Searching for Swimmers–Chapter 6

Jason’s head was still cloudy as he pulled into the parking lot of his office building and then into the same spot he parked in each and every day. He wasn’t assigned to that spot. There were no assigned spots. There weren’t any particular benefits to that parking spot, e.g. shaded, larger, significantly closer to the building, included a pot of gold. Still, he parked in that spot everyday, and on the rare days that particular spot wasn’t available, Jason was disappointed.

            This morning his spot was still there, just like it had been there for the last 12 years or so, which was good because he still hadn’t fully recovered from his birthday hangover. Now that he’d gotten older, not only were hangovers more painful, the hangovers had their own hangovers. Granted the pain of the second day didn’t even compare to the first day, but it lingered nonetheless.

            His was a typical government office. Since he worked for the State of Colorado, there was no pizzazz anywhere in the building, let alone the office. Most of the furniture looked like it needed to be retired and all of the computer equipment was a few years out of date. The best word to describe his office was drab, and his desk was the perfect complement to the decor. Unlike most of his coworkers, Jason’s desk was perfectly free of personal clutter: no pictures of the family, no cute picture on his computer desktop, no plants, no gadgets or silly toys, no Dilbert comic strips taped to his computer monitor. He understood why people personalized their workspace. People needed to mark their territory. They needed to brighten their day with their own personal foibles and distractions. They needed reminders of why they worked at a job that they would otherwise quit if they had a choice, or thought they had a choice. His desk wasn’t neat—in fact, it was a mess with papers and lists, things to file, stuff to shred.

            He shared his office with two other people. Just three years ago it had only been one other person, but when the department had hired another middle manager, one who needed her own office, another cellmate was assigned to his office. Jason expected it would be down to two people again soon enough. There were rumors of layoffs. He hadn’t quite figured out how he would benefit from the layoffs, but was not worried about being on the chopping block.

            As he turned on his computer and scanned his to-do list, Brenda bounced into the office. Brenda was one of those cheery people who could make a person believe that she actually wanted to be at work. “Good morning, Jason. I hope you’re feeling better,” she said with a knowing smile.

            “Better enough,” Jason said.

            Brenda’s desk was in direct contrast to Jason’s—neat. It was a true reflection of her personality, of her life. She kept a picture of her family (her husband, two boys and herself in matching ensembles) front and center. It was taken at one of those mall studios and updated yearly. Candid pics of her family rotated on her computer desktop. There was a bowl of hard candy, which remained full, on the corner of her desk.  A standing floor plant on of the far side of her desk remained remarkably green in the windowless office. Brenda called it Nancy, which Jason thought represented the baby girl she always wanted, since she had two boys. She had her Farside daily calendar. The ones she thought were particularly fun, she’d post on the corkboard behind her desk.  Normally Jason would have disliked Brenda, but it was hard to dislike her. She did her job well and all of her extra pizzazz was genuine—a trait Jason rarely observed in anyone else.

            After Brenda got settled, she walked over to Jason’s desk, concern on her face. “Hey, what’s up, Brenda?” Jason asked.

            The palms of Brenda’s hands were pressed together in front of her. “Now, Jason, you know that I’m not one to judge, but you should be careful about when you call in sick.”

            Jason leaned back in his chair. He was too worn out for this shit. “Don’t worry, Brenda. I was just feeling a bit under the weather yesterday. I’m not one hundred percent, but I’m feeling better.”

            Brenda nodded her head and smiled. “Okay, Jason. It’s just that with all of these rumors buzzing about layoffs, I’d really hate for you to do anything that might get you fired.”

            “I appreciate your concern, but even if I did call in sick for some other reason, it’s not like other people don’t do it. Hell, Danny calls in at least once a week.” Jason gestured to the third desk that was empty. “He probably called in today. You know, a three day weekend.”

             “I know. I know, Jason. If Danny loses his job, well, it’s his own fault.” Brenda’s eyes darted about making sure no one was around, then she leaned in slightly, her hands still in the same reserved position. She whispered, “But I like working with you and don’t want you to get canned.”

            Jason laughed. “I’m not going to get canned. If I do, so be it, but I think we’re both going to be fine.”

            Brenda fell back into her normal position. Worry creased her face. “You don’t think they’d get rid of me, do you?”

            “They’d be foolish to fire you, Brenda.”

            She smiled, but Jason could tell the worry returned almost immediately. Her rare change in countenance led him to believe that her head was likely full of horrible scenarios.

“I’m not sure what Mike and I would do if I lost my job, too. You know he’s been out of work for the last six months. It’s been really hard on him.”

            “Well, you have nothing to worry about, Brenda.”

            “Thanks,” Brenda said doubtfully and returned to her desk. Then she shed her doubt like so many wispy tufts of hair and replaced it with a pleasant smile, even if it was slightly forced.


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