Suggestion Box
A Short Story by Tim Josephs
Written using the suggestion "Destiny"
Originally featured on 02-05-2007
As part of our series "Phases of a Holiday Meal"

Nancy was excited about her new job duty. She really didn’t have a lot to do around the office these days. The interns and new hires had been given most of her responsibilities. She was promised she’d get them back, just as soon as they got some experience.

Nancy Higgins had worked at the Fielding Insurance Agency for almost 37 years. After starting as a secretary right after college, she had worked her way up to Human Resources where she had been for the last 15 years. She loved it at Fielding and, contrary to the rumors, had no intention of retiring anytime soon.

So when she was told about the new suggestion box and that she was the one who would be responsible for checking it and writing reports, she was thrilled. She was even given a key for the box that she eagerly attached to her key ring.

Nancy decided she would check the box at the end of every week. In her date book she filled in for the upcoming Friday, “ck SB” and circled it in red ink. And besides a “lunch with Mary” written on Wednesday, the rest of the week was vacant.

It took a little while for people to notice the small box on the wall right next to the soda machine in the break room and, for the first few weeks it remained empty. On the last Friday of the month Nancy found two slips of paper in the box and she actually got a little excited.

She took the notes back to her small office. There were still a few boxes scattered around as she was hesitant to completely unpack yet; due to some mix-ups, they kept having to move her to different offices.

The first note was about expanding the snack selection in the vending machine. Nancy wrote that down in the special notebook she had created. The second one said “Help, I’m trapped in a suggestion box!” She chuckled and for a moment thought about writing that one down as well. The office manager, Mr. Murphy, probably didn’t need to know about that, she thought, and threw the note away. She still thought it was funny that her supervisor was little more than half her age, but she liked Mr. Murphy. She wrote up her report and dropped it in the inbox on his desk on her way out to lunch.

Over the next several weeks, the box gradually became used more. There were other notes about the vending machines, about increasing salaries, giving more parties, and of course more joke ones. One of those said “Less talk, more rock” which Nancy didn’t quite understand.

On the last Friday of the month there was only one note in the box and when Nancy saw it she frowned. She had hoped for more as she actually had nothing to do for the rest of the day. She slipped the note in her pocket, locked the box, and went back up to her office.

Once there, she sat down at her desk and pulled out the note. The handwriting was rather messy but it was legible enough. She read it quickly.

 

“This job sucks. A monkey could do this job. Sometimes

I think I should just end it, end everything. I have a gun.”

At first she thought it was just another joke; she had even smiled at the line about the monkey. But then she read it again. After reading it a third time, she ripped it up and threw the scraps into the trashcan. Yes, it was probably just another stupid joke, she thought, trying to convince herself. She closed the suggestion notebook and put it back in her desk. She didn’t see any reason to record that note.

On the following Friday Nancy was happy to see there were several notes in the suggestion box. Back at her office, she sat down and unfolded the first one. It was a typical one about the lack of grape soda in the machine. The next one was about being able to bring your dog into the office. She smiled as she recorded it in her notebook.

When she unfolded the third note, her smile quickly disappeared; she instantly recognized the handwriting. The note said “Is this it? Is this my destiny, to do this bullshit job until I die? I bought bullets yesterday.”

Nancy’s heart started beating rapidly. If this was a joke, she thought, someone had a very sick sense of humor. She didn’t read it again but didn’t throw it away either. Instead, she put it in the back pocket of the notebook. She quickly read through the other notes and recorded what was needed. She shoved the notebook into the desk and slammed the drawer shut. She hurriedly wrote up her report and then left for the day.

Nancy couldn’t stop thinking about the note. The first one she had thought was a joke, but now she wasn’t so sure. She started wondering who could’ve written them. Everyone she saw — in the hallways, in the parking lot — she wondered, is it them?

She had access to the personnel files and thought maybe she could try to match up the handwriting to the tax forms every employee had to fill out. She had gone through about ten files when she thought she had a match. Both samples were very close. But then she looked at the name on the file: Richard Mason. He had retired three months earlier. Someone had forgotten to update the file.

But what happens if you find a match? she asked herself. What then? Do you confront this person? Do you go to management? What are you going to do?

She hadn’t thought that far ahead. She decided she would just deal with that when it happened and continued looking through the files. It turned out she was worried for no reason — she couldn’t find a match. Maybe they were writing with their other hand, she thought. However they were doing it, they obviously didn’t want to be known.

On the next Friday afternoon Nancy was sitting in her office gathering her things together. She looked at the clock: 4:40. She had avoided going anywhere near the break room all day and now she just had 20 more minutes until she could go home.

She really didn’t want to check the suggestion box anymore. She thought about just not doing it; Mr. Murphy probably wouldn’t even notice. After she gave him the reports, she never heard back from him. Since she frequently received suggestions about the same things, she figured he didn’t really care anyway. But she quickly put that thought out of her mind. Of course Mr. Murphy cared, it was his job to care; he’s probably just compiling the weekly reports to submit to the head office so they can make changes at the end of the quarter.

She looked at the clock again. You’re being ridiculous, she told herself. Just do your job — go down there and open that box. They were probably just jokes, you know that. After another glance at the clock she took a deep breath and slowly got up.

When Nancy got to the break room, Gladys from Accounts Receivable was there making herself a cup of tea.

“Hello, Nancy.”

Nancy smiled. She and Gladys had known each other for years; Gladys had started at the company just a few years after Nancy.

“Hi, Gladys. How are you?” She noticed a large cake, about halfway gone on one of the tables.

“I’m doing okay. Did you get some cake?”

“No, I didn’t know there was any. What’s the occasion?”

“Oh, you don’t know? It’s Charlotte’s last day.”

Nancy looked surprised. “Charlotte’s leaving?”

“Yup. Didn’t you see any of the e-mails?”

“Um, my computer is actually being fixed. Wow, Charlotte’s been here almost as long as me.”

“Yes,” Gladys said walking to the door. “Not many of us old-timers left. I’ll see you later, Nancy.”

Nancy looked at the suggestion box. For a second she thought about just turning around, going back to her office, getting her things, and leaving. Who would know? After staring at the box a moment longer, she went over to it and unlocked it. She slowly looked inside. It was empty. She exhaled and then smiled; she felt a little embarrassed for acting so silly.

The following Monday, on her way to Marketing, Nancy found herself walking by the break room. She stopped at the doorway and for some reason had a strong urge to go in and open the suggestion box. What are you doing, Nancy? she scolded herself. You checked it a few days ago and it was empty; just let it go until Friday.

Nancy considered this but found herself walking to the box anyway. She pulled her key ring out of her pocket and quickly found the right key. She unlocked the box and looked in. One folded piece of paper was at the bottom. She slowly reached in.

“Hey, Nancy.”

Nancy jumped and looked around. James from Sales was pouring himself some coffee.

“Whoops, sorry if I scared you.”

Nancy smiled. “No, just getting the suggestions.” She grabbed the note and locked up the box.

“Well, don’t work too hard,” he said with a grin.

She smiled as she walked past him and quickly went back to her office. She shut the door and sat down. She unfolded the note and read it three times.

 

“This is all meaningless. What are we doing here? Why

do we come here everyday? People need to be put out

of their misery. The gun is in my desk.”

 

Nancy felt lightheaded and slowly put the note down. Okay, she thought, now I have to do something. This has gone far enough. But what can I do? Do I go to Mr. Murphy? The police? What do I do?

She sat at her desk until it was time to go. As she drove home, she weighed her options. Mr. Murphy most likely would think it was a joke. The police would think she was crazy. She glanced down at her keys in the ignition and knew what she had to do. Several years ago she had been given a copy of the master key that opened every door in the building. It was given to her by Martin, the maintenance man when he had gone on vacation. When he had gotten back, he had forgotten to ask for it and she had forgotten to return it.

Nancy decided to come in very early the next day before anyone else and open every desk. Then she’d know who it was.

She arrived at the office exactly at 3:30. That gave her about two and a half hours to search before anyone else got there. There were no other cars in the parking lot and she parked near the entrance. After unlocking the front door and disabling the alarm (Martin had also given her the alarm code), she stepped inside.

She knew exactly where to begin: the mailroom. Four people worked in the mailroom and one of them, Max Rogers, had a criminal record. Nancy found that out from his personnel file. She wasn’t quite sure where Max sat so she just started opening drawers. She decided not to turn on any lights but the shine from the street lamps gave her some illumination. But besides various office and mail supplies, and an old copy of Hustler, there was nothing there.

Nancy sighed. I guess it’s not going to be that easy, she thought. It took her an hour and a half to go through about 60 desks. She did not find a gun. That left her an hour to go through the offices upstairs.

Most of the offices remained unlocked; in fact a lot of them had their doors wide open. Nancy really didn’t think that someone in upper management wrote the notes, or even used the suggestion box, but she wasn’t going to take a chance. She started with Mr. Murphy’s office. Besides a small book on how to get out of speeding tickets, she found nothing of interest.

After a few more offices, Nancy started getting discouraged. Maybe those notes were just a joke, she thought. Just some stupid, sick joke.

She turned the knob on one office but it was locked. She found the master key on her key ring and unlocked the door. She kept the lights off so she wasn’t sure whose office it was. The desk was small and she started opening drawers. She would pull a drawer open, feel around inside, and then shut it. When she opened the top left drawer, she felt something hard. She looked inside. From the faint light from the exit sign in the hallway she could see that shoved far into the back was something dark and a little shiny. Nancy grabbed it and took it out; it was cold and heavy. It was definitely a gun.

Oh my god, she thought. Oh my god. I’m holding a gun. What do I do? I have to tell someone. Whose office is this?

Suddenly a bright light was shone into her face. “All right drop the gun!” a man’s voice shouted.

Nancy was confused; she squinted into the light.

“I said drop the gun!”

The hallway lights turned on and Nancy could see two policemen pointing guns at her. “I’m not gonna tell you again, lady.”

Nancy looked at the gun in her hand like she was surprised it was there. She let it fall to the floor. One policeman rushed in and grabbed her. “Who are, what are you doing here?” he demanded.

“I’m, um, Nancy, Nancy Higgins, I work here.”

“You work here? Is this true, Mr. Murphy?”

Mr. Murphy appeared in the hallway; he was wearing a wrinkled overcoat and his normally neat brown hair was mussed. He looked surprised to see Nancy.

Nancy, what are you doing here so early? The silent alarm was set off. I called the police.”

“Oh, Mr. Murphy!” Nancy exclaimed. She broke free of the cop’s hold and ran to him. “I should have told you a long time ago but in the suggestion box someone was writing notes about having a gun and bringing it here. Look!” Out of her pocket she took the two notes and handed them to him. “I think he was going to hurt some people. I just thought that if I came in I could find out who it was. And I did! I found the gun! It was in the desk of this office!” She smiled and pointed to the office.

Mr. Murphy looked very serious. “You found a gun in this office?” he asked.

“Yes! It was in the top left drawer! Now we know who it was who was writing these notes! Now we know!”

Mr. Murphy looked at the two police officers and then back at Nancy. “Um, Nancy,” he said. “This is your office.”

Suddenly the color drained from her face. “What?” She turned around. Inside on the floor were a few cardboard boxes. The framed picture of her daughter sat on the desk.

“This can’t be!” she yelled. “This just can’t be! Someone must have put it there!”

Mr. Murphy nodded to the officer behind her. He grabbed Nancy’s arms and put them behind her back.

“Mr. Murphy, what are they doing?” Handcuffs snapped down on her wrists.

“It’s probably all just a misunderstanding, Nancy,” he said calmly. “I’m sure everything will work out.”

The officer started leading Nancy away.

“You should probably come down to the station,” the other policeman said.

“Of course.”

“Do you really think this is some kind of misunderstanding?”

“No.”

“What makes you so sure?”

Mr. Murphy sighed. “Nancy Higgins was supposed to be retiring in a few months — kind of a forced retirement. We really didn’t need her anymore. In fact her only duty was checking the suggestion box. Every week she would give me a report on what was in the box.” He looked down at the wrinkled pieces of paper he was holding. “A handwritten report.”

The policeman nodded and started walking down the hallway. Mr. Murphy followed.

Read More By Tim Josephs

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Portland Fiction Project

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