Fiction: The Day Before Christmas

printerA foam ball rolled down an industrially carpeted hallway. It rolled past the laserjet printer, past the framed photographs of the president and the secretary, past the burn bin for the disposal of documents bearing sensitive information, past the women’s bathroom with the touchless faucet that ran all day due to a chronically malfunctioning sensor, past desk after empty desk, until it bumped gently against the office chair where Nance sat and was still.

“Who threw that?” Nance asked of what she had heretofore thought to be an empty office. She bent forward with a neutral spine, leading with the crown of her head as her yoga teacher had instructed, reaching out to collect the unexpected object that had interrupted her on this day of all days when she had hoped to finally have the chance to catch up on her work.

Round and royal blue, with an obvious seam running along its circumference, the ball bore the emblem of one of the agency’s dental insurance providers. It was the HMO, not the PPO, or vice versa. Nance had trouble telling them apart. Fortunately for her, agency policy was such that she could sign up for both for only a dollar a month more.

Nobody fessed up. Nance sighed and arose, taking care as always to lock the screen before stepping away from her workstation. She ignored the objections raised by her feet and scrunched them back into her high heels. Then, following the presumed path of the ball in reverse, she walked past desk after empty desk, past the women’s bathroom  with the touchless faucet that ran all day due to a chronically  malfunctioning  sensor, past the burn bin for the disposal of documents  bearing sensitive information, past the framed photographs of the president and secretary, and past the laserjet printer.

The printer was printing, which, under normal circumstances, was exactly what was expected of it. Today, the day before Christmas, the day when bureaucrats nationwide realize that they still have at least one floating holiday left, and floating holidays are use or lose, and so they sit at home logged on remotely via their laptops or blackberries pretending they are taking the day off but really hoping that something big will happen that will require their involvement and thus prove that they are essential personnel.

Coincidentally enough, it was also the day when the families of those bureaucrats prayed to whichever nondenominational answerer of prayers they believed in. They prayed that the internet would go out. And that was despite knowing full well that it meant not being able to post status updates to facebook.

“Hey, that’s mine!”

Nance was caught with her hand in the paper tray. The warm, crisp feeling from  freshly printed paper lingered even after she released her hold on the top sheet.

“June! Hi, how are you! How was your weekend!”

“Great! Thanks! How was yours!” That was what they said. What they meant was, “What the hell are you doing here?”

Nance said to June, “Oh, um, did you, um, is this your ball?” She proffered the object with open palm.

June said, “What is that?” She took it into her own hand for inspection, and then returned it. “Wait, isn’t this our PPO? HMO? One of those?” “Are you guys talking about open season? Did you get those automated voicemail reminders too?”

It was Gavin. What the hell was Gavin doing  there? At least that’s what June and Nance thought. What they said was, “Gavin! Hi! Good to see you! How was your weekend!”

“It’s over, by the way,” said Gavin. “Open season.”

“Hunting season’s not over! It’s just starting.” That was Peter. Since when did Peter know anything about hunting? Lancaster was the one who had actual antlers on his cubicle wall, not Peter. Also, what the hell was Peter doing there instead of spending the day at home with his family?

“That’s right, mi amigo,” said Lancaster. “Can’t wait for Maine. Bachelor party equals awesome!”

“Lancaster, hi! How are you!” said Nance. What the hell was Lancaster doing there?

In short order, Bonnie, Vera, Tom, Thom, Jon, John, Yohann, Barry, and Anderson had joined them in the space surrounding the printer.

Either they had all used up their floating holidays, or they were too worried about missing out to stay away from the office, or they just wanted the bonus face time with the deputy assistant secretary. Although he, of course, was in Cancun all week.

The excitement over, June, Gavin, Peter, Lancaster, Bonnie, Vera, Tom, Thom, Jon, John, Yohann, Barry, and Anderson said they had to go back to their desks to check their email.

“Oh, wait, um, is this, like, anyone’s?” Nance asked. Nobody had much to say beyond surmising one way or another with regard to the proper three-letter acronym pertaining to the dental plan advertised on the side of the ball.

Nance shrugged and rolled the ball down the hall in the other direction. It rolled past the laserjet printer, past the artificial nondenominational holiday poinsettas, past the men’s bathroom with the loose hinge that made a clunking sound whenever someone opened the door, past maybe not as empty as expected desk after desk, until it was safely somebody else’s problem.

Okay, back to work.

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