Office Spouse
By: Walter Giersbach

I woke up hearing a scream. My PC blinked into life as my head moved over the keyboard. Totally embarrassed now, I realized the weird cry had come from my own mouth. I wiped a dribble of spit from my lips and looked around.

Adam's pink face popped over the partition. "What the heck's happening, Stacey? You shrieked."

"I must've fallen asleep." I untangled my hair from the stapler. "Bad dream."

"But you screamed," he said.

"I dozed off doing this spreadsheet. It's so hot in here. So hot I'm passing out." I shook my head like a dice cup.

"Wanta go out for a smoke? Talk about it?"

"Please leave me alone." His face was conciliatory. Adam was the peace-maker, Mr. Agreeable, the guy who rationalized management's idiotic decisions and made sure everyone contributed equally to the coffee fund. I really liked Adam. He's good-looking and personable, but he's spoken for by a wife.

"I can't leave you alone," he said. "I worry about you. You're my office spouse."

"Whaaaat?" Adam's possessiveness turned my face red. I wanted to whack him, but that would get me fired. The company let you dress casual, bring your child to work and take mental health days off, but punching a co-worker was a no-no that got a full paragraph in the employee handbook.

"You heard me, Stacey. We have lunch together every day. We go outside for cigarettes at 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock. You and me buy the bagels on alternate days." He snorted. "That makes us as married as cubicle rats are ever gonna be, so don't throw a hissy-fit."

I realized I was blinking rapidly, my eyelids doing a little Venetian blind thing. Was this why Mom had told me to get a teaching certificate, just in case corporate life was a bummer? Was this the payback for my years getting a business degree? Reimbursement for buying overpriced cosmetics and shoes that pinch – life trapped in a cubicle year after year, less two weeks vacation and seven holidays? I really liked Adam, but I didn't need to hear I was his property till retirement.

"I don't like your insinuations, Adam. You don't own me."

"Hey, I know that and you know that, but do you think the boss cares? We're just Social Security numbers."

"Go back to work!" I ordered.

The sum of my life was a rented room, car payments, a 401(k) melting while I fanned it with payroll deposits, and dead-end meetings at the Ramada Inn singles club every month.

"Gotta shake this spring fever," I whispered. I looked over the partitions at five ranks of cubicles in four columns that stretched to the big clock on the far wall. The office was as hot as an oven. I was fighting to keep awake. Coffee would inject life back into my body.

Lenore sidled up to me at the coffee maker. The heavyset woman plunked down her mug and glared. "I heard you and Adam. Get real, Stacey. You and him are office spouses. Not like his real wife, who I heard is planning to divorce him."

"Look, Lenore, I don't interrupt you going on about what your Mom's making for dinner. Why are you bothering me?"

"Face reality, honey. You and Adam are work mates. You lunch together, go out to smoke together, share pastry, bitch about the idiots in Finance. Can't get any more married than that."

I stood so rigidly that my back ached.

"You want to know the good news?" Lenore squinted. "You can't get in trouble with Human Resources and he can't get jail time as a bigamist. Best of all, there's no lawyer fees if you break up." The squint crinkled as a slow smile crawled over Lenore's face. "And you won't get pregnant if you keep your wits at the Christmas party."

Lenore was describing my nightmare. Modern love was being an office spouse. Eternity stretched ahead. I was damned to suffer endlessly as a cubicle concubine. I dropped my coffee mug, put my hands over my eyes and screamed again – this time defiantly.

"No!" My screech came out louder than intended. Heads popped up over the cubicles like whack-a-moles at the carnival.

"I'm not going to take it anymore! I'm going to Human Resources. I'll demand a get-out-of-hell exit visa." The moles stared silently. "If I don't get transferred out, I'll…I'll join the Peace Corps and see the world, or the Navy where there are ten men to every woman. Who's with me? Anyone else sick to death of being a cell mate?"

On the other side of the room, Adam gave a power salute. He mouthed one word: Me.

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