My co-workers said a lot of bad things about me. And much of it was true. I was often late for staff meetings, impossible to reach before noon, and had a strong tendency to borrow savory snacks from the employee refrigerator that weren’t exactly mine. But the part about my being a nuisance of a personal assistant to Liz Suggs was completely false.
In my four short weeks of employment at Reedsy, I had not only improved the flow of Liz’s workday, but I had managed to make countless ongoing suggestions to upgrade her sagging personal life as well. I’m not one to boast, but I was nothing short of a godsend to that writing contest judge.
This afternoon was no exception. The minute Liz wobbled through the office door on her clumsy crutches, I sprang from my specially requested ergonomic desk chair to assist her.
“Let me lighten your load,” I said then reached for the oversized black pleather bag she carried.
“Just leave it, Morgan,” Liz said. “I’ll lose my balance.”
“Nonsense,” I said and made a strong tug to remove the bag from her shoulder.
Liz somehow managed to drop one of her crutches to the navy blue industrial carpet with a thud. Coordination certainly didn’t seem to be her strong suite. Though she had a good five inches of height over my five-two frame, I managed to make a well executed move to steady her by the arm.
“Whoa! Good thing I was here to help,” I said. “You need to build more core strength. It really helps with balance.”
Liz widened her green eyes and looked at me in silence. It was a reverent moment of obvious appreciation. I stared at her in return, then sighed and studied her features.
“I love what you’re doing with that new Kohl eyeliner,” I shook my head. ”But you may want to smudge it a little, just for a softer effect.”
I bent down to rescue the fallen crutch and handed it to Liz. She made a dramatic moan and jabbed it to the floor like a spear, then inched across the room and plopped into her desk chair. Thanks to my recent furniture rearrangement, her desk was now located next to mine.
“I’m surprised you didn’t use our system,” I sat down in my desk chair and looked across at her. “I thought we agreed. You were going to call from the parking lot so I could help you up here.”
“I couldn’t today,” Liz said and fired up her computer. “I forgot my cell phone.”
Was it my imagination? Or was her tone a little sharp? Either way, I decided not to take it personally. She was obviously under a lot of stress. How else could someone break their ankle by tripping off a curb? “Organization simplifies life,” I said. “We’ll work on that too.”
She ran her fingers through her long brown hair, placed her chin in her hands and looked at me. I read in a recent article that mimicking someone’s body language helps them feel both comforted and understood. Liz certainly deserved that. I ran my fingers through my blonde bob, placed my chin in my hands and looked back at her.
“Should we revamp our plan?” I asked. “You know, in case you forget your phone again?”
“Hmmmmm,” she said and studied her computer screen. “No need. I only have a few more days in this cast, then I should be able to walk on my own again. I’m just glad that elevator is functioning again. There’s no way I could manage the fourteen flights of stairs to get up here.”
“Yeah. I called maintenance to complain again. I don’t know if you noticed but it seems the elevator is a little slow once it hits floor ten. I put in a request for it to be looked at again. Hopefully, that will happen today. There are so many things in this building that could use an overhaul.”
Liz tapped the fingers of both hands on her desk. Was that a new tic? I looked down to see that she was wearing black ballet flats with her sage green fitted jumpsuit. “I’m here for the jumpsuit,” I said. “That color is almost perfect for you. But the ballet flats are questionable. I mean, it’s great you vetoed those wacky wedges and opted for more sensible flats, but—”
“Morgan, I have a lot of work to get through today. This week’s prompt contest ends tonight so there’s a lot of entries to read. Let’s get some coffee and then we need to talk about something. It’s important.”
“Sounds like a good Friday plan,” I said. “Nothing better than girl talk over coffee.”
“Good.” She shook her head. “I’ll need your full attention. Would you mind ordering since I don’t have my phone. Just have it delivered.”
“Certainly,” I said. “Mobile orders are so efficient. What would you like?”
“I’ll have a double latte, whole milk and three pumps of vanilla.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. “Have you ever considered soy milk? It’s far better. And 3 pumps is a lot of sugar.”
“Just leave it, Morgan,” she snapped. “Please order my coffee just the way I asked. Not everything needs to be criticized.”
There was that tone again. She probably needed more sleep. I’ll forward an article about sleep hygiene to her. “Oh, I’m not criticizing,” I said. “I’m just giving helpful hints for improvement. I try to leave everything a little better than I found it. It’s a little something I learned from my grandmother.
“Let’s not wait for coffee,” she said. “We can talk now. I made something for you.” Liz reached under her desk to remove a foil covered box with a slit on the top. She reached over and placed it on my desk.
“What’s this?” I asked. Upon closer inspection, I saw the word “Suggestion” written on top of the box with someone’s misguided attempt at sketching flower bouquets along the side. “It looks like a glorified shoe box.”
“It’s an old fashioned suggestion box.” Liz smiled. “You’ll find blank slips of paper inside. I want you to avoid stating your criticisms out loud —”
“You mean my helpful hints?”
“Yes,” Liz said. “Each helpful hint or suggestion will be written on a slip of paper, then you can deposit it in the box. That eliminates any need for us to talk through them during our work day.”
“Ok-ay,” I said and leaned over to look at the box again. “But, this slit on the top is a little small, isn’t it? Besides, isn’t there a shiny app for this? Something a bit more updated?”
“We’ll just use the box,” Liz said. “As I said, on one side you’ll write your suggestion and on the other side, I want you to write what’s already working, in other words what’s already good enough.”
“Oh, you mean kind of like a twist on a gratitude list?” I said.
“Exactly,” she said.
“Oh, I never really liked those. My therapist suggested that I do that. It kind of offended me. It seemed to imply that I’m ungrateful.”
“Ok. Well, any questions before we start our work this afternoon?”
“What if I can’t think of what’s already working?” I asked.” Like what if the situation absolutely needs my suggestion for some kind of improvement?”
“Just work on it,” Liz said. “I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’ll be here until at least eight o’clock this evening.”
“One thing you might want to do about that—”
“Put it in the box, Morgan.”
Her attitude was like a cold breeze blowing through the office all afternoon. Our coffee order eventually arrived but there was no girl talk. She sipped in silence from her paper cup and squinted at her computer screen with intensity.
The slips of paper in the box were a little small but I managed to write a few of my suggestions for improvement. They included Liz getting a pair of blue ray glasses to reduce the squinting and that we upgrade to office mugs instead of suffering with paper cups. I was in the midst of trying to fathom what could possibly already be good enough about those items when I received a long winded and apologetic call.
“That was Brad from building maintenance,” I told Liz after ending the call. “It’s so ridiculous. And talk about inconvenient—”
“Put it in the box, Morgan.”
“But you said you were working until eight tonight and—“
“In the box,” she repeated.
I removed one of the tiny slips of paper from the box and wrote: “It’s so wrong that electricity to the elevator will be shut down for maintenance as of six thirty this evening. The maintenance department should think about the needs of employees that work late into the evening. You don’t have your phone and there’s no way you can get down fourteen flights of stairs on crutches.” I tapped my fingers to my lips to enhance my focus, then wrote on the flip side, “What works about this issue is that you’ll have plenty of time tonight to read all my suggestions in the box.”
I sighed and made my exit for the day mentally wishing Liz the best. I was practically a godsend to that Reedsy judge.