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Office Spouse
by Walt Giersbach

What’s the workplace coming to?!  In a recent survey, 32 percent of workers confessed they have an “office husband” or “office wife.” Does this offer on-the-job damnation — or hope?

I awoke hearing a distant scream. My PC blinked into life as my head moved over the keyboard. In embarrassment, I realized the eerie cry had come from my own mouth. I wiped a dribble of spit from my lips and looked around. 

A pink face popped over the partition and a mouth said, “What the heck’s happening, Stacey?  You shrieked.”

“I must’ve fallen asleep.” I untangled my hair from the stapler. “Bad dream.” The head connected to the mouth belonged to Adam.

“But you screamed,” he said. 

“I dozed off doing this spreadsheet. It’s so hot in here I’m passing out.” I shook my head like a dice cup.

“Wanta go out for a smoke. Talk about it?”

I frowned. “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, who was good-looking and personable, but he was spoken for by a wife.

“I can’t leave you alone. 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 blinked rapidly, my eyelids doing a little Venetian blind thing. Was this why my mother had told me to get a teaching certificate in case corporate life was a bummer? Was this the payback for my two years at business college? Reimbursement for buying overpriced cosmetics and shoes that pinched — life trapped in a cubicle year after year, less two weeks vacation and seven holidays? Much as I liked Adam, I didn’t need to learn I was his property to have and hold 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 told myself. I looked over the partitions at ten 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 had to fight 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. 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 Personnel, he can’t get jail time as a bigamist, there’s no lawyer fees if you break up.” The squint crinkled as a 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 would be 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 Personnel. 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.