Posted by: dougery | February 12, 2012

[FGC #1] Bear in the Break Room

Names and statistics were arranged in tidy columns on the computer screen. Riley imagined there was some secret language at work here, something profound and meaningful if he could just locate the right cipher to make sense of it all. He dragged one name over into a previously unoccupied field.

“You’re nuts if you’re seriously considering flexing Bowery,” a voice called from over Riley’s shoulder.

Paxton.

“Yeah, well, my ‘serious considerations’ have me in third place,” Riley said. He spun around in his chair. It was only a little after ten and already there were dark stains under his arms.

Paxton smiled, his face red and textured like a root vegetable. A pair of glasses perched on the bridge of his nose.

“As impossible as it may seem, I didn’t drop by to give you fantasy football advice,” Paxton said. His eyes flicked about Riley’s cubicle.

“Oh?” Riley said.

“Yeah. Look. This is gonna sound weird but, well, I guess I’ll just say it. There’s a bear in the break room,” Paxton said, his voice becoming embarrassed and confessional.

“There’s a what!?” Riley said, getting halfway up. He scowled at Paxton and sat back down. “Oh, I get it. Ha ha. Very funny. Bit random, but funny. Look, if you’re just gonna stand there and bullshit me I’m gonna kindly ask you to leave. I have pressing line-up problems to address and,” Riley paused to ascertain the time, “only six more hours of work to resolve them.”

“It’s true you know,” Pemberton said, popping her head over the cubicle wall. “It’s true about the bear.”

Pemberton nodded vigorously to emphasize her point. She had dark flyaway hair, but only on the left side of her head and only in the front. If she nodded any harder, Riley thought her head would tumble off into his cubicle and roll under his desk.

“Guys, how would a bear get all the way up to the sixth floor…oh forget it. Et tu, Pemberton? What’s this guy paying you?” Riley asked. He wondered if his mug had spontaneously regenerated this morning’s coffee, but a quick inspection found only cold dregs and disappointment.

“Nothing, I swear” Pemberton said. “This isn’t some prank. Oh, and while we’re being honest here, Griggs is facing the ’Hawks this week. He’ll be lucky to make it the whole game without sustaining a concussion. There’s got to be a better QB on your waiver wire.”

“How can you even read my screen from over there?” Riley grumbled.

“Riley, is this what I pay you for?” Brooks said, entering magisterially. Brooks had a thoroughly unironic moustache and a wide-banded watch that told the time, just not the correct time. He approached Riley’s computer, rubbing his hands.

“Let’s get a good look-see here,” he said and gripped Riley by the shoulders, spinning him around to face the computer.

“These two are trying to convince me there’s a bear in the break room,” Riley said, like a schoolyard tattletale. He reached for his mouse to minimize his fantasy league’s window. Brooks slapped his hand away and said,

“What round did you draft DuPont? That guy. What a bum. Can’t believe he’s your number one WR,” Brooks said, snorting. “Oh, and these clowns aren’t kidding you. There really is a bear in the break room. Was in the kitchen at some point. Fridge is scratched to hell. Coffee beans all over the damn place.”

“It got into the fitness room, too,” Utley said, scuttling in under Paxton’s outstretched arm. She had what amounted to the upper and lower half of two entirely different people inexpertly sewn together. In profile she resembled an isosceles triangle.

Paxton laughed. “Can you just picture the thing on an exercise bike!” He did his best to mime such a spectacle with a lot of flailing, growling, and sweating.

“No, he went for the treadmill,” Utley said. “Davidson stumbled in there this morning and said it looked like the ‘mill had been in a traffic accident.’” She moseyed over to Riley and parked her ample shelf of a bottom on his desk. Utley snuck a look at the monitor. “Dude, Henley didn’t even practice yesterday. Tore a groin muscle or something. Day-to-Day.”

“Really, Utley? You’ve got an opinion, too?” Riley complained. The smell of too many people crammed into too small a space was beginning to make him cranky.

“Did anyone stop to consider,” Nolan said, materializing in what little space remained in Riley’s cubicle, “that the bear in question wasn’t always a bear? That maybe it was once a person? Have any of you ever seen a bear in this city outside a zoo?”

Nolan had the gangly muscle-free build of a teenager and the tiny black eyes of that same teenager’s near-sighted great grandfather. His suit was impeccable, more expensive than anyone else’s save Brooks. He’d been working here forever and nobody had the slightest idea what Nolan did.

“Are you suggesting that, at some point earlier this morning, someone in this office spontaneously transformed into a bear, went on a rampage across the office, and then retired to the break room?” Brooks asked with a pensive hand to his chin. “Fascinating.”

“Like some kind of were-bear!” Pemberton said. “But then wouldn’t there be shredded clothes and shoes and stuff? You know, after he or she hulked out of their suit?”

“Maybe it ate them. Ate the clothes I mean,” Paxton said, tugging at the front of his shirt as if the rest of them had temporarily forgotten the definition of the word clothes. “Bears’ll eat anything!”

“I kindly beg to differ, Paxton,” Brooks lectured. “Bears, while omnivorous that is true, largely consist on a diet of roots, berries, small game, fish, insects, honey…”

“What kind of bear we talking about?” Davidson said, sidling up next to Paxton in the threshold of the cubicle, as there wasn’t any room inside. “Brown bear? Black bear? Kodiac? Grizzly? Polar bear?” Davidson was short but in an endearing way. He had cheeks custom crafted for old ladies to pinch, and wherever he went children and small animals stared at him with blank-eyed affection.

“Ah, the Polar bear, ursus maritimus,” Nolan said, closing his eyes as if recalling an affectionate memory. When he came to his eyes stared over Riley’s shoulder. “Riley, pay no attention to our pyramidal friend Utley, I have it on good authority that Henley will play this weekend. The coach is just trying to gain the upper hand, catch the opposing team off guard. A nefarious feint, nothing more.”

“Out. All of you, out!” Riley said. He herded them away from his desk. “Have any of you actually seen the bear? No? None of you? Didn’t think so.”

Of course they hadn’t. They were all too busy not getting anything done. Riley knew as well as anyone that the break room was the uninhabitable void at the heart of their office. With three chairs, each more uncomfortable than the last, a table whose underside your knees stuck to, vending machines stuffed with off-brand candy-bars—Milky Wey, Zounds!, Baby Juth—and sandwiches with so many preservatives the cockroaches wouldn’t come within ten feet of them, the break room was a place you only ever ended up in by accident. Even the lure of seeing a bear was not enough to draw one in.

Riley made his way down the hall past a bank of copiers that grew progressively older and less efficient as he went along. The most recent acquisition was no bigger than a U.S. post office drop box and could print and collate at a rate of 20 pages per second. The last in the row was a gun metal gray behemoth that actually protruded into the office above them and smoked and rumbled when turned on, which nobody but a naive intern ever did, and then only the one time, as the burn scars she’d received would find her working elsewhere, in a circus sideshow say, or B movie horror picture.

Riley paused outside the break room. He wanted to peek in, to catch a glimpse of the bear sitting in the corner like a giant furry infant, gnawing on a Smartphone.

“Best just let ’im be, son,” Brooks said, sliding his arm over Riley’s shoulders. “Office ain’t no kind of place for a woodland creature of that magnitude. Animal Control is on their way.”

“But is it really in there?” Riley asked.

Brooks steered him back to his cubicle. “Never you mind. Now let’s go make sure you’re all set for this weekend’s slate of games. Lot of ins, lot of outs to consider…”

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Responses

  1. This whole scene is surreal, and well done. I can just imagine these people so numbed by their office goings on that even a bear in the break room barely musters even the slightest bit of curiosity.

    • Thank you, Storm Dweller. And yes, these folks are much more interested in rumor-mongering and harassing one another than the prospect of seeing a bear at their workplace. They are all stuck in the peculiar culture of the office and will do anything to take their minds off of Big Picture thoughts like their own mortality (or whatever you want the bear to represent).

      I look forward to reading your entry, and others during the lunch hours this week in my very own cubicle.

  2. […] Jarrad Wood7. Kate Sherrod 8. Annie Evett9. Douglas Riggs10. Storm […]

  3. Oh, I hope it was a Paddington bear… he would be such a well-respected member of the office and would overtake Brooks in the pecking order in no time!

    • Doc, I hope you ‘recognized’ the names of all the athletes mentioned by the drones. They were Easter eggs specifically included for the Sue P herbal crowd. And yes, I unofficially equated you with my WR1 from last year’s draft. Ha!

      • Grrr? I may be a bum but I’m certainyl not a WR1!! Err, wait a sec..

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed this Doug, and some day when I have enough territory to my name, I will welcome bears of all types to plunder my fields and shanties!

    Also, not sure anyone would dare try a Baby Juth, just a hunch I got…

    • Glad you enjoyed it! And yeah, kind of frightened by what that candy bar would be like.

  5. This is one of the weirdest things I’ve read in a long time. I especially enjoyed the complete banality of the fantasy football banter. A perfect contrast to the bear.

    • weird is a high compliment where I come from, so thanks!

  6. I enjoyed reading this. I definitely get the feel for the office interactions and that strange cubicle mentality that comes over those stuck inside them. Finished the story and now I want to know too; is there a bear in the breakroom? 😉

    • Thanks, Rebecca. And in answer to your question, maybe? 😉

  7. I loved this. Such a surreal but picture perfect vision of office life.

  8. […] Douglas Riggs and Laura Meyer in the Judges’ Choice Section. […]


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