The name of this story is “What Work Became Us.” You take this can. I’ll take this can. And between us, we can watch American Idol through string.
Janet keeps her son in her personal filing cabinet near her desk.
My complaint is: Why the hell does Janet get a personal filing cabinet and I get zip?
I do just as much work as Janet. In fact, I do more work than Janet.
Janet is a test monkey compared to what I can do here.
And her son—don’t get me started. He’s always peeking out of the filing cabinet like a gopher or mole or something. Crayon in his hand or up his nose. Face full of ugly freckles.
Hi, he says when he pokes his head out.
I hate you, is what I want to say to him. But I don’t. I stop short of it. I just smile weakly at him and nod my head and that seems to appease him.
I have to remind myself, it is not Janet’s son that I hate. Is he annoying? Yes. Does he smell sometimes? Yes. Does he make loud noises at odd intervals that disturb the rhythm of my work? Yes. But I don’t hate him. I hate him for little, tiny moments that quickly disappear into the general dread of atmospheric hate that hangs in our office.
Look up and I can the cloud hovering over us all: looming and coiled like clouds full of rain and thunder and lightning, dark and heavy, noxious even, reach too far up and you might start to sputter and cough like my ’99 Toyota. There in the atmosphere, just below the pale fluorescent lights, hangs all of my years of grievances and petty moments of hatred I have felt. Here is the moment I wanted to strangle Bob because he would not shut up about the time he worked for the County Museum and how he was so the wrong person to buy gift shop purchases. There are the times I considered placing a tack on Candace’s seat so that when she’d sit her sanctimonious ass on her wobbly chair, she’d feel the sharp prick of her own medicine. And of course, here were all the times I had desperately, unconscionably, and without absolute reason hated, despised, cursed, and physically wanted to harm Janet. And over the smallest things: her cackle of a laugh, her terrible work habits, the way she’d snack during the day, the little crinkle sound of plastic constantly emanating from her desk-area, her dumb, boring stories, the way she smelled (like her son), and speaking of her son—the way she brought him to work, hid him in the filing cabinet, fed him like a small gremlin there, the filing cabinet that should be mine!
Every once and awhile I have to be reminded of these things. I look up and see all the terrible little thoughts I’ve carried and let hover above me and I feel overwhelmed with shame and tired sadness. Then I look over at my coworkers, the distorted blobs and shapes of their bodies securely molded to their chairs and workspaces, and above them too, hovering over their shamed, unloving heads—the clouds of moments that made them, ever so briefly, unlike who they used to be: unwanted, unseeing, and unkind.