The Man Who Didn’t Fit In

Norman Capit’s head jerked away from his computer screen. He knew whose knuckles produced the timid rapping that sounded from him office door was. Norman nervously cleared his throat. In this company, the suits upstairs left all the distasteful jobs to the office manager. “Come in, Auslander,” Norman said. The door opened. Adsel Auslander entered, his disconnected floating head, a foot and a half above his body, dipping to miss the door frame. “Have a seat,” Norman said, without emotion.

Auslander’s body fit itself into a red upholstered chair. “You wanted to see me, Mr. Capit?” Auslander’s head lazily circled his body.

Norman drummed his fingers and looked down at his shiny black shoes. Five of the last six months, Auslander had collected more of the company’s debts than any other employee. What he was about to do just wasn’t right. The bosses had decided, though. Normal looked up, gaze catching Auslander’s. “Auslander,” he said, compassion slipping into his voice despite himself, “we’re letting you go.”

Auslander looked shocked. “It’s about coming in late last Thursday, isn’t it?” Auslander’s fingers tightened. “I had a flat. I couldn’t help it. It won’t happen again.” The words came in a torrent.

Norman’s head shifted to one side. “It isn’t about performance.”

“Because I don wear a tie?” Auslander wailed. His head shot toward the ceiling, just missing the fluorescent lights. “I know it’s company policy, but what difference do ties make when we spend our days on the phone?”

“I agreed to look the other way on that rule when I hired you.” Norman secretly agreed with Auslander about the requirement’s absurdity, but it wasn’t smart for him to say so. “We’re letting you go because.... ” Norman squirmed. More than his underwear starting to ride down as he shifted in his seat contributed to his discomfort. “You just don’t fit in.” The words blurted out.

“You mean because I’m the only smoker who works here?” Auslander’s head sank to within six inches of his shoulders, then shot off across the room, arcing around Norman’s pole lamp. “I take cigarettes when the others take their coffee. Tell me how that costs the company anything!”

“Policy allows smoking outside during breaks. When I say that you don’t fit in, I mean that...”

“I’m a single father?”

“Actually, I admire you for taking care of your son after your wife left you. I think everyone here does. But, despite that, you don’t fit into this company because...” Norman’s voice drifted off. When subtlety fails, take the direct approach. Norman silently gestured toward Auslander’s floating head.

“Oh.” Auslander’s body slumped over. His head sank to his chest. “I should have known,” he muttered, dispirited eyes peering up over Norman’s desk.

“I know this doesn’t help, but I’m truly sorry.”

“This is the sixth job I’ve lost like this.” Auslander seemed to talk to himself instead of to Norman. “You might think telling your little boy that we won’t be able to afford ball games for a while would get easier after you done it enough.” Auslander rose from the seat, his head staying down. “It doesn’t, though.” His head floated back up toward his shoulders. “I’ll clean out my cubicle,” he said, gaze fixed on something hundreds of yards away.

“You get two week’s severance pay,” Norman said. The suits hadn’t authorized it. Well, if they wanted to argue about Auslander’s miserable pay, they could stuff it up their tight behinds.

“Thank you.” Auslander morosely trudged out the door.

Norman’s coiled flexible neck shifted on his shoulders. Its full three yards of length uncoiled. His neck shot out, carrying his head through the open door, following Auslander. “I hope you find something that works for you,” Norman soothed. “I really do.”

Other employees, sitting at their stations, uncoiled their necks and turned toward Auslander. Norman glared at them, as if to silently say, “Get back to work.” A dozen necks coiled back around a dozen shoulders.

Norman’s own neck snapped back to into place. He turned back to the computer. He tapped at the keys, fingers raising clicking noises. Maybe if he tried, he could stop thinking about poor Auslander, the man who didn’t fit in.

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Lawrence E Barker  Lawrence E Barker's website writes fiction that has often defied characterization. Not quite fantasy, not quite horror ... and sometimes not quite mystery, not quite western, etc. Lawrence lives just outside Atlanta, with his wife Pam and their assorted quadrupeds. Lawrence’s short story “Cyrus Fell’s Blues,” the story of a space alien vampire in rural Georgia in 1958, won the 2007 James Award. Lawrence’s latest novel, The Blood Red Sphere, a tale of the Mars that should have been instead of the Mars that is, is available from Amazon.com.