The dreary little office grew drearier and smaller every day it seemed. Xylitol began his morning routine by casting a dismal frown across the room, at the vast mound of papers blocking his cubicle’s door. He turned over his shoulder, catching sight of the poster on the wall reading “Don’t think, Do” in big beveled indigo letters. Hundreds of cubicles like his own were abstracted on the poster as a checkerboard workforce stamping and passing and stamping and passing, each moving the unimaginable amount of paperwork in Destiny Enterprises one step closer to completion.
Xylitol reached across his desk and picked up the first paper of the day, snapping it from the top of the mound. An older man in Oregon was about to be foreclosed on. It was dated three months ago, and by now, Xylitol had no say in the matter. He picked up his big black “RESOLVED” stamp, stamped the paper and passed it through a slit to the adjacent cubicle. He wondered if anyone was even there. Through the slit, the mound in the adjacent cubicle appeared to have risen past the level of the desk. Mechanically, he reached forward again. He felt a crack in his back, ignored the pain and examined the new case. Likely another one past due, but somebody had to stamp it.
With a gasp, Xylitol put down the paper and scrambled to find his telephone, buried under the papers. A family of six in Arizona was about to be deported, but Xylitol could troubleshoot them. He had precious little time, but finally, he could do the job he had signed up for. No more months-old lost causes, finally Xylitol could do real work.
All he had to do was remember how to fill out the form.
Arms swinging like a thrashing animal, Xylitol swiped and threw and shredded papers in his way, digging through cases months old, cases years old, cases so old that there wasn’t even a Destiny Enterprises when they were relevant. He found his phone and slammed the numeric pad. Buried beneath the avalanche of paper, he counted the tones, tying the cord around his fingers, desperate for the voice at the other end.
He heard a clicking noise and a droning reply.
“Do you know how long I’ve been stuck here?” Cyclamate said. Xylitol knew. She had been stuck there for twelve years, six months, seventeen days and–
“I’ve got it down to the days. I don’t know the minutes and seconds.”
“Let me check my clock.” Cyclamate said. Xylitol heard rustling.
“No, wait, don’t look around for your clock. I have a question about standards and practices and such. I have a case I can actually solve.” Xylitol said, clapping his hand against his thigh and squeezing the phone. He could hardly contain his excitement.
“Oh!” Cyclamate replied. “Congratulations! So what do you want to know?”
“Everything.” Xylitol said. “Orientation seems like ancient history now.”
Xylitol dug himself out of the papers, stretching the phone cord to its limits. He made it back to his desk and looked at the form. “Okay. The name field. Is it my name, or the client’s name? The client’s name is already here so I think it’s my name right?”
“No, that’s the client’s name again. Your name goes in the ‘Assigned Troubleshooter’ field.” Cyclamate replied. “You are the assigned troubleshooter. Which, I should add, is a temp position! Can you believe we’re just temps? I’ve been here twelve years and I’m still a temp! There’s probably some fat cat out there signing all sorts of glamorous destinies, with health insurance and a severance package and everything–”
“Okay, okay; Listen,” Xylitol said, “the address field, is that the client’s address?”
“I think that’s your cubicle number.” Cyclamate said. “I always put my cubicle number.”
“Stevia had some rejected when she put her cubicle number there.” Xylitol replied.
“Really? Oh shoot. Then yeah, copy the client’s address again there. I’ve never had a rejection, but I think the guy adjacent to me just hasn’t looked at any of mine yet.”
“Probably. Mine don’t really get looked at much either. Okay, now, this signature, is it the client’s signature or is it my signature?”
“It’s the client’s. I distinctly remember this from Orientation.”
Xylitol’s grip on the phone loosened, and he had slapped himself all out of wanting to slap his thighs. The excitement drained rapidly. “How am I supposed to get the client’s signature though? This isn’t Arizona. This isn’t anywhere really.”
“Let me dig around here, I know I have a Standards and Practices book.”
Xylitol heard rustling again. “Cyclamate, no, don’t dig– Hello? Cyclamate?”
He held on to the phone, for what seemed like hours. Finally he heard the rustling again, and Cyclamate said “Xylitol! I found my clock! I’ve been a temp of Destiny Enterprises’ Karma division now for twelve years, six months, seventeen days, five hours, thirty-eight minutes and twenty-two seconds.”
“Oh.” Xylitol replied flatly. “That is great. Did you find your manual?”
“No.” Cyclamate said. She sounded disheartened.
“That’s too bad.” Xylitol said. After a profound sigh, he put down the case as “resolved.” It was thirty minutes past due, and there was nothing Xylitol could do anymore. The family was probably halfway to Mexico by now – or at least immigration office. Or prison. Who knew anymore? Xylitol reached across his desk for the next case.