I am lost in thought when Coffeemaker speaks to me, timidly, to say she is almost empty.
Not the emptiness of a depleted urn; it is still half full. No, this is the emptiness that strikes at Coffeemaker’s soul: there are no beans in her hopper. When Coffeemaker dreams, this is how her nightmares end.
Marketing Six checks the bean level regularly, even though that isn’t in her job description, but Marketing Six isn’t here this morning, is she? Off sick. I reach out, and find her iPhone’s location coordinates.
“Address Book, where does Marketing Six live?” I ask silently.
“Not at a Starbucks in Eastgate Square Shopping Mall,” she says. I didn’t know Address Book could be wry.
Well, good for Six. I may not owe any duty to her, but my loyalties are certainly not with Human Resources Director Beaulne, whose recent edicts about personal phone calls have distressed the staff and made Switchboard’s life so much less interesting.
I should stay here at the front desk — but my loyalties are not with Office Manager Bullard, either. I walk aft to the luncheon room, where Marketing Three is stirring creamer into a cup of coffee. It’s the old chipped Melmac cup; Sales Five would most definitely disapprove. She looks up at me, and I can see guilt and regret.
She knows the hopper is empty. But she has never been bothered by this before. Sales Five’s yogurt, then.
“Was it at least filling, Three?” I ask flatly, my face betraying no emotion.
She looks like she might try to brazen it out, might try to deny everything, but she has to sense the presence of that fleck of blueberry-tinged white on her upper lip.
So instead, she shoots Coffeemaker a wounded look: betrayal, and maybe more.
“It wasn’t Coffeemaker,” I tell her. “I know you. And I know Sales Five. Do you forget I was at yesterday’s pitch rehearsal? I do understand subtext. It wasn’t her ideas she was accusing you of stealing.”
Her shoulders sag, and I know what’s coming. “I’ll bring her another one tomorrow,” she says flatly. Dully. Trying to emulate my lack of affect, but I can hear how forced it is: this has stung. What I saw from Three at the pitch meeting wasn’t just professional resentment. It was personal longing.
“Arrive early enough, and she doesn’t need to know,” I say, more gently. My reward is the look on her face: relief, perhaps even hope.
She turns, about to leave, but I can feel the hesitation in her step before she knows she’s going to turn back to me.
“Do you… do you miss having ancillary coworkers?” she asks. She meets my eyes for the first time today.
“That’s a complex question,” I say, remembering to sigh and lean against the counter. All of the Marketings respond positively to signs of emotional vulnerability, and while I try not to exploit that knowledge, there’s no denying it can be useful at times.
“If you are asking whether I prefer the company of reanimated corpses to that of my newly unionized officemates, no. But the feeling of connection — yes, I miss that. I miss it keenly at times.”
She nods, so perhaps I have confirmed something she already believed. Or perhaps it’s just relief that even when I was a two-block office building, I still felt emotion. “We could have done more,” she says softly. “We could have appealed your exclusion from the bargaining unit.”
I mutely tell Hallway Photocopier, which has been listening and just snorted silently, to shut up. Aloud, to Three, “My supervisory responsibilities complicate matters. And then there is my… other agenda.”
Now her gaze is direct, more intense. “None of us has any love for CEO Mianaai,” she says.
And then, to my surprise, more voices: silent but overwhelming. “None of us,” add Coffeemaker, Hallway Photocopier, Switchboard, Color Laser Printer, Address Book, Three-Hole Punch and Postage Meter. To my even greater surprise, I find I need a moment to steady my voice.
When I do, I thumb the Presger stapler in my pocket. The one that can pierce exactly 1.1 reams of paper.
“Then,” I breathe, “perhaps it’s time for us to pay a visit to the sixty-third floor.”