Robert Kibble - Runner up

Competition: Epistolary Short Story Competition

Robert would like to offer thanks to his previous company’s office management department for inspiration for this story, written as it was as catharsis from a particularly bad bout of bureaucracy. He has been writing a long time, entering competitions for slightly less time, and has only – so far – been placed in a Writing Magazine competition this one time.

 

Robert Kibble

The Problem with the Fridge

Re. Issue 103888, our problem with the new fridge door
From: Robert McGann
To: work_place_resources@mycompany.com

Dear "Workplace Resources",

I raised a case (103888) yesterday on your online system regarding the recent change of fridge. I know it may sound petty, but it's becoming increasingly hard to open the door – it seems to be creating some kind of vacuum-seal when it’s closed. Several of my colleagues have reported that their shoulders are being put out of joint wrestling with it. Last time when I did manage to open it I had to yank it so hard all the milk in the door fell out, one bottle then exploding (due to the lid not having been fastened correctly) all over my shoes, making me stink of milk all day and requiring me to purchase a new pair. I thought fridge doors were regulated and had to be openable with a relatively-small force (due to children historically getting trapped in them, I believe – although I grant you that’s unlikely to be a problem in our office).

The door is obviously misadjusted in some way. Please could you either send someone to make it easier to open or to replace the fridge – the previous one opened fine.

I look forward to your response.

Robert

 

Dear Workplace Resources,

No, we are not regularly bringing children into the workplace, and we appreciate we would have to sign them in if they did come in. That is not our issue. Apologies if I was not clear before. Please send someone to look at the fridge.

 

Dear Workplace Resources,

While I am pleased someone has looked into my case, I cannot see how it helps to put a sign on the fridge saying no objects should be left on top. That wasn't our issue. Please send someone to look at the door, before one of us dislocates a shoulder opening it.

Thank you.

 

Dear Workplace Resources,

After my last email I thought you would investigate the fridge door. Instead when I went into the kitchen this morning I saw additional signs on the cupboards saying "do not put items on top of these cupboards". We have always stored cereals etc. on top of the cupboards. There is no space anywhere else due to the cupboards being full of crockery. How is this a health and safety issue? Surely you are not suggesting that a box of cornflakes could fall and seriously hurt anyone?

 

Dear Workplace Resources,

I assume it was you who removed all our cereals overnight. I still cannot see why this is an issue, but if we can leave them on the windowsill instead then at least we’d have room. Would this be acceptable? Will they remain in place if we leave them there?

 

Dear Workplace Resources,

Yes, we will take our cereals back to our desks if necessary. However, our original issue was with the fridge door. It is still the same as it was. People have started leaving the milk out now because they can't open it without yanking their arms off, which has led to the milk being off some days. Surely can’t be the intention?

 

Dear WPR,

Why has the kitchen door become a fire door? It was never this before! The sign saying "please keep this door shut" does not help us. We heat up our lunches in that room, and while trying to open the door with a hot bowl of curry today someone else entered the room, knocking the curry all over my trousers and shoes, ruining my brand new pair and making me stink of curry all day. Plus if someone does manage to get the fridge door open (which I will remind you was the original problem we were trying to solve) the fridge door blocks the main door opening. I saw someone yesterday get his head bashed by the fridge door being suddenly shut by the outer door hitting it. Surely this is more of a health and safety issue! Please return the door wedge.

 

Dear WPR,

Thank you for reconsidering the fire door situation, and thank you for sending someone to talk with us face to face. I am glad you have accepted that the kitchen door was not to be classified as a fire door. This does resolve the issue of being hit by it when you try to leave the kitchen, at least. However, when your rep arrived in the kitchen her first priority seemed to be to add to the eighteen informational posters already on display on the noticeboard. When she correctly noticed that the kitchen window is smeared with pigeon poo, I was expecting some kind of offer to arrange for the window to be cleaned, rather than the reaction we got which was her pulling the blind down and telling us we should leave it like that. We have now replaced a room containing a poorly-opening fridge with a darkened room with no storage capacity and a poorly-opening fridge. Plus you have now marked this issue as closed and I have received a survey for my satisfaction rating. I am not in any way satisfied. I still want the fridge not to weld itself shut, I would like our windows open again, and I would like storage. At least you haven't objected to our new door wedge.

 

Dear WPR,

Given that it is no longer a fire door, why do you keep removing our door wedge?!?!?

 

Dear WPR,

I appreciate there is a sign in the kitchen door saying the door should not be wedged open, but you added that when you claimed it was a fire door. The only reason we objected to that is that we always keep the door open. You have removed the fire door sign, but left the always-open sign. If we remove that sign (which no one notices anyway due to the aforementioned twenty-four signs now around the kitchen telling us what we can or can’t do, including the amazing surprise that the water boiler may contain boiling water – do we really need that?), can we leave the door open?

 

WPR,

No, I am not condoning office vandalism, although perhaps the now thirty-two informational posters could be cut down a little if you actually want them to be read. I wanted an openable fridge, if you remember the original issue, and now I have a darkened kitchen with an inconveniently-closed door, no storage, with a wall covered with posters telling us how we can tell you how much we love the workplace. Right now I can speak for most of us in saying we do not love the workplace. Not at all. Please at a minimum return things to how they were. I don't think any of us even care about the fridge any more, and I’m receiving unpleasant looks from the rest of the office for having complained about it in the first place. We can have spoiled milk for all I care, so long as I can see properly when I'm making tea.

 

WPR,

How was any of what I wrote threatening language? It is not threatening to ask for a space where we can safely make tea with fresh milk, where we can store some food for lunches or breakfasts (since some of us work early shifts), and where we can get in or out of the room without someone smashing us in the face with a door.

It is also surely not threatening to say that the correct solution to a shit-stained window is not to tell us to close the blind and leave it closed. That is totally bonkers.

 

WPR,

I honestly don't care any more. Close the issue if you like. Close the blind to hide the shit-stained exterior, cover our walls with explanations for how we should love our bug-eyed corporate overlords and how we should be subsumed into the Borg entity, and perhaps take out a corporate credit card so we can let the company squeeze a little more out of our soulless corpses as we shrivel and die in this godforsaken office for eight hours a day five days a week fifty weeks a year for another thirty years until we get a few short years of retirement and then sweet sweet death. For God's sake all I asked for was a fridge I could open without literally ripping my arm from its socket like a psychotic chimp playing with a Barbie doll, and now I'm left begging for light, let alone somewhere to put a box of Crunchie Nut Cornflakes. I have had to apologise to the entire office now that I ever raised this issue, and I think despite several of them having developed bad shoulders due to the fridge (which was why I started down this pointless lane of futility) they all blame me. They don’t even invite me to go to lunch with them any more. They blame me, but they shouldn't. They should lay the blame where it belongs, at the insanity of a team called workplace resources. What does that even mean? Why did you do this? How can you sleep at night?

 

Out of office autoreply

Robert is currently unavailable. For further assistance on any important issues please contact his soulless boss, his soulless overlords, or some other idiot in IT, at least until someone finds out how to get into this account and change this message. In the meantime, why don't you reappraise your life choices, spend some time with your families, take a walk in the countryside, or do anything at all other than sitting for a stupid amount of time doing something you hate while enriching people who put all their money in the Cayman islands, don’t do anything worthwhile to help their fellow man, don’t even pay tax in this country, and whose sole purpose seems to be some kind of weird experiment in how far they can push people before they finally break. Robert has gone, in other words. He considers you not merely as colleagues, but as people he once met. And he hates you all. B'bye now. Have a nice day.

 

Judges Comments

An office comedy of frustration with bureaucracy, The Problem with the Fridge, the runner up in our Epistolary Short Story Competition, is funny precisely because it amplifies a familiar aspect of everyday life. All companies have rules and regulations concerning employee conduct; the frustration that this can cause in a workplace environment will strike a chord with many people.

The Problem with the Fridge's comedy lies how it highlights the way a minor grievance (in this case, a jammed fridge door) can be escalated by bureaucratic incompetence and box-ticking into all-consuming rage. Robert (note that the author and narrator share a name) is driven to sending increasingly irate, and desperate, emails to his workplace resources department. In the real world this would not be funny, but through a comic filter, it's hilarious. Robert (the author) has a fine eye for the minutiae of office annoyance: the accumulation of patronising directives; the fact that the object of his initial enquiry has never been rectified; the knock-on effects of WPR decisions on the actual workers: making me stink of curry all day.

All the communication is delivered by email to a department rather than an individual, which creates the sense of anonymity and of poor Robert howling into the wind as none of his requests are met and further annoyances pile up. Robert (the character's) kiss-off note, in the form of an email out-of-office auto-reply, is the revenge of every frustrated office worker who ever let an accumulation of small frustrations fuel an explosive and life-changing rage. Robert the character can't take any more and has left, and Robert the author has turned his mounting grievance into a very funny, and very relatable, comedy of modern life.

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