Cody, Cynthia, Nadine, George, Kalvin, and Lucy all worked in an office together.
It wasn’t a particularly impressive office building with big cushy chairs, views that overlooked the bay waterfront area, or a fancy Keurig machine in the breakroom that offered the kind of coffee drinks you would usually have to traipse to Starbucks and stand in line for.
In fact, the landscape of the office was rather vapid, to be totally truthful.
Each office was really just a cubicle, corralling each employee into their own little makeshift office with 8×10 foot plywood walls. Privacy wasn’t really a thing as, at any given time, you could hear your fellow employee speak to a customer from the office space directly in front or behind. You could even hear them as they pivoted around in their squeaky Ikea-made chairs that hummed along in boredom and protest.
Cynthia didn’t mind it so much.
Suddenly, a head popped up from behind Cynthia’s cubicle,
chirping, “good morning” with the sort of enthusiasm
only “morning people” have the ability to muster.
In fact, she liked the closeness of the office, the way people couldn’t just close an office door and shut themselves off to the rest of the world. All four of Cynthia’s kids had gone off to college or do better things and her husband had died a year ago. Other than her weekly Rummy games she hosted at her house with the ladies from church, she was a lonely soul and welcomed the buzz of the office around her.
This week, however, she felt particularly lonely because her favorite coworker, Kalvin, the officemate that had a cubicle to the left of hers, had taken sick leave the last few days. Today made it day four of no show and she was beginning to worry. It was uncommon for Kalvin to call out of work. In the few years Cynthia worked at Bayside Analytics, she had never known her friend to have so much as a cough or runny nose.
Suddenly, a head popped up from behind Cynthia’s cubicle, chirping, “good morning” with the sort of enthusiasm only “morning people” have the ability to muster. It was her co- worker, Lucy, who was always happy, almost to the point of suspiciousness. Cynthia couldn’t understand how someone could always be so positive all the time. Didn’t Lucy have problems like the rest of the world? But, she rationalized that it was a far superior option than being around a grumpy gus all the time.
“Good morning, Lucy,” Cynthia chimed back, attempting to meet her coworkers enthusiasm. “How is your morning going?”
“Oh, you know…”
That was another Lucy thing, Aside from her unmatchable eagerness, she had a habit of saying, “oh you know” as if there was some sort of inside secret everyone was part of but couldn’t talk about. Most of the time Cynthia didn’t know, but she nodded along as if she did and took a long swig of her coffee. The temperature was already turning tepid.
In that moment, the office-gossip and complain-extraordinaire, Nadine, walked by and intruded in on the conversation.
“Morning,” they hummed back politely.
Cynthia took another sip of her coffee and Nadine stared at Cynthia as her lips pulled at the edge of the cup.
“You drink the coffee they make, here?” Nadine’s big eyes squinted into her coworkers cup as if she were searching for something. It was a look of both shock and disgust.
Cynthia was surprised at the question. “Sure, why not? I mean it’s nothing fancy but it does the trick.” She forced a smile to show her contentment.
“Oh, Cynthia, bless you, you’re much braver than me. God knows when the last time those coffee cups were washed! I swear people just use them and put them directly back in the cabinet. And that old coffee maker probably hasn’t had a proper cleaning in years.”
“I’m sure the janitors clean the coffee equipment,” Lucy chimed in, but she didn’t seem all too convinced.
“Oh don’t be so naive, Lucy.” Nadine waved away the comment with her bright red, manicured nails. “How do you think Kalvin caught bronchitis? It’s from drinking out of those coffee mugs and using the office kitchen all the time. That place is just infiltrated with germs.”
Cynthia’s eyebrows furrowed with concern. “Kalvin has bronchitis?”
“You know, I read a report the other day that said
60 percent of office kitchen’s and break rooms don’t get cleaned properly.
And like, 20 percent don’t get cleaned at all.”
Nadine went on, as if she hadn’t heard Cynthia’s inquiry.
“You know, I read a report the other day that said 60 percent of office kitchen’s and break rooms don’t get cleaned properly. And like, 20 percent don’t get cleaned at all.” Nadine placed great emphasis on the last part of this sentence, her wild eyes moving back and forth from Lucy to Cynthia, hoping to be met with similar disdain and surprise.
Cynthia peered into her coffee with trepidation. She knew Nadine had a propensity for exaggerating things but suddenly her coffee didn’t taste right.
Lucy laughed at her colleague’s claim. “Oh, that’s just ridiculous. We have a great cleaning staff here.”
“Do we?” Nadine challenged Lucy. “Have you ever seen a janitor in the breakroom? Ever? I certainly haven’t. In all five years I’ve worked here. Why do you think I always bring my own lunch or go out to eat? You couldn’t pay me to eat in that filth.”
Cynthia closed her eyes. It was only 8:30 in the morning, far too early to have to deal with a lecture from her obtuse co-worker. She missed Kalvin. Once Nadine left, he would have re-enacted this entire transaction, mocking Nadine’s enthusiasm for drama and exaggeration.
She pictured his mocking tone: “I swear to you, I had a friend of a friend who’s coworker DIED of a staph infection from the kitchen at her work,” Kalvin would have said in perfect Nadine-pitch, waving around his arms and flipping his non-existent hair. “She DIED, ya’ll. From Coffee!”
Suddenly, Cynthia started laughing out loud, thinking about her friend’s deadpan impression of Nadine and how much he made her laugh.
Lucy and Nadine stopped talking to look at Cynthia, waiting to be filled in on what was so funny.
“Oh sorry,” Cynthia said, trying to contain herself. “I was just thinking about something one of my kids told me the other day. Anyway, I’m going to get me some more coffee.”
Cynthia stood up, mug in hand, and meandered her way past her two coworkers and back toward the breakroom.
She politely waved hello to a few other colleagues along the way, before stepping into the kitchen.
Nobody was around.
She crossed the kitchen to wear the giant pot of coffee sat; the pot that seemed to always contain slightly-burnt coffee in it, no matter what time of day it was. She stared into the pot, looking for signs of grime or uncleanliness. All that peered back at her was dark sludge. She thought about poor Kalvin, being sick at home and missing so much work. She thought about what Nadine said.
She thought about when the last time was she saw a member of the cleaning crew cleaning out the coffee maker? Or the dishes? Or the floors and tables for that matter?
Suddenly, she didn’t feel like coffee anymore. She begrudgingly poured what was left in her cup down the sink and made sure to put extra soap in the mug while cleaning it before retiring it back into the cabinet.
“Well, this is going to be a long day,” she mumbled to herself as she exited the kitchen.