Elton was a hundred-a-day man and proud he received e-mails in three figure wads even though it was usually less and could say that kind of thing when he was standing by the watercooler albeit usually on his own and generating his own white noise whereby he would often string the words together in one elongated string to see whether he could create a multi-layered background murmur all on his own. It probably tells you enough about Elton already. But what was fizzing in his mind was that he had heard that it was possible to have an empty e-mail inbox at the end of the day and it even had a ripping name, InBoxZero which just had to be something he could only have dreamed of. It sounded like the hundred press-ups challenge he had once tried where he had got to seventeen before needing a rest but this time he really felt he could do it and so resolved to do it and even made plans to do it.
Elton got in early which as he was always in early was in this case very early and cleared the decks and got a coffee and then after a while got another coffee and took his tie off and put his tie back on so as to feel more business-like and set about his Inbox with relish and gusto and even a little bravado. He arranged them by importance but no-one used the little blue downpointing arrow because nothing is ever that unimportant then he arranged them by sender and deleted everything from distant relatives in lagos with a large inheritance he didn’t know he had and then from a company or a logo and then from anyone he didn’t know which turned out to be most of them then he arranged them by date and deleted older than a month then older than three weeks and then thought that a week was probably enough if he hadn’t already replied. He then replied to those that needed a reply that he hadn’t already replied to or at least couldn’t remember whether he had replied to or not especially anything from his boss or mum but in the other order and then deleted the original e-mail and then he put all of his sent and deleted items in a big folder called general and stared at his screen because all that remained now fitted on one screen and with eyes a-squint he highlighted them all and with a deep deep breath deleted the lot without looking to see who they were from concluding if it was important they would re-send or mail again. InBoxZero. Nada. It was dark outside. He needed the bathroom. He went home springy albeit not skipping because no-one really skips other than the chancellor of the exchequer but with a real sense of achievement at least he thought that’s what it was because it had been so long since he felt anything similar if he could remember ever having felt it at all. Like a kiss.
The very next day Elton was a little sad. He would be back to the old ways of bucketing the water from his sinking boat, the slow down the slow drown. He logged on. Nada. He checked his settings maybe in his fury he had flicked a blind switch because there were hundreds in e-mail you could do it inadvertently and spend all day wondering what silly thing you had done but all seemed normal so he sent himself a Test e-mail and called it Test because everyone does it’s like saying 1-2 with a microphone why doesn’t anyone ever say anything different and there was a soft ping and there is was to Elton from Elton subject: Test. But nothing else.
So he mailed his mum and asked her questions about her breakfast and then arranged some meetings and so sent out lots of meeting requests even with people in accounts and signed up for some newsletters from companies he felt were okay and then signed up for newsletters for companies he hated and then ticked some boxes to receive offers from related companies and then unticked some boxes to ensure he received offers from related companies and anyone they could sell their mailing lists to or even give them away just to be noticed and then he mailed his boss admitting to an imaginary minor mistake that would certainly unleash a remonstrating mail that stopped short of any opportunity for him to take the matter of his treatment up as a grievance. Nothing. Nada. He sent himself another Test message called Test 2 just to avoid confusion with Test and within seconds the soft ping to Elton from Elton subject: Test 2. He went outside and got a coffee and a third stamp on his collect nine stamps and get a free coffee card and walked back very slowly and stopped in reception and read the from page of yesterday’s FT and ambled upstairs to his desk and looked at his screen. Nothing. So he shut down and restarted and then just restarted and then he called IT and the man from IT came and sat at his desk with half a bag of cheese and onion crisps and didn’t say much but looked through all of his settings and checked his network connection and ran some diagnostics and left his empty crisp bag on the desk and an oily sheen on his keyboard as he left confirming everything was okay.
But everything wasn’t OKAY it was a trick of the light trick of the mind trick or treat trick on a stick it was a padded cell it was his own, personal, bespoke, tailored-to-fit hell he had disappeared from view from the world from consciousness from the ethereal ether from the space time continuum from the third dimension altogether he was at long last zero, zero point zero zero, nothing. Nothing other than the mails he sent himself. Nada.
Elton stared at the screen and stared into the InBox and his pupils dilated and the pixels dilated and he could see himself staring back at himself only he was old and sunken and lined and hollow the colour and texture of dirty sand slipping through a bony hand and he realised in the midst of his paralysing sorrow that as it could already be tomorrow it really was time to go.