My name is Joe. I’ve the most important job in the world. I polish the Button. The big fat round one says ‘Don’t Press the Button’ above it, in brass lettering. It’s really the only button in the room, you can’t not see it. It’s red. The Button’s the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning and the last when I lay down on my cot.
I volunteered for this job, though I probably wasn’t the most qualified candidate. I’m an average guy, in all aspects, though they seemed to like that about me. I’d learn how to take care of the Button eventually, they insisted. And boy did I – no one’s got a flick of the wrist quite like mine. It’s an art, dusting off the Button without ever pressing it. After all, they promised it’d be the end of my world if I ever pressed it. So inadvertently, you learn a few tricks.
Now understand, polishing the Button eats up about twelve hours of my day. I wake up at 6:00 a.m., exercise fifteen minutes, take a ten-minute shower and have about half an hour to grab a bite along with my morning coffee. Then it’s six hours straight of polishing, before I eat my lunch. I stretch a bit during lunchtime, read some. At 2:00 p.m. my afternoon shift begins, another six solid hours. I call it a day at eight and have a couple of hours to kill before hitting the bed. Was a time I used to have night shifts too, but I guess I’ve grown lazy.
That’s been my routine every day for the last 11,723 days. It ain’t an easy job, that I can tell you. Requires lots of concentration and precision too. And patience, naturally. Wouldn’t last this long in this business without patience. There’s lots of dust settles in this room. I still wonder where it comes from, there’s no windows in here. The dust is a bastard. But you get the hang of it, eventually.
Ain’t much else in my room, besides the chair I sit on and my work table. For good reason too. I can’t afford many distractions while at work. Don’t have a TV set. I do have a vinyl and a collection of classical music though. Nothing quite like Chopin to steady my hand when I polish the Button. I have a few books to my name, on my lone bookshelf. Been reading two recently: Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Orwell’s 1984. Got the latter from Charles. Then there’s a shower and a toilet, of course. Oh, there’s a phone, though I can’t use it. They told me it’s a one-way line. If it rings, I am to do exactly as the speaker tells me. Phone’s red too, like the Button.
Today is Tuesday. Tuesday is pizza and chess day. Charles takes care of the food. My job is too important to leave my room, so he brings it. I don’t have the keys, even if I wanted to leave. Which I don’t, not with my job. Charles stays a while on Tuesdays, after my afternoon shift, and we play a game of chess.
He’s a good guy, Charles, he is. Don’t know much about polishing buttons though, and it sure chafes him. He’s constantly harping me, wants to give the Button a rub. He’s been secretly envious of my work, I think. I can’t hold that against him. I would be jealous too, if we exchanged places. To each his own, I reckon. The food he brings me is delicious. Besides, I can’t let him touch the Button. I signed a contract said only one pair of hands forever.
‘C’mon Joe, surely it can’t be the end of the world if I give it a try, can it?’
I’m about to tell Charles off one final time, but then the red phone rings and both of us freeze. It’s the first time in my 11,723 days here that the red phone rings. It rings loud and clear though, no mistake. It’s Charles wakes me up from my dazed state.
‘You gonna pick it up or what?’
I grab it with purpose. This is a historic moment for me. My voice sounds less convincing. It takes a lot to keep the shakes out.
‘Y…yes? Joe here.’
On the end of the line there’s a male voice, a drawl I don’t recognize. Sounds like the guy has just run up and down a couple of staircases. Charles hears him too. He looks just as perplexed as I.
‘Joe? Thank God, I thought I was given the wrong number. Joe, listen to me carefully. This is the President. Press the button Joe. That’s an order. From me, the President.’
My throat is all dry, but I manage to squeeze out a ‘Yes, sir.’
This is it. The moment I thought would never come. All those years of hard work finally about to pay off. The Button winks at me, polished to a mirror sheen. I’m proud. My back straightens. I’m at peace.
I press the Button.
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