Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Surprisingly Felt

Having espied it a hundred times that morning, Amelia didn’t need to look at the clock on the wall in front of her desk again. She did it again out of spite though. It was almost noon and Morris still hadn’t arrived at work. Amelia wasn’t angry, livid, furious, or mad; she was holding back those emotions for when Morris could witness each of them in person.

They had worked together as account managers at Voguish for several years, repping local businesses for the small Rapid City marketing company and coordinating with South Dakotan vendors for quick and dirty advertising, mainly online. However Amelia couldn’t help but notice that Morris had been showing less and less interest in his job since Stanley got promoted to Senior Manager, a position warranting capitalization only by the most strident of corporate mentation.

It was to Stanley that Amelia had been reporting on Morris’s whereabouts all morning, and to Stanley that she had just about run out of fake reasons for why Morris wasn't at his desk.

“Oh, is he gone again? I hadn’t noticed.” Amelia said, pretending to file something in an overstuffed cabinet. She stood up and gazed over the partition that separated her work space from Morris's, pretending to be surprised that he was not at his desk.

“Looks like,” Stanley said. He measured his wristwatch’s time against the clock on the wall in an open act of pointed criticism.

"I think he had to run out again to...get something printed?" Stanley turned to Amelia and her eyes went wide. If he were a card player, Stanley would have simply pushed in all of his chips and called her bluff. Instead, he calmly asked her, "And are we having printer issues today?"

Amelia’s eyes stayed saucer-shaped. "We may very well might…be."

Stanley rubbed his temple, made a high-pitched ah-huh noise, and walked back to his office. Hurriedly, Amelia called Morris's cellphone for a second time, matching the two texts she'd already sent him.

The call went to voicemail and "The Rainbow Connection" began playing. It sounded as though Morris had recorded the song by holding his phone up to a TV speaker. It annoyed her to no end. Morris had replaced his usual outgoing message with the mournful ballad from The Muppet Movie about a month prior, and Amelia was determined to get him to change it back. True, she had a well-documented aversion to all things Muppet. But that aside, she reasoned that a client could try to reach him after work hours and undoubtedly perceive the tune childlike or, much worse, something a college student would use.

Yet even in the throes of protestation, the tune's introspective vibe caused Amelia to think back to before Stanley was promoted to management, back to when she, Morris, and Stanley were all close friends – well, “close” for office friendships anyway. In those days, they often gathered on the fifth floor alcove to eat lunch together and, every other Friday or so, they’d just the three of them go out for drinks at Hotchsky’s. But Fun Stanley had been set out to sea by a wave of corporate promise, eventually catching Reliable Morris in its riptide. If a promotion had turned Stanley into King Schmuck of Wristwatch Valley, professional jealousy had turned Morris into Prince Whatever of Blasé Mountain. He had been habitually tardy for weeks upon weeks, and today's disappearance was likely a sign of worse things to come.

A beep finally ended the song about the sweet sound that calls the young sailors. Amelia took a deep breath and found her inside voice, a measured terseness. "Hey, you really need to call or text me if you're gonna be this late. Stanley's looking for you and I'm fresh out of possible errands you could be running. And, you do realize, I can't do your work and mine too, okay?"

She ended the call and started on an email to one of her clients, Aberdeen Underground, which she'd been putting off all morning in favor of keeping Morris's hounds at bay. No sooner than she began typing she heard Morris's chair creak in the cubicle next to hers. Amelia hadn’t heard him enter the office, but his door was closest to the elevator so he didn’t have to walk by other Voguish employees to get to his desk. She wondered if maybe moving him to a place where he’d have to walk the Gauntlet every day would straighten him out before deciding that it would, at best, serve as nothing more than a temporary fix.

"I just left you a voicemail,” she called over the partition. “You need to get your act together and be here on time, dude. I'm not your big sister."

He didn't respond. She heard some typing coming from his side of the wall and hoped that he was addressing a billing inconsistency that had been flagged around ten that morning. She had no idea what had caused it, and was glad that he was here to take care of it now…if that’s what he was doing. She had no way of telling.

"Oh, and if I ever need to leave early, guess who’ll be handling each and every one of my clients’ requests? His name is Morris and he’s kind of a jerk."

Still no response. Amelia huffed (cringing to hear herself actually huff like a cartoon character), then turned her attention back to the Aberdeen Underground email she couldn't seem to start on. She thought it was just because she was too busy to concentrate, but she was starting to see that it was something bigger. Her thoughts were stuck on a loop about what a self-centered jerk Morris had become, and how it was affecting her entire outlook on her job. She used to like coming into work, but his apathy mocked her dedication. She didn't like how his attitude affected hers. It put her in a mood that made the room feel stuffy to the point where it was hard to breathe.

That’s when she heard “The Rainbow Connection” coming from Morris’s cubicle. Before she could stand up to shout at Morris that she wasn’t in the mood for games, Stanley's office door swung open and he darted toward Amelia's desk. "Is he in yet?" Stanley lobbed the question in her direction, though he didn't stop for an answer. He then spoke in a voice that sounded like he was talking to a house pet.

"Aww...where's Morris? Where's my good boy?" Stanley strode passed Amelia's desk to stand directly in front of Morris's. There was a short gasp and the pet owner voice was gone. It was replaced by a funhouse mirror version of Stanley’s normal voice. "Okay...what am I looking at here, Morris?"

"I'm Morris the Person, here and ready to get the job done!" Amelia suddenly felt as though she were the one in the funhouse. She still couldn't see him, but the voice was Morris's, that much was unmistakable. However, it was more animated and silly-sounding, like he was reading Green Eggs and Ham to an elementary class.

Stanley then backed away from Morris's cubicle, returning to Amelia's field of vision. His face was a maze of confusion and terror.

Rather than standing up to peer over the partition, Amelia decided that whatever was going on deserved the quick Band-aid removal method. She got up and walked out of her cubicle, quickly circling around to stand in front of Morris. That's when she saw the new thing that Morris had turned himself into.

It was quite surprising. Morris had covered his head and arms in a bright blue material, the type of slightly furry cloth used to make puppets. It clung as close to him as skin. Fluffy yellow hair spiked outward from the top of his head. He had also affixed ping pong balls over his eyes, had placed in them small holes allowing for a what had to be limited visibility. The new eyes had blue eyelids which were positioned in such a way as to give him a relaxed, somewhat lazy appearance. Altogether, the work was very professional-grade. Morris had somehow skillfully turned himself into a big puppet, albeit one in normal street clothes.

"Hiya, Amelia!" it said to her. The song was still playing; the lonely, dreaming frog wrestled with ever-approaching destiny. Morris's fascination with it may have been a clue of things to come, though who could predict a puppet man showing up to work one day?

"Hello, Morris the Person," Amelia heard herself say. "Is this...is this like, for a birthday party thing or something?"

"Nope! This is me now. Till the end of time!" Morris the Person's mouth opened slightly, looking amazingly like a genuine smile to the bewildered woman it was directed toward. His big puppet head swayed side-to-side in soft euphoria as the song played. Somewhere behind her, Stanley's office door slammed. Amelia tried to say something, anything that might reach deep into the puppet thing to find Morris, but then her desk phone rang and, after a brief weigh-in of her options, she decided that answering the call would be the best thing to do in that moment.

It was Dasha from Aberdeen Underground, calling to find out if Amelia had sent a delivery through the night before. She hadn't, and there was a looming deadline. Amelia asked Dasha to hold one minute and then just sat at her desk, doing nothing but staring at the blinking light of the held phone call. She listened as "The Rainbow Connection" ended and then immediately started playing again.

Other coworkers started gathering near Morris's desk, some to pay him compliments on his craftsmanship, others to snidely mock him. Morris spoke to them all in the whimsical voice he had chosen for his new persona, never breaking character in the face of snark or logistical questions about life as a puppet. Soon after, a security guard came up to their floor and asked Morris the Person if he - if everything in fact - was alright. Once the guard was satisfied that the costume wasn't meant for dangerous motivations, he went to calm down Stanley.

Amelia listened to this all as she watched the blinking hold light eventually extinguish, followed by Dasha trying to call again. Amelia didn't pick up. She could fix the delivery mistake, but she wasn't in the mood for worrying about it now. It sounded like many of the coworkers had dispersed from Morris's desk, so she went back over to see him again. "The Rainbow Connection" was still playing, though it was either now at a lower volume, or Amelia was less bothered by it.

"Hiya, Amelia!" Morris the Person said in the same tone as before.

"Listen, Morris the Person," she said. "I want you to know this: I can work with a puppet. That's fine. But I'm not going to be friends with one. It's nothing personal, but I don't want to be the girl hanging out with the big puppet man at Hotchsky's or the taco place on Second Street."

"It sounds like you could use a lesson in tolerance!"

"No, I don't need that. I'm not talking about hanging out with someone in a wheelchair or a man that decides to live his life as a woman." She pointed at him. "I'm talking about you. You're dressed like a clown and acting like a child."

"An open mind is a window to friendship!"

"Probably is, but I don't want to be friends with Big Bird's news reporter. If you can't do this job as a real person, that's fine. Be Morris the Person all you want. But you better be here on time and ready to work when you do it."

"I'm here and ready to get the job done!" he replied. He made a I'm-on-it arm gesture to signal his resolve and Amelia noticed that Morris only had four fingers on each hand. She hoped his method for achieving the effect wasn't surgical.

"Well then, Morris the Person. Welcome to Voguish. I look forward to working with you." With that she left him and went back to her desk.

By the time Amelia left the office that night, she didn't even notice that "The Rainbow Connection" had been playing on a loop the entire rest of the day.

A week later, Amelia did end up going to Hotchsky's with Morris the Person. She had been busy as hell the previous few days and figured going to a bar with a giant puppet would at least make for a good story after she quit working at Voguish, any day now she figured. But you know what? The puppet thing turned out to be a fun time (and a surprisingly effective wing man). The following week, Stanley and a few other coworkers joined them and had a great time too. By the end of the following year, Morris the Person had been named CEO of Voguish and Amelia couldn't tell you what they'd all do without him.

Time is funny that way, just like television often tells us it is.

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