by Ned Lips
My eyes hang heavy as I push open the doors and trudge into the first floor of the century-old David E Jones and Sons Financial Services building, now ironically run by his great, great granddaughter or something like that. Yesterday was all introductions and training. Today’s my first real day, so I stand up as straight as possible, show my badge to the man in the blue uniform, and stare down the long red and blue carpeted hallway that stretches out before me, but all my mind can think of is Coffee! Need coffee!
I check my iPhone. Fifteen minutes early. The break room, I remember, is ahead somewhere. As I walk down the long grey-walled coridor, I glace at the pictures of the many men who’ve been Managing Partners here, starting with David E. Jones himself. Just before the breakroom is the photo of the current leader, Sandra Jones Carmichael, the only woman on the wall. I stop and stare at the portrait for a moment. My new boss is every bit as stern as any of the men, and honestly, it is a bit difficult for me to tell that she is, in fact, a woman at all.
I shrug, walk the last few steps and turn the handle beneath the sign, notifying me that this is in fact the break room. As I push the door, it opens into a basic, square and very sterile room with four Formica tables set neatly in two columns. Tucked beneath them are 24 red, plastic chairs with sturdy and shiny metal legs, three on each side of each table. It was almost as if no one used this room. To my left is the swinging door that leads me into the little kitchen.
It’s empty. No one gets coffee here before work? I thought. I turn left to the machine, tall, button-filled and daunting. How to use it was not part of yesterday’s training. “Let’s see. I can do this.” It seemed to be staring at me, mocking me. I took a deep breath, “Coffee.” I press the button. Beep. “Ummm, specialty.” Beep. “Let’s try mocha.” Beep. “Hmmm. Large cup.” Beep. “Definitely strong.” Beep, beep. “OK. Coffee!”
“Good morning.” It was the pretty, brown-haired woman with the dark-rimmed glasses I’d met briefly yesterday, but I couldn’t remember where or when as they’d rushed me through.
She’s new too, right? I thought. “Um, hello. I’m fine, thank you.” Did she ask me how I am? I recover. “Um, so how’re you this fine rainy morning?”
Beep, beep, blares the microwave as she pushes buttons. Radiant smile. “I’m fine. Love the rain, don’t you?”
She’s looking at me with those beautiful eyes and I’m staring, mesmerized like a total geek. I hate rainy days, but she’s so cute. Nice jeans, a soft light green sweater, business heals. Soft brown hair curling around her angelic face. So, today, “I love rain.” I say. “Um, great for the plants.”
Gurgle, gurgle. I turn. Coffee’s running out of my cup, pouring onto the floor. “Oh f—, I mean, rats.”
She giggles. “I’ll get towels.” She says. As she turns toward the sink, I can’t help but admire her. Pop, pop, pop, then smoke. From the microwave.
“Your breakfast.” I don’t know her name! “It’s burning.” I rush the few feet behind her, we touch. I pull open the microwave door and billows of smoke pour out into my face. Behind me, the coffee keeps coming.
She turns, eyes wide, and presses buttons. “The microwave’s still cooking.”
I slam the microwave door, BANG. It doesn’t help. More smoke.
The coffee maker beeps. The microwave beeps twice. Ice and chilled water stream out of the refrigerator. The tile floor is becoming a mocha mess.
Another bang. The swinging door to the room has closed. She runs to it. “It’s locked.”
“How is it locked?” I asked.
She pushes and screams, “Help!” No answer.
The toaster begins to pop up and down, first in its place and then hopping across the counter, toward us, glowing red inside.
“What is going on?” Her voice is panicked as she sloshes back toward me through the rising mush on the tile floor. “That’s going to electrocute us.”
“I’ll get it.” I move toward it from the microwave as she turns and tries in vain to stem the tide at the coffee machine, still pouring out scalding liquid onto the tile floor. As the toaster hops at the counter’s edge, I grab it. “Ouch!” I burn my hand but manage to push it back. Still hopping, coming at us, glowing red inside.
Beep, beep, says the coffee maker. Beep, beep, beep, replies the microwave, then beep goes the fridge. Beep, answers the blender, which spins its blade, vibrating faster and faster on the counter. Beep, says the refrigerator, more ice and water pour onto the floor.
Her voice is frenzied. “Where are they plugged in?”
“Damn,” I realize. “They’re hardwired into a central system so you can order your coffee from anywhere and it’ll be ready when you get here.” It was nearly a quote from my training when I asked about coffee. I grab the blender, but the glass pitcher breaks in my hands, shards cut me, the blades turn on me. “I can’t get it.”
The machines are all beeping, in different tones and unique patterns. The dishwasher turns on with a beep, and its door falls open. Hot mist fills the room. The tea maker spews hot water, the cappuccino machine grinds beans from the nearly endless supply in the bin behind the wall, spitting the powder into the air. Black smoke, coffee dust, hot mist, clinging to our skin, invading our noses, eyes and ears. It’s difficult to breathe.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” the woman screams, but as she turns toward the closed door, the refrigerator and freezer doors fly open. Frigid air races across the floor. The mixed liquids turn to brown, slimy slush. I grab the island for balance. She slips. I grab her arm, guide her up and pull her to me. The slush is freezing solid. Our shoes are embedded. The mist in the air, and on our now-soaked skin and clothes, frosts up.
Water streaming, freezing, thickening. “We’re trapped.” She screams. The tears on her cheeks glisten hard as she gazes at me with pleading eyes. She’s shaking.
“We are NOT dying at the hands, or wires, of these damn machines!” I’m feeling powerful in front of the damsel in my arms, though I have no idea what I’m going to do.
CRASH, rattle, rattle. “OHHHH!” She points. The blender has fallen off the counter onto the icy surface, blade whirring at top speed, ragged glass sliding toward us. The toaster is hopping to the edge, threatening to follow the blender, sending deadly electricity into the liquid around our feet.
Ice at our ankles, freezing. More coffee and water. I lift her out of her shoes, the ice crackles beneath her, and the water freezes in the holes her feet have just left. She’s crying.
Now what? I yanked at my own shoes. “Owww. Darn it. I’m frozen in.” I set her down on the island, well above the ice. I grab and yank my right foot up. Crackle, crunch, pop. Cold and bleeding, but free of my shoe and sock, both frozen to the ground. “I can’t put it down. It’ll freeze to the ice.” I lift my right buttock onto the island. She grabs me around my chest.
“OK, on three.” She says, “1, 2, 3.” She pulls. I yank. “Dannnnggg it.” Crack. “Ouch, that’s my foot.”
“Pull,” she whispers. Blender blades and jagged glass closing in. Inches away. “You have to.” The toaster, hopping at the edge, teetering, threatening to fall, to electrocute me. With the woman holding my chest, I yank my foot hard. Crack, my ankle dislocates but moves. “Pull.” The toaster is going over. The blender is inches, blade spinning, broken glass. Again, crackle, crinkle, and then pop. I’m free, just as the blades clip my toes and the toaster crashes into the liquid and ice. “Owwwwww!!!” I scream as I fall back onto the island, bleeding from my hand, ankle and toes. My feet are blue, bruising quickly, pain ripping like shards of glass up my spine. Smoke is surrounding us. Its hard to see or breathe. She’s coughing. Frozen mist clings to our clothing. The woman’s lips are turning blue.
“Shane,” I scream out loud at myself, “pull it together!”
“The window.” Her small, shivering voice says.
“Yes! It’s summer”. She hands me a frozen apple from the spilled pile of fruit. I turn and whip it at the window and the glass shatters.
The door to the kitchen opens. All we can do it stare.
It’s the Managing Partner, Sandra Jones Carmichael, and she is mad. No more coffee. The refrigerator slams its doors. The dishwasher closes, the toaster cools and the blender stops spinning. The ice defrosts as quickly as it had frozen, liquid pouring out of the kitchen into the sitting area around Ms. Carmichael’s large shoes.
“Get off my island! Why do you new people keep doing this? Enough with the making out in my kitchen. I don’t know what sort of kinky stuff you were up to, but you will clean this mess up, and right now!”
“Don’t close the door!” We slide off the island, holding each other, limping as fast as possible, sloshing through the kitchen, shoeless, bleeding, hearts pounding, out and down the hall. Freedom.
We haven’t been within ten feet of that place since, mostly because we were both fired. I found out her name is Rachel, our injuries were minor, we’ve both found new jobs with safer break rooms, and we’ve been a couple now for several months. So, I guess it wasn’t all that bad.