My Novel Chapter 1


So I have finally found a critique group that will start this month.  There are 4 of us, one is my friend Josh and the 2 other girls I don’t know but have emailed back and forth.  The other girls seem further along in their books than I am but are open to helping out a little beginner like me.

I thought it might be kind of fun to post the chapters as I work on them as kind a serial like in the days of Dickens.  It is by no means a finished product so please let me know what you might like to hear more of from  a character or a section that drags.  We’ll see how this works and if you’all like reading the story than I will keep putting sections out there.  It will give me motivation to keep working on it.  I might just send those interested future chapters as to not have it all online.  We will see.

If you hate it, please ignore.  I can handle critique but not hate.  Like I said, its not finished.

This is a long post so just read whatever amount you want.  Enjoy!

Here is the pitch (summary) for my book:

Long ago she had dreams of making a difference, and yet without knowing exactly why, she had wound up spending her days entering invoices and balancing accounts.  To further complicate her life, Rachel must also absorb the near-constant disdain from her boss, and the arrival of a cute, but seemingly too perfect coworker who to her shock is drawn to Rachel despite her weight and thwarted career ambitions. With previous dreams falling to the wayside, can Rachel take a leap of faith and embrace the future that God has in store for her? The answer leads the reader through faith, anxiety, happiness, frustration and even a moment of panic but in the end we see that change and joy are possible if we listen and leap.

Cubicle Hell by Rachel Wagner (I divided it up to make it easier to read).

Chapter 1

I’ve seen this ledge many times before.  It is the top of my office building, and a place I often come up to so I can take a break and breathe.  Today the air is cold and wet, and I know it will make me sick but I don’t care.  A sick day doesn’t sound so bad.  Looking at the ledge I touch the cold concrete and am hit by a pang jealousy over its carefree existence.

“Jealous of concrete?” I say to myself “What is wrong with me?”

For the first time I climb on to the wide block ledge not because I want to jump but it seems free up there and I feel in control, which never happens.  As I’m pondering the freedom, a gust of wind sweeps through me and I feel a jolt of fear and exhilaration.   My hair flies all over the place, and I extend both my arms out like I’m superman.  “Ahhh!.”  I scream from the top of my lungs as if challenging the wind to take me with it.

Whoosh!  Another gust comes unexpectantly and I am rocked back onto my heels.  With nothing to grab onto I slip, hands flailing, knees locked.  For a second I am reminded of the scene in super hero movies when the hero falls and grabs ahold of the wall with one arm and pulls himself up.  Unfortunately I also know a pull up is about as likely for me to complete as winning the lottery, so instead I close my eyes and feel the air.  It is light, yet heavy, just as I would wish to be.

Next I stretch my arms out reaching for the clouds figuring that the ground is coming sooner rather than later.  Then it occurs to me that I’m not actually falling.  The air feels like a board I could walk on, clear but solid.   I’m like an anxious toddler just learning to walk but gaining confidence with each step.  I slowly push higher into the clear crisp air.  Then another burst and I am above the building.  How could this be?  At the moment I don’t care, I’m just glad to not be a heap on the ground below so I push again.  Wow!  Higher I go until my momentum is interrupted by a cloud.  It is thick and gooey like an underdone pancake.  I almost want to eat it but instead I push more.

So this is what everyone was always talking about with endorphins?  This is great!  My body feels powerful and yet light as a down pillow.  I let out a  long sigh as if to rid my heart from all its burdens and then smile, air pelting my face from all angles. As I fly, I’m getting the most glorious facial of my life.  I smile and keep climbing.

I look down at the small figures of people on the ground.  They look like ants scurrying to their anthill.  “Suckers” I scoff  to myself “moving around with their legs when they could be flying like me.”  I feel special and powerful, and I haven’t felt that way for a long time.   It never occurs to me that I am the only one who has figured out how to do it.  In fact, I’m glad they’ve never learned because I’m tired of feeling cluttered and crowded and for once I am free.  Completely free- like swimming in air.

A loud ‘ka ka ka’ interrupts my reverie and I see a large crow on top of a neighboring cloud.  Normally I would be afraid of such an animal but after flying, my spirits are fortified for anything.

‘ka, ka, ka’ it cries and winks at me with its midnight eyes.  It is about 2 feet tall with large wings and a bright orange beak.  Quite magnificent actually!  Waving its wing towards me, it seems to say, “follow me”, so I head in his direction.

Building distance from the ground with each thrust of air,  I see more crows until I am surrounded by them. Each ‘ka,ka,ka’ gets louder and more deafening like a trumpeter blaring.   Still, I press onward until a set of lumpy clouds surrounds me that are dark with thousands of crows.  Everywhere I look is black and orange.  Suddenly the air grows quiet and I feel a rush of nerves up my back, but what can I do?

“Maybe they will be nice and friendly” I innocently wish to myself.

“Ouch” a beak pricks my foot.  Then I feel another and one more.  Next a large king crow lands on my arm and another on my neck, back and leg.  They grow heavy and I begin to sink.

“ka, ka, ka” is blasting through my brain as the ground gets closer and I realize I can’t fly anymore.

“What do I do?  Am I going to die?”  My mind whirls around?  “Why did I ever try to fly?  Why did I ever try to do something different?  It could never work!”

“ka, ka ,ka”.  With a jolt my eyes pop open.  I can hear the crows nesting outside my window ‘ka,ka,ka’ing away.  They have woken me up early again.

“Stupid birds” I yell at them as I throw a pillow at the window.

They are even infiltrating my lovely dreams.  Sigh…It seems that everyone else loves birds but me.  I think they are stupid, loud and dirty.  Especially these crows.  They wake me up year-round, mess on my car and swoop down terrifying me as I get to my car.

I’ve had this dream many times before but this was the first time flying came into the picture.  Usually its skating, running, biking, a hot air balloon, something with a rush of enthusiasm and excitement but it always ends with disappointment.  Dreams are such odd things but I can’t help but think back with a smile to my old psychology classes and wonder- “what would Freud think?”

Wearily I look at my alarm clock and to my chagrin I see 5:45 blaring back at me- another reason to be mad at those dumb birds. They just stole another 30 minutes out of my sleep schedule.  Geesh.

Knowing I will never be able to get back to sleep I push myself out of bed onto my knees.

The start of another day.

“Heavenly Father, Please help me to be kind to others.  To work hard.  To be a nice person.”

What else do I have to pray about? My mind begins to wander…

“Thank you for my job and please help me to have a better attitude.  Please help me to love those I work with, especially you know who (somehow telling God you hate someone just doesn’t feel right. I know He knows but I can’t spit out the words)

Most importantly help me get through the day and find something to be happy about.  Bless my family and friends and keep them safe“

I am sure God had a lot to keep him busy today.  Wars going on.  Families falling apart. Gangs shooting each other, but maybe he’d have time to make my life not so miserable.

“Oh, thanks again for everything else.  Name of Jesus Christ Amen.”

“Amen” I whisper again to confirm the prayer as I get up off my knees.

I’ve often had a problem with daydreaming in prayers but I figure as long as I am on my knees God hears the intent of my heart.  In fact, maybe the ramblings are the real prayers…?

As I continue to try and wake up a thought comes to the forefront of my mind:

“Make a change, make a change, make a change” is repeated over again in my head and I know what change it is talking about.  It’s my job.  The job I desperately wish I could change but don’t know how.   This is not the first time I have heard this directive.  In fact, it seems to come into my head after each prayer but the whole I idea feels impossible.  I wish the voice would give me a little bit more information as to how I could do such a thing.

“Yeah, right.  What am I supposed to do? Leave my work with a good paying job and for what, to get some other lame job?  There is no way.  Not when I’ve just finished grad school and have bills to pay.  No way!”

I brush the thought aside and hear a knock at the door.

“Want to go for a run?”

It’s my roommate Jamie.  She is officially my best friend and the nicest person I know. We grew up together but it’s only recently that we became best friends.   As children and teens we had attended the same church but hadn’t really gotten to know each other well.  Our friends were different and we went to opposing high schools.  However, one day about 3 years ago I ran into her at a grocery store while I was waiting for a prescription from the pharmacy.  (I am convinced, by the way, that I will always meet someone I haven’t seen in years while sick as a dog waiting for a prescription.  I think it is God’s way of getting back at me for being a punk teenager).

Anyway, we exchanged phone numbers and hung out a couple of times, quickly becoming the friends.   One night as we were chatting she mentioned she was getting a basement apartment in the same town I worked in.  Wanting to reduce my commute and find agreeable roommates, I jumped at the chance to move in with her and signed the lease sight unseen (an action I would at least partly regret.  What a dump of an apartment!).  It’s hard to believe 3 years have come and gone as roommates, but I can’t imagine her not being there for me, not being my best friend.  Funny how a trip to the pharmacy can change your life?

“Sure.  Let me get ready” I respond.  For the record, I hate running.   But I know Jamie is a terrific runner and is just agreeing to go with me as a favor, so how can I refuse?

Pulling on a hoodie and some sweats I open the door and greet Jamie adorned in the cutest little workout outfit you have ever seen.  It’s no great secret that there are no outfits like hers made for big girls like me.   Sometimes I think it is a conspiracy by Lane Bryant to keep us as their full figured shopping customers forever.  I can just see the board meetings now…”Keep them fat and inactive and we’ve got it made!”.

Jamie is not only skinny but beautiful with long brown hair, brown eyes and the perkiest smile you have ever seen.  If she wasn’t so nice I might be annoyed by her perfection but you just had to like Jamie. She has such a big heart that I can’t imagine anyone not loving her.

“Let’s go” she says as we leisurely jog out of our apartment.

The ground feels cold and my chest is throbbing with each strained breath.  If only I could really fly like I did in my dream.  For a second I relieve that sense of freedom and excitement I felt before the crows woke me up.  Now that is the life!

“So, are you doing anything tonight? Got any plans?”  Jamie asks.

“Well, I’ll probably have to work late because of end of the year closing but other than that blessed occasion, no.  I am not doing anything tonight”

“Want to meet up with the gang at Schultzy’s for dinner?” she says

I can’t help but I wonder why we are running if we are going to negate the process by eating lousy, greasy food at Schultzy’s but I don’t really care.  Anything with friends is always better than staying longer at work.

“Sure.  What time?”

“How about 6:30?”

“Sounds good.  That should give me enough time to wrap everything up for the day” I say with a sigh mentally calculating all the boring things I have to do today at work.

“I wish we could go out this weekend” Jamie interrupts my internal complaining and we look at each other with a sigh.  She means of course go out on a date but the chances of that happening appear about as great as being nominated as president.  Once you are finished college the dating pool gets smaller each year no matter how beautiful, smart, or athletic you are.  Even someone like Jamie, the full package, struggled to go on more than a couple dates a year.  She got maybe one a month, I was lucky for one every three months.

She continues on “What am I supposed to do after all make a date appear out of nothing?  Flying feels easier than that!”

I can’t help but chuckle and I tell her quickly about my dream.  “It felt so real.  Like I was up there in the clouds with the birds and rain.  Crazy.  What do you think it all means?”

“I don’t know” she says “but I’m sure it has something to do with your job.  Maybe Chandra is going to peck you to death one day when you fall asleep at the job?”

“That’s creepy!” I look at her with an a little bit of surprise.  She’s not usually that dark but I kind of like it.  She’s probably the one person who knows almost everything about my job and how miserable I am.  I know she’s really worried about me, and I’m grateful to have someone in my life that worries about me.

“Just makes me wonder.  Why were the crows pushing me down and why did I need to jump off the ledge?  Why do I need to fly?  I heard somewhere if you dream you are falling and you actually land splat on the ground you really do die. Now that’s creepy?”

“That is weird.  I usually don’t remember my dreams, but I think they can be a way God talks to you when you won’t listen any other way” she says as we run, both of us breathing hard, a little wheezy and slow.  The air is cold and we can see it hang in front of us as we run.

“She’s right” I say to myself, but she’s always right about things like this.

“You know what would be fun?” says Jamie changing the subject “let’s set each other up next week for a double date?  We could go dancing or to a movie, maybe dinner?”

This sounds completely unfun to me but finding a date for Jamie will be easy and I feel obligated to try and stay in the dating scene I can picture the speakers at church telling me, finger wagging ‘all you girls need to be making just as much an effort as the boys to meet a companion’.

“I wonder if they knew how hard it was to ‘make an effort’ for both the guys and girls.  It felt as impossible as quitting my job.  Why did God always have to make following Him so hard? I knew why but that didn’t make it any easier to think about dating or quitting.

That said, my part would be easy in this instance.  Who, after all, wouldn’t want to go out with Jamie?  That would be a piece of cake! Goodness knows if she is willing to take on the challenge of finding me a date than I could certainly find one for her.

“Ok.  But definitely no dancing.  You’ve seen me dance.  Definitely off the ‘things I can do on a first date list’.”

I like to make lists like that as some attempt to organize my life. I like to be in control of what’s happening to me (or at least have the illusion of control).  In fact, one of things I hate about dating is how out of control it makes me.  I often wish I could be a spider on the wall during a date and get an inside scoop into what I say, how I appear, what he thinks.  I say that like I date a lot but the older I get the rarer each date becomes.  Even so, dancing makes the top of not only my worst date lists but also the “list of things I suck at”.  It would also fit nicely in my least favorite activity, most embarrassing moment, and proof that I have no rhythm.   I am not being falsely modest when I say I stink at dancing.  Just ask my prom date Jesse Smith and he could tell you tales of bruised feet and collisions with other couples.  Hey a girl can’t be good at everything!

“Let’s just do dinner.  Dinner is safe for a first date” I say while huffing and puffing like I’m going to blow a house down.  At this point my jog is really just walking with energy.

“All right.  Let’s plan on next Friday.  That will give us a week to hunt down our prey”

“Ok” Jamie replies.  Mercifully I can see our house coming into a view. The run is almost over.   “Thank you God” I say in surprisingly earnest voice to myself.

As we approach the house, we can see our upstairs neighbor Janna wishing her kids a good school day as they head for the bus.  What a burden she carries with 5 kids and a divorce under her belt.  I wondered sometimes how she could do it? In fact, I tried to not think about it because her happiness under such a crappy situation made me feel bad for being so unhappy with all of my blessings…yet still I couldn’t ever quite shake the sagging feeling of sinking in my life.

We make it home and then I shower quickly so Jamie can use our shared bathroom.  After all, if she is nice enough to run with me I should allow her more time to get ready.  Plus, I could put on my make-up in my room using the mirror above my dresser.  My room was about 6 feet wide and little more than that long.  A full mattress squeezed most of the space and left just enough for a chest of drawers and two small bookcases.  Honestly if Jamie wasn’t the best roommate, and I didn’t love being close to work, there is no way I could have lived in such tight quarters for so long.  It’s amazing what you will put up with for good company!

I actually like putting on make-up and trying to dress cute for the office. It made me feel pretty and sophisticated, and I needed to at least start my day out that way!  I work in the corporate office for Marshall Plastics a Styrofoam manufacturer based out of Michigan.  It is our family business founded by my Granddad who invented the containers for Big Macs back in the 60s.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the family business but if there was anything more boring than styrofoam it is doing accounting for styrofoam.

Chapter 1A

This wasn’t how it was supposed to end up.  Back in college I remember hearing speeches about the ‘great mountains you will climb’, ‘cures you will discover’, and ‘nations rebuild’.  What a great future seemed to stand before each of us?  And then a recession came and the promises to students became simpler ‘if you work hard you will get a job’ or ‘get joy out of whatever you do’.   Sometimes I couldn’t decide if I had just taken the easy way but I also took the only job offer that came.

I recently saw my favorite teacher at school.  His name is Dr. Thomas and I first had him in Western Civilization class.  I had never read Plato or Descartes (my sister was the reader of the family) but he made it come alive for me.  Plus, he was so funny.  Before most classes he would have a comic strip, joke or even a Monty Python clip to explain the deep concepts of the lecture in a funny way.  Later when I became his teaching assistant I was responsible for finding those jokes and clips (not a bad job if you can get it!).

After repeating the Western Civ 2 class, (I had originally had it from a lame, boring teacher), I knew instinctively I needed to work for Dr. Thomas.  He was the most brilliant man I had ever met but his heart was also the largest on campus.  Unfortunately, my grades weren’t the highest, so I had to prove myself as a worthy TA, so I called him day after day.

“My name is Rachel” I said in my scores of messages “I just took your Western Civ 202 class.  I’d like to be your TA’.  I think I called him for 2 weeks before I got a call ‘So, I hear you want to be a TA’.

Then began the best job I have ever had.  Working for my mentor I lapped up all the wisdom he could give me and couldn’t believe when he actually trusted me to lead the class or grade papers.   ‘I’m not smart enough to do that’ I’d say and then I would do it, and he’d be proud.  One day he was sick and called me in the morning asking me to teach an entire lecture on Descartes. I was terrified but I knew he believed in me, and to my surprise I got through it.  It may not have been the greatest lecture the students have heard but I was proud and so was Dr.  Thomas. I still think about those proud looks, and I want to be a better person and worker.   I hope he’s still proud of me.

When I graduated Dr.  Thomas gave me and the other TAs books as parting presents.  Mine was the biography of Abraham Lincoln and in the cover he inscribed it with a little note ending with the words: “I’ve always admired how you stick up for the marginalized of society and try to fight injustices.  Good luck in your life. Dr. Thomas”.

“I can’t believe he thinks that about me” I said to myself.  I still can’t believe it but that book is proof someone believed in me and it is one of my treasures.

Anyway, the other day I went for a visit and it was so good to see my old professor, now a seasoned staff member, but still with all the warmth of his early days.  I told him about my work and said ‘did you ever think I’d be working in accounting?  You might want to avoid that description when you are pumping up new freshmen…’

He smiled and said what everyone says “In this economy we are all glad to have a job”.

Sigh…It was true but how long would life have to be mediocre before we all could start dreaming big again? The question rang through my brain every moment of every day.  How long would I have to be unhappy?

As I finished getting dressed I picked up Dr. Thomas’ book and held it close to my chest.  I know it isn’t scripture but it felt like personal scripture made just for me.  Maybe I could be happy? At least I knew I had been capable of having a boss who believed in me. I also knew that God had given me happiness once. Surely I could find it again.

I say a silent prayer and take a look in the mirror.   With a forced smile I adjust my lipstick and head out the door.  Just to provide some pizazz in the office I try to look my best every day. I take at it as my duty, and a challenge as the youngest team member, to be the trendiest and cutest girl in the whole building.    Even though I know it will annoy Chandra, my manager, I spray a small dab of perfume on my neck.  It will mostly fade and what’s she going to do but her normal groans anyway?  The smell makes me excited and I grab a piece of toast with jam and a Lean Cuisine for lunch and head off to work.

Driving my old Jeep to work things start to sputter and puff.  Why did they have to invent cars to just break down?  Sigh…Luckily not a complete breakdown but I really should get it serviced.  If there is one thing that I admit to knowing nothing about it is cars.  I wish I could live in Manhattan and never drive, not even have a license.  That was the life.  To me driving was just one more boring, inane thing to clutter up my life.

Maybe Jamie will meet a mechanic?  She did that a year or so ago and it was so handy.  Her time with a chef, however, was my favorite.  Not only was it delicious but I learned how to make the best potpie, along with many other recipes.  Yum…My stomach grumbles.  Toast was not quite enough for breakfast and I know that Lean Cuisine isn’t going to do much for me either.

Before arriving at work, I dive into the local gas station and fill up the largest big chug they have.  This is how they get you hooked.  At first you need a small normal sized cola to get through the day.  Then it is the small chug, big chug, and then finally on a breakdown day the super big chug.  Then it goes from being an unusual crisis drink, to an everyday occurrence (sometimes more than 1 a day!).  I waive at the regulars who have followed the same gateway to caffeine as I have.  I wonder if their jobs are as boring as mine?  No way.  Not possible.

Mario at the cashier’s station says hello and asks me about my week while eyeing the donuts I have grabbed from the Hostess display.  I shouldn’t but I just don’t care anymore

“It’s ok.  No crisis to report’.

“Always good to hear.  Well, have a great day”.

Now that is an interesting job.  I wish I had Mario’s job- getting to greet customers, see the weather conditions, and go outside on occasion…Sounds great!  Although all the cola and donuts I could eat would get me into trouble!

“Maybe it’s a problem when you are envying the cashier at the gas station?…” I say to myself. It was even sadder that it was completely true.  I did envy Mario’s job.

As I leave the words I’d heard after my prayer this morning pop back into my head ‘Make a Change, make a change, make a change’.

“Impossible.  What am I crazy?  What would my Dad think? He gave me the job after all?” I argue with myself and brush all of those thoughts aside and start thinking of the day ahead of me.  What do I have to do? Check Emails, enter AP, manage the company car account, stuff and fold invoices and checks, and stamp all of the envelopes. All of these tasks must be completed as perfectly and quickly as possible- a combination that rarely worked to my advantage.

If I’m lucky I can find a tricky expense report or a PO I have questions about and can talk to Sammy for a few minutes.  She is my best friend and part-time mother to the whole office. She always makes life better for anyone who surrounds her.  I don’t know how I would get through a day if she wasn’t around.  Not sure how any of us would?  She’s kind of the office shrink- such a great listener.  I know I’m not the only one inventing projects (or stretching them out) to involve her.  She’s the best!

Chapter 1B

Sammy also trained me in almost all the tasks I do each day.  Despite all her mumbling and grumbling, Chandra, my actual manager, had rarely taken the time to train me on anything.  Chandra was the type of person who should never have been made a manager in the first place.  She should have been allowed to be a regular accountant and leave the teaching and mentoring to someone else.  Unfortunately Marshall Plastics was part of the old school of management and business organization where in order to make more money you had to be a manager of other people.  It’s really such a stupid rule when you think about it.  There is no way everyone can be a good teacher, leader and manager?  Why not use employees time well and in the way that most benefits your company?  Keep Chandra to accounting and balancing books (she was the spreadsheet queen) and leave the teaching, mentoring and general goodwill to people like Sammy.

Chandra didn’t even know how to do most of the things I was doing.  For instance, she had never entered a piece of AP in her life.  She had also never worked with the company car account or entered an expense report.  Unfortunately this lack of experience of how to do it did not stop her for a second from looking at me with disgust when I made a mistake.  Chandra made everyone feel they were her surfs and she was the Lord of the manor.  Nothing was ever good enough.  In fact, she seemed to resent even the notion that her job required her to work with such lowly souls.

“Oh hurray!” I let out a barely audible burst of glee because I see I’ve got to run POs and do expense reports with Sammy.  The list of things to do is getting vast but at least there is something pleasant to look forward to.

It probably doesn’t say much about my job that expense reports fill me with glee.  As I think about everything else on my ‘to-do list’ I sigh and think, “How the heck am I supposed to get all this done in one day?  And how could all that stuff still be so achingly dull?  Ughh…”

My office resides in a classic suburban office complex full of law firms, doctors and small businesses.  The only thing unique about our particular building was the large clock on one corner that faced the street.  This is why it is appropriately called the Clocktower Building.  Sometimes I liked the clock and it made me think of Alice in Wonderland and the rabbit rushing around with his large timepiece.  I wondered if I could somehow escape into the clock and find a mad hatter or a tea party made just for me (like I said my mind wanders at work to keep me sane)?  My musings made the office space feel at least a little bit whimsical and unique.  Other days the clock it seemed to be synchronized with the ticking of my heart, as if it was a clock of my life.  Reminding me that I was here wasting away, in the Clocktower Building, Administrative Complex B ….

Aside from the clock, the one good thing about our space is we are on the top floor with lots of windows.  I said a prayer of gratitude each time I sat in my chair and looked out of the windows.  They were my outreach to the world and all that was going on around me, all that I longed to be a part of.  I can’t imagine being one of the poor saps in a traditional cubicle.  I think I’d go crazy in a week.

As lead receptionist my desk faced the staircase so that I could greet any visitors with a smile and welcome them to the office.  I was grateful for this public part of my job because it at least provided some unpredictability to the day.  You never knew who was coming up those stairs (all right it was usually the Fed Ex man but on occasion I’d be surprised).  The position at the top of the stairs was another reason I liked to look cute for the day.  If I’m the face of the office, shouldn’t it at least be a cute face?

I’m also not one of those bigger girls who is always moping around about their size and eating Twinkies all day.  I run, I swim in the summer.  I exercise.  I just am a big girl and have been since I was 9 years old.  I happen to like the way I look.  Even if boys didn’t seem to get into it, I believed it was the way God wanted it to be (donuts and cola being the exception for the day.  That was survival!).  I had been on every diet under the sun and finally came to the conclusion that it was all as it should be.  In any case, I was tired of changing myself to make others happy.

Chapter 1C

Slowly I open the door and ascend the staircase.  As the last of the breeze from outside swishes through the door I can actually feel the moping in my heart.  Another day has come.  Before I know it, I arrive at my chair and say a little prayer that the Lord will help me get through the day.  Then I smile as Sammy walks by my desk.    She is a short skinny woman with blonde hair, blue eyes and a large infectious smile.

“Hi” She smiles and waves.  “How’s it going?”

“Good” I reply.   “How was your daughter’s soccer game?”

“Great!  They won in a landslide 12-0”


Then I hear the voice full of condescension, annoyance and patronization and Sammy rushes off with a look of concern like she is tiptoeing past a tarantula.

“Rachullll” It’s my manager Chandra and the more annoyed with me she is the longer she holds out the last syllable of my name.

“A check was entered incorrectly and was returned to us by the vendor.  How many times can you get this simple task wrong?”

I can’t deny it. She had a point.  I seemed to be inventing new ways to screw up the check run-  number missed on the log, a misread number, a check that goes unsigned by our boss Rich, a check with no address on it is mailed, I could keep going.

“What happened?”  I respond as meekly and shrink into my chair as if avoiding an actual lashing instead of the tongue-based variety, and I force a weak smile.  It’s as if I am confessing to a great sin, which to Chandra everything I do seems to be a great crime worthy of severe penitence.

“You started the run with 1903 but the number in the log clearly says 1908 so that means you have created 5 duplicate checks and I have to deal with every one of them.”

“Sorry.  I will try to do better” I say matter-of-factly to her.

I learned years ago being defensive and pleading my case never worked with Chandra.  In fact, that’s what she wanted me to do.  Instead admitting wrong upfront made her nuts. The last thing she wanted was my agreeing with her accusations of my own idiocy.  However, her disdain can’t stop me from thinking to myself, ‘‘maybe if I actually got some training instead of winging, it these mistakes wouldn’t happen”.   My insides bubble but it’s only morning and I can’t afford getting upset just yet.  I take a drink of my cola and it calms me down.

“Just get started with the day and I will clean up your mess”.   Chandra snaps back, ignoring my smile. Slightly taller than me, Chandra feels taller than anyone.  She has piercing eyes that spy and reprimand the slightest bit of levity.  Her hair is long and artificially blonde with one black streak in the front as if to say ‘I used to have a personality but then I became an accountant’.  Her nose was long and thin and her lips seemed to always be pulled together like someone hiding a smirk.  Today she was wearing a long black suit with a white top underneath.  Nothing to break the fashion mold but she looked nice.

“The new orders need to be entered into AR.  Do you think you can get that right?’  she says with a grimace.

“Sure.  I will make it work”.  Add another item to the list.  I wish I had the guts to say NO but it was like admitting defeat and I knew she’d make me feel incompetent for it.  She gave me a look like ‘if only I could do it myself instead of depending on you people”.  Sad part is she was right.  She could do it better than me.  One thing I could always grant Chandra, she was a good accountant who worked like a woman possessed at her job.   I could never criticize her for slacking off that was for sure.

Sometimes I wished she would just yell at me or that I would just yell at her.  I knew I lacked the guts but I could see her giving me a good theatrical yell like a college coach in a movie reaming out one of his players.  I wish I could get some moment with her that I could go up to Rich, my head-boss, with and say ‘look what awful things she did’.  Ah the ecstasy! Ah the revenge! It would be the best moment ever but it is a moment only for my dreams.  I could never really do it.  Chandra is too crafty and manipulative.  She had a gift of making me look stupid even if I did good, even great work.  Like the slimy python she was, she’d poison everyone, even me, by bringing up every mistake I made, digging into my self-esteem with portrayals of all my weaknesses and drilling them home until I ended up looking like the greatest fool in town.  She did this so often I was completely terrified of confronting her or even asking for a small favor.  The frustrating thing was I couldn’t really deny most of her points.  I wasn’t perfect and being so rushed I did make a lot of mistakes. Plus, the lack of training didn’t help.

All that was left for me was just to put my head down and try to get it all done, try to make her happy.  Urgh…the pressure in my chest felt tight and my heart began beating fast.  Time for more cola and another prayer ‘Please help me get through this’.

Chapter 1D

Accounting after all “is an exercise in obtaining perfection but things can always be changed and corrected along the way”.  The head of our operations, CFO of the whole company, Rich said something along those lines at each company lunch.  Rich was the kindest powerful man you have ever met.  Unlike Chandra, he was always quick with a smile or a funny story usually involving one of his 9 children- yes 9 children!  Sometimes I wish he was my manager and not my boss.  What would that be like?

“Time for company lunch” I hear Rich’s voice call out after a few hours have come and gone.  I had forgotten that today was our twice-monthly employee lunch.  Gratefully I put away my meager lean cuisine and head into the workroom.  Spread on tables there are sandwiches and salads that look delicious.  I’ve always had a weakness for good sandwiches.  My brother and I used to have hero-making battles in the summer, each time hoping our mother would pick a ‘best sandwich winner’ but she never would.   One sandwich based on a caprese salad is still a favorite.  I pick out a chicken salad and Rich begins to discuss the various goings on of the office.  So and so’s wife is having a baby.  Another person in payroll is competing in a marathon this weekend.  We all set down our sandwiches long enough to clap.

“Remember to do your best and that most everything can be fixed and made right if needed” Rich says “We love having you here helping us build a company that Rachel’s family started”.

Everyone claps and I shrink a little bit.  Most of the office genuinely likes me but I think there are some who feel I got the job because of my Dad, and they’d be completely right in thinking that.  I was a Poli Sci major what would I know about accounting and yet I got the job.  I it wasn’t my ideal but after scores of interviews I took what was offered me.  Would they have really done anything differently in my shoes?  After all, I was going to school and needed something to pay for it.  I have done my best to master the job, but I have no illusions of why I got the job.  Sometimes I wondered if that was why Chandra so particularly resented me.  Maybe I hadn’t paid my dues in her eyes, but I was really trying.  If she would just give me a shot and some training I might be good at it.

“Now as we venture into green styrofoam containers expect Marshalls Plastics to become the leader in our industry and to change the way the world packages.  Let’s make that happen”  Rich says with gusto.   Who knew someone could get so excited about plastic?

I smile and giggle a little bit and then Rich moves on to the important subjects of the day while we eat.  It’s a delicious sandwich with ripe tomatoes, large chucks of chicken, pecans, apples, lettuce… Heaven.

I look at the sandwich delivery guy and think,

“He doesn’t have it too bad.  Eating delicious sandwiches and interacting with customers, going to different offices”

I need to stop wishing for every job I see. It’s not exactly helping me in the motivation department.  Still, this is a tasty sandwich.

Hearing the phone go off on my desk I take the rest of the sandwich and head out to answer it.  “Hi, this is Mallory from the Florida office.  Rich told me to start training you and Chandra on the new inventory system”.

“Invoicing system?” This is the first I’ve heard of a new system.  In fact, aside from stuffing I’ve never done anything with invoices?  What is Rich thinking?

“Ok.  When would you like to do it?” I ask.

“Let’s do 2 sessions.  One today and then next Friday”.  I think of end of the month.  How can I get it all done?  And then there is end of the year?  I look over at Chandra foolishly hoping maybe she will see the light and tell Mallory the training will have to wait.

Not surprisingly, when I tell her about the training I get no such luck.

“If that’s what Rich wants us to do we will do” says Chandra

“All right we will start today.  Give me a few hours to do the check run so how about 3?” I say to Mallory over the phone

“Sounds good.  Talk to you at 3” she says and we hang up.

Another assignment! Rich just gave me all of the company cars to process each month and now something else.  I couldn’t believe it.   There had been a part-time employee that did pretty much just the cars but she quit to be with her family more and her jobs had come to me.  It was overwhelming with tons of paperwork and details to manage.  Still, I was adding to my to-do list fairly well.  Now another project from Mallory.  What was he thinking!

“Hey” Chandra looked at me arm on her hip, eyes delving into my bored and exasperated soul.  “You know employee reviews are coming up and I will not be warning you?”

Dread fills my body.  Why was I the only one in the flippin office who had to be interviewed by Chandra?  It was so unfair!  Why did she have to be my direct manager and nobody else?  I envied all of them for their cushy end of the year reviews.  Besides why shouldn’t I get a good review?  I worked late nearly every night, had taken on the loads of  part time employees who had left and got along with almost all the employees in the office.   In fact, I should get a raise, but I knew looking into Chandra’s face filled with disdain and annoyance that she wouldn’t see it that way.  To her I was a stupid rich girl who got a job I didn’t deserve, and she’d never let me forget it.
“All right.  I’ll get back to work.  Let me finish my sandwich”

“You are getting crumbs everywhere anyway.  Eat it in the kitchen.  ” Chandra says with disgust.

I want to say “Well if I hadn’t answered my phone with my sandwich we would have missed Mallory’s call and the Conference call” but I remember the review and hold it in, heading to the kitchen.  I’m getting pretty good at holding at holding things like that in…

Chapter 1E

Once at the kitchen, I slump in my chair with a lion sized Ughhhh.  It’s barely  lunch and I’m already exhausted by the day.  Maybe I shouldn’t have gone running.  How come I never seem to feel energized from jogging?  How come Chandra can’t give me one break?  Why does she always have to be so rough on me?  I know I make mistakes but if she could see how hard I’m trying surely she’d understand? Maybe there is something else I could add to my load, some new project I could take on?

Forget it.  I sigh.  Chandra would never understand.  The better I did the more she resented me and my easy road.  In fact, the days I slacked off she seemed to ignore me the most, like I was reaffirming what she already suspected.  Urghh.  I feel like my face is going to explode.  It’s so frustrating and all for a job I don’t find fulfilling in the first place?  I wasn’t supposed to be an accounting clerk.  How did this happen?  My anxiety feels palpable and I start to breath fast.  How do I get out of this cycle?  Quickly I say a prayer and take a bite of sandwich. I’ll just have to figure all that out later.

Rather abruptly the kitchen door opens and Rich is giving a tall man with curly brown hair a tour through the office. I had noticed him come in while we were eating but figured he was part of the delivery service.   I quickly look him up and down and like what I see.  I’m not usually impressed by appearances but he has a great smile.  Who is this person?  He kind of looks like Paul Rudd.  Oh, I love Paul Rudd.

“Hi Rachel.  This is Oliver.”  Says Rich and I snap back into attention.   “He is going to be helping the marketing department with their designs”

Nice.  A creative type.  The marketing department we’ve been working with so far were fine but nobody close to my age.  Not wanting to make waves, I didn’t say anything but most of their ideas seemed 10 years out of date- like I expected one of those old modems to come along with their loud whistles.  Maybe a younger guy could shake things up?  Regardless how fun to have someone I might be able to relate to besides Sammy, and no wedding ring…Don’t know why I even looked at that because he is totally out of my league but merely curious.  I think every single girl looks and such a cute smile… Paul Rudd, no wedding ring, dreamy smile, tall, dark curly hair.  Oh my!

He smiled and suddenly I realized I have the dopiest grin on my face and that his hand is outstretched towards me.  I should probably shake it.  Formalities and all.

“How are you?  Welcome to the team” That’s got to be the lamest howdy-do in history.  Sigh…

“Good.  Grateful to be here” says Oliver with another great smile.

Rich, happy as usual, says ‘Ok.  Let’s show you the rooftop patio and the soda machines.’

“Oliver huh”, I think to myself.  “Now this could make life interesting at the office…”

“We’ve got to get this conference call started” Chandra barks at me.

“Crap” I say out loud and Rich gives me a disapproving look, but I am too rushed to explain.

“I haven’t stuffed the checks yet.  How I am I going to make the mail and listen to the conference call. “ I process to myself  “Maybe I can stuff while I listen and hold the phone with my chin.   I’ve done it before quite successfully.  Let’s try. “

As a rule I stuff between 700-800 checks a day depending on sales-season.  I have actually gotten it down to a competition.  My fastest is 20 in one minute or 1 every 3 seconds.  Phew!   Today will have to be one of those competitions worthy stuffs.

So I’m moving along hearing the details.  New inventory system.  Had to enter old inventory.  Would train on more nitty gritty in two weeks.  For now just general principles inventory goes comes from a PO that has to be received and then the invoice is creating off the PO which pulls the entered inventory out for the invoice….blah, blah, blah.

I don’t really care at this point. My whole focus is just stuffing envelopes I have races with myself and try different strategies to see if I can get the darn envelopes stuffed faster.    I was going on 28 in one minute when I see Chandra looming over my desk.

“Either be in the meeting or be off. “ She scowls.

“Ever heard of multitasking” I mutter.  “Fine” I say more loudly and set the checks aside.  Looks like I will be working late again to get this run stuffed and stamped and it will not make the mail.  Sigh…

That means I will be late to Schultzy’s and spending more time at this vacuum to all fun and happiness.  Man.  “Heavenly Father,” I say in a quick prayer, “please helps me get through this and not kill Chandra”.  God understands a joke right?  Deep breath.  With each new task I feel anxiety growing.  It’s like quicksand that just gets harder to get out of the more you struggle.  “I’m almost done” I say over and over again.

As Mallory mercilessly ends the conference call most of which I don’t understand I can finally start stuffing again.  This will be my best race ever.  Go go go.  29 checks in a minute.  Before too long I sit in front of 3 boxes full of stuffed and stamped checks.  Yes!  Its 6:45 and just before Chandra can criticize my sloppy handwriting I am gone.

Off to live for a few hours!


9 thoughts on “My Novel Chapter 1

  1. Sounds like a great read. Would you consider breaking each chapter down a little, like Chapter 2A, 2B &2C ? The above selection is just a little long for one blog in my thinking, but hey, I have never written a book. What do I know?

    1. You may be right. Maybe for the next one I’ll do that. I figured I would see how this went and go from there. It is definitely my longest blog. Let me know what you think. Like I said its super rough but I love it. The editing I can work on so it is more the character and plot structure I need feedback from.

    2. I divided it up the way you said so hopefully that makes things easier. Just trying something new. Let me know what you think.

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