A Day in the Office

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Rita swore under her breath as she stepped up to the locked door. Her badge lay on the icy concrete. She had dropped it again. 

Bending to pick it up, she nearly slipped. Rita braced her hand on the door handle and pulled herself up, badge in her hand. She gasped in frigid air. This day was not starting off well. She prayed it wouldn’t get any worse. If it did, she might have to just give up, go home, and hide under the covers. That was just not going to happen. She had to earn her paycheck and pay all those bills. 

Once inside, she took in a deep breath of the warm air pushing through the vents that kept the foyer from freezing like the outside. Well, at least she wasn’t out in the bitter cold. 

The office was quiet as she walked in. At such an early hour, six o’clock, there were typically only two other people who were present in the large office. There was the R&D guy who seemed to live in his office and the lab. Rita rarely saw him, but the lights showed him present and working more than anyone else in the company. Then there was the accounting manager who seemed to put in almost as many hours. She had to come in early to get a start of her actual work before the demand of meetings swamped her and made her completely unproductive. 

She liked the quiet. It allowed her to get the day started without chaos or too many demands. The few times she was late, the stress levels of the day were out of this world. She hated to walk in only to have people demanding her attention immediately. It stressed her out and ended up with less than stellar work being done. She hated that feeling. 

Rita flicked on the lights. The large room still had a grey hue to it despite the numerous lights that shone down from the high ceiling. It was a converted warehouse that had been turned into a modern office building that housed half a dozen companies. It was slightly eerie yet peaceful. 

Her desk was halfway down one side of the blocked set of cubicles. She was surrounded by someone on three sides of her small space she called her own. It was a cozy little space with pictures of her dog and cat along with her sweet little nephew. Plants covered every surface that didn’t have office equipment or files on it. She loved the sense of being in her own little wild area and pretend the rest of the craziness didn’t exist. 

Tucking her purse into the bottom drawer of her desk, she began to strip off her winter gear and store it in the small compartment that held a hanger for her coat and a hook for her hat. It felt like shedding a thick extra layer of skin. A feeling of freedom enveloped her. 

Her freedom was short lived as Alexandra shouted at her from down the hall. Ah, Alexandra the accountant on a broomstick. The day was continuing along with a dark cloud over it. 

Rita looked around for someplace to logically hide. Aside from crawling under her desk, she was caught. But that didn’t mean she’d have to be caught like a poor bunny rabbit. Instead, she would show a little more backbone than that. 

Instead, Rita pushed the button on her computer to start it up. She gave a brief nod to acknowledge the other woman but kept her face focused on the desk lamp, the computer, and the small fan. She had just picked up her coffee mug to rinse out from the day before when Alexandra arrived at the wall beside Rita’s cube. 

“Good morning, Rita. Did you see that email I sent to you about the incorrect purchase order numbers?”

Rita’s eyebrows raised slightly. “Just walked in the door.” She took a deep breath and moved to the small break room across from her desk. 

“Yes, but I have to get this corrected today. You submitted it with the wrong information.” Alexandra followed Rita into the breakroom. 

“I’ll look into it once I read my emails.” Rita flicked on the breakroom lights and began setting up the coffee. Once that was done, she worked on cleaning her mug. Alexandra was close behind her the entire time. 

“If you could submit these invoices correctly the first time, we wouldn’t have these problems. I’ve been asking for this for years now and no one seems to listen.”

Rita nodded as though listening as she rinsed her mug and grabbed a paper towel to dry it with. She wiped down the counters where she had dripped water and scattered a few coffee grounds. Refilling the sugar and creamer bins finished up the time for the coffee to be done. 

“It’s as simple as noting what it should be.”

Rita filled her up mug and added the required half a packet of sugar and two creamers. She nodded as she walked past Alexandra. “As I said, I’ll get back to you this morning. Just need to get my email open.”

“Can you make sure you get it to me by ten?” Alexandra’s smile gave Rita the feeling she was looking at an untrustworthy snake. 

“I’ll get it to you as soon as I can,” Rita forced a smile to her lips. 

“Okay, but remember that I need it by ten.” 

Before Alexandra could continue with her mantra of when she needed the updated invoice, someone called her name. It drifted from the area of her desk where she was being looked for. 

“Oh, I forgot about Marion. Don’t forget ten,” she reminded Rita as she did a half jog half walk back to her desk on the other side of the building. 

“Ten p.m.,” Rita muttered as she sat down at her desk and took a long sip on her doctored up coffee. She wished it was a little more doctored up. If wishes were….

It took her less than a minute to have her computer up and running and all her necessary programs starting up. Rita moved papers around in an order she understood, pulled out her favorite pen, and flipped her notepad to a clean page. She was ready to start her day. 

Email number one:

Rita, which order is this regarding?

John

Rita frowned and scrolled down into the email John replied to. 

John, can you get the backup documents for order 568956? We need it for Friday’s meeting.

Rita

There was the order number, plain as day. She sighed and typed her response. 

John, 

Mentioned below it is order 568956. 

Rita

Not a good way to start her day. Didn’t people read their emails?

An hour later, she heard the door open and someone moving toward the main area where she sat. A glance at her computer telling her it was seven-sixteen told her that people would slowly start trickling in. Her quiet time was over. 

“Good morning, Rita,” Jeffery Andrews waved at her as he passed her desk. The boss had arrived. She had to do more than appear to work. 

“Morning, Jeffery.” She stood up with her coffee cup in hand. “I put the report you asked for on your desk.”

“I see that,” came his muffled reply. 

Rita smiled and refilled her coffee cup. Returning to her desk, she found Jeffery leaning over the cube wall. 

“Did you see that email from Kimberly?”

Rita groaned. “No, not yet. Got about fifty emails left to go through. What was it about this time?”

“Oh, the usual. The customer didn’t get the analysis and it is your fault.” Jeffery raised his eyebrows and then laughed. “You know how it is.”

Boy, did she. “How is it my fault that the system either didn’t generate it or they lost it in their emails? We’ve gone through this so many times.” Her face began to turn red. 

Jeffery held his hands up. “I know. I know. Once we close the order, the system does its thing. I’ve had talks with IT. Closed, it is not our problem any more. It is Kimberly’s, but she never has a problem that is hers. I’ll answer the email about it.”

“Thanks,” Rita mumbled as she drank her coffee to calm her down. And she needed calming down. 

Kimberly was a woman who had worked many years at the company and thought that she actually ran it. She smiled big when she saw you, but later in a meeting would slice you every which way she could. 

It was an understatement to describe Rita and Kimberly’s relationship as tense. 

Rita turned her focus back onto her computer where new emails were popping in to be addressed for the day. Since she was not at management level, her emails never topped more than one hundred and fifty each day. She knew the managers could get hundreds of emails throughout the day and about the same at night as those around the world continued on with their own workdays. 

Eight o’clock. There were no more echoes in the building. More than enough background noise began to fill the area as footsteps sounded, phones rang, typing commenced, and doors opened and closed. 

Where Rita sat, she could not go five minutes without some degree of interruption. Her cubicle was right on the corner of a high traffic cross section of aisles. Plus, the breakroom was six feet away from her. 

By nine, she had gotten through ten emails and talked to twenty-five people who stopped to ask her how her weekend had gone. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to socialize. It was the fact that HR had already called her out on talking too much at work. She tried to just work, but should she be rude to her co-workers and managers who stopped by to be nice?

She grabbed her pen and notepad and headed down the hall to the closest conference room. The new rule in the company was to be in the meeting five minutes before it was to start. That idea was to prevent as many people being late to it. It was a great concept except what were you to do while the previous meeting was still going on and needed it’s full hour? You waited in the hall and made a lot of noise. 

Rita had learned after the first few meetings under the new rule that she could wait until the exact time to appear to be “on time”. It worked again this time. She rounded the corner to see seven people loudly waiting on the room to be emptied. Just as she stopped next to someone, the door opened. A large group of accountants left the room with as much grace as stampeding elephants. No one noticed her last second appearance. 

As one group exited, the next group shuffled in. Rita moved to the closest chair and sat herself down. The others fidgeted with their items as they tossed about light conversation. Everyone waited for the one who had called the meeting…the director. Funny how the one who wanted everyone there five minutes early never got there until a few minutes after the hour. 

Once everyone was settled and lapsing into foolish talk, the director walked in. He appeared to be grumpy. His forehead was crunched up. His mouth set as though he had eaten a lemon. 

“Okay, cut the chit chat. Let’s get on to the topic at hand.” He waved a hand over the room as he plopped into his chair. 

A few grumbled. Others eagerly lapped at his virtual feet to please the one in charge of promoting or firing. 

“Well, we were talking about having the warehouse manually printing the bill of ladings instead of handwriting them,” a man from planning started the meeting off. 

“IT has been working on a program,” another one chimed in. 

“Why haven’t they been doing this before now?” a supervisor asked 

“Tim called. He said they were having problems with getting the drivers to work with them,” Angie from shipping stated. 

“Has he talked to IT?” the supervisor asked again. 

“It’s the dock doors.”

Rita frowned as she looked at all the participants in the conversation. Did they not realize that they were talking about two different things. Electronic bill of ladings were one and the dock doors were the other. They all thought they were on the same page 

She sighed and closed her eyes for a few seconds to gather her emotions. It was really tough at each meeting listening to everyone talk about different topics as though they were the same topic. Such discussions were becoming more common in the company meetings. She wasn’t sure if she could continue with this. She was a low person on the totem pole as it was. 

Her patience reached its breaking point when one person said, “Then IT is the solution to all this.”

“Hold on,” Rita interjected. “IT can solve the dock doors?”

“No, the bill of lading. Haven’t you been listening?” She received a disgusted look. 

The shipping woman pulled back. “We were discussing dock doors.”

“No, we weren’t,” one answered. Then the arguing began. 

Rita felt like crying. Why did they all have to act like two-year-olds? Instead of letting the stress tears flow, she bit her lip and watched as the director ended the meeting with severe reprimands to everyone. They still had not come to any conclusions on a specific topic. 

Same thing day after day. In a few weeks, they’d have the same on the same supposed topic and walk out no closer to a solution. 

“Rita!”

She turned to find a young woman rushing toward her. Sandra, wasn’t it? Who knew with all the new hires that had been showing up lately. 

“Yes?” She’d pretend she was confident in who she spoke to. She’d figure out later if she got the name right or not. 

“I wanted to know when you needed the report for the international sales.”

Yes, it was Sandra. “I’ll need them on the 17th.”

The woman’s eyes widened and she gasped. “What? I can’t have that done so soon.”

Rita frowned for what seemed like the hundredth time that morning and it was barely ten o’clock. “That should be plenty of time.”

“No, of course not. How can you say that? It gives me just three days.”

Rita blinked. “Three days. I said the 17th.”

“Yes, three days,” the woman stated again. Actual perspiration beaded on her upper lip. 

Rita licked her lips and took another deep breath. “Today is the 10th.”

“Yes, three days.”

At this, Rita began to laugh and shook her head. “No, today is the 10th. The 17th is seven days from now. A full week.”

“It’s three days,” Sandra pushed. 

Rita couldn’t take any more. She really had to find a plane of sanity. Raising her hand up to the other woman, she said, “Listen, I have to get back to finalize some emails before lunch. I suggest you go back to your desk and contemplate the calendar.”

Without giving the woman a chance to reply, Rita turned around and rushed back to her desk. She nearly dumped her stuff and grabbed her coat and purse before heading on out the front door. Could the day get any worse? That is a question no one should ask the Fates. 

Noon couldn’t arrive fast enough. She had to get away from her computer and everyone else in the office. The two hours since the end of the meeting was filled with putting out virtual fires and answering emails she had answered multiple times previously. Over and over, she repeated herself to no avail. 

She was about to go to the break room and get her sandwich when Jeffrey stepped out of his office. The look on his face made her stomach clinch. What now?

“Rita, you got a minute?”

“Why?” she replied, slowly. 

“We need to discuss the orders from China. Just got a phone call from Corporate.”

A sigh. Resignation. “Sure, give me a minute to grab a pen and pad.”

Maybe she’d eat before she left for the end of the day. Then again, her bet was on no. 

Settling down in her boss’s office with his boss, Donald, beside her, she prepared herself for more round and round discussions that came to nothing. It wasn’t quite like that. 

Jeffrey sat back in his chair and nodded toward his phone. “Seems that Corporate got a call from Nichols in China. He is telling them that we are putting in too many orders that they can’t meet the demand of.”

Rita frowned as Donald asked, “How many orders are we placing? I didn’t think sales were up astronomically high.”

Jeffrey shook his head. “It’s not. Specifically, Nichols said Rita was giving them too many orders each week.”

“What?” she nearly shouted before she could stop herself. “New orders each week are still around the average.” She paused. “Wait a minute. Oh, no. No. No. He is throwing me under the bus.”

Jeffrey nodded. “Pretty much.”

“Would someone enlighten me here?” Donald asked, looking from Jeffrey to Rita and back again.

“Rita is right in that she submits no more than twenty-five new orders each week. Make that on average,” he added after a frown from Rita. “But Nichols has been only able to fulfill ten orders a week for the last month. That means he is pushing orders back. Now the orders for next week are over fifty, close to sixty. He is saying that is why he can’t meet our demands.”

Donald crossed his legs. “So, he delayed orders for a month and now because they are getting backed up, he is saying Rita is placing too many orders.”

Rita snapped, “His problem is my fault.”

Donald reached over and patted her arm. “Don’t worry. I know you aren’t screwing this up. I’ll call Corporate.”

Rita tilted her head. “You really think they’ll believe you over him. He is the golden child that never does anything wrong.” She thought back on previous push backs that Nichols had done only to come out shining on top. 

“Well, I’ll see what I can do. Just keep doing the best you always do. While you are doing that, get me some stats on weekly orders. How many new ones you’ve placed over the last six months by week, how many they shipped, how many times they pushed each order back. Give me the ammunition and shields I need when I reach out to them.” Donald stood up and left the room. The door remained open behind him. 

“Rita, he’s right. You’ve done nothing wrong, but I wanted you to know. Keep doing your work. You’re only doing what I tell you so they can come at me.”

She nearly cried at the sweet words and the sincere smile on her boss’s face. Yes, he could be a donkey’s behind at times, but there were times he was the sweetest man on earth. 

Rita got back to her desk. Close to twelve-thirty. The small gossipy group would be in the break room eating. She’d have to chance going unnoticed by them. 

On her way to the large break room that housed the refrigerator she had put her lunch, she fumed about the accusations Corporate had heard. That was typical of Nichols. He always pushed his errors under someone else’s door. He did nothing wrong. Well, this time he didn’t know what he was up against. He had yet to learn that she kept detailed records and notes. The evidence was on her side.

The break room was noisy as she entered it. The small group, headed by Alexandra, sat in the very middle of the room. That way they were able to see everyone and pickup on the latest gossip. 

“Rita!” Alexandra called out. 

It took all of Rita’s energy to stifle what would have been a very large groan. “Yes?” She plastered a smile on her face. 

“What up with Claire?”

Rita tilted her head and frowned. “What do you mean?” She turned to the fridge to pull out her lunch bag and turned back around to them. 

“Well, she has been gone about two weeks. Is she coming back?”

Rita’s guard went immediately up. She knew what the gossips wanted. They wouldn’t get it. “Last I heard, yes.”

“But why has she been gone so long?” Alexandra pushed with her friends nodding along with her. 

“That’s her business. You’ll have to ask HR.”

Wrong words to say. 

Alexandra turned to the woman on her right who just happened to work as a clerk in human resources. Rita’s heart sank. Surely she wouldn’t. 

“Peg, is Claire still on medical leave?”

No, no, Rita thought. Don’t answer that. 

“Yes, she is,” Peg answered plainly. 

She did it. She told something confidential. 

“I don’t think any of this is anyone’s business,” Rita said, pointedly. 

“Well, we need to know what is going on,” Alexandra stated. 

Rita gave the other woman a glare. “No, you do not.”

“And I still don’t have those invoices,” Alexandra called out to Rita’s back as Rita stomped out. 

Rita’s feet were loud as walked back to her desk. When she got there, she threw her lunch bag on her desk and slumped down into her chair. Alexandra could take those invoices and stick them somewhere. Rita couldn’t stomach food at that moment. 

Her phone rang on her desk. She glanced over and sat up straight. It was their trucking company. They never called unless it was something extremely urgent. 

“Hello?”

“Rita, this is Tom.”

“Yeah, hey. What’s up?” Please nothing bad. Please nothing bad. 

“Well, we’ve got a situation.”

Damn.

“Our truck heading to St. Louis was involved in a wreck.”

Double damn. “How bad? Driver okay?”

“Driver was banged up, but he is okay.”

That was at least something. “Okay, email any updates you get. I’ll let Jeffrey and Sales know.”

Rita hung up the phone and rested her hands over her face. It felt like a week’s worth of issues had occurred before one. Could she make the day end faster?

Before more trouble could visit her, Rita searched her emails for Alexandra’s pestering invoices. Rita pulled back. The email was marked read. She never opened it. Great. Her email system was acting up again. She’d have to review “read” emails carefully to make sure she didn’t miss anything. 

Two o’clock rolled around quickly. Her calendar had revealed a pleasant surprise of no meetings. That knowledge gave her a small energy burst to get through her administrative work. 

Her keyboard echoed the sound of the keys being hit as she looked up to see Kimberly stop by her cubicle. Great. Rita was wondering where she could get a pistol to use on herself at that moment. The odds are that whatever Kimberly was about to say would make it worth it. 

“Rita, you’re at your desk?” Kimberly’s eyebrows rose to a peak. 

“Uh, yes. Usually am.”

“It’s after two.”

“Yes, it is. Two-o-three to be exact.”

Kimberly put her hand on her hip. “You’re usually gone by now.”

Rita stiffened. The previous week someone had commented that she rarely put in her eight hours each day. In truth, she typically put in over fity hours a week, 10 hours a day as she worked through lunch. Now she knew where it all started. “No, I usually leave around four.”

“Really? Is that a recent development?”

The day had been too much for her. Rita stood up which caused Kimberly to drop her propped up arm and move back an inch. “Last  heard, my hours are between me and my bosses. Everyone doesn’t count. If you have an issue, you can take it up with Jeffrey.” Rita waved her hand toward Jeffrey’s office. 

Kimberly sucked her breath. “You don’t have to make it Biblical proportions. Always being so dramatic.”

Rita sighed as the other woman walked away. Always on the defensive. That’s how she felt with most people during the work day. Everyone was out to attack. It wasn’t just her. They attacked everyone. And her family wondered why she was stressed so much. 

Just another day at the office.

A quarter to four. Over the last two hours, she had received one update on the wrecked truck (driver okay – product completely damaged), a call from a sales rep who wanted product two weeks before it could be made, an accountant who didn’t know how to read emails, and a customer service representative who literally cried over sloshing her coffee over the edge of her cup. Barely a splatter of the liquid hit the ground. 

Rita was ready to call it a day. 

“Hey,” Jeffrey said as he walked up to her desk. “Do you think you would have time to get me the stats on the Alabama project before you leave?”

Rita glanced at the bottom of the edge of the computer where the time was stamped and nodded. “You’re lucky. Five minutes later and I would tell you to do it yourself.” She softened her words with a smile. 

Jeffrey smiled. “I am lucky.” He began to turn around but hesitated. Turning back, he said, “I want to make sure you didn’t take the China stuff personally. Nichols is a conniving moron. You’re easy to attack right now. The numbers you gave Donald should be enough to at least get them off your back. He’ll deal with them. Maybe someone somewhere will see the true Nichols.”

Rtia smiled wider. “Thank you. I really needed to hear you say that. Takes the edge off of a stressful day.”

He patted the top edge of her cube wall and said as he walked away, “Oh, and about Kimberly. Don’t worry about her. We’ve…had a talk.” He winked as he turned around. 

A small laugh escaped Rita’s lips. What a day at the office? Would tomorrow be any different? She wouldn’t think of tomorrow. It could be worse than today. Worry about the here and the now.

With a smile on her face, she tackled the project numbers. She might be a few minutes late, but then she’d head home and have a drink. 

Or two.