Shorts: Cardboard

This short story is based on the ideas generated while writing a blog post on the word, “Typing”.

He looked at one of the boxes, then a second, then at a set in the middle distance, and finally at me like a lost puppy. It was his third day, and while I understood the trauma of being new, there wasn’t a lot of time to get him up to speed.

“Melanie, I think this one’s an exception, too,” he said, waving a document file in front of me.

“They can’t all be exceptions, Abdul. Most of them have a place. It’s more of a best-fit game. Where do you think it goes?”

I had to have one of those awkward conversations with my line manager yesterday about how it was going with the new guy. I couldn’t lie, as much as I felt the need to feel successful as a new manager myself. So I’m trying coaching. Reflect the question back on them. I’m sure I was less annoying as a new starter.

“You get used to this though, right?” He looked at me with those wide, terrified eyes. “I mean, you got used to it. Right?”

“Yeah,” I said, deliberately leaving it ambiguous as to whether it was one or both questions I’d answered. Not that I was unsympathetic, but there was a job to do.

Sometimes I questioned whether or not the work we did here really mattered. Those days it was easier to make decisions. Removing the pressure a little meant that if I really wasn’t sure, instead of making more work for everyone and making a new category I could just make a judgement and trust that it would all work itself out somewhere down the line. The last thing we needed down here was more categories.

alphabet board game box bundle
Photo by Pixabay on

I often questioned my ability – was I making better decisions, or finding more compromises?

Abdul didn’t ask me again, but I could see him still stuck.

“Do you know why we do this?” I asked.

“Yes. I mean, I think so. Because if we didn’t, they wouldn’t know how to deal with all these requests upstairs,” Abdul said, like he was still extrapolating.

“Well, kind of. Sometimes they don’t know how to deal with it anyway – they’re relying on us to spot the patterns. This one, for instance. Should we deal with it like it’s an M-31-K, or is it more like a J-17-Q?”

He took it from me and I gave him a minute. “It could be either,” he said, predictably.

“Right. So then, is it either?”


“Could they deal with it if I put it with M-31-K?”


“And the other way around?”

“I guess so.”

“What if I put it somewhere totally wrong? Like with the AC-4-Bs?”

“Probably not.”

“But don’t you ever want to be the one upstairs? Making the decisions?”

“Out of us and them, who do you think really makes the decisions?”

This was the first time I saw a lightbulb turn on somewhere in Abdul’s head – and strangely, I felt a new one go on in mine.

“So then,” I said with a new air of confidence in what I was saying. “M or J?”

“There’s a lot of M, but I think it’d come out better in the end as a J.”

“Cool,” I said, “box is over there. Go ahead.”


“Abdul,” I said, scanning my next file, “we just had a breakthrough.”

“Right. J it is,” he said.



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