The Corporatorium: Cactuses & Tears (Episode Six)

Since Capital B's web cast, we'd all been pretty quiet, anxiously awaiting the sudden arrival of her and her evil factotum, Brett.  To break the tension, TWO called an off-schedule production meeting. Production Meeting. The name was misleading as nothing was ever produced or resolved during these weekly trials of patience.  

As soon as we were all seated around the conference table, TWO said, “I called this meeting, so we could talk about our apprehension and anxiety.” More than likely she was hoping to learn what we Mushrooms knew, if anything, of Capital B's plans.

Twenty minutes into the meeting only Nigel had spoken up; as usual his voice was pitched so low and his enunciation so muddy it was impossible to hear what he said never mind make any sense of his mumbled words.

"Why isn't anyone saying anything?"  TWO finally demanded.

"Perhaps they're afraid?" one of the Cerberus ventured.

"Afraid?" TWO repeated.

"Yes, afraid," came the inevitable echo from the second Cerberus.

"Fear!" the third pronounced somewhat ominously.

"Why?" TWO bellowed, "Is everyone afraid of me?"

"I don't know that fear has anything to do with it," I said mostly to break the awful, echoing silence.  Every head swiveled in my direction like so many spectators at a public execution.  "It's more like reluctance."


"I think people are reluctant to—," I almost said "rattle your cage," but caught myself in time.  I am not, after all, suicidal. "Okay," I said, trying again.  "Imagine you're lost in a desert for days.  You're hot and hungry and desperate.  You just want your mommy to tell you everything is okay.  And then you see her and you run into her arms.  Only, you're delusional and it's actually a cactus you're hugging.  Hours later, after you've come to, you're bleeding and picking quills out of your skin and you're wondering what in hell you were thinking.  You hugged a cactus expecting comfort and safety and instead you got spilled blood and pain.  That's what trying to talk to you is like. So you see why people are reluctant…"  I ran out of steam and looked her in the eyes.  To my horror she began to cry.

Almost immediately, the Cerberus were on their feet, closing rank around her, cooing, rubbing her shoulders.  They formed a phalanx around her and ushered her out of the conference room.  One of the Cerberus hissed at me.  Another emitted a kind of bark, and the third, turning towards me, made an odd biting motion with her mouth as if her teeth were biting into succulent flesh and tearing it away from bone.

"Well that was horrible!"

"And shocking."

"Truly," Nigel murmured.  "Who knew she even had tear ducts."

"I did see your point, though," Barbara the Second offered.  "TWO never speaks to me and sometimes I'm not sure she even realizes I work for her. And if she did ever speak to me, I don't know what I'd say."

In truth TWO was a bad boss—distracted, disinterested, reluctant to engage with us.  Once when a power struggle erupted between Nigel, and Barbara the Second, the battling duo stormed into TWO's office demanding she settle their dispute.  TWO, who despised confrontation of any kind, waved them away and, without removing her gaze from her computer screen, said: "Fight it out amongst yourselves, Ladies."

Nigel was livid she’d referred to him in the feminine; and TWO’s disinterest infuriated both and forged a bond between the two that very nearly made them best friends. It wasn't long, however, before they were again at each other's throats, their mutual dislike of each other far outweighing their hatred of TWO.  After one particularly acrimonious battle, Nigel quit.  TWO happened to be at an offsite meeting that day but one of the Cerberus alerted her to the disaster.

TWO arrived at Nigel's house the next morning before breakfast. When he opened the front door, she asked him to come back to work. He refused. She invited herself in.  Helpless, he led her upstairs. Just outside the living room at the top of the stairs leading up from the front door, stood a mannequin holding a clipboard and wearing a Pan Am stewardess’ uniform circa 1960.

TWO had heard about his mannequins of course, but seeing them was something else altogether. Nonetheless she followed him into his living room.

“Come back to work,” she said again.

“No,” Nigel said, “Would you like some coffee?”

“Yes, please. Black, no sugar."

TWO sat in the middle of Nigel’s sofa and said,"I should warn you: I'm not leaving until you agree to come back to work."

Nigel turned on his heels and headed into the kitchen.

Making herself comfortable, TWO a looked around the impeccably furnished room. It was a study in
understatement: muted colors, thick carpeting and window treatments that absorbed all sound so that even the rattle of the cranky central heating seemed more thought than sound. She tried not to stare goggle-eyed at the army of mannequins in their vintage finery, veiled hats and lace gloves. TWO remarked to herself that the heat, combined with sepulchral silence and the oddity of the mannequins would cause a weaker woman to surrender, or swoon, but not her.

Over coffee, TWO picked up a magazine and began reading it, even though she hated Vogue. When Nigel returned to collect her cup he asked her if she’d like breakfast. She asked him if he’d return to work. He said “No;” she said yes, breakfast sounded lovely.  After breakfast she again asked Nigel to return to work.  Nigel refused. TWO sat on.

Before lunch, TWO asked again and was again refused.  After lunch she asked for the fifth time and was refused for the fifth time.

Before tea she asked and was refused yet again.

After tea, bored, but determined, TWO engaged in a stare-down with a mannequin who, dressed in a demure Oleg Cassini skirted suit with the pillbox hat Jackie Kennedy had made famous—also worn backwards, TWO couldn’t help noticing—sat opposite her, her legs crossed demurely, a delicate porcelain cup held against her still lips.

Unable to match the longevity of the mannequin’s stare, TWO dropped her eyes and asked Nigel, "May I have another slice of pie? Just the tiniest sliver." Finished with her pie, TWO sat on, implacable and immovable as a mountain.

Finally, before dinner, Nigel agreed to return to work.

To everyone's amazement Nigel was in his cube when we arrived the next morning.  "What happened?" I whispered. "I didn't think you would come back."

"Please," he said. "I had no choice.  She wouldn't leave until I said I'd come back.  She was there all day. The girls were getting irritated—" I knew Nigel well enough to know that by “the girls,” he meant his collection of mannequins.

“And, I was afraid I couldn't afford to keep feeding her!"

The day had suddenly plunged into absurdity.  I was just about to pack up and go home, figuring after making TWO cry I'd better make myself scarce for a few days and work from home, when a familiar "ping" announced an incoming MOO.

M E M O R A N D U M  O F  O P P O R T U N I T Y !

It appears that there is some confusion about who owns a blue lunchbox in the refrigerator in the employee lounge.  For the past week, someone, other than the rightful owner, has taken and kept spoons and other eating utensils from the Iunch box.  In addition, several lunches have been consumed without permission.  And just yesterday, two bites of a sandwich were taken before the sandwich was returned to its place in the lunchbox. If you thought you had permission to take these utensils and eat these lunches, you were mistaken and should immediately return the stolen utensils, if not the lunches, and cease this behavior at once. Also, a note of apology would also be appreciated by the victim.

As a reminder: if you are found with these stolen items, or caught going into someone else's lunch, without permission, you may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

Missed Episode 5, Ghost, Meet Devil? Read it here. Or read the series from the beginning here.

Copyright © 2016 Larry Benjamin

The characters and events described in this blog post exist only in its pages and the author's imagination.

Feel free to comment on this story, or share your own experiences in Corporate America below. Also, connect with me on Twitter & Facebook


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