A torrent of thoughts ran through her mind as she stood in her kitchen, eyes locked on the obstruction in her doorway.
It was a Gift from the Great Hand. A giant piece of paper from the Great Hand. A giant piece of paper that had fallen into her back garden that had a lot of numbers and the letters A S I V on it. This was as much as Button could remember reading when folding the thing up. Unfortunately, now she couldn’t easily open it again to take another look as it was very firmly wedged.
You’re looking at a bonefide Gift. A real, honest to Hand, Gift...
Button stared blankly at the thing in her doorway. It took a moment before she slowly reached across and placed a hand tentatively on one of the corners. She ran her fingers over the frayed, ragged edges and started to gently coax one of the folds apart...
Stop touching it!
A swift, invasive warning from inside her head shouted at her and she retracted her hand and took a few steps away from the paper, her bottom bumping into one of the kitchen cabinets.
Don’t touch it anymore, you’ll just damage it even further than you already have! You know what the law says about these things.
There were few rules more ingrained in the minds of all Lommeids than All Gifts belong to the Church. Her boss was meant to be meeting someone from the clergy today; it had to be the perfect opportunity to alert one of the Church elders. Button gnawed on her lip and anxiously picked at the newly accumulated dirt and grit that had accumulated under her nails. There was no issue here, no quandary to be addressed, this Gift had to go to the proper authorities. And to the proper authorities it would go. These words repeated over and over in her mind in sing-song, but still she didn’t move. The nail-picking turned into finger drumming on the back of her hand. Here, wedged before her, was a Gift. Of all the places it could’ve fallen, it had found itself landing in her back garden. And it wasn’t just a blank piece of paper, either. There were things on it. Things that needed to be read. Things that, maybe, Button needed to read.
Outside, the white clouds were rapidly turning a more miserable deep grey colour and a few drops of rain soon started to fall. One glance at the incoming storm and, prompted by a pop of adrenaline, Button reached forward, took a secure grip on the edges of the paper and gave it a test tug. Paper cuts seemed like a very real possibility so, in a flurry of growing panic, she grabbed some gardening gloves, gained secure purchase and, with a loud battle cry, pulled hard.
The next thing she knew she was laying flat out on the floor and completely surrounded in white. From somewhere beyond her cellouse tomb, the muffled, shrill ring of the phone started to sound. Button attempted to push the paper off but it seemed to be everywhere. A sense of claustrophobia began to bubble in her stomach. She frantically fought her way up and out of her paper prison and clumsily got to her feet, whilst trying not to trample on, rip or tear the paper beneath her. Just as she’d crossed the difficult terrain, the call went to the answering machine. A high-pitched, frantic male voice filled the room. Button’s heart sank.
“OLÉ! I’m getting calls! I’m getting calls and someone won’t stop buzzing the intercom! Five months, Button - you don’t want to ruin this streak! They might make me do something...by the Hand...I might have to DO something!”
The call then descended into unintelligible blubbering before cutting off.
To the casual observer, it may have seemed utterly perplexing that Button should’ve thought her life to be so very boring. In another world, in another time, being the President’s Executive Assistant would surely have been something boasted about. Unfortunately the President she worked for, a man by name of Lewis Change, could only truly and honestly be described by two words:
This was a sad fact for Button, who had once (what felt like a long, long time ago) looked up to him as a role model. It was sad too for the rest of the country, who somehow managed to keep re-electing the man.
Change was strange and slightly eccentric, which made working for him all that much harder. He had lost interest in doing his job long ago and now spent most of his time trying to avoid it. A testament to this fact had formed into a feature of his embarrassingly big office. A languishing pile of long-forgotten legislation had grown in size since the first few months of his Presidency, doomed to live out the rest of its life as ad hoc tea coasters or the odd paper aeroplane. Button used to wonder how he got away with it, but all the major TV networks and newspapers seem to utterly adore him for reasons she still couldn’t quite fathom. They’d been in his office and it seldom got tidied so she knew that at least three of the country’s top journalists had seen Bill Mountain; they surely must have worked out that he was not performing his role as a public servant. However, no-one had ever mentioned it, any visiting journalists would always leave smiling, been all handshakes and laughs, the secret contained within Change’s office kept. It would be fair to say that Change did have a certain charisma (at least in public) and knew all the right things to say when on camera. This is how Button had squared away his enduring appeal to the masses and how he got away with such a blatant disregard for…well, anything serious.
It often saddened her to think that the general public had little to no idea that she, Button Olé, his long-suffering secretary, spent her days fobbing of his political engagements, misdirecting and deflecting any and all official communication from Parliament and pandering to many of his, frankly, bizarre whims. Button had proved so successful in her post that Prime Minister Gumm hadn’t seen hide or hair of his president for coming up on five months. Button often contemplated whether it was better for the country that Change, a truly hapless excuse for a politician, was left out of any important policy making. This was one of the myriad of reasons she’d come up with to explain why she hadn’t tried to lift the lid on what he was really like. That and she couldn’t quite muster the energy to do much of anything nowadays.
A short taxi ride later and Button was sprinting towards the large main doors that led into the main foyer of the Capitol building. When she was but a few steps away from the building, something big, black and bulky fell out of the sky and smashed on the pavement in front of her. In a moment of adrenaline-induced delirium, she wondered whether she should start carrying an umbrella or, perhaps, wearing a hardhat. On closer inspection, it looked suspiciously like her boss’ intercom machine and most definitely wasn’t another inopportune Gift that had been dropped on her. Regaining her calm, she delicately stepped over it and proceeded into the building and along to her office.
The room she’d taken to calling hers was more of a general-use foyer. It used to make her feel important to call this space outside of Change’s office her own, but it had never really caught on with anyone else. It was entirely too busy to really be considered anything other than a foyer; people were constantly walking through it, past her, taking informal meetings on one of the three clusters of couches or stopping to have a chit-chat by the coffee machine. The rest of the room was busy with rows of filing cabinets (the contents of which Button hadn’t yet finished categorising; her predecessor hadn’t taken the time to explain what half the stuff was in the umpteen number of drawers), which were occasionally punctuated by poor neglected pot plants. A little ways from the far wall, towards the centre of the room, was Button’s desk. It was an impressive assembly of not one but three separate workstations, the need for which was entirely clear to anyone who walked through this room at this time of day. Parked on one desk, alongside each other, were six telephones. Cables ran off of the surface and snaked across the floor, back to where they had originally been set up. The desks they’d been sat on originally were now either unmanned, covered in nonsense or part of Button’s Megadesk (something she called it in private and never admitted to naming it to anyone else), so they’d all needed new homes.
On dashing into the room, it didn’t surprise her in the slightest to find that all of the telephones were ringing incessantly. Each had six different lines, and, judging from all the red engaged lights, every single one was busy. That meant that thirty six different people were trying to get a hold of Change.
Since he’d decided to stop answering calls, Button had been forced to develop a particular technique for dealing with such a call pile up. After dumping her things on the floor, she hurried over to the far end of the room where most of the cables ended. She dropped to the floor and felt around for a small, frayed piece of string, the other end of which was tied neatly around all of the telephone cords. With one firm yank, she tugged all five plugs out of their respective sockets simultaneously.
Silence, momentarily, washed over the room…
…and then was immediately shattered.
Button nipped behind her desk and sat down, quickly adjusting strands of wayward auburn hair as she did so. The heavy doors across the hall dramatically swung open and smashed into the delicate pearl sconces affixed to the nearby walls. Button wondered whether the public had a right to know where most of their taxes went, as an inordinate amount was spent on replacing those two fixtures.
President Change stormed over to her desk and exhaled sharply before speaking in a clipped, impatient tone. “I need a new intercom.” Button nodded and wrote this down on a piece of paper. “Someone was trying to get me to take a call,” Change continued. “Probably an intern.”
“Do you want me to throw him or her out of the window as well?” she asked, dryly.
Change paused and scratched his chin thoughtfully.
“Better not.” He turned to head back into his office, pointing at the glass on the floor and mumbling something in Button’s direction as he went. She jotted that down on her new to-do list. This would be at least two pages long by the time she had finished today. At least, she thought, it would keep her mind off of the paper pile in her kitchen.
Why do you need to take your mind off of it?
She ignored the question and, after taking a moment to compose herself, she plugged one of the telephones back in. It immediately started ringing.
“Oh, decided to reconnect the phones already, have you?”
“Oh yes, I couldn’t wait. And just how many lines were you and your staff taking up this time?”
“Gumm says that any less than six means that we aren’t really trying.”
“Any serious business?” Button asked Sally, the Prime Minister’s secretary, as she doodled idly across some forgotten, official-looking document.
“Running the country?”
“Har har, five months and counting. Anything else?”
The woman on the other end paused for a moment. “Oh, it’s Treasury Secretary Sid Gerrets’ birthday.”
“What does he like?”
Sally giggled. “Oh, I don’t know. A bloated pay check and lattes with five sugars?"
Button snorted. “Eew. I’ll send over a box of chocolates.”
“I’ll let the boss know that Change still isn’t the mood to engage in some actual work.”
“And I’ll let you know if that ever changes.” Button said with a sigh before hanging up.
It had long ago stopped being embarrassing to have to explain to the wealth of other secretaries, PAs and advisers that Change wasn’t interested in doing any work today. In the beginning, she’d come up with a myriad of clever and inventive reasons why Change wasn’t around to do something he was meant to be doing. They started with things like “he’s got a headcold” and “he’s been called away on urgent, Presidential business”; they then started to devolve into lies such as “his pet unplugged his alarm clock” (his fictional animal proved a useful source of many an excuse, too many for Button to recount) and “he forgot to come back to work after lunch”. They finally ended up with, frankly, bizarre and desperate cover-ups like “he left the bath running and it completely flooded his house” and “he accidentally boarded a train this morning and is now halfway across the country.” It was Sally, in an unexpected act of kindness, who gently broke it to Button that nobody believed her stories and it was okay to be honest about what Change was really doing…which was nothing at all, really. The relief she’d felt on finally having to drop the pretense had been indescribable and, for a few days, coming into work hadn’t been so bad. This feeling had soon worn off, though.
In his office, Change was busy trying to cheat at a putting game he’d bought himself by standing a few paces away from the gizmo. It was the most popular of his distractions, especially as it involved playing (or pretending to play) golf; the other office games that displeased him had suffered the same fate as the intercom machine.
“You have an appointment with your tailor at eleven, the Impressive Index at twelve and an appearance on Lomme Weekly at three thirty.” Button announced from the doorway.
Change stopped putting and lent thoughtfully on his club. “Bit quiet today.”
“There’s the latest quarterly projections from the Treasury on your desk...”
“Shred them.” He then went back to cheating.