Get Stuffed

By: Penny Wylder

1





The door to my new office hits me in the back as it closes too quickly, and I nearly take a dive into the carpet—heels, boxes and all. Of course, when I say ‘office’ I really mean to say ‘small, out-of-the-way converted broom closed where it’s easy for my uncle to hide me from his colleagues.’ I sigh, putting down the small box of personal items I brought from home and the huge box of new work files. It’s a year. Just a year. A year here, and I can move to a different firm. One year and I can leave this city and get out of my uncle’s house. He doesn’t want me there anyway. All I have to do is survive.

A picture of my father goes on the desk, my paralegal certificate goes on the wall. There’s a short filing cabinet in the corner—one that I can’t imagine will hold everything I’ll need in this job—next to the trash can. That’s about all this tiny room can fit besides a desk. I should be grateful to have an office as a paralegal, but the more I think about it the more I realize it’s probably because my uncle wants me out of sight. At least there’s a window.

The door flies open, rattling on its hinges. Speak of the devil, it’s my uncle, Roger Grayson. He’s tall with graying hair and beard, and a glare that could finish melting the polar ice caps. That same glare is searching around the tiny office. “Are you settled in?”

“Yes, thank you,” I say, holding back a sigh. After so many years I should stop expecting the small courtesies and affections that the term ‘family’ usually implies—like asking how I like the office or how my first day has been going so far—but I can’t help wishing things were different.

“Good. There’s a stack of files on my desk. I need copies made for my meeting with the partners at three. Check the schedule for who will be there and make a full set for each.”

“Okay.” I nod, and glance at the clock. It’s two o’clock now. Should be plenty of time.

He turns and leaves without saying anything else. Before I can stop it, a wave of anxiety crashes over me. I try to pep talk myself out of it. You can do this. You can do this. You can do this. That’s going to be my mantra for the rest of the day. Hell, the rest of this year.

I check the schedule and count seven partners attending the meeting. I step into my uncle’s office and get the files—he’s on the phone and doesn’t even notice me—and realize that I may have been wrong about getting this job done in an hour. The pile of paper is huge. Looks like it might be three separate case files. And although I know what I’m doing when it comes to paralegal work, my copy machine game is not strong. Doesn’t matter. I have to do it.

Luckily the copy room is empty, and I can’t help noticing that it actually looks bigger than my office. But what I also notice is that there’s only one copier for this entire floor, and I can already imagine the copying back-ups on days when there are urgent cases. I’m really going to have to stay on top of things if I want to keep this job.

I hum to myself as I get the copier up and running. It’s sweet and soulful, something I worked on during one of my last jobs as a songwriter. I actually sang back-up on that one too. It’s new but reminds me of the classics. Has a Temptations vibe. I can’t wait to buy the song when it’s finally released. Probably about as close to hearing myself on the radio as I’ll ever get. I try to shake myself out of any lingering wistful feelings. Clearly that ship has sailed. Time for the big girl pants.

I’m about halfway through the stack of files when I hear a noise that no copier should ever make. Scratch that, no machine should ever make that sound. It’s a sickening crunch and grind followed by the squeal of gears and the full stop of the copier.

Shit. Shit.

I check the screen and see that the power to the machine is still on, so it’s not completely fried. Paper Jam, the little screen says. No kidding. Must be one hell of a paper jam to make that kind of sound. Having been through many similar technical difficulties in the past, I confidently open the drawer of the copier and feel around in the back, certain I can fix this before it becomes a real issue. I find nothing. None of the usual culprits; no crumpled paper, no shreds caught in the feeder. Nothing in the second paper drawer either.

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