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Looking for France
For the past three weeks, Peter's cubicle drowned in paper. Tax forms overflowed from his inbox, half empty balance sheets spilled from his filing cabinets, and invoices tacked upon memos tacked next to receipts flaked from his corkboard wall. Peter slumped at his desk, his grey suit and wrinkled shirt making him almost indistinguishable among the cubicle's walls.
They needed the money, he reminded himself, rubbing his eyes and forcing himself to read through the endless numbers. It was getting harder to pay their bills with the downsizing and the salary cuts. Ellie's salary plus his own was just enough to cover utilities from month to month.
Somewhere among the sea of papers, his cellphone rang. After digging through a stack of forms, he located his phone and saw the caller. It was Ellie.
"Are you coming home tonight?" She asked.
"I'm so sorry El, but I can't." He said. "I have to work tonight."
There was a pause on the other end. In the silence, Peter heard the clink of dishes being put away.
"I understand." She finally replied. "I'll put your dinner in the fridge."
"I'm so sorry." He said. "We'll have a belated birthday dinner tomorrow, okay?"
"Don't worry about it, I know you're busy. I'll see you tomorrow."
"I love you El."
"I love you too. Good night Peter." There was a click on the end of the receiver.
Peter sat alone in his cubicle, turning the phone in his hand over and over after Ellie hung up. He should call her back, he finally decided. He should tell her that he would come home after all. That he would leave behind spreadsheets and bills and head home with a bottle of expensive wine and the biggest cake he could find. He would come home to sing "Happy Birthday" to her over dinner, just like he used to, and tomorrow, they would buy plane tickets so that they could see the Eiffel Tower for her birthday, just like they always said they would. His fingers paused over the call button, her number already glowing his cellphone screen. It wouldn't be hard; just one call and they could be on an airplane to France in a matter of hours.
Suddenly, a stack of forms slid from a packed shelf, crashing onto the floor. The sound jolted Peter from his thoughts. He looked around his cubicle, at its cramped grey walls, at the coffee stained into the carpet, and above all, at the piles of work he had to complete by the end of the night.
He sighed. They couldn't afford France anyway, he thought to himself as he picked up a form and continued working.