This story is brought to you courtesy of my willingness to postpone reading the last 30 pages of Chuck Palahniuk’s Diary while I publish this post. I tell ya, sometimes my willpower amazes me. Enjoy! The challenge is revealed at the end of the story.
Melvin was the type of man who described what he dreamed about as if he had truly experienced it.
“Melvin, did you have a nice vacation?”
“Oh yes, I sure did. I rode through New Mexico on the back of a tiger, and when I got to Albuquerque, a woman with pink eyes and hair made of shoelaces gave me a solid gold Swingline stapler.”
“I thought you went to visit your mom in Fargo?”
Then Melvin would laugh and shove his tuna sandwich in the fridge before parking himself at his desk to check his 350 unread e-mails.
From the day he was hired, this is how Melvin conversed with us. Most of us, after we listened to Melvin share a story about moving into the Great Pyramid with his great-aunt Louise, we chuckled to ourselves as we walked back to our desks. “Oh Melvin,” we’d say with a shake of the head like corny ‘90s sitcom characters.
It wasn’t Karen’s fault, but we blame her because she’s the one who asked. It was the Tuesday morning after Labor Day, and Karen asked, “Melvin, did you have a nice holiday? Do anything fun?”
And Melvin said, “No.”
Those of us who had to walk past Melvin’s desk that Tuesday treaded with caution. Those of us who sent him e-mails included smiley face emoticons.
Joe, in the marketing department, he cheated on his diet that day. “Did you hear about what Melvin said to Karen?” he asked, eating half a maple donut in one bite. “If that’s not a sign the world’s going to end, I don’t know what is.”
On Wednesday, we were sure we’d hear about Melvin’s Tuesday night adventures: hunting zombie penguins in Antarctica, drinking radioactive tea with the President, being abducted by aliens wearing blond wigs and fedoras. But on Wednesday, Melvin was out sick.
Thursday and Friday, Melvin was out sick. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, every day for the next thirty days, Melvin was out sick. Papers piled on his desk. Dust gathered on his computer monitor. Dirk was the first to say: “It’s just not the same without him.”
Without Melvin, work was just filing. Typing. Punching numbers into the phone. Making copies. Checking e-mails.
On the first day of the third month Melvin was out sick, we found Christine seated at his desk. When we asked her what she was doing, she just said, “I can’t take it anymore.” She straightened up Melvin’s papers and wiped the dust from his computer monitor. She threw a foam cup into his trash can. She told us that she couldn’t do her work until it felt like Melvin was back—until it felt like it did when the filing, typing, and copying came sprinkled with adventure.
She wasn’t alone, we promised her.
As we left Christine to remove the caps from Melvin’s pens, she shouted, “Last night I competed in a Play-Doh eating competition, and I won!”
It was our most productive work day in almost two months.
Challenge #32 was: There are no words in the story containing consecutive double letters.