“Your Relationship with Edward Gray,” by Daniel Clausen

Dec 20th, 2010 | By | Category: Prose

He manages his finely tuned anti-élan with bureaucratic flair, killing the life out of the walls and people in our tiny office on Porter Street. He stalks the hallways with his organizationally upright diction, walk, and mannerisms. His indefatigable confidence is both boring and compulsive. Skinny, like an assemblage of toothpicks holding up a suit, the visibility of his bone structure shows a love of desk, paperwork, and company–a willingness to persevere to starvation in order to fulfill the demands of a deified “efficiency” and to bring misery to those who don’t. 

Who is this man? Where did he come from? He is my boss. He is your boss. Curse, nightmare, fiction, and reality, he exists inside this story, he exists outside this story. In short, his name is Edward Grey. 


He walks nonchalantly toward your desk. His nonchalance is as practiced as it is purposive, and you know that it’s only a matter of time before he comments randomly on the weather, sports, or the latest in hip hop in a vain attempt to improve office morale. This, before he launches into a critique of some minor part of your self–work-related or not–that doesn’t quite fit with his view of what a workspace should be. 

At thirty-something, he says, not all that directly that your tie is too long, that the way you answer the phone needs to change, and because he’s not quite sure himself what he wants, other than to draw attention to his position directly above you, you can’t really help but think that there is a possibility that he may talk to you about the same thing tomorrow–only this time he’ll make small talk about the latest Trick Daddy single instead of the Massacre LP. 

One year after you’ve quit your job, he’s still there, a Grey-suited coffee-stirrer of a man. His dedication to the bureaucratic arts follows you. His devotion respects neither the boundary of working hours, office space, nor time and space. You’re sure it stretches past his work, into his personal life, into his letters, it infects others, replicates, cross pollinates, builds immunities, twists logic and rules of narrative, bends the physical realities of the universe itself, and then finds the time to acquire another hideous tie. 

On the train, the skinny man in the suit looks nervously through his notes. He’s not Edward, but he could be one of his kind. His humanity, you’re sure, is drowned out by the lingering image of Edward. What is there–the tension, perhaps of a first day, nervousness over a big meeting–is drowned out by that superreal something in your mind imposing itself on this man. He becomes thinner, his suit turns from black to grey, and in your mind you feel that suddenly you’ve become yourself twelve years younger. He is that other kid, smaller than you, that you want to intimidate because he outshines you in class. At sixteen, you can see him oppressing you with his skinny body and perfect attendance. Though he wears nothing more dangerous than an I Love Dr. Who t-shirt, you can already tell that he’s brimming with regulations and in need of committee guidance. He’ll devote his life to making your life miserable with all his marrow. He’ll sweat over it, work at it, and make it his God for reasons you’ll never understand.

It’s a childish feeling really, something you can’t really neglect but refuse to name in detail. Whatever this disease is, it’s nonlinear. Watching a movie or sitting on a bus you realize that you’re sick and that this sickness has the ability to reach back into your past. 


One day, sitting with my therapist, she asks me to describe my dad. I start off with all his best characteristics: his natural charisma, his jokes, the way he could make you feel as if you were the only person in the world. But soon I move to a painful history I had long forgotten. I begin to describe how mom and dad used to fight. The things I knew about them without really ever seeing. The time I first suspected dad didn’t really love mom. Things that always worried me about dad: his subtle authoritarianism, his love of boundaries…soon, I realize that I’m really describing Edward. In my memory, my dad is wearing a grey suit. Did my dad ever wear a grey suit? Was Edward always my dad, or has my dad somehow become Edward? 

One day, Edward takes a particularly nasty tone with you, and you realize for the first time that this man might still be a virgin. You realize that the way he talks to you has a slightly sexual overtone and that at night he might just masturbate to visions of himself telling you off. 

Edward, I’m sure, is the source of my impotence. One year later, I still have trouble performing sexually; thrusting forward, Edward’s image supplants my own, and I see him as he might look on top of my girlfriend, Kyleen. Keeping my head up not to look in her eyes, I’m sure she knows that something is wrong. 

One day you’re sitting in the employee lounge with an orange. You find yourself peeling the orange ever so slowly, deliberately. You don’t know why. Edward stands there nonchalantly, surveying the wallpaper. Soon you think about throwing it at him, about the deliberate act of peeling the fruit and how when it hits him, the juice will explode in his face. I play this sequence in slow motion: the juice, his reaction, all of it coalesces into a perfect moment of release, and then I’m back with Kyleen coming magnificently, screaming, “I got you, you scrawny bitch!” 


…and you wonder how many more people in the world are like that—(un)lucky, shallow people, who’ve simply outlasted their peers into boring middle-management jobs–working on higher standards of being rash-like and derogatory. You wonder if there is another planet somewhere that breeds them, infects other planets with them–a kind of asymmetrical warfare.  

One year later and he’s still more real than your new job, clothes, and your apartment. When I eat sandwiches I can taste Edward Grey’s tie on my tongue. Later, when I spit out my toothpaste over the sink I see the fibers from what must be a tie spiral down the drain. 

And on your last day, predictably he throws you a party. He’s supplied alcohol, food, and lots of music. The people around you, usually critical of Edward, now talk about what a great guy he is for throwing you this party. They’re playing the latest hip-hop. Edward feels compelled to dance. He schmoozes, he chats, he tells stories of college, and suddenly people realize what a party animal he is. The grey suit comes off, and you hate him even more. His party guy routine is mechanical and rehearsed, more alien than his bureaucratic exo-appearance–but only you can see it. 

Skinny and still sweating from doing the hustle, he comes to tell you that he appreciates the energy you’ve brought to the company and that you’ll always be “part of the team.” He shakes your hand and you realize that adulthood has no benefits. You are a dildo to this man. Confused, baffled, you slap him. The slap is more real than you. The slap shakes him. He falls down and cries a bit and you leave the party embarrassed. 


Walking down the street one day, I see one of my old coworkers. I try not to look at him. I try to just keep walking. But he makes eye contact with me and I know I have to talk with him. He asks me what I’m doing now, how I am, all the usual pleasantries. I know Edward will come up. I try to head it off, to confront it. I ask him about Edward. He looks confused for a second. I say the name again, this time describing him, but he seems even more confused now. 

“Who?” he asks. 

I realize now that my old coworker has lost quite a lot of weight. I ask him if he’s been working out lately. He replies, not especially. He looks confused. I looked confused. I suddenly realize that he’s no longer wearing casual clothes. Gradually, but then ever so quickly, he gets skinnier and skinnier. He’s wearing a suit. 

“Edward, who?” he asks. He looks confused at first, but his confusion soon turns into calm disappointment. 

You’re no longer on the street but in an office. Not your old office, but the Office, the pure ideal concept of what an office is according to Edward Grey. There are rules posted clearly telling employees how to dress, what to say, and how to drink their coffee. 

I get up to leave. I walk faster, trying to get out of the Office. I leave my cubicle and start to run out the door. I feel myself getting stuck. The floor is the sticky floor of nightmares. You can’t move. Escape becomes impossible. But then, suddenly, I’m being pushed out. Slowly, softly at first, but then at an ever greater speed. I realize that I’m no longer in control of my motions. The door opens by itself. There is a voice on the other side of the door, yelling “push” with increasing urgency. Out the door there are hands, big, gloved, and scary. And I’m being born again. 

I cry as the doctor takes me into his hands. I look around confused, desperately needing my mother. The doctor turns me around, and I see him there, Edward, panting, crying, his skinny body convulsing in sharp breaths, his pant legs stained with blood.  

“Congratulations,” the doctor says. “He’s an office worker.” 


I wake up in a cold sweat and find that a memo has been left on my bed. 

For the six months we’ve been together, Kyleen has accused me of writing them to myself. She says I wake up at night, go to my desk, and write myself memos in old office stationary I’ve hidden throughout the house. 

This one is different. This one is from her. She tells me concisely, in clear prose, that she’s leaving me. As a final insult, she tells me in a PS that I can go find myself another “scrawny bitch” to fuck.   

I don’t think I’ll have to, because he’s always there. 


People ask me if I liked my old life, my old job. I did, I say. I liked it. Because as far as I can remember it was a life and an existence where things still had tastes and smells. A place and time where my office, imperfect as it was, gave me hope. But I wouldn’t really want it back. Not the way I want it to go away. Because it stalks me–shadowy and elusive. It infects me for years to come. In the very everydayness of things, it will be there robbing the world of color and life. And I will say, when people comment how down and blue I look–I will say it in the past, the present, and the future–I will say it in memos to myself and to others, in annual progress reports, in conversation near the water cooler, that everything was fine, until Edward made it grey.


Daniel Clausen’s work has been published in Slipstream Magazine, Leading Edge Science Fiction, and Black Petals. His short story collection The Lexical Funk: A Triumph of Words is free for anyone to download from lulu.com/danielclausen. He has also finished a novel (currently in the process of submitting) entitled The Ghosts of Nagasaki.

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