A Fiction Story. An Allegory.
“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.”
Galatians 3:16-17 (NIV)
Mr. Fulmer found Vanessa through a temping agency and puffed his chest at the notion. Giving work to those that need it, he thought and felt as if he had earned several weeks’ time without doing another good deed. She arrived eagerly, early, and way over-dressed – I mean, she was wearing pantyhose for Christ’s sake, and let’s be honest, Fulmer’s business was just a shopping mall law firm. He admired her tenacity and energy. She wanted to work. She wanted to do a good job.
He had written the list on the back of an affidavit – the bathrooms are gross – the copy machine keeps jamming – I hear a humming noise in the bathroom but only when I pee, like I stop peeing and it goes away, so I think someone is messing with me – we haven’t had sodas for a month – the lock on the front door only locks when you lift up the handle, and we need to be taken seriously, so it should just lock regularly.
Mr. Fulmer showed her to her desk, a basic metal contraption with a return that held all her filing cabinets. He motioned her to her seat, and so she coyly slid down in the creaking bentwood. He poised himself on the edge of the desk.
We have a way of doing things here. Coffee at 8, refilled every hour, even if no one drinks it. If you can’t find anything to do then just clean, clean, clean. When picking up the phone – you make a little conversation, make them feel welcome. Really dig into the pleasantries. And then when you’re off the phone, take a look around, and just clean, clean, clean. Lights out at 6 no exceptions, no late cases. If the phone rings at 5 til 6, well fuck them, cause nothing has ever been accomplished in 5 minutes. You got it?
Vanessa nodded. She stuck to his methodology for quite some time.
Mr. Fulmer was right about the office – she wouldn’t have been surprised to find a family of weasels underneath the piles – piles of files on top of old spoons on top of Christmas decorations. In any down moment, she cleaned. Cleaned, cleaned, cleaned. And within a mere day and a half, things looked normal. Not great, but certainly moving in the right direction.
But some issues became immediately apparent. Like, the coffee maker. Hours would go by without anyone taking a sip. The “refill every hour” rule made no sense – it was an obvious waste. So Vanessa surreptiously changed the schedule to every other hour without telling anyone.
Oh, and the phone calls. Politeness was important, of course, but she had managed in a few short days to get berated by incoming callers about her colloquial nature. Like once, the phone rang while Vanessa was eating lunch. She placed down her cilantro-gouda sandwich and answered:
Why hello there, this is Fulmer and Associates. How may I help you?
Yes, I need to speak to Mr. Fulmer right away.
That will be no problem. What is this concerning?
A sports injury.
Oh, what sport?
My son places little league! He’s a third baseman working his way up to first. How did the accident occur?
He was on first base, and then –
Ohh…. Lucky son of yours, my son has just been dying to get to first. I would love to hear how you managed that –
You know, I don’t really have time for that. My son’s Achilles tendon has snapped and shot up his leg creating a bulge that looks like Mount Vesuvius ready to explode, so maybe you could just put me through to MR. FULMER PLEASE THANK YOU.
Yes, lots of that.
Mr. Fulmer caught on quick to the changes and pulled Vanessa into his office for a little chat. The mood was downright bleak. He knew he needed to break the tension, so he went in on this story about an expedition he had done while younger – lost in the Adirondacks for days, search crews made some sweeps, he ate fauna and a killed a lame squirrel. He laughed and said it all turned out “alright,” and now it was just such a crazy, funny story. He sighed, smiling still, looking away… and then he turned, dropping his smile and said, Listen.
He had noticed the less frequent coffee.
She explained her reasoning and the waste.
He nodded and understood, but said we need to go back to the old way.
She said it was a waste.
He said that waste wasn’t the issue. It was about consistency. What worked before will continue to work.
She fell silent.
He patted her on the leg, to signal her to leave, but she stood up and said:
I think there’s an issue with the way we pick up calls.
What could that possibly be? His patience waned.
It seems like most people want you to just… answer the phone. They don’t want any small talk.
Small talk makes them feel welcomed.
I think it makes others feel disrespected, especially when something urgent is happening.
You seem to want to shake up just about everything.
Only the things that could use a change.
Mr. Fulmer paused for a moment and turned towards the window. He hated insubordination, and much less liked some newcomer telling him how to run his business, but something about her proposal made sense. Maybe it was the fact that Mrs. Fulmer no longer wanted to sleep with him, or that the doctor had noticed his pancreas looked “questionable.” Maybe he was just bored.
Alright, he said, go ahead and do what you like.
And the matter was settled.
Vanessa used every drop of coffee from then on, only swapping it out when empty or skunked. Her conversations with the clients were short and to the point – everything was given and gotten at an efficient warp speed. She even began turning the lights on at 8:30. No one except her ever arrived until then, so it saved electricity, and she didn’t mind the darkness. Actually, she quite liked it – the soothing, quiet moments before every else arrived. She cherished those minutes.
A few months later, Mrs. Caldwell entered the door to the sound of the cling-clangy bell that hung above it. She hobbled over, and Vanessa, sensing her trouble, leapt up to offer her a hand. It appeared that she had Cerebral Palsy of some sort, or maybe a stroke. Whatever, Vanessa ticked a box in her head that said, “Special care needed.” Mrs. Caldwell needed an appointment with Mr. Fulmer immediately.
And what is this concerning, Vanessa asked.
Closing my business with your company, the old woman said (Vanessa had already forgotten her name).
Yeah, that old lady did it all right. She stumbled her way into Mr. Fulmer’s office and fired him ‘round the corner. He asked what the problem was. And she said that things had changed a little too much around here. The receptionist was cold on the phone. There was never enough fresh coffee. She was done.
And while Mr. Fulmer tried to get her to stay, she just bumbled her way to the exit, out the door, and into her Uber.
You take Uber, Vanessa asked.
Oh yes, it’s just so convenient.
Mr. Fulmer yelled for the first time; he needed Vanessa in his office “A.S.A.Now.”
Everything needed to go back to the way it was, immediately. They were losing valuable costumers.
Vanessa took the criticism and apologized, and then asked if she could be blunt.
Mr. Fulmer waved his hands – it could have meant yes or no, really.
She went on talking anyway. Yes, they lost 1 customer, but gained 8 new cases in the past week. In fact, their growth has been exponential since the changes. 1 new case the first week. 5 the second, and now 8 this week.
Mr. Fulmer huffed. He didn’t care, because… that old woman (no one knew her name, apparently) was a very important client. She had been with them for decades. She mattered more than the rest.
Vanessa had nothing to say. She just made little huffy noises.
He asked if she wanted this job.
She mumbled that she needed it.
He commanded her then to put everything back the way it was.
She agreed to it.
And off she went back to her desk, head held surprisingly high after receiving such a demoralizing defeat. She logged into her computer, brought up Google, and searched, “post-grad requirements of Law School.”
But before she could hit “send,” the phone rang. She picked it up.
Why hello there, this is Fulmer and Associates. I would love to hear everything about your day.