Ruthie Joins the Team
Ruth completes her daily case quota in just over an hour, and whiles away the remainder of her shift sprawled on her belly on the floor, feet swaying in the air. A book is spread beneath her nose and colleagues peeking into her cubicle are confronted by her foreshortened figure: shoes hooked over airborne toes, knees connected to bum, spine telescoping along the ground, sprawled dark hair, dipped shoulders skipping neck to pass directly into head.
The other employees have reprimanded her, the Harvard-bound temp clerk, for suspicious efficiency and for closing too many cases. Her work ethic and attention to detail cloud the achievements of permanent workers, who have grown adept at dragging single cases through the bog of months, padding billable hours with trips to “Central Record Keeping”, meaning the coffee stand in the south building.
She thumbs ahead in her book and picks her nails. Her fingertips are dry from fanning through files. Her eyes prickle from the stagnant air and from lying so close to the carpet, which smells like a low-end thrift store. The matted shag bristles with staples and Ruth wonders what passes for housekeeping around here, whether it is someone’s after-hours project to knit each discarded fastener deeper into the rug. She wonders if it’s the cleaning lady’s paid occupation to get down on hands and knees and pick each staple loose.
When she accepted this contract, her predecessor was on-hand for three days of training, which meant orientation and introductions and doubled as the woman’s farewell tour. “Mary, Helen, this is Ruth, she’ll be joining us for a few weeks while we adjust to one less body around here.” We. As if the woman wasn’t the fewer body. As if she would be here to groan beneath the workload of a shrunken staff-count.
While the rest of the team took their departing member to lunch, Ruth pitched in, scavenging an empty cardboard carton from the photocopy station and packing the woman’s ailing plants. Task completed, she grew anxious that this helpful gesture would be construed as rude. She wrung her hands and waffled between using the gritty soil rings as a map to restore the pots to their original position, or cheering up the box with a scrawled smiley face and “Congratulations on your transfer!”
Finally, she left the plants in the box and slipped out before the others returned, excusing herself with a note reporting a sudden, urgent stomach situation and the wisdom of heading home prior to its inevitable escalation.