Sharing a Work Cubicle
She arrived at their shared cubicle before him. It was often a relief for her to come to work. Home was complicated. Linda sat in her swivel office chair so she could take off her walking shoes and replace them with the low heels that were “business professional”. On her tidy desk, there was a photo of her with her husband. They had been happy the day that photo had been taken, but that was no longer the case. She kept her marital problems a secret while at work. She was not ready to tell anyone that her personal life was crumbling in spite of her daily efforts to think of any way possible to make her depressed husband happy and engaged again.
“Top o’ the Morning” her boss announced before even making the turn into their cubicle. Linda looked up just in time to see her boss’ broad boyish smile. He was wearing a tailored overcoat. As he took his coat off, he also set his quality leather brief case on top of his desk.
Each morning as he entered the front office doors, Neil carried that briefcase with obvious intention so the statisticians, writers and managers would see him looking very professional, important and hard at work. But, the brief case contained a secret. He had shared that secret with Linda nearly 6 months ago when she had started as his assistant. The secret was that the briefcase contained only a Tupperware container of trail mix. “Top Secret” he had told her when he first showed her these contents. She laughed out loud. And after that one loud office laughter episode, Neil had Linda practice with him to learn a “silent” laugh. Because their cubicle was so closely situated and sandwiched between the more serious work-a-day co-workers, they pledged to do their best to laugh without drawing attention to the fact that they were having fun.
“Do you remember what we are doing today?” he asked as he sat down at his desk. They were facing each other now, but when the work day officially began they would swivel their office chairs towards their desks, so their backs would then be towards one another.
“I remember” she said and then continued, “but first I have to tell you that the custodian is going to rat you out. He left a note.”
“Cripes” he looked at her in a mock horror. “Don’t tell me I spilled some pumpkin seeds out of my trail mix.”
“Living dangerously” she replied and then did the quiet “laugh thing” they had nearly perfected.
“Well, should we get on with it?” he asked. Today was her first employee review with the firm. The Human Resource Department had a deadline and she was actually hoping for a nice raise. Her work was good. Neil was the editor of the business professional periodical they worked on. Linda’s clever use of vocabulary and her artistic eye helped with layouts for the magazine.
“Yes” Linda said.
“Great” he replied. “Grab a legal pad and a pen.”
“Why?” she asked?
He waited while she retrieved a yellow legal pad and a pen. They now faced each other and he made an attempt to look quite seriously at her. “Let’s have fun and play a game.” he said.
“Another game?” she asked. Linda knew her review had already been prepared and was ready for submission to H.R. After all, she had proof-read it herself before typing it up. She liked the games though that he suggested almost daily. She had fun and that was something that was happening at home less and less.
“OK” he said. ” I have been wondering how many phrases we can come up with that describe being inebriated.”
“What the heck?” she said. This was odd, but Neil was odd . “OK,” she replied “Games on.” And at that moment they both twisted their chairs back to face their desks and they began the assignment. Neil set a timer to give them a full 3 minutes each.
The timer made a small ding. “OK, he said, time to read our results and whoever thought of the most original phrases will be the clear champion of the day.”
“Stink faced” she said. He did the quiet laugh while making a face that caused her to laugh too.
“Three sheets to the wind” he retorted quickly while trying to look extremely serious about the assignment.
“Snockered” she said.
“Tipsy” he said using a dainty voice.
“Blotto” she was proud of that one. What a funny word.
“Drunk” he said.
“You can’t use that. That is too basic.”
“OK, how about this one. “Cheers”
Then, he used his hands to make a halt sign and to stop her from continuing the game. “Well, that was what I wanted to tell you. I wanted to tell you Cheers and good work. I am so glad I have such an efficient admin working for me. You make me look good Linda, so Cheers, and thanks!”
She smiled. “Speaking of looking good, should we do some actual work today?”
“Not yet. Let’s go to the lake first.”
The Lake was in fact their name for another office game they had created. Some time ago, Neil’s wife had picked out an oil painting of a lake that he had hung on the back empty wall of their cubicle. The game that Linda and Neil had concocted was to “go to the lake” by facing both of their chairs side by side looking out at the never changing view of the painting. Neil had told her that when they played the game, they should imagine themselves years into the future as old folk, sitting on the front porch of the retirement home. “You have to always pretend to be old” he said. “That part is important.”
“Nice day” Linda said with a little feeble voice while staring out over the serene painting.
“Yep” he said. “But these days, the lake is starting to look the same to me every day.”
“Well, that’s because you missed the flock of geese that just went by.”
“Did they honk?” he asked.
Then they both started the silent laugh,
Neil turned ever so slightly in Linda’s direction. She could tell he was serious now. Then quietly he said, “I’m glad I get to see the lake with you. Maybe we can see a real lake together when we are old and in the same retirement home. What do you think?”
“Maybe” she said. But her heart thought, “I hope so.” Then they were both quiet for several minutes before turning back to their desks.