Proofread by R.L. Campbell
The scene would have portrayed itself as humorous, had there been anybody to see it. Her head popping up from behind the gray cubicle wall. She could picture it. It would look like a video game. A comic video game once she pictured how large the room is.
She pulled her head back down. She had seen nobody. She hadn’t expected to, it had just been a cautionary reflex. At one o’clock in the morning, there wasn’t going to be anybody else.
Sitting back down, she began gathering up the report. She tapped the thick pile of papers on the desk to align them and reached for a paper clip. Her paperclip bowl was empty.
With a sigh, she set the report back down and stood up. Again, she peaked over the cubicle wall. It was an involuntary action, a remnant of the years she had spent in this office. Since her first day in a cubicle, she scanned the massive room every time she stood for any friendly faces outside their own cubicles. Again, she saw nobody, but this time she didn’t even register the thought.
She walked out the door-less space and began her zig-zag journey to her assigned supplies station. With a room this big, it comprised the entire floor. The office partitions were segregated by two wider hallways perpendicular to themselves into four main sections. The longer hallway was disrupted by the floors two supply stations, one on either end, but in the center of their two respective groups of cubicles.
Tonight, she was dressed to impress. On any normal work day, she would be considered over dressed in the red L’Wren knock-off. From behind, she could have left the distinct impression of a real-life Jessica Rabbit without the over exaggerated female features. She did have a pleasant but realistic hourglass shape, and she was proud of it, a result of hard discipline and daily use of the company’s physical fitness center. “Baby-making hips” and all.
On any other given night, she may have danced her way to the supply station the way the dress should have made her feel. She had felt that feeling earlier, before the date, and before that comment. As it was, she wore a stern expression instead of the laughing smile she had intended. It was just as well there was nobody there to see it. Forget Jessica Rabbit, she was Maleficent.
Dark thoughts consumed her as she marched closer to the supply station. She had not felt so dismal just a few moments ago when she was buried in her work. The events of the evening had been suppressed with the vigor she had thrown herself into the report. That was why she had gone to the office, to distract herself from that horrid date.
The distraction was supposed to help her forget. That was all she wanted when she arrived. She needed the whole thing to go away as though it had never happened. She hadn’t been angry then, just disappointed and shocked. What had changed? The report had done the job, just as she wished. The evening had never happened. Why did she have so much anger in her heart.
She reached the supply station. Was she angry for letting herself dress up like a “Hollywood princess”? Was she angry for how beautiful she knew she looked? She was angry because her paper clip bowl was empty and so was the cabinet where the paper clips were supposed to be.
“Why me!?” She yelled in frustration and anger. In the back of her mind, she was aware she sounded like a pirate. She lowered her voice even more, “UGH, WHY ME?
She was a confident business woman. Why would anything like this happen to her? She strived for success. She planned and achieved goals. How could it have happened to her, of all people?
She took a deep breath and tried to relax her fists. She turned and strode toward the second supply station. Her eyes creased and lips tight, breathing strong through her nostrils. It was a straight path, and she stretched her pace as long as the tight dress and pointed high heels would allow. There would be paperclips there. There had to be.
The fear of God would have burned into any office worker crossing her path with those high heels and her red lipstick if there had been anybody to burn. She was still alone at one in the morning, though office instinct was long gone now. The panes of the glass that encompassed the supply stations could have been sweating in fear of her catching a glimpse of those reflected “baby-making hips” sway to her heeled stride.
She used her tight closed lips as a breathing exercise. She breathed as deep and slow as her pace would allow. What had happened was in the past now, and she could vow to never let it happen again. She would dissect her errors, and eliminate any possibility of a repeat. She promised herself, she would never allow herself to be hurt like this again.
The second supply station’s paper clip cabinet was empty. The breathing exercises were working, and she had a plan now. Her heart would never be broken again. The anger was gone. As she stared into the empty cabinet, a deepness settled upon her countenance. At that moment, she knew she would be alone forever.
With a sigh, she stood and straightened. She adjusted the dress, pushing it downward with a slow gentle motion, hands over those hips. They were her mother’s hips, and she was proud of them.
Her first step faltered in those heels. She recovered and took another wavering step. Her confidence shattered, the pace she took back to her end of the office floor was slow and deliberate. She was alone. Not because it was one o’clock in the morning, but because that was the way it must be. It could never be the way it had been. There could no longer be hope. From this night forward, she would stop separating a personal life and the business life. It was all one now. All business. There was no more room for anything besides work.
She did not return to her cubicle. Instead she walked to another nondescript people-box and retrieved a key. From there, she walked across the room short-wise to the side not lined by windows, but which contained a line of glass conference rooms, break rooms, water stations, restrooms, stair and elevator access, and storerooms.
She pick a locked door and inserted the key. It didn’t turn. In truth, she had not expected it to turn. She had no more expectations. They were no longer allowed.
She tried the next door. The key turned and she poked her head inside. It was a dark empty looking room, like her soul felt. She considered giving up, and going home, but flipped up the light switch instead and looked closer. She stepped inside.
The shelves were empty, for the most part. The boxes that were there, were unrecognizable. The cabinets in the supply stations always held colorful individual boxes, but these were plain dismal cardboard boxes. Instead of looking for familiar pictures of paper-clips, she had to readjust her thinking, and read the dot-matrix style printing on the box.
She found one that read “B N D R C L P S” followed by arbitrary numbers and a large bar-code. She was looking for the large black paper clips with the hinges with flip-up handles, and that group of letters was the closest description.
“Things can be alright,” she whispered to herself.
The box was still taped, but she hadn’t seen anything in the tiny room to cut the tape with. She slid the rectangular box around so one of the ends faced her, and gave it a good punch near the top. The tape ripped apart, providing her with enough loose tape to grab onto and peal back the length of the top seam.
She opened the flaps to reveal several smaller boxes. These were a familiar site, and just what she was looking for. Her night had started to show improvement. She pulled out one of the colorful paperclip boxes and confirmed that it contained the black hinge style paper clip she was searching for. “Binder clips” the smaller boxes read.
She left the storeroom, careful to flip the light switch down and lock the door. She walked back to her assigned supply station and opened the binder clip box. Inside were even smaller boxes that she dumped into the the appropriate bin. She nodded in satisfaction, and took a box of clips.
A small grin had crept onto her face. Her step was swifter now, lighter. The confidence was returning. She knew how foolish she had been to let one bad date ruin her mood.
She stopped a moment at that other cubicle to return the key and proceeded to her own little person-cage. Forgoing any use of the letter opener sitting on the desk, she used her glossy red finger nail to cut the seal on the binder clip package and poured the binder clips into the dish.
She sat back in her chair and gave the report another look. She gathered the stack of papers and tapped them on the desktop. Without looking, she slipped her hand into the paperclip bowl and removed one of the binder clips.
The report was ready. She was ready. That confident business woman with a passionate personal life could conquer anything. To hell with any man who called her a “Hollywood princess wanna-be” who should put those “baby-making hips” to “good work”.
“What’s next world?” She said out loud as she stood and peeked over the cubicle wall. She gathered her purse and started walking out of her cubicle. “Bring it on.”