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BZZZZ! BZZZZ! BZZZZ! BZZZZ!
An arm emerged from beneath the covers. A hand groped for the alarm. Bap, bap, bap . . . SLAM! The alarm stopped buzzing.
Lemuel Gulliver sat up groggily and immediately banged his funny bone against the wall of his tiny sleeping nook.
“Ow!” He rubbed his elbow, but he was awake now. Swinging his legs around the side of the bed, he shuffled into his little bathroom and turned on the drippy shower faucet.
Moments later, dressed in a dubiously clean T-shirt and wrinkly pants, Gulliver sat down at his small kitchen table and opened the morning paper, the New York Tribune. He turned directly to the travel section and stared at a small picture at the top of the page. There she was: Darcy Silverman.
Darcy had her own column: “Darcy Silverman’s Out and About.” She’d written today’s column about her trip to Mumbai. Gulliver had never been to Mumbai. In fact, he hadn’t really ever traveled anywhere to speak of, but that didn’t stop him from reading every word of Darcy’s columns. At last he tore his gaze from the pretty, intelligent face in the picture, swilled down the last sip of his bad coffee, slung his New York Tribune press badge around his neck, and headed out the door.
Gulliver hurried down the front steps of his shabby apartment building. Out on the street the tall Manhattan skysCRapers towered above him, making him feel small and insignificant—as usual. He trudged into his corner deli to order his breakfast sandwich.
“Hey, Kenny, how ya doin’?” said a burly construction worker standing behind Gulliver.
“Terrific, Mac! What’ll it be today?” replied the deli cook. He hadn’t noticed Gulliver, who had gotten there first. Gulliver was too short to see over the top of the ordering counter.
“Let me get twenty-eight bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches!” said the construction worker.
“Right away, buddy!” said the deli clerk. “That oughtta clean us out of sandwiches for the rest of the morning!”
Gulliver sighed and walked out of the deli with his shoulders slumped.
As he approached the New York Tribune building, dozens of people streamed past him, hurrying to get to work. He entered the cool, vaulted lobby, where a large group of reporters, editors, and other professional-looking people clumped in front of the elevators. They all got onto elevators going up. Gulliver stepped into the only elevator heading down.
Later that morning Gulliver sat in his small, airless work area, studying a piece of paper. Behind him was a bulletin board packed with photos, many of them CRacked and faded. ACRoss the desk from him sat a young, impatient-looking man.
“Your name’s Dan?” asked Gulliver.
“Yeah. Like it says on my resume,” he replied drily. “Which you’re looking right at.”
“What do you hope to get out of working in the mail room?” asked Gulliver, affable as ever.
Dan stared at Gulliver. “What do I hope to get out of working in the mail room? I hope to get out of working in the mail room as soon as possible!”
“You’ve got sass. I like that,” said Gulliver. “You’re hired! Welcome to the team.” He held up his fist for Dan to bump back with his own fist.
Dan just blinked at him. “I was already hired. Not by you, either.”
Gulliver leaped up. “First thing we must accomplish today is to—”
“Deliver the mail to the departments that need mail delivered to them?” snapped Dan.
“No! We must document your first day on the job!” Gulliver grabbed Dan and pulled him closer, then took out his iPhone and snapped a picture of the two of them. The printer spat out the photo and Gulliver bounded over to it and tacked the picture up on his bulletin board.
Dan stared at the dozens of pictures. “Wow. How long have you been here?”
“Ten years,” said Gulliver proudly. He pulled the mail cart out from where it had been stashed and patted it affectionately. “All the great thinkers started out in the mail room,” he added.
Dan stared at Gulliver in disbelief.
“If this noble steed could talk, can you imagine the places she has been?” asked Gulliver.
“Up and down the hallways of the New York Tribune?”
“Exactly!” said Gulliver. “Now . . . let’s go deliver some mail!”
As Gulliver and Dan pushed the cart through the bustling corridors, Gulliver tossed piles of mail into various offices and toward different desks with pizzazz—behind-the-back passes, layups, alley-oops. Unfortunately the mail missed its targets more often than not, sailing over in-boxes, even hitting an assistant in the side of the head.
“Sorry!” shouted Gulliver cheerfully as he turned a corner . . . and stopped outside the office of a powerful editor.
Gulliver tiptoed quietly into the office and placed the pile of mail on the corner of the polished desk. “Your mail, sir,” he said deferentially, and began walking backward out the door.
“Hey!” said Dan, addressing the editor behind the desk. “You’re Harold Jones, right?”
Gulliver’s mouth fell open at Dan’s boldness.
“Why, yes,” said the editor, looking over the top of his glasses to address Dan.
“I just want to say that I loved your piece on the failure of the derivative market. Terrific stuff,” said Dan.
“Well, thanks very much,” said the editor.
Dan thrust out his hand. “Dan Quint. New mail guy.”
The editor stood up and shook Dan’s hand. “I look forward to seeing you around,” he said with a smile.
Gulliver seemed to have lost the power of speech during this whole exchange, but as soon as he and Dan had rounded the next corner, he pulled Dan aside.
“What are you doing, man?” he whispered. “Mail room guys are not on the same level as these people! We’re the little people!”
“I don’t want to be one of the little people,” said Dan, looking scornfully at Gulliver.
“Who does? Hey, I’ve got some plans of my own too. Done some writing samples over the years and stuff. But you can’t talk to these people like that; you have to respect their work space.”
“You’re just scared of them,” Dan said.
“Nah, it’s not like that,” said Gulliver as they continued around the next corner. “It’s just that . . .” He gulped on his words, then suddenly stopped short. Dan followed Gulliver’s gaze.
A pretty, intelligent-looking woman was leaning over her desk. A halo of fluorescent light bathed her in an ethereal glow. She stood back up and faced the other person in her office, a handsome, CRaggy-looking man wearing an interesting overcoat that clearly came from some exotic place far away.
“Thank you for considering me for the travel writing position,” the man was saying. He had an unusual accent, perhaps Australian. “I hope you enjoy these sample articles I’ve done. If you have any trouble reaching me, it may be because I’m in the midst of ascending one of the higher peaks in the Himalayas.” He smiled broadly, flashing bright white teeth.
“Thanks, Nigel,” said the woman. It was Darcy Silverman, the travel columnist. “As soon as I’ve made a decision I will let you know.”
As the man brushed past the mail cart without a glance, Darcy smiled at Gulliver. “Hey, Lemuel. Got any mail for me?”
Gulliver stammered something unintelligible, then started fumbling through the mail cart.
“Hi!” said Dan, bounding forward to shake Darcy’s hand. “I’m Dan from the mail room. I’ll do whatever it takes to not be from the mail room!”
“Dan’s just kidding,” said Gulliver, who had finally found his voice. But it came out in a high, nervous squeak. “And he doesn’t mean to bother you.”
“He’s not bothering me.” Darcy laughed. “Nice to meet you, Dan. I’ll see you guys later.”
As they wheeled away from the travel section offices, Dan smirked at Gulliver. “So how long have you had a debilitating CRush on the travel editor?”
“Who? Me? CRush? On Darcy? Nah,” said Gulliver. “I mean, maybe she has a CRush on me, but . . . hey!”
Dan had grabbed Gulliver’s iPhone. Now he sCRolled to a photo of Darcy, which Gulliver had taken on the sly one day. “Why don’t you just ask her out?” he asked.
Gulliver shrugged. “I can ask her out whenever I want. It’s no big deal. It would just take me, like, five seconds. I could do it anytime.”
“So do it.”
“Next time I see her, I will!” said Gulliver.
The elevator doors opened and they rolled the cart in. Just as the doors were about to close, Darcy stepped in.
“Well! Hello again!” she said.
“Gotta go!” said Dan, and with a big wink at Gulliver, he jumped out just before the doors closed again.
Gulliver found himself alone with Darcy.
“So how’s the day going?” asked Darcy brightly.
“You know,” muttered Gulliver without looking up from the floor.
“What are you doing this weekend?”
“Bunch of stuff.”
“Yeah. Cool,” he replied.
“Well, have a good one,” said Darcy as the doors opened at the lobby. She stepped out.
As the doors closed Gulliver smacked his forehead. “You idiot!” he said to himself. “Why didn’t you just ask her out?”
Suddenly the doors opened again. Darcy stepped in. “I forgot something in my office. You going back up too?”
“Um, yeah. I forgot something too,” Gulliver mumbled miserably.
Later that day Gulliver tramped into the mail room and sat down heavily in his battered old chair.
“You chickened out. What a surprise,” said Dan.
“I didn’t chicken out,” said Gulliver. “I’m just . . .”
“Being respectful of her work space.” Dan snorted.
“So, hey, you want to go grab some dinner? Shoot some pool?” asked Gulliver, changing the subject.
“No,” said Dan.
“Hey, no problem!” said Gulliver. “You want to be all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for tomorrow so you can impress the boss!”
“You’re not my boss anymore. I got promoted.”
Gulliver was shocked. “That’s impossible! This was your first day.”
“Yeah, well, they promoted me,” said Dan. “Look. You might as well face it. The reason you didn’t ask Darcy out is the same reason you’ll never leave the mail room. You talk a big game, but that’s just it: talk. You’ll never amount to anything.” And Dan stood up and walked out.
Gulliver slumped back into his chair.
But after he sat and thought for a while, he grew determined. He would do it! He would ask Darcy out! Before he could change his mind, he took the elevator up to Darcy’s floor. He walked down the hall toward the travel section offices, as everyone around him was packing up to go home.
“Oh! Hey, Gulliver!” said Darcy, looking up from her desk. “Did you need something?”
Gulliver swallowed. Then he cleared his throat. He started to say something, then stopped. Then he tried again. “I really enjoyed that article you wrote about Mumbai,” he said.
“Thanks,” she said, somewhat puzzled. “Are you all right?”
“Yes,” he said quickly, his newfound courage failing him all of a sudden. “I just came in for . . .” He looked wildly around her office, then snatched up a piece of paper. “This.”
“You want to apply for the travel writing assignment?” she asked. “I had no idea you wrote. Or traveled.”
“Oh, yeah, I travel all the time,” lied Gulliver.
“Oh, wow. Who knew? Well, bring me some samples in the morning, and we’ll see what we can do.”
Gulliver smiled weakly, wondering what in the world he had just done.
© 2010 Sarah Willson