Flash Fiction Friday: Dotting the Is
by Cornell R. Nichols
I’m not quite sure how it happened but, at the age of thirty, I found myself stuck in a dead-end job, with virtually no prospects for my dead-end life.
I guess my ideas were to blame. I have foolishly dared to dream of becoming a journalist, and so I went to college and started to get accustomed to writing daily. I would roll a sheet of paper onto the platen, push the buttons of my typewriter, slide the carriage return with a satisfying ding and then, orthpen in hand, correct my own paragraphs with zero tolerance. I repeated this ritual tirelessly, producing article after article on the most mundane topics:
Mischievous Laundry Escapes Yard!
Neighbor’s Zombie Breaks Off Leash, Eats Mailbox
Snail Farmers Complain: Economy Is Slug-Slow.
Write, revise, correct, write, revise, correct…
In the end, the corrector’s mind was all that I was left with while journeying to Job Land. I was hired by the local printing company at the lowest position possible.
The Boss said to me from the very start: “Mr. Pointe, this company is all about cost-cutting. At this point, we regularly print pamphlets, political manifestos for the Order of the Grammar Neo-Nazis, several books of ill-circulation; but nothing that would bring us humongous heaps of hay. Am I making myself clear?”
I took a look at his nose prosthesis, very crude, just a snowman-style carrot, and I realized that he wasn’t lying. At least his nose didn’t grow or anything.
“Got it, Boss.”
“And because of this financial predicament our main printing press has been bought at, shall we say, a bargain price. It is a tad retarded and forgets to dot. Your job, Mr. Pointe, will be to place said dots, or tittles if you like, wherever they are missing from the text. Here’s your desk, sit down and tittle away!”
And so I became the company tittler. The pay was irrational, and as such could be represented by the irrational number pi—$3.14 an hour. But I didn’t complain. I did not dare to. After all, it isn’t easy finding a job after college. I was glad I was getting any pay at all. So day after day I would dot and tittle like a human dot-and-tittle machine, searching out every lonesome “i” and “j” with the blade of the orthpen, taking particular care of the Order’s orders. I once saw a Grammar Neo-Nazi slice a man in half with a claymore just for using “who” instead of “whom”. I even wrote an article about it: For Whom The Bell Tolls.
But now, knee-deep in work-mud, I had no time for writing light news. Dot, dot, dot, dot—eight hours, dot, per day not counting, dot, the overtime. And ending several hours late became, dot, something of a regular thing. Especially when the printing company managed to keep its head above the water and more and more orders started to come like an ink tsunami. Dot.
And so one day, almost a year after I was hired, the Boss paid me another visit. By then he was already wearing a diamond-encrusted ivory nose, very pointy and chic.
“Mr. Pointe,” he said, “we’re expanding rapidly. It’s still a tightrope walk, so no chance for a raise, don’t even ask. But you will receive a bit more work, I’m afraid.”
“How big a bit are we talking?” I dared ask.
“Not a big one, not big at all,” he said, waving his hand dismissively. “We just bought a few more fonts for our dear special Printy, that’s all.”
The new fonts were for publications in German. They were dot-less and tittle-less, of course, meaning they had no umlaut diacritics. Not only did I have to double-dot those foreign vowels, twice the work, but I also had to know where they actually go. I spoke German only so lala, so I had to constantly ask the typesetter guy which of the signs were plus-umlaut and which ones I should just leave as they were.
Such a long time did I have to spend at work, that my eight-hour day became the twelve-hour one, no breaks. Not a single moment was left to polish my newspaper articles.
And meanwhile, the Boss Man concocted a new entertainment for my delight: math textbooks.
Now I would tittle dawn to dusk. I sweated over the symbols and hieroglyphics: “multiplied by”, “divided by”, “therefore”, “such that”. I stabbed at the paper imagining it to be the noseless face of my Boss. Every pi in every circle reminded me of the pitiful pay, of the lack of life outside of work; of my long-forgotten articles. What was I thinking, for Dot’s sake, wanting to become a journalist? I should have majored in tittling! Maybe they would teach me how to avoid writer’s cramp? Maybe with the master’s degree in Advanced Dot-Making I would get paid a bit more than $3.14 (tax not included)? I started asking around if anyone’s heard of any decent tittling courses but people just took me for a wacko.
I was alone. Misunderstood. The only tittler in the whole wide world, breaking his back over another dot-less publication: dot, dot, dot, dot…
Until one day he appeared at my desk again, smiling like the Cheshire Cat. The Tyrant, the Belze-Boss. The stingy bastard with a nose of priceless antimatter.
“My dear Mr. Pointe, I just had the most brilliant idea ever, period!” he declared with his usual amount of modesty. His voice resonated inside the magnetic trap that was holding the prosthesis together. “Have you ever heard of a French painter, one Georges Seurat?”
I shook my head. The only painter I knew well enough was Albrecht Dürer, and that’s only because I was in the process of tittling his three-volume zombiography. The wretched thing was written entirely in third person—Dürer this, Dürer that—as if to spite me. I punctured the pages over the undead scribbler’s name picturing nails being hammered to his coffin.
“Who’s this Seurat, Boss?” Dot. Dot.
“Well, he was this genius pointillist, which basically means he created paintings… yes, you guessed it, out of dots only! I was just visiting the National Gallery with my wife and I thought to myself: ‘What is a text if not just a collection of close-knit dots?’ Why, every shape in the universe is made out of a finite number of points! You know what this means, right? Illustrations, we can dot them out as well! Isn’t this absolutely marvelous? A revolution! The entire work of a printing company in the hands of a single worker. No need for some half-retarded machine. Think how much money I can save thanks to that!” he exclaimed, delighted.
The mention of money sprung me into action, as if I were stabbed with the tip of my own orthpen.
“And how big of a raise are we talking about here, Boss? To go along with this promotion?” I asked, fingers twitching with hope. “After all, I will be responsible for the entire company, no?”
The Boss smiled apologetically and explained to me, point by point, that, unfortunately, blah, blah, blah, the savings need to be, blah, blah. Only due to the patience acquired at work, did I manage not to get arrested that day for the assault with a deadly three-volume Grammar Neo-Nazi nightmare and for gory orthpen-rape.
The next morning I tittled out my letter of resignation. It was short, straight to the point and featured a pointillist caricature of the Boss as a noseless goblin, with carrots sticking out of his ass.
Then I found a job at the local tattoo parlor. Here, for an entire day of dot-dot-dotting butterflies and hearts, they pay me hundred times more.
Cornell R. Nichols usually writes in his native tongue but words like “chrząszcz” and “gżegżółka” are slightly too extreme even for the bizarro crowd. Due to the miracle of translation, his real name can mean “Horny Santa’s Little Helper”. He supports the cause of the snail farmers.