Employee No. 1

There was no aura of destiny surrounding Employee No. 1.

Rather, for the first seven years that he lived in our house, sponging off us, sleeping his days away, demonstrating no talent or potential whatsoever, I considered him a loafer. A lap dog.

When I started working from home four years ago, my opinion of him didn’t immediately change. He appeared to resent my presence. He had a lazy routine, and I wasn’t part of it. If he ever visited my study, it was to jump on the chair and look out the window at someone else arriving home. Someone who fed him.

We warmed to each other only gradually. He started visiting me at lunchtime, especially when I had barbecue. He’d never mastered such basic terms as stay, sit, and fetch, but he learned “barbecue” almost overnight. Before long, I’d only have to say “going for barbecue” and he’d run to the front door and insist on accompanying me on a take-out run.

Ascertaining that he wasn’t half as dumb as I’d supposed, I began speaking to him more regularly. Sutherland House was a solo operation in its first year. Being accustomed to teamwork, and having no one else to share with, I’d tell him what I was doing, and why. He seldom answered but nothing escaped him. He spent more of each day in my study, resting under the desk, listening to my calls with one eye open, occasionally jumping onto my lap to see what I was up to.

After a few months of this, it was clear he considered us colleagues. He followed me room to room. No matter what I was eating, he demanded to share. If I had deliveries to make, he called shotgun. I decided to admit him as Employee No. 1.

I leased an office in the second half of that first year, several blocks from home. It’s a five-minute walk: through a field, past a dog park, down Moore Avenue, up the stairs, and there you are. Part of Emmett’s job was to accompany me.

These trips unleashed his latent ambition. Every morning, immediately after breakfast, he would nudge me to close my laptop, get dressed, and go to the office. It was sometimes grating to be interrupted by his wet nose, but I had to admire his initiative. “Time to go to work,” I’d say, and he’d bark in affirmation.

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Once he’d learned the drill, Emmett became maniacal about office duty. If it were up to him, we would have gone in seven days a week. A couple of times, for one reason or another, I went into the office without him. He left steaming expressions of displeasure on my study floor. I value direct feedback but, this, too, was grating.

While at the office, he liked to keep the door open so he could keep track of comings and goings in the hallway. He positioned himself so he could watch me and the door at all times.

He developed a high degree of professionalism, cordially greeting visitors to the office —even the postman, with whom he developed a friendly relationship, understanding that a third of our business runs through the mails.

He treated all the books with respect, not chewing or otherwise spoiling a single volume. He never once did his personal business in the office. (I’d occasionally accompany him to the parking lot on what we called “smoke breaks,” to preserve his dignity.)

Eventually, Matt, employee no. 2, joined us at the office, and we shared management duties. I watched over Matt’s work; Emmett supervised his lunch and apparel.

The only person Emmett mistrusted was Johnny, the landlord’s representative. Johnny got a growl whenever he dropped in or simply walked past the door.

A rescue dog, Emmett had endured a tough first year of existence. It may be that Johnny, through his accent, or his odor, reminded him of things best forgotten. Either that or Emmett resented the terms of our lease, which we’d covered in detail.

By the end of that first year, Emmett and I were close. We valued each other as friends and co-workers. I admit that in some parts of the job he out-performed me. Whereas I routinely let days’ worth of emails pile up in my inbox, he would resolutely check thirty-some message hubs between home and the office—walls, trees, signposts—collecting information and, if warranted, leaving replies.

It was that manner of diligence that earned Emmett full partnership in Sutherland House. He reveled in this new status. He took to prancing past the dog park in the mornings, snout up, as his fellow creatures ran in circles and sniffed each other’s asses. (A bit of a narcissist, Employee No. 1 only had time for dogs that looked like him, as per below).

We were two of a kind, me and Emmett: loving our work, and happiest when we were doing it.

Even after the pandemic hit and our office visits became less frequent, he still joined me in the study every day, remaining at his post all morning and afternoon and often into the evening, as well.

I think he recognized how dependent I’d become on him and was loath to let me down. I felt the same about him.

He even showed up for work last Monday, his last day, after weeks of failing health.

Everything since has been empty.

Our Newsletter Roll (suggestions welcome)

Lydia Perovic’s Long Play: literature and music.

Tim Carmody’s Amazon Chronicles: an eye on the monster.

Jason Logan’s Urban Color Report: adventures in ink (sign-up at bottom of page)

Anne Trubek’s Notes from a Small Press: like SHuSH, but different

Art Canada Institute: reliable source of Canadian arts info/opinion

Kate McKean’s Agents & Books: an interesting angle on the literary world

Rebecca Eckler’s Re:Book: unpretentious recommendations

Anna Sproul Latimer’s How to Glow in the Dark: interesting advice

John Biggs Great Reads: strong recommendations


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