Here’s my submission for “finders keepers”, the latest round in NPR’s “Three-Minute Fiction“. The challenge for this round was to write a 600 word story in which “a character finds something he or she has no intention of returning.” If you missed it, check out my wife’s story “Ganja Man” from yesterday. Enjoy!
It’s a time honored ritual, even though we rarely talk about it. Some have called it the “circling of the vultures” or “shopping.” Me, I just call it “cube picking.”
I’ve lost count of the rounds of layoffs during this “economic downturn” but I doubt I could count them on one hand anymore. When operating profits are low, the easiest solution is to reduce headcount, and stop buying new office supplies.
The trick is to work quickly, maybe on your way to get coffee you pick up a stapler. I’ve already got three, so I try to look for tape dispensers or something nice to hold paper clips and pencils. I also like notebooks, even though we do all our work on computers and I hardly ever use them.
Our latest “right-sized” employee is John. John and I used to go cube picking together. One time we found a mini-fridge in Gray’s cube, and moved it into the “bullpen”, an L of cubes John and I used to share. I kept sodas in there until I discovered I could just steal them from the break room.
John’s divorced and lives in a rented apartment not far from work. We used to hang out and watch Dr. Who on our lunch hour. It’s been a week and I haven’t stopped by once. I guess it was the shared drudgery that bonded us together, and now that it’s gone we’re not really friends. That, and hanging out with someone who’s both divorced and unemployed is kind of a downer.
Since I knew John the best I get first crack in our little secret dance. I immediately pounce on his heater, an essential appliance in these offices which are either too hot or freezing cold. I’d thought about buying one, but it just doesn’t feel right to bring anything of permanence here at the moment.
I take the unusual step of actually opening his desk drawers. Inside is the usual assortment of pens and highlighters. I pocket a few post-its even though I have two dozen pads already when I see the frame.
I recognize the dark wood of it immediately. It had sat on his desk for years before the divorce, and pulling it out I was surprised to discover it looked exactly the same. John’s wife was riding on his back, smiling as they walked through some park not far from here. John’s looking into her eyes with amusement and affection. The picture was taken before they were married, and in all the time I’d known him I’d never heard him talk about his wife as someone he loved.
The picture was a relic of a bygone era, and I was surprised to see it unblemished post-divorce. No tearing her out of the picture or drawing a mustache with a sharpie. And yet he hadn’t taken it with him.
I wondered if it was just an oversight. You only get about fifteen minutes to clear out your desk, and that’s with a security guard standing over you. Still he had to know it was there. If he’d saved it all this time, it would have been the first thing he grabbed.
I contemplated bringing it over to him at lunch, then remembered that I had been looking forward to Mexican all morning, and it was a nice frame after all. I popped out the picture and threw it in the drawer, then slipped the frame in a notebook I’d stolen, and went back to my desk.