An Ugly Harvest | John Falconer

Bill’s a fixer, but he can’t seem to fix his life. 

An Ugly Harvest

By John Falconer

For The Company Mannequin Award

Bill sits through another eighty-minute commute. Today is Friday, a day usually marked by nothing much – but today, for the first time in seven years, he will go home on time. The flesh-tinged aroma of recycled air barely bothers him; his mind is, for once, in a rosy future where the breeze is sweet and at four pee em on the dot, he will go home.

On time.

The agency receptionist gives him her trademark eastern-European scowl as he punches in. He bites his tongue; now would be a terrible time for over-confidence. Last week he returned her grimace and, as punishment, Perce pitched a flash drive at him at fourteen minutes to four – with a wink and a double-point and a ‘Top priority, Billy!’ Nobody ever calls him Billy. Only Perce.

Of course, it is laughable to think that Perce somehow went downstairs to talk to the receptionist, scoured the departments for buggy code, waited until just before quitting time and then gave it, specifically and personally, to Bill. Laughable. But still . . .

Bill is no writer, but a fixer. He is good at it. And he hates it.

He hates the way the coders never explain anything like they are supposed to; he hates their lack of finesse, the way they just mash line after line together until it runs – on their system, at least. The mammoth, lumbering, convoluted pile unfailingly lands on Bill’s desk before the client can actually use it.

But today . . . today he will go home on time. There are no projects to complete, no reports left to file. He has only to top and tail the week’s work. His thoughts wander to the evening ahead, and his fingertips begin to sweat.

No less than three episodes of his favourite series to watch!

A pizza with meatballs on it!


And some expensive German beer that you can only get from that international boutique on the edge of town (that is for after dinner, of course. With dinner, there is actual, real, Coca Cola).

And then, as four o’clock approaches, Perce’s disembodied head floats past the office screens towards Bill and tells him that some bad code was sent to him attached to an email, an email that has just pinged back to sender due to a host error, but an email that was nonetheless actually sent yesterday.

Naturally, it is top priority.

He might need to come in on Saturday.

Maybe he could work from home over the weekend.

A big bug.

A salmonella.

And as Bill eats his now-tasteless meatball pizza in front of his laptop, the figures before him slowly spiralling into nonsense, he knows already that he will work on the program all weekend in order to be ready for Monday’s roll-out.

He knows that, even if he watches his series, the spectre of the approaching deadline will watch, clucking its tongue like a disapproving, puritanical nun, until the experience is as bland as his overpriced dinner.

Bill’s news feed auto-scrolls towards infinity. His friends and colleagues live their lives. Each new post twists into his guts like a worm.

Why can’t he just couldn’t close the tab?

But then, he has always known his place. Always. It is he alone who sowed the seeds of his life, and now they are grown, and the fruit is this pizza, on this night, that passes his lips and clogs his arteries, but brings no pleasure.

It is an ugly harvest, but he grew it himself, and it is all he has.