I pulled up and parked my car into my assigned slot among a sea of other cars. A sign in front of the parking space reads, “Star Researcher of the Month.” There are other spots closer to the door, but this is the spot I earned.
This day is the same as the last day. I walked past rows of cubes to my own little haven – My home away from home, my cubicle. I felt a headache coming on, same as the day before, and same as the days before that. Dropping my bag down on the desk, I pressed the power button on my computer. While I was waiting for it to boot up, I opened my desk drawer and took out a bottle of Tylenol and popped two into my mouth, swallowing them without water. Grabbing my coffee mug, I headed to the fountain of youth – the coffee pot.
As I rounded the corner, I was surprised to see Tanner missing from her cube. The first week had been about getting set up – filling out paper work, getting access to network, mind-numbing busy work. But now, in her second week, she has assignments and responsibilities, and I’m accountable for her performance, or lack of. I’ll have to fix that.
But I had no coffee, and that was priority one. I made my way toward the break room, where I heard laughter. This was a sound I didn’t hear often at work.
I stepped through the break room door and saw Tanner standing next to the coffee maker. There were about a half dozen people from the office gathered around her, some seated in chairs, some perched on the edges of the counter.
“…and that’s why she laughs every time it snows.”
Tanner smiled and scanned their faces for reaction. The group was a mixture of quiet laughter and reminiscent sighs. Everyone had bright smiles on their faces.
“Great story, Tanner. Thank you,” Richard said, and others in the group nodded or agreed as they gathered themselves together to go back to… whatever.
I stood in the corner by the vending machine as everyone filed out of the room. Then it was quiet.
Hello, Bobby! Good morning,” Tanner said.
“Looks like you’ve made friends already,” I said, filling my cup and taking a cautious sip. I meant for it to be an agreeable statement but it ended up sounding like a question. “They seemed to be enjoying your story, anyway,” I amended.
“They’re really nice people. I was telling a story from the book, Top of the World. Have you ever heard it?”
“No, I can’t say I have.”
“Oh, it’s a great story, very poignant. I have a first edition copy, signed by the author. You are welcome to borrow it if you want.”
“Listen, Tanner, it’s great that you’re fitting in and making friends, but you have to be careful about drawing too much attention to yourself. You don’t really want to stand out – not this early. It’s best to fly under the radar.”
Tanner smiled and nodded but I could tell she didn’t get it, or maybe, she didn’t care.
“When they want someone to work the weekend, or spearhead the next ‘safety awareness campaign’ or worse yet, decide who to lay-off, who do you think is going to be the first one chosen? The person everyone knows, or the person they’ve never heard of? Being anonymous has its advantages.”
“What about getting ahead? You know, networking?” asked Tanner.
“Making friends in high places? You may ride high for a while, but when they lose interest in you, you’re out. I’ve seen it a hundred times. It’s risky business. Nope, invisibility is the key to longevity. Trust me.”
“I’m not sure I’m after longevity at Trusted Authority. I do appreciate the steady paycheck, but I don’t know if this is really what I want to be doing three years from now. I want to start a career path into management here, maybe for a different publication by Trust Media.”
“If that’s what you want.”
I started toward the door and remembered something, turning back toward Tanner. “Oh, it’s Friday. A bunch of us are going to happy hour after work. You should come.”
Tanner looked up, smiled a little and shook his head. “I know. Joe told me. I’ll be there,” she said with a smile. “He’s cute.”
Later that morning, Tanner sat in her cube, the phone handset pressed to her ear with one hand while she nervously shuffled paper with her other.
“No, I… Yes, yes that is what I said. But, how could I possible verify that…?”
Tanner held the receiver out from her ear a few inches as the person on the other end screamed and ranted. After a few seconds there seemed to be a lull and Tanner put the phone back to her ear.
“All I’m saying is that there is no way for me to verify that…” She checked her computer screen and read, ”‘Alien anal probes have increased 600% this year alone.’”
Tanner listened as the person on the other end started yelling again.
“No, I… I guess I can’t rule it out either… Uh, a week, I’ve been here about eight days. Hello?”
The angry person had hung up. Tanner sat, staring straight ahead, still holding the receiver. After a few seconds, she put the handset back on the base.
To her right was a basket marked ‘IN’, stacked high with file folders and paperwork. Tanner pulled a file folder off the stack and opened it, let out a sigh, picked up the phone, and punched in a phone number.
“Yes, this is Tanner Orb with the Trusted Authority. It’s… sort of a news magazine. Is there someone there at the Pentagon who I could talk to about aliens? No… space aliens. Yes, specifically alien anal probes. Yes, I’ll hold.”
From my vantage point, I watched her struggle through. It was a little voyeuristic, but I was supposed to ramp her up. I’d take some of the blame if she didn’t work out. Still, I found her easy to look at. She really was quite lovely. Not like a movie star or model, but she had a natural beauty and a love of life – a sparkle in her eyes. I wondered if perhaps if I was attracted to her because she had aspirations beyond… this. She had aspirations beyond mine.
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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