[The auction for this Significant Object, with story by Todd Levin, has ended. Original price: $2. Final price: $50.]
Have you ever hated someone solely for her dumb benevolence? For bland and witless good cheer? It’s the lowest of unfair acts, I know, but as soon as a smile crosses Mary Eileen’s lips, my jaw tightens and my hands instinctively ball into fists.
I honestly have no idea what Mary Eileen does for this company. Benefits manager or creative resources or consumer metrics or birthday announcement committee co-chair or some other marginal department for which no award shows exist. A career path that dead-ends inside a grim cubicle squatting in the middle of a complicated floor plan. That is Mary Eileen’s daily existence, not that it bothers her any.
I always guessed she was a Christian nutjob, with no real evidence to support that theory. Maybe I just assume anyone who likes Cats: The Musical enough to have a varsity jacket from the Broadway production draped over her desk chair like some kind of trophy for outstanding achievement in the field of mediocrity must be right with Jesus. So yeah, I associate Cats fandom with chubby born-agains, and I associate Phantom with closeted gays; sue me.
On her desk Mary Eileen kept a clear glass bowl filled with M&Ms. The bowl had a lid, held in place with a heart-shaped Ziggy paperweight. It was an elaborate contraption — really, more of a trap. The time required to get at that candy — removing and replacing both the paperweight and lid — guaranteed you would be held captive for at least a fleeting social interaction.
Mary Eileen’s supply of M&Ms was seemingly bottomless. She even found M&Ms in special colors around the holidays — an act in which I’m sure she took some kind of near-erotic pleasure. And whenever — seriously, whenever — you’d swing by and grab a few pieces of candy on the sly, Mary Eileen would unfailingly say, “Treat yourself!” That word — “treat” — from her lips was like an iron file dragging against the edge of my front teeth. The works, from Ziggy vaguely threatening me to “have a lovely day!” to the pink and red M&Ms on Valentine’s Day, to Mary Eileen’s matronly invocation, all seemed calculatedly designed to make me feel infantile.
And I guess that’s why I stole that Ziggy paperweight. I emptied the bowl of M&Ms into my backpack, too. An appropriately infantile act I suppose. But why should she have that power over me? And why can’t Mary Eileen find a means of happiness that’s, I don’ t know, grown-up? She never once complained — not formally, anyway — and it’s been stashed in my desk, M&Ms and all, for I don’t know how long.
Life goes on here, pretty much unchanged, except for a few details most people around the office probably wouldn’t even notice. Mary Eileen has stopped putting out M&Ms, and I’ve been walking in wide, inconvenient arcs to avoid passing her desk. I even switched my printer from 3-DEATHSTAR to 3-DAGOBAH just to avoid her. And this Ziggy paperweight? I just can’t keep it anymore. Maybe you can. I can’t even remember the last time I had a lovely day.