Dead End Job: A Louisa Hallstrom Novel(3)

By: Ingrid Reinke

Although Elaine’s personality was difficult, the rest of the office leadership seemed to admire her, calling her marketing efforts “exemplary.” Add that to the fact that our group had been the only business group within the company that doggedly stayed in the black over the last few tough years, and Elaine got away with her rampant craziness.

I didn’t dare look behind me, but I knew that Mark had somehow successfully persuaded Elaine out of the common area and back into her office, where he was talking her down off of the wall. I could hear the quiet steady drone of his voice over my typing.

“Whew! Dodged that bullet,” I typed to Martin, but by then it was too late. I had lost him. I detected a dance beat coming from his cubicle and could tell he was listening to vintage Madonna. I could also hear him sing-whispering the words to “Like a Prayer.” I knew now that he wouldn’t get back to me for at least twenty minutes.

My friend Amanda hadn’t IM-ed me for a few minutes, but my sister Elin was still persistently ping-ing me about her late period. I counted six new messages explaining how she had “taken two tests, and one was negative but the other one had the slightest line where the positive should be,” Google-ed this result, was unsatisfied with the web search, and finally decided to take a picture of both tests and send them to my email account so I could give her my (very uneducated and unqualified) judgment on the issue. Ugh. I rolled my eyes and closed out the conversation with her by telling her to “go get a stupid blood test and stop obsessing over this” and that I would video-call her via Skype later, so I could see and talk to my one-year-old niece, Emily.

“Fine, poop on you,” was the response I got back from her. We both knew that she was just putting off the inevitable, which was fine with me. I didn’t really know if I could act as her support system and therapist through another nine months—her last pregnancy was a rough one, and she carried on like a bi-polar water buffalo with hemorrhoids (side note—she actually did get a hemorrhoid, which she named “Hemmy” and once tried to show me through the Skype camera).

My computer's clock said it was ten minutes until two, so I got out of my desk chair as quietly as possible to go on my afternoon coffee run. Most days I just popped down to the lobby to caffeinate myself at the coffee cart, but today I was leaving my office to go shopping in downtown Seattle. I needed to pick some things up, so I had strategically carried one of my largest purses today. This way, I could stuff my daily purchase into it before I re-entered the office and then shove the entire bloated purse and bag combo into my locker.

I know it seemed a little pathetic, but this was one of my only daily happinesses. Well, this, reading gossip sites, and streaming TV online. A few months ago, I had quietly watched the entire five seasons of an old HBO series while at work. I know that probably sounds crazy, but this was corporate America. Normally, my actual job only took me fifteen hours a week to complete, even though I was a full-time employee.

I think my current workload had a lot to do with the elderly woman whom I’d replaced. After decades of service to Merit, she had finally retired, and by the time she was ready to leave she must have been the least productive, least efficient admin in history. My fellow employees were amazed at the speed with which I could accomplish the day-to-day tasks that took her hours upon hours. I kept telling them that I could take on more work, but they still didn’t believe me. This lady must have had them fooled, because when people asked me for help with basic tasks, there was a disclaimer like this: “Louisa, I know you’re extremely busy but could you possibly help me with this database?” Sometimes I rebuffed them, insisting that I could easily take on whatever project they might have in mind, but other times, when I felt like slacking off, I just gave up and played along, responding with something like this: “Oh, I might be able to fit this in after lunch today, or tomorrow morning, if I get done with my reporting.” Insert long sigh here. Thank you very much to my college drama professor.

Today, I made the decision to leave the office the back way, avoiding Elaine and Mark, (still on meltdown patrol). Our cubicles were set up in a large U-shape around the outer edge of our office, around an upscale reception area with white marble floors, a client waiting area which featured modern-looking couches and chairs and a cappuccino maker, a clear glass refrigerator stocked with mineral water, freshly-cut and professionally-arranged seasonal blooms, and an enormous state-of-the-art flat screen TV blaring 24-hour cable news. From there the clients were ushered into one of the many comfortably-equipped conference or boardrooms in the front of the office with posh views of the city’s waterfront. The company currently had 3½ floors in our sky-rise, although that number had fluctuated over the past couple of years as the economy tanked, rebounded, then tanked again. Because we had reception on our floor, there were two entrances into the office: one was in the front, where our receptionist buzzed people in, and the other was through the back, which required an office-issued pass to access. Because Elaine was the regional head in our business group, she and Mark sat over by the front entrance on the nicer, west-facing corner of the building that also had a view of Seattle’s Elliot Bay. Most of the lower-ranking principles and consultants sat in the offices between Elaine and the east side of the building, with the Associates, Analysts and Administrative Assistants scattered throughout the cubes in between.