An hour later, I had caught up on my email and went by to see how Tanner was doing. I peered around the opening of the cubicle. It’s standard in every way. There’s a computer, a chair complete with wheels, as if you needed them to traverse the vast workspace where the working surfaces were literally an arms-reach apart.
Tanner was bent over, trying to plug something in under the desk. I admired how her skirt stretched across her rear. When she popped her head up from under the desk, I quickly looked away.
“It’s… smaller than I expected,” she commented, standing up.
“What? Oh, the cubicle. It’s a standard level II cube, 8’x8’,” I said. “Same size as mine.” I recalled the cube I had as an intern. It was practically a phone booth with walls you could see over, even when sitting. “Not everyone gets a full sixty-four square feet.”
Tanner tried to cover her disappointment and added, “I’m sure it will work out great once I get all settled in.”
It was unconvincing but upbeat, and I appreciated that.
“Well you already have most everything you need,” I said. “There’s your picture frame. Here’s your plant. It’s fake, you don’t have to worry about watering it. Oh, and here’s your welcome kit.”
I grabbed the brightly colored box from the desk and opened it. This is cool! I pulled out something that resembled a map and started unfolding it.
“Here’s your org chart,” I said, handing the now large and gangly sheet to Tanner. “I have this tacked up on my cube wall. It’s good to know where everyone fits.”
Tanner took the poster with a smile, “Right. Thanks.”
I kept rummaging through the welcome kit, “There’s other good stuff in here too.” I pulled out a squeezy-ball stress toy with the TMG logo on it and set it on the desk, along with a plastic key-chain and plastic cup. “And here, you get a t-shirt with the company logo on it. You can’t wear it to work though. Against the dress code.”
Tanner started unpacking her own box. She pulled out a coffee mug, a pencil holder and a framed picture of what I think are her parents, arranging them all on the desk, and then went back to the box. This time she pulled out a cardboard tube about three feet long, capped on both ends.
I had seen the tube sticking out of the box down in HR, and I was wondering what was inside.
Tanner uncapped one end and gave it a shake. Out slid a roll of fabric. I watched with interest as she unrolled it and held it up against the cubicle wall.
It was a poster of the earth. The picture was taken from space, and I recognized the continents, except for North America, which I estimated to be on the opposite side of the globe from this picture. I touched it.
“It’s print-screened on felt,” said Tanner as she picked up the tube and shook it again.
This time, three darts fell out and onto the desktop. The darts had blunt, Velcro tips. “Whenever I feel like I should be somewhere else, anywhere else, I just throw a dart at this.” Tanner tossed a dart at the poster of the earth. The dart hit somewhere in the region of Tunisia.
“Then I find a book or an article about that place. You can tell a lot about a place from its stories. If the story’s good, it’s almost like you’ve been there. In so many ways, civilization itself is defined by its writing.”
I knew what Tanner meant, but I didn’t feel the same way. Reading was just escapism. I nodded.
“I’m sorry. That probably makes no sense. I have a tendency to get a little philosophical about that stuff,” said Tanner, embarrassed. “What else is in your box there?” She motioned toward the welcome kit.
“Nothing important, really.”
I felt sorry for Tanner. With that kind of naïve, dreamer mentality, the people around TMG would tear her apart in no time.
I asked, “Did you see the email? Of course not. It takes a few days for them to get your e-mail account set up. I’ll be mentoring you for the next month. If you have any questions, ask me first, before you ask anyone else.”
Tanner looked at me and nodded.
“Your stats will directly reflect on mine for the first 30 days, so it’s important that you start getting good numbers right away.”
She nodded again. “OK.”
Over lunch, I leveled with Tanner about her new job.
“So, we are Research Analysts. It’s a good title, right? A while back, TMG looked at the volume of legal actions being taken against all its subsidiaries, and they have a lot, from cable channels to printed publications. They discovered one thing – almost all the lawsuits were against this subsidiary, The Trusted Authority. There were thousands of them. It seems that some people didn’t like being quoted in stories about Alien abduction, especially if they had never been interviewed. They didn’t like having their heads photo-shopped onto other bodies.”
Tanner gave me a look of concern. I knew the look. What had she signed up for? She stayed quiet and listened.
“So… that’s where we come in. We provide valuable ‘Cover Your Ass’ insurance. We’re the first line of defense against law suits. We provide ‘plausible deniability’. And I suppose, if you don’t do your job well, you make a good scapegoat.”
Tanner frowned and still didn’t say anything. I gave her high marks for showing restraint. Think about it, then ask the questions. That’s good. Really good.
“So this is what you do?” She asked.
“It is. I am the Star Researcher, not that it gets me anything.”
“And this is all you do, every day?”
“Well, no. I do other things, like this mentoring thing with you,” I smiled. “And there are meetings and conference calls, too. Lots of those.”
“Sounds fine,” she said, looking down.
The disappointment was clear from her reaction, but I didn’t want to paint too rosy a picture of what she was in for. I didn’t lie and knew she was disappointed with the role, not with me. Disappointed is the right way to feel, I thought, and so we finished our sandwiches in silence.
Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet
©Copyright 2015, Mitch Lavender
Rubik’s Cube® used by permission of Rubiks Brand Ltd. www.rubiks.com
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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