupted, and without any change for the better part of two years. Sure, she took sick days now and again, and one time she arrived to work at 9:20 instead of 9:15–Leonard simply got her a new cup of coffee, that day–but otherwise their tête à tête morning coffee ritual ran like clockwork. What had changed? Was Eleanor displeased with some aspect of the ritual?
That must be it, thought Leonard with a sigh of relief, she is tired of this bland office coffee. Leonard had to admit that the office coffee was unnaturally weak and flavorless. Everyone drank it for the same reasons anyone drinks office coffee: because it’s available and free. But even the newsstand in the lobby of the company’s building had better coffee, and there was a coffee shop with a variety of roasted blends just on the corner. Yes, thought Leonard, it must be the coffee.
On Wednesday at 9:10, Leonard left the office and took the elevator downstairs to the lobby. He decided to bypass the newsstand entirely and went straight to the coffee shop on the corner, at which there was a long line. Leonard was agitated as he waited on line, shifting from foot to foot and peeking forward at the current transaction, as if watching it would make the moment go faster. After a few minutes, Leonard was at the resigter. He ordered a cup of plain coffee, black, and a cup of French Roast with a splash of vanilla, cream, and one raw sugar, which looked to Leonard like regular sugar except brown. He received and paid for his coffees, then entered his building’s lobby again, took the elevator up to his floor, and entered the office just in time to see Eleanor sitting down at her desk. He gave her the special coffee in a cup that had the logo of the coffee shop printed on the side. She took the coffee, nodded and smiled at Leonard, and then turned to her computer, signaling that the work day had begun. Leonard was crushed.
What could be the problem? thought Leonard, writhing at his desk with internal anguish. Perhaps French Roast is not to her liking, he thought. It is a rather normal kind of coffee. I should have gotten something more exotic. Leonard resigned to do just that the very next day.
On Thursday at 9:05, Leonard left the office and took the elevator downstairs to the lobby. He exited the building and walked to the coffee shop on the corner, where there was an even longer line than the previous day. He was agitated as he waited in line, shifting from foot to foot and attempting to discern the action at the register, and eventually he was next to order. He ordered himself a plain coffee, black, and for Eleanor he ordered the most expensive coffee on the menu: Dark African Special Rare Roast, with a splash of vanilla and steamed milk, a half shot of cappuccino, one raw sugar, topped with whipped cream and chocolate chips piled almost as tall as the coffee itself. It needed a special plastic lid just to contain it.
Leonard was happy and practically floated back to the office, through the lobby and past the newsstand, into the elevator and straight to the receptionist’s desk, where Eleanor sat at her computer, typing away, a steaming cup of coffee from the break room already sitting on her desk! Leonard almost dropped both coffees right there. He silently ushered past Eleanor’s desk to the back of the office where he sat. No one saw or heard from him for the rest of the day.
On Friday at 9:15, Eleanor got into work, removed her coat and set down her purse as she always did. She sat down at her desk and turned on her computer to begin the workday. At 9:30, she felt she needed a cup of coffee, so she walked to the break room at the back of the office and fixed herself one, just as she had the day before. Somewhere in the back of her mind was a nagging thought, one she was quickly able to dismiss.
Leonard took off from work that Friday, citing personal reasons. He spent the previous evening searching the internet for any scraps of information he could glean about Eleanor Valentine, and after a long and rigorous search, he was able to learn quite a lot. At 11 AM Friday morning, Leonard arrived at Eleanor’s home and entered it by way of breaking a basement window at the back of the house. Upon walking up to the first floor, Leonard was greeted by Eleanor’s orange tabby cat, which he quickly strangled and dropped into the kitchen sink. Leonard then went to Eleanor’s telephone and called her mom, who Leonard knew lived nearby. Acting like a concerned boyfriend, he convinced her to come by on the double due to some inexplicable emergency. While waiting for Eleanor’s mother to arrive, he tied double knots in all of Eleanor’s dresses and stopped up all of her sinks with rags and, in the case of the kitchen sink, a cat. He turned on the faucets and let them run.
When Eleanor’s mother arrived, Leonard was waiting just behind the front door with a baseball bat. As soon as she entered the foyer, Leonard struck her in the head, knocking her to the floor. He then bludgeoned Eleanor’s mother mercilessly until her bloody brains made a sickly sucking sound every time Leonard withdrew the bat. He undressed her corpse and then used one of Eleanor’s kitchen knives to slice the body. He opened up her chest cavity and pinned it back like he had done dissecting frogs in biology class so many years ago. Leonard broke the ribcage and removed her heart, which he wrapped in a piece of her dress and set on the fireplace mantle. He removed Eleanor’s mom’s stomach and cut into it, releasing bile and undigested food all over the place. By now, the first floor was flooded and water was cascading down the staircase like a series of miniature waterfalls. Leonard looked at his watch: it was 5 PM. Eleanor would be home soon.
Leonard waited patiently in Eleanor’s living room as the water level rose ever higher. Pictures and mementos floated by, ruined forever, as Leonard sat cross-legged on her couch. Eventually, the lock in the front door jiggled and it opened. Eleanor immediately stepped into the foyer and screamed at the bloody mess before her. After a full minute of screaming, she recognized the defiled corpse as her mother and began to shriek. She fell to her knees in the sticky blood, sobbing, barely cognizant of the water soaking into her shoes and stockings. Looking around, Eleanor noticed Leonard sitting passively on the couch. With bleary, red eyes and a face streaked with tears and snot, Eleanor looked imploringly at Leonard. “You…you did this?” she asked, incredulous at her own voice issuing from her throat. Leonard nodded slowly.
“Why?!” shrieked Eleanor, now stroking the matted hair of the mutilated corpse before her.
Leonard blinked and sympathetically looked at Eleanor. “I just wanted some recognition,” he replied.