You sit at the desk, staring at the numbers. The numbers. The endless goddamned numbers, all swaddled in parentheses, as if negative numbers have to be shielded from the good numbers. The ones not on the page this quarter, or on the page this year. The stockholders will not be happy. They’ll want their dividend maintained, their investment protected. They care about the bottom line and nothing else. The numbers. The board of directors will not be happy. Their reputations are on the line. Their paychecks. Their bonuses. Their numbers.
You are an accountant. You don’t create the situation that leads to the numbers. You don’t authorize management overspendings, tell the customers to stop spending, or force suppliers to raise costs. You sit at a desk and work with what you’re given. And you know you’ll get the blame. “Damn bean counters don’t know diddly shit about reality,” they’ll say when they learn the truth. And it’s not you. And what you do isn’t diddly shit. It’s all about the numbers. You tally and tote, calculate and crosscheck, but you can’t change what is. They aren’t your numbers. That’s what no one sees. The numbers are theirs. Their numbers.
You evaluate, estimate, recalculate, hope for a misplaced decimal, pray for a mistaken formula. But numbers don’t lie. They can’t lie. Numbers are absolute. Final. Perfect in their finality. And for the first time, you see them as what they can be. Ugly in their finality. And so is your conclusion. The cost numbers are high, the income is low. That’s the bottom line no one will accept. And when all is said and done, you know you’ll be hit hardest by the reality of the thing. You’ll get blamed all the way around. All because of the numbers. Their numbers.
You feed your report up the chain, defend your analyses with less and less enthusiasm with each link. By the time the numbers reach the boardroom and the questions and accusations come your way faster and faster, you respond with less and less vigor. The numbers, the always reliable, never wrong numbers, did this to you. You don’t love the numbers anymore. You don’t even care about them anymore. You are ready for a change. Something wild. Something unpredictable. Something far away from the numbers. Their numbers.
You know the inevitable is coming. You know the end is near. You contemplate a change, a life change, something that will bring you the happiness numbers used to bring before this betrayal. But you are an accountant. You can’t just plunge into something new without knowing the cost. And when you figure it out, when you reach your own personal bottom line, you know the truth. The ugly final truth. You are an accountant and will remain an accountant. You can’t afford to change. You’ll take the blame, be called the bean counter who knows diddly shit about reality, and go on your way. And you’ll know the truth. You can only work with what you’re given. You are an accountant. The numbers are not your mistress; they are your controller. You have nothing. You are nothing. It’s all about the numbers. Their numbers.
Michael Giorgio’s fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies. His latest novel, A Week of Criminal Happiness, was released in June 2020 Rogue Phoenix Press. His first two novels, Justice Comes Home (2014) and The Memory Swindlers (2016) were published by Black Rose Writing. He has also published poetry and nonfiction and leads workshops at AllWriters’ Workplace and Workshop in Waukesha, WI.