Working 9 To 5 (ish)

At 9am precisely, Susan DeWitt pushed open the door to the little office. She had been there now nearly 4 months, and she was slowly beginning to get used to their little peculiarities. The main part of the office was taken up with two desks. The one nearest to the door was heaped with folders, pieces of paper, disposable coffee mugs and the odd pizza box. This desk belonged to the Office Boy, Rupert. Affetionately referred to simply as “the Boy”, his job was making the tea, cleaning the office, and taking important pieces of correspondence to the people that needed them, and bringing back any of the answers. As was often the case in these small offices, the Boy was also the unofficial technical support for the computers, which were still considered “new fangled inventions” in Little Wotton. Susan stood for a moment in silence, and listened. There was a soft snoring coming from under the boy’s desk, so she slowly closed the door, keeping her hand on the bell so as not to wake him. She made her way to the only other desk in the main room, the rest of the walls being taken up by filing cabinets and doors. There was a simple wooden-framed door filled with frosted glass directly opposite the main door, this was the door that led to the boss’ office. On the wall opposite her desk was a simple wooden door that was always locked. It was only the Boss that had a key, and she had never seen him use it. Then again, the Boss seemed to keep his own hours, and she was never quite sure if he was in or out, or indeed, what he did all day.

It had taken Susan some time to get used to the job here. It was very definitely not like any job she’d ever had before. They had no name, they didn’t make anything, all they did was ensure that certain people got certain kinds of information at certain times. They would also take care of little details like accommodation, the occasional funeral, and filing of birth certificates. Delivering the information was never quite straight-forward either. Sometimes you could put it in the post with an address on it, but most of the time you had to send the Boy, who had to engineer a way of getting information to people that looked for all the world like random chance. It was Susan’s job to work out who needed what information and when, and how best to get that information to them. From the gentle snoring of the Boy, he had probably been up all night trying to get a piece of information to fall in the path of someone who badly needed a bit of direction in their life. Sometimes that would take half an hour, and other times the Boy could spend hours gently letting bits of paper fall with the information on, following around the unawareness client.

At the beginning, Susan liked to think that it was all part of some grand plan, some form of secret agency trying to guide the course of the world, but she was quickly disillusioned from that one. The number of times death certificates had crossed her desk, which must be filed, people notified and so on proved that they were simply a small group of people trying to fight a rising tide. A vital cog in a larger game where you could only do the best you could. This was only one of the many revelations that Susan had taken in her stride. Generally, however, her job was filing, making arrangements, dealing with post, paying bills, and so on. This morning’s work involved filling out a form, in triplicate of the information delivered last night by the Boy, the time he had eventually managed to achieve his aim (2am), and any other incidents that had happened along the way (the Boy had accidentally broken a pot plant trying to keep himself hidden). Dutifully Susan filled out a request for money for the replacement pot plant, signed all the forms, and then put them on a pile on her desk. They would need to be signed by the Boy, but she had long since given up leaving them on his desk. That done, she dealt with a few phone calls, explained patiently to the cold-call salespeople that they did not want double-glazing, and ordered some more paper for the printer. Susan then checked the morning faxes, and noting that there was another fax from Sunnyview. She sat down to look at the pictures, and picked out the people in it, and tried to get some sense of what it was meant to be saying. She wrote up a small overview of what it said, and about whom, and added it to the file.

Susan had files on all her people. She charted their life through bills, pictures, payments, reports, and information. Sometimes she knew their names, other times she had given them names, lest the job become to mechanical. This had led, inexorably, to her having ones she felt particularly close too, ones who’s story was tragic, or heroic, often a bit of both. Her job was to give them what they needed. That wasn’t always the same as giving them what they wanted, or being nice to them. That, perhaps, was the hardest part of the job. The part that you couldn’t close the door and leave behind. She found herself worrying about decisions that her instincts had told her were right, checking the information every day to find news, and not relaxing until she knew.

At 10.15 am Susan slipped out of the office for the morning bakery run. She picked up some sweet breads for the three o’clock tea, along with two bacon sandwiches and some black coffee with 4 sugars. Susan was back through the office door by 10:30 am, and she turned the radio on to listen to the dulcet tones of Ken Bruce. She wasn’t really a fan of listening to the radio when she was working, but there was something about the voice of Ken that she secretly liked. The noise would also have the added bonus of waking the Boy up. As she turned the volume up there was a loud bang from under the desk. “Good morning Boy” said Susan. The Boy crawled out from under the desk, looking dishevelled. “Morning Ms. DeWit”. The boy attempted a smile “I think I fell asleep here again, Miss.” Susan looked at him, no smile on her face, as the office manager she couldn’t really agree with the notion, but her eyes were soft “Yes you did Boy. Now, hurry along and get yourself washed and changed.” The Boy nodded and made his way through the glass door into the corredore beyond and into the bathroom. The Boy had ended up asleep so often in the office, that Susan had insisted that he had kept a change of clothing in the bathroom. While he was in the bathroom, she laid the bacon sandwiches on a plate, and moved a chair to the edge of her desk. There was no space on his for him to eat. It wasn’t long before the Boy was back and gratefully tucking into his breakfast “Thank you for the bacon, Miss DeWit”. Susan smiled, but said nothing. “I see you broke a plant pot”. The Boy nodded, his mouth full of bacon. “Yeths” He swallowed his mouthful. “I didn’t mean too, it was one of those people that put plant pots outside their doors, as I tried to get away, in the darkness I tripped over it.” Susan Dewitt nodded. The Boy was her only real link with what happened outside of Little Watton, and as he talked about the trouble he had had with the trains, and how the time and address were wrong, AGAIN, and he knew that it wasn’t the science…..

Susan let him drone on, and she listened to him. Some of which she knew was fabrication. She knew, for example, that he had stopped off for some fast food, and had taken in a movie an the way home. She didn’t begrudge him that, nor did she mind rubber stamping his expenses. She looked after him, in her own way. She had no idea where she came from, or what happened to his parents, or what he did when he wasn’t working. Many a night they had stayed and chatted in the office until gone 7. Susan knew she had nothing to go home too, but why was the Boy so willing to stay? She often worried that this job was too much for one so young. She let him talk about things until 11:30, and then made him tidy his desk, and hand in all his reports. She turned off the Radio, and the two of them worked in silence.

~BX