Game Theory in an Office

Photo by Sebastien Wiertz (copied from Flickr)
Photo by Sebastien Wiertz (copied from Flickr)

Personal letters rarely arrive in the workplace. There are trade magazines, adverts posed as letters for events, adverts posed as letters for consultants, an occasional letter from a pensioner with no internet access nor a pliant relative that would send an email. There is internal post, but rarely are there any personal letters.

What should we do?
Don’t know. Could be anything.
Should we check to see if it should be sent to her replacement?
Would’ve said that on the envelope.

It was of a non-descript description. Cream envelope, writing paper size, with a stamp postmarked in Bristol. The handwriting was clear, practised, someone pre-computer wrote this, or someone with a practised hand. The reverse side offered no clues although a dried saliva sample could trace a criminal. The detected education, the thoughtfulness of the handwriting with small loops and tight letters were not the qualities normally given to brutes and thieves on DCI Banks or The Wire, but maybe Morse or Poirot could have a criminal like this. Someone from somewhere in the leafy part of Bristol or the moneyed surrounds with houses built on the trade and sale of men never seen, writing with a gilded pen sat on the metaphysical top of their anonymised net worth.

It’s already open anyway.
But that’s just to check for powder, dangerous or otherwise.
Or to pull out money.
No one sends money anymore.
Old people do.
You want to read it don’t you?
You don’t?
It’s a dilemma.
It could be an advert or something, an agency selling her something?
There isn’t a brochure inside.
So you looked?
Only into the envelope. I didn’t see any words.

There were at least two sheets of folded to fit writing paper, it matched the outside of the envelope, light cream colour set against the white of the inside made it stained, dirty. The letter opener had left a small gummed part still stuck down, in bigger organisations there would have been a machine that would leave clean cuts from a razor blade that made the sound of ripping paper clean like a zip, but here there were only two security guards protected with goggles, gloves and painters’ masks with letter openers that opened the incoming post one by one. There had only been one incident with powder, but there had been multiple incidents with toenail clippings, cigarette butts and lengthy abusive letters made with magazine script. The letter opener had nicked an eighth of the folded pages.

Go on, read it.
Should we?
I waver. Just do it. Act.
Why don’t you?
You’re holding it.
Here take it.
Do you think I should read it?
You said you would.
But that’s different.
Different how?
Just is.
It’s taken more time talking about it than it would just reading it. So read it.

The papers come out of the envelope with a puff of dust from the letter opened edge.

Dear Kathryn,

Or is it Kathy or Katie now. Possibly Kat. Maybe you have changed the spelling. Do you use a C? Are you Cathy?

First, I am sorry to have to write to your place of work. But I have yet to find your home address and you have changed your phone number more times than I care to ask why. But I found you through a friend’s internet search. I hope that you do not mind.

The reason I am writing to you is to reach out again and try once more to see you. When you left there were so many questions that you did not ask. We were ready to answer them all, ready to tell you everything, no half truths or quarter truths. Whole truths only. But you left without our explanation. We want the best for you. When you left, it felt to us just what you needed to do. It must have been quite a shock when you found out. We understand that. That’s why we let you go. But we wanted the time to give an explanation, an explanation that cannot, should not and will not be done on paper.

For that reason, I want you to contact me, at this address or call me or get some message to me. Your grandmother is worried and she talks of you more and more.

Yours in hope,


Who’s it from?
Her Grandad, I think.
What’s it say?
Read it.

Time reading and comprehending something written is an individual thing. Everyone takes their own time to understand. Some do not until hours after.

Should we try and get it to her?
Does anyone know where she lives?
I don’t.
Me neither.
We should tell someone.
They’ll find out we read it.
But how else would we know it wasn’t business related.
Is it illegal?
To open other people’s post? Not sure in a work context, doesn’t feel right though.

Like an unfolded map, the sheets of paper fought against folds and envelope walls and its previous forms. Like an overtired child being put to bed or a puppy being put in its crate, with the cries and howls that come with it.

We should throw it away, in the confidential bin.
He’ll probably write again.
And it would save us from having to explain it.
He’ll write again.
Next time he does, we’ll see the envelope and send it on to her new work.
Maybe he’ll find out where she’s moved on to.
He’ll say lost in the post or lost in the bureaucratic mess that is this country or this is what this country has become, children ignoring their elders, living their lives, having promiscuous affairs.
Did she?
Don’t know, doubt it. Real life is much more sedate than the imagined.
So, we’ll throw it away?
Shred it. Less evidence, more pieces to stick together, like a forgotten life jigsaw.

A home office shredder dominates the ear drums of anyone in range. The sound of paper pulled through by torqued motors and the release and dry run after the paper drops through the overlapping serrated edges can be heard throughout a four-bed semi-detached. But in an office where the noise of keyboards with worn down As and Ss and Ts and phones ringing and people talking and vents pushing air from side to side, in that environment the muffled sound of the commercial shredder passes unnoticed. In a world of data protection the sound of the shredder is encouraged, quietly celebrated. With a beep and a small torque from the industrial size motor the letter disappears between the grey plastic lips and into the serrated edges of round blades.

He’ll write again.

About Dan Murch

Dan Murch was born in California and now lives in the West of England.

Dan Murch was born in California and now lives in the West of England.

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