Mollie needed to use a stapler. But the company did not provide staplers to individuals. They made a communal stapler available at the printer station on her floor. Since being reassigned to the Mumbai team, Mollie followed her weekly 10pm conference calls with a report—which had to be stapled in the upper lefthand corner, 45º angle, no more than 3/4” from the edge. She loved seeing that stapler, because it meant she had a whole week before she saw it again.
When she went to the printer station, instead of the stapler she found a small, tented piece of cardstock. Someone had typed on it “Please see the Office Manager to use the stapler. Thank you.”
Mollie had to find that stapler because she’d been written up before for not following protocol. She’d received a chat notification through the company e-mail client that an official write-up had been placed in her HR file, but she’d never seen it. She didn’t even know what being “written up” meant, but she did know it wasn’t going to win her any allies in the C-suite or get her a cubicle by a window. She also knew the Office Manager was rarely in her office, and when she went to find the stapler, as expected, she found only her assistant, Todd. When Mollie asked if she could use the stapler, Todd informed her that she would need to make an appointment.
“To ask the Office Manager if I can use the stapler?”
“No,” Todd replied, “to use the stapler.”
“But I have to use the stapler,” Mollie said.
“You have to make an appointment,” Todd said.
Mollie asked if she could make an appointment right then to use the stapler, but Todd directed her to the meeting request function in the company’s e-mail client so she could match her availability with that of the stapler’s.
“The stapler’s very busy,” Todd said.
Mollie tried to feel grateful that there was even one stapler in the office. Starving children in Africa did not have staplers. She was fortunate. So she returned to her cube and found an opening with the stapler at 2:15 the following afternoon.
The next day she went to the Office Manager’s office a few minutes before her appointment, not wanting to miss her window. The Office Manager was not there, again, and Mollie didn’t see anyone using the stapler or returning to the Office Manager’s office with it. While she waited she thought about the time she’d been given a stapler last December, to help decorate the kitchen for the winter holidays, and how the Senior Vice President of Continuous Improvement had complimented her on the tasteful, non-denominational silver garlands. Mollie had an MBA from Wharton, but every time that V.P. passed her in the hall now, he remarked how much better the place had looked with silver garlands. If she ever updated her resume, Mollie was certain someone would be very impressed by her MBA from Wharton.
At 2:17, Mollie asked Todd if she could use the stapler.
“I’m sorry, the stapler is currently out of staples,” Todd said. “You have to make another appointment.”
Mollie returned to her cube to set up a second appointment with the stapler, but the stapler was booked through the following Tuesday—well after her report was due. She e-mailed the Office Manager to ask whether she could order another stapler through the office supplies supplier. The Office Manager called her back and said that she was not authorized to purchase another stapler, then whispered something about other companies who had outsourced stapling. She concluded in a loud, confident voice that Mollie could speak with her assistant, Todd, for any current stapling needs.
Mollie hung up the phone. She spun around and around in her swivel chair, looking at all the things in her cube she could staple. Piles of memos her director marked up for her to review that night. A single photo of her and Cheryl from accounting at some company event. A report that Scott in internal communications had once submitted with a paperclip and had returned to him with a frowny face drawn in red ink and an arrow pointing to where the paperclip was. Seven years of annual reports. Insurance and 401(k) paperwork. Scattered notes of all the projects she’d do if she had the time. Mollie went back to the Office Manager’s office and sat in the chair across from Todd’s desk.
“Can I wait here to see if the stapler suddenly becomes available?” Mollie asked.
“It’s never happened before,” Todd said, “but there’s always a first time.”
Mollie stared at the closed door of the Office Manager’s office.
“Is the stapler in there?” Mollie asked.
“Things get stapled in there,” Todd said.
“Things?” Mollie laughed. “Or people?”
“Things,” Todd said.
Mollie tried to remember each coil, scratch, and curve of the stapler she used to use, but the image in her head was fuzzy. She imagined that behind the door was a new, huge, construction-yellow stapler covered in grime and spewing smoke, like a piece of heavy-duty machinery with a hydraulic system, hand rails, grated steps, and six-gear selector. Something that required multiple, and sober, operators. A giant stapler. One big enough that a single staple could pin her wrist to the soft felt wall of her cube.
“Does this stapler take up the whole room?” Mollie asked.
“We don’t need a stapler that big,” Todd said.
Mollie got up and went back to her cube which was not by a window. Her job would be better if her cube was by a window, even if that window was the size of a Post-It note. One little square to let daylight in, to give her a glimpse outside.
The cube she did have seemed smaller than the others around it, with a short plate of glass built into the top of one wall, like a fake window. People walking by could look down through it into her cube, but while sitting she couldn’t see anything out of it except the far wall—not without grabbing the sides of her chair, straightening her arms, and lifting herself up. And even if she did that, the only thing she could see was the place where the stapler used to be.
J.D. Sommer‘s work has apppeared in the Chicago Reader and Juked. In 2011, he received an MFA in fiction from Eastern Washington University, where he was the managing editor of Willow Springs. He is a contributor at the arts & culture blog, Bark, and has his own site at www.anothersommer.com. He lives in Chicago.