Walter Grindle sits in a small cubicle in the corner of the office that doesn’t have windows. On two sides he faces sickly green walls on two sides half wall, half glass. Walter believes he is the office manager because his father owns the company, but Marsha Goldman who sits in the opposite cubicle—the one with windows on two sides—is the real office manager.
She gives Walter petty jobs, like taking inventory and adding up the day’s invoices. Walter loves numbers. He hunches at his computer, his fingers tap tapping at the keyboard as he inputs figures and smiles because he believes he is doing important work. Marsha doesn’t have the heart to tell him that the computers have already calculated the day’s figures and incorporated them into the weekly, monthly and yearly totals. They will be automatically updated at 5:31 p.m. Walter does do a very nice job of keeping track of the inventory, however.
“Hey, Cindy,” Walter says looking up from his computer.
Cindy Sautherton halts and takes a breath to compose herself. “Yes, Walter?”
“I noticed that you took a box of legal pads last week. You didn’t fill out a form.” He holds up one of his specially designed color coded forms for her and waves it. His smile stretches across his rubbery face, and she stares at his pink gums and tiny square teeth. His black glasses ride up his nose and behind them his small black eyes leer at her. He shakes the form again. “Come and get it.”
She exchanges a look with Jeff Wong who rolls his eyes in sympathy. Jeff sits right outside of Walter’s office and is subjected to a constant barrage of jokes and remarks that only a man of extraordinary patience could endure. Jeff is a Buddhist. Though he has been born and educated in the United States, he has begun to pretend he doesn’t understand English very well.
Cindy walks into Walter’s cubicle and reaches for the form. He holds it just out of reach.
“Say the magic word,” he says.
“Please, Walter. Will you give me the form, so I can get back to work?” Cindy generally is good at handling Walter, but today her patience is frayed. Today she has three reports to finish and a presentation to prepare. Right now she just wants the goddamn form. “Give me that, Walter.”
“You should be polite,” Walter says. “If I tell my dad, you’ll get fired.”
“Fine. Tell your dad. Just give me the form.” She reaches over and snatches it out of his hand. She checks off legal pads, signs her name, and tosses the form back at him. “Here. Take your form.”
“I guess we aren’t having drinks tonight, Sin-Cindy.”
“We’ll never have drinks.”
Cindy walks out of his office. She hears Walter mutter, “I hate them all. I’ll tell Dad.”
He says that all the time.
She passes Tina and Jolene on her way back to her desk. “Take the long way to the ladies room,” she says. “His highness is in a mood. I hope you didn’t take supplies.”
Jolene sits back in her chair and folds her arms. “Why doesn’t his daddy stick him someplace useful? Like on a farm shoveling shit?”
Tina just giggles. “Oh, he’s kinda sad. Don’t you think?”
“Poor Jeff. If I was him, I’d wring the little bastard’s neck.” Jolene shakes her head.
The day passes slowly until it finally is five-thirty. Walter has enjoyed his afternoon, telling the new guy in accounting that he needs to work harder–of course, Marsha comes into his office and puts an end to his lecture. He’s sent Jolene a link to some new miracle diet because he knows she’s always trying to loose weight, and he has asked Ali, the new receptionist out. She’s said no.
At the end of the day, he asks no one in particular who is up for a round at the local pub. There are no takers. He watches his co-workers file out. No matter. He’ll get them next week.
Walter gets his coat and heads for the parking garage, but he recognizes the red Mini on the second level as Cindy’s. Across and down is a blue Toyota that he’s pretty sure belongs to Jolene.
Walter pulls in next to Cindy’s car and walks to the exit like a bloodhound on the trail. He heads to the pub everyone used to frequent, but no one from the office is there. He tries a few more on the street and is about to give up when he sees a place tucked into an alley.
Walter ducks down the alley and peers in the window. They’re all there at a big round table. Cindy and Jeff. Jolene and Tina. Ali, the new receptionist, and the guy from accounting. Even Marsha. They’re all sitting together and laughing like friends.
Walter swallows a few times and tries to will one of them to look up and see him, but no one does. He turns and walks back to the parking garage. He pulls out his keys and scrapes them the length of Cindy’s car before he drives home.