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What horrible thing was reheated in the microwave? An investigation

Tuesday, 12:45 p.m. – The attack

The marketing team is heading out for our monthly lunch outing when suddenly we are trapped under a fog of spoiled meals past. I feel the hair on my neck stand, while the hair in my nostrils retreat. Samantha covers her face as her eyes begin to water. Without warning we are overcome with dread that our last breathes will be this tainted air. Several ran to the nearest bathroom. Those who smoke decide the time is right to go light up out back. The few remaining of us freeze in a panic. I begin to dry heave under my desk, doing anything I can to escape smell of death.

Backstory – Stench

To fully understand the atrocity committed in the employee break room on Tuesday you must first immerse your senses. Imagine that one friend you have, the one who never grew past the college years. They still decorate their apartment with empty liquor bottles and beer cans. That poster of a half-naked woman sitting on the hood of a race car, bought for them as a gag gift on their 18th birthday, is still the only form of “art” hung on their walls. You’re pretty sure they don’t have a cat but stepping foot in their home makes you think they have to have a cat, somewhere. Imaging they have yet to do laundry is a few weeks, or months, which is probably not far from the truth. Picture if you will a pile of their dirty socks sitting in the corner of their room. Sweaty, old, worn out socks. Now watch as your friend lights a match and tosses it on the pile. It doesn’t really go up in flames, but it smolders and burns. Thick, dark smoke billows out as each sock slowly turns to ash. Now breathe it in. Let the stench burn your nostrils, it’s so bad you can taste it on the back of your tongue. That grotesque smell, you cannot escape, that is what we endured last Tuesday.

Tuesday, 12:34 p.m. – The crime

The beeping of a microwave finishing its cycle is heard faintly from the break room. Moments later the Enterprise Sales Reps who sit closest to the break room, prime real estate on free bagel Friday, begin to shift uncomfortable in their chairs. Chad makes a joke about how Paul should “take it easy on the beans”. No one laughs. One by one they become more uncomfortable as the air thickens around them and decide now is a great time for a sales huddle with the interns, and they call their team into a conference room. The sales interns don’t know it yet, but they’ve been spared from an event that would have certainly scared them for years to come. The stick begins to spread at a quicker pace.

Tuesday, 12:51 p.m. – The Search for answers

In a confused haze we look towards each other, searching our brains for answers. Did the maintenance crew crack a gas pipe during some routine work? Was a meat shipping truck overturned in the street, with the sun baking down on the goods? Did sewage pipe burst in the break room? The break room! The beeping microwave. We all managed to break through our clouded thoughts at the same time. Being the type of person I am, the kid who had to touch the stove to learn the hard way it was hot, I needed answers. I wanted to find out who and what and why this assault on our senses took place. I gathered up my strength and crawled out from beneath my desk. As I look towards the break room, and out walks Karen, as if nothing has happened.

Backstory – Karen

It is best to understand who Karen is as a person. Karen is your mom’s friend who gets drunk at dinner parties and lets loose, becoming the greatest entertainment of the night. She has worked in accounts payable longer than any manager has been at this company, yet she seems completely content without a raise or promotion. Karen has a different ugly Christmas sweater for each working day between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve. You would think she’d be the type of person who has a lot of cats, but no, she has seven birds. You would never say a bad thing about her, but this is not the first time she has cleared out an entire wing of the office with her leftovers. I think she was once married, but when prompted about it she casually changes the subject.

Tuesday, 12:53 p.m. – The “Hurt Locker” reference

I try to call her attention, not necessarily to scold her but to gather information. Coughing the putrid air, I can’t get out a word. I look towards the kitchen and put my hand out towards Samantha, who instinctively hands me one of her many scarves she wears to work only to leave it behind at the end of the day. I place it over my mouth and nose as I take my first few steps. Zig zagging through the rows of desk in our open office space I ponder what I might find. This was not your typical culprit, a reheated trout or leftover curry, it was something else. Perhaps a sack of used diapers, maybe burnt residue scraped from an unchecked oven. My thoughts were getting clouded more and more with each step I took. Stepping into the break room I felt as if I were in that movie The Hurt Locker. I fell asleep halfway through it so I’m really only guessing at this point.

Tuesday, 12:54 p.m. – The hunt for clues

I quickly search for answers. I want to spend as little time here as possible. First, I spot the trash can. Remnants of tinfoil and deli paper placed freshly on top provide little information. In the sink, a dirty fork with a green glaze over it. A single piece of rice lay beside it. I dare not open the microwave door, but in a moment of genius I quickly set the microwave to five seconds and press start. The light inside turns on, allowing me to pear through the glass and catch a glimpse of residue, possibly from a sauce splattering from its last use. It’s brown and a little greasy. Looking for anything else that might give me more to go on I look in the fridge. I’ve seen Karen eat before. She never finishes a meal, not even half. I’ve struck gold as I see a brown paper bag with ‘Karen, plz dont eat!’ written across it with today’s date crossed out, and tomorrows written freshly underneath. Whatever is in here I know my next mission is to prevent tomorrows disaster before it begins. I carefully open the bag.

Tuesday, 12:57 p.m. – The culprit

One-third of a Chipotle burrito, pork and fajita with green salsa and pinto beans. A once delicious meal so carelessly chilled and reheated. Only to be chilled once more to cause havoc another day. I was washed with a wave of relief. I knew what needed to be done now. I closed the fridge and went to rejoin my team, we gathered our things to head out to our monthly lunch outing. There would be much drinking.

Wednesday, 8:12 a.m. – The note

I arrived at the office early. I removed the last third of the burrito from the fridge and disposed of it. I left an anonymous card on Karen’s desk. Inside, a $15 gift card to Jimmy Johns and one simple message. No more burritos, Karen. Don’t be a garbage human.

This satire piece first appeared on Cooper Review.

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