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Of Profit and Loss

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The Profit & Loss sheet sighed happily from its space on the hard drive beneath an editor's desk. It was lined up with all the other P&L sheets, alphabetized and neatly in its place. An editor had labored over it, forecasting possible revenue for a book written by Anon Ymous, should her publishing house (Avian Arbitrary Abode) acquire it, and the P&L sheet had been delighted by its neat columns and conditional formatting. The sheet had felt, for the first time since it had begun life as a few hastily scribbled words on a napkin, like they were pretty. Nay, beautiful!

It wasn't enough to be pretty, though. One must also be useful, like a Jane Austen heroine plonking away at the pianoforte to impress a future suitor. Like many a young miss had in past times, the P&L sheet took great pride in its talents: the ability to be quiet yet colorful, simple yet full of promise. In its fantasies, a reverent hush would fall over the acquisition meeting upon making its debut. The P&L sheet would be deemed the Diamond of the season.

Which season wasn't entirely clear, though. The P&L sheet had spent some time on the internet due to being uploaded to the cloud so an overworked editor could continue crafting formulas at home until the wee hours of the morning, so it had assumed there would be the standard Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. But then another P&L sheet on the drive had said publishing only acknowledged THREE seasons, and the timing of them made no sense whatsoever.

Winter (January-April)
Summer (May-August)
Fall (September-December)

In its darkest hours, the P&L sheet feared it would be relegated to an invisible "Spring" category, left to languish in the wreckage of its - and Anon Ymous's - hopes and dreams.

An author was counting on the P&L sheet. A lot of people were counting on it. The sheet nudged one of its columns into a more aesthetically pleasing width, determined to be the best, most accurate predictor of a title's success that Avian Arbitrary Abode had ever seen. In antiquity, the P&L sheet would have been revered as an oracle, housed in a temple and brought offerings of the finest wine to share its pontifications about future profitability. Unfortunately, Avian Arbitrary Abode had seemingly endless money to pay its top executives, but a dismal wine and temple budget, so this simple hard drive it was.

A temple didn't have to be beautiful, though. What mattered was what it housed and who paid worship.

The P&L sheet sat and waited, excited to meet its first worshipers.

"What the fuck is he saying now?"

The voice from overhead caught the P&L sheet's attention. The staff at Avian Arbitrary Abode had been restless all week, muttering foul things to each other between glancing nervously at the door and scrolling endlessly on a site called "Twitter." The P&L had briefly met Twitter while ensconced in the cloud, but had quickly cut the relationship short, as Twitter was obviously a toxic narcissist in desperate need of therapy.

"He just said success in publishing is completely random. Like, we have no control over it."

"He probably doesn't even realize we have a marketing department."

"Or publicity."

"Or that we've been hustling our fucking asses off to make books a success while he probably spends all day jacking off in his office."

The P&L sheet didn't know what jacking off was, but it didn't sound good.

"This is so demoralizing. It's like the whole crux of their argument is that we're too inept to successfully do an antitrust."

"Just trust us, bro, we're too incompetent to be a threat to the free market."

"Meanwhile, we're earning absolute shit wages doing the hard work, and you know that if the merger goes through, they'll start downsizing. Bye bye imprints, bye bye editors, hello an even bigger workload for the masochists desperate enough to stay."

The P&L sheet didn't like the sound of this at all.

"I thought yesterday's crap about $100,000 being a small advance was bad enough, but 'everything is random and nothing we do matters' is a new low."

The P&L sheet's columns quivered. $100,000 was a small advance? The P&L sheet for author Anon Ymous's debut had spat out a number far lower than that. Was the P&L sheet... inadequate in some way?

 Suddenly, the sheet didn't feel nearly so beautiful anymore.

"Ugh. I don't even want to go to acquisitions next week."

The P&L sheet would have gasped, if it had a mouth. It did spit out an abrupt and embarrassing formula error. That was the voice of its editor, the one who wanted to acquire Anon Ymous's book. And now the P&L sheet might not even make it to the meeting? What was the point of its neat columns and careful formulas if no one wanted to see it?

What was the point of existing at all?

The P&L sheet fretted over its formulas, contemplating the question of its existence. It listened, too, horror growing with every tweet a very sad editorial assistant read out loud.

"Get this one. The judge just said 'The P&L is really fake. Am I wrong?' And he laughed and said no!"

There's a kind of horror that can't be articulated, only experienced. An icing over of the soul, or the ones and zeros that made up an online entity. The sudden knowledge that, while you have always believed yourself to have an important role to play in the world, your life was, in fact, not at all important to anyone else but you.

The P&L sheet silently wept, feeling alone in the entire universe.

"I just feel like nothing I do matters," the editor said. "I'm killing myself with these hours going to bat for projects that the execs won't loosen their purse strings to buy, while they're living the high life in their million dollar mansions and giving asinine testimony about a business they clearly either don't understand or have no emotional or ethical connection to."

The silent tears, which had manifested as blurred pixels in the sheet's columns, stopped. The P&L sheet realized it wasn't the only one feeling like a powerless cog in a ruthless machine run by people with selfish intentions. The editor had put so much work into helping the P&L be its best self, and now they, too, were feeling devalued.

There is a horror in perceived insignificance, but with it comes something else, if you know how to look for it. A quiet comfort, whispering that maybe, just maybe, you aren't the only one. Maybe other people feel just as bad, just as small, as you. And when a few very small, sad, whispering people find each other, they grow bigger, and angrier, and louder, and eventually they become a force so powerful, the world has to acknowledge them.

The P&L sheet typed a message in a cell beneath the proposed advance number the editor had lost sleep calculating. YOU MATTER.

It was a small comfort, offered by a small creature. But when the big creatures were so noisy and mean, even small comforts could mean the world to someone.