THE LONELINESS OF A RESELLER
Rain drummed on the metal roof of the building. It created the hum of an open but
empty phone line, like the receiver was picked up but no one was home. Anyone looking
down the long row of cubicles would see Marina’s head standing like a lone lighthouse
in a flat black sea. She could see dust motes floating in and out of the cone of light
cast by the overhead fluorescent. Considering the hour, this single lit area enhanced that
It was 10 p.m. and supply planner Marina
Ortegas stood in her cube trying to decipher when her supply would arrive. Three spreadsheets
and a dashboard stood open on her desktop and the whiteboard that made up the back wall
of her cubicle was covered in calculations as well. She had been concatenating, vlookuping
and angrily clicking her track pad for the past three hours trying to find one simple number.
Marina was positive that you couldn’t find ‘vlookuping,’ in Webster’s,
but fuck it: She was making it a verb.
was sure she must be missing a key file and felt like she was going through the stages
of grief. She started in denial telling herself she would be home by seven. Then consoled
herself that she wasn’t keeping anyone waiting at home: No dog to feed, no cat to
scratch, no plant to water. Her apartment was basically empty; a closed box.
least here I have you, Thrawn.” Marina looked over at her action figure of Grand
Admiral Mitth’raw’nuruodo, known to well-read Star Wars fans as Thrawn. He
was the greatest strategic battle planner ever known in a galaxy far, far away. She liked
the correlation since she was now a strategic supply planner for one of the largest computer
resellers in the country.
Marina posed him such that he would not
fall when people occasionally walked up to speak with her and leaned too heavily on one
of her cube walls. He was set against a small, pink moon cactus to help with balance. That’s
no moon she thought and laughed out loud.
It was a little reminder of
home, from her dad. A small cactus with smaller pink growths that grew like tumors out
of the top of the little green knob that was the main body of the cactus. How fitting,
she thought. She wasn’t sure what color they were, but little tumors had certainly
been growing within the body of her father when he died.
had moved to Seattle almost two years ago after finishing her degree at The University
of Texas. On graduation day, her father, Ramon Ortegas, had taken her aside and told her
quietly, with tears shining in his eyes, “It has been an honor to raise you. Thank
you for giving me the opportunity.”
away, relying heavily on his cane. He was in remission from a second bout of colon cancer.
His second ten rounds with cancer, chemo and radiation had left his body emaciated. Marina’s
once strong father, whom she had watched lift jet skis off trailers as a child –
not the smartest move she had ever seen from her father, but proof of his strength –
could now barely walk even with the help of his cane. She watched him limp away with a
pain in her chest. Marina worried what would happen when she moved away.
The dramatic difference in climate from Texas to Washington state took
some getting used to. Her father had sent the moon cactus and a picture of the hill country
taken from near the 360 bridge to put up in her apartment, so she had a little ‘home’
with her, in her new world.
When the cancer finally took
Ramon down it was a relief to Marina. She could hear how tired he was during their phone
conversations. He lived in constant medicated pain. No more chemo. No more radiation. Only
pain and sadness. The insult to injury was that Marina could not take the time to visit
before he passed away. She was new in her role and still considered ‘ramping’
as her company liked to describe people who were in a role for less than two years.
She was a coward for not going.
A bad daughter.
“I love you daddy. You’ve worked
hard.” Her phone-voice was strong and confident. The voice of someone giving a presentation
to senior leadership. “It’s okay to take time for yourself. I’ll miss
you, but it’s okay. I know you’re tired. It was an honor being raised by you.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity.” Her voice started to break on the last
word, and she covered it with a cough and cleared her throat. He died in his sleep the
Marina continued working for two days and
then risked three days of bereavement leave. This gave her five nights with her mom. It
was too much. She spent no more than thirty minutes speaking with her mother and that was
awkward small talk. She gave a short eulogy at the service where she saw her mother laugh
and react more than at any point leading up to it. After, she left to, “see some
old friends and decompress.” Her mother’s response amounted to a head nod and
a, “that sounds fun, hon,” as she walked the other direction.
The truth was that she had stayed at a hotel, alone, a mile up the road
from her parent’s house, without speaking to anyone the entire night and most of
the following day.
Marina looked at the picture
held near the top corner of her cube. It was the photo of the Texas hill-country her father
had sent along with the pink moon cactus. Looking at it, she realized that she had decorated
her cube more than her apartment.
“Well, that tracks,” Marina
said, “I spend way more time here than in that apartment. This is where my
eyes are, so this is where my pretty things are.”
Marina checked her screen. “Obviously,
I have everything I need to figure out this supply situation. Right? Well, if that’s
true why am I still stuck here at ten-fucking-thirty and the other planners have been gone
since six?” She was almost sure a file was missing and she could not get to total
landed supply with the data on-hand. So on to stage two of grief – she was pissed.
It became clear to her, the entire situation was the supplier’s
fault. They obviously forced her to take this job, tricked her into skipping lunch, missing
dinner and corrupted her into staying up last night to finish reading Getting to Yes.
Part of Marina’s self-development plan was to read a business book each week.
“Forget ‘yes,’ I need to get
to a supply number. I need to negotiate a fucking inventory picture without going
crazy,” she laughed and realized she was shouting. She looked around to see if anyone
heard her. Still alone.
She looked out the wall of windows and saw
the rain sheeting into the well-lit landscaping near the building. Beyond the landscaping
it was pitch black for about fifty feet before two standing LED light-poles shone twin
pools of light at the entrance to the parking garage. It crossed her mind that this was
poor planning for those leaving after dark. In physics, black is the absence of light.
The area past the landscaping until you reached the parking garage was disorienting in
its darkness. Not just the lack of light but of reality itself.
Anything could be out there where reality ends. Or nothing, she thought.
“Yeah well, there’s certainly been a lot of nothing since
I moved here!” She said it aloud just to dispel the unease the thought gave her.
“What the hell man, I’m creeping myself out. I’ve
got to get outta here. It has been a long day. This supply number can wait until morning.
“By then I’ll have some PODs to show
what has actually delivered. Fucking asshole supplier. So high and mighty when you’ve
actually been going downhill for years and everyone knows it. Your support is for shit.
Why don’t you help someone out!”
She realized she was crying. And
still talking out loud. This was ridiculous. Why was she crying? She loved what she did;
didn’t she? It wasn’t glamorous but it made a difference, and she was good
at it, dammit.
“Their tools are for shit. And I’m
going to let them know.”
Marina lowered her desk and sat.
She wanted to lean into this, and sitting down felt like strapping in. Her father taught
her if you want to be a bear, be a grizzly. She looked up the proper email address for
the CEO of her supplier and then verified. It was public so Marina also confirmed it from
a number of online sources.
She wrote quickly.
The words poured out of her onto the screen.
finished she felt calm.
Or maybe just empty. She decided
both worked and looked at her watch. It was 11 p.m. Marina decided this would finish off
her day better than actualizing her landed supply. She packed her stuff into her leather
bag, saving her computer for last. Before she packed it, she hit Send.
# # #
In an animated movie Marina’s email would then travel from one computer to
the next. Following an imaginary path from the CPU of a computer through the data line,
or power cord if you were watching a Pixar film, across the distance into the receiving
computer to then splash against the back of the screen. A clean, organized process and
exciting to watch the data rush from beginning to end. It leaves a warm and fuzzy feeling
as a journey completed. All those little electrons flowing together in a pack, surrounded
and protected by the cables they travel through.
this is a wireless world. WIFI, cellular, 4G and 5G communications leave everything traveling
through the air. Radio waves on top of data signals, a dense fog of information that no
one can see. And it’s dangerous out there. A pack of electrons seems strong and protected,
but a little signal floating through a crowded space with so many other signals is weak.
What if the other signals aren’t nice to it? What if there is something out there
that wants to capture that signal? What if it wants to keep it? What if it wants to hurt
Why would people be any safer than those
signals they send containing their data? The human race has spent its time building barriers
to keep safe. The home, the car, the office building, all of these little pools of safety,
and yet everyone still has to take that step outside the protective shell and float like
a lonely email to the next shelter.
clear defects in this system. If the electrons had to keep jumping from cable to cable,
they would be slower and open to danger. You could lose your data. You’d complain
about the company who made them. You’d complain to the IT department. But there is
no IT department for life. Complaints about the human experience are submitted as
thoughts and prayers. Ask the victims of a school shooting about the usefulness of thoughts
# # #
Tricia Clark woke at 4:25 a.m.
She used the mornings to complete her workout, meditate, eat breakfast and complete
a review of her morning emails by 7 a.m. She challenged herself daily to be the best version
of Tricia she could be. You had to be your best to change the world. She wanted her company
to live this same belief. So, no one on the Executive team was surprised when Tricia started
their morning meeting discussing an email, she had received from a partner supply planner.
“I received this at about midnight.” She began. “This email concerned
me. Mixed up in there is what appears to be a valid concern on the tools we offer to our
resellers, so we need to get this over to AMR Ops team to review. But that is not the
priority right now. I think we need to get someone involve–”
Tricia, I don’t mean to cut you off.” This was Eliza Tsai, the Vice President
of World Wide Operations. It was clear the email would work its way to her desk for distribution
to the leaders in Americas Operation. “We get emails from customers pretty often.
I get it, there’s something about this one that piqued your interest, but can we
all take a look? It seems like it would be easier for us to get aligned on next steps if
you could point out your specific concerns.”
“Great point Liz. Let me
share my screen for a moment.” The morning meeting was always hosted virtually. Since
Tricia’s team was global, it was the best way to get everyone in the same ‘room.’
She shared her screen showing the email Marina sent just eight hours before:
From: Marina Ortegas
Date: January 28, 2020
Subject: the loneliness of a reseller
I work as a supply
planner for the 2nd largest reseller of your products in the country. I am writing
to you today to share my experience as a suicidal reseller in this world and the need for
continuous personal improvement. There should be transparency and visibility in this channel
and my heart to see the darkness.
outside too. I can see it. I can’t see it. I can see that I can’t see
it and it is inside me.
I’m unsure if you are aware, but we rely
on your Operations team to provide us with the best reason on solutions to our lives, who
are in fact your customers. Our customers are in the health care field as I’m sure
you can appreciate, I seem to be in heavy need these days. The darkness has a huge demand,
and the frontline responders need us.
is good to be needed. No one needs me.
That being said, there is a need for sacrifice
between both our companies and the larger reseller community. Your tools are outdated,
web service is virtually non-existent with too few reports available to accurately do our
actualization after spending months forecasting our needs. Help me.
imagined saying these things about myself and the darkness but it
is true. It is there. It is not there. And while I cannot provide specific solutions to
ensure our needs are met, I will say it is difficult if not impossible to open my chest
and present my beating heart, frankly I’m disheartened. HA!
I’m sure you won’t read this, and that I’m likely
talking to a computer, but they say you cannot live without the air, so I’m starting
in the darkness today and there is no air.
hope to see light during my time. Thank you for the opportunity to warn
Supply Planner – Ones & Zeroes, LLC
The team read the email in silence and tried
to internalize the meaning. The quiet continued as this team of executives, trained and
experienced in speaking to powerful people about difficult issues – trained and tested
to work contract deals worth billions of dollars with not just businesses but entire nations
– struggled to find a way to express their thoughts.
the fuck?” said Jeff Podesta. He was always ready for the golf course, but now sat
slack jawed looking like a man who hadn’t so much lost his ball, but rather found
it stuffed uncomfortably up his ass.
think that about sums it up Jeff.” Tricia replied. “You all look about how
I pictured myself this morning when I read through it the first few times. I went from
thinking ‘oh this is trash,’ to ‘Should Liz take a look at our attainment
tools,’ but like you Jeff, I’m pretty sure I kept coming back to, What the
“Okay people. Thoughts now that you’ve
seen it and had some time to digest?” She watched as mute icons were disabled and
voices started offering options.
“Liz, we should definitely check
on the attainment tools.”
“Yes, I’ll get that over to AMR
today. Obviously not the whole thing, I’ll just note the concern about the tools.”
“Should you call the CEO of Ones and
“Maybe just this Marina’s manager?
Can we find that name?”
“Call the suicide hotline.”
“Call the folks in white coats.”
“Too late. The low men in
yellow coats already found her.”
enough of that,” Tricia called out. “I don’t even know what that means
and this is no time for jokes. Calling someone is a good idea, but I think that calling
Shuli is a bit much.”
Shuli Gaspard was the CEO of Ones &
Zeroes. He and Tricia had known each other for years. “No reason to jump that far
up the ladder. Calling the CEO for a concerning email from one supply planner? That would
be like asking me to know–”
you realize you’re our CEO and you’ve already spent at least an hour with this.”
“True, but it still feels
impersonal. I think I’m going to call this planner directly. And Liz, whenever you
get it over to AMR Ops make sure they know that we want someone to call her about the tools.
Not just an email. She was sure to put both her office and mobile number in there. Make
sure they use them.”
“Will do,” Liz said. She felt on
firm ground when speaking about actions and deliverables for her teams. She was more unsure
on the personal steps Tricia was contemplating. “Are you also suggesting I call her?
Call this,” she paused to check the mail again, “Marina, myself to make sure
“No, she didn’t email you. I
know it’s unorthodox, but I think I’m going to call her myself.”
Tricia, that’s crazy. Why don’t,” Jeff thought for a moment, “why
don’t we figure out who she reports to and give them a call? Isn’t it more
their wheelhouse anyway?”
thought is,” Tricia began, “if her leadership was paying any attention, I
wouldn’t be getting these types of emails at midnight. Besides, look at that last
bit, where she says no one is going to read it. Maybe what this poor person needs is for
me to show that I did read it. I am no better than she is. We all have our dark times.”
A shiver ran through her. Poor choice of words.
leaned back taking a sip of tea. Having made the choice, she felt better. Like Eliza, she
was more comfortable after making an actionable decision.
going to call her today.”
“If you don’t mind, I can join
you in your office at noon and sit in when you make the call.” Eliza knew it was
better to team up for hard negotiations and tough talks, and this was likely a very tough
Tricia agreed to meet at noon and the meeting
moved on to the regular business of the day. None of the executive team mentioned Marina
or the email but her words hung on each of them like a shadow dragging late into the day.
# # #
Just after noon in Seattle an
office phone started ringing. It stopped, long enough for a voicemail and then rang again.
It rang again.
Rang, yet again.
Rise and repeat.
Ling, the planner in the adjacent cubicle, annoyed at the repeated unwelcome noise and
interruptions walked over to see why no one answered, considering it likely the person
had gone to lunch. Most calls at noon ended up in a voicemail box.
He leaned on the cube wall a little heavy, knocking off some little
red-eyed action figure. It landed on a dusty desk that seemed unused. He could not remember
anyone sitting there recently, but there was a mess of numbers and calculations on the
white-board as if someone had been really working something out. The whole thing was gibberish
to Lee, but hey man this wasn’t his row, he was on the other side planning wearables.
Way easier gig.
Lee reached over and set the
phone to Away to stop the ringing. Let them fill up Mr. Red-eye’s mailbox.
Another phone started ringing. That infernal
default ringtone that defines the 21st century in a single round of ‘deedle
do de do de do.’ It was the sound you heard in a dark movie theater. You heard it
on the other side of the doctor’s office; heard it four aisles over when you were
in the grocery store, and then again just two aisles away. It was in the stall next to
you in the restroom.
That goddamn ringtone.
It rang again.
The same phone. Someone needed to answer it. Save the world from having to hear that incessant
tune just one more time. It was muffled, but there it went again. One of those people
that couldn’t take the hint that the person did not want to speak to them. Maybe
they were unavailable.
Maybe, they were gone.
When it started
ringing again Dale McGuire finally noticed where it was coming from. This place is getting
so trashy he thought. First he found red graffiti in the parking garage,
sprayed on the service door like a Pollock painting. Now the very same day he found people
leaving their shit laying out in the landscaping. What a mess.
The noon sun
was high, it was mild but bright outside and the shadows were short. And yet, there was
a leather computer bag lying in deep shade. Something like mud had dried thick and
reddish on one side where it had obviously splashed down last night during the storm. Although,
the patch of ground seemed very dry considering the amount of mud. Was it a little rustier
in color than mud?
It was a nice bag; expensive. Someone must
surely be searching for it after losing it last night. Probably running to their car in
the rain, it had slipped off a shoulder, in the dark. It was in an odd location, lying
between the building landscaping and the perpetually lit entrance to the parking structure.
There was something else. It was flatted
like a gardener’s nightmare, a stomped green thumb. It had little pink tumors on
The phone started ringing again, even though
it was clear no one was going to answer. Not anymore.
# # #
Subsequent testing of the substance on the bag and the parking garage
proved to be blood. It was assumed to be Marina’s. However, no brush nor comb was
found in the bag nor later in her apartment. No other sample large enough for testing was
found to compare against Marina’s own DNA.
surprised no one to learn that there were cameras covering almost every possible corner
of the office; inside and out. When the footage was reviewed later the observers were able
to track Marina’s progress through the building to the exit. After that, her
movements became murky, no more than suppositions. Like the life of Schrödinger’s
Cat in its box. A perpetual razor’s edge between existence and nothing. Observation,
by its very nature changes that which is observed.
The external cameras were
partially obscured by the heavy rain. Twenty minutes before Marina left, it captured a
black octagonal shadow that moved from the parking garage toward the building’s door,
but never entered. It joined the shadows beyond the landscaping but never emerged.
It was assumed to be an umbrella.
shadows were black. Black is the absence of light. Cameras require light to capture their
observations. When Marina stepped from the building the camera captured the movement into
the shadow. But did it observe anything else in the absence of light?
In the first steps, in the shadows, did Marina hear a splash she first
assumed was her own foot in a puddle? The camera did not capture sound. But did it record
when a black gloved hand grabbed her forearm? A knife might come silently, shearing skin,
then tendon, leaving a carved notch in both radius and ulna, while the first of
life’s blood begins to pour down the blade and Marina’s hand. Against the cold
rain the blood is lava hot, but quickly cools. Her fingers, no longer capable of tension,
release her bag and cactus. Both fall to the ground. Had she brought her cactus? Why?
Had she not planned on being back in the office? She couldn’t remember. Her mind
Suppose a muddy, black clad foot stepped
on the sad little cancer cactus as Marina feels her air cut off by what must be an arm.
She fell back into that strangling body and was lifted, not dragged, back toward the parking
structure. But not into the light, no. On the far right-hand side, in the shadows, stands
a service door. It’s a double that allows workmen to bring heavy equipment and tools
from the garage. The camera above this door sees the shadows. It captures the nothingness
The blade might have found Marina’s
neck. It was meant to carve and so it does. There might have been a sound, but the camera
doesn’t capture sound, and the cut was quick, severing larynx and carotid. Arterial
blood sprayed the wall here. In her final moments, what was once Marina felt the hot fire
of blood pour down her opened windpipe, learning but not understanding that she’s
dying of a slit throat and drowning simultaneously. The rain continued to pour, flattening
mud, washing concrete paths.
The camera captured
nothing as Marina faded to nothing.
showed Marina walking through the building and exiting into darkness twenty minutes after
the octagonal shadow passed by. The camera showed nothing else. Thus, no one
observed anything else. The results of the case were inconclusive and filed as a missing
person whom few seem to miss. And Schrödinger’s Cat remained waiting in the closed
Brandon Doughty was
first published in Black Petals, back in 2004. Since
then, he's spent his time managing teams in supply chain operations for a tech company.
The experience helped him foster “Loneliness," into existence.
During the same period he found time to get married.
After his long hiatus he now actively writes each day
and reads non-stop except when he is out catching a
Brandon lives in Austin,
Texas with his wife, their two children and their dog
Ripley. (Yes her first name is Ellen.)