Corporate Duck Duck Goose by Monica Sharp

Friday, November 24, 2023
Monica Sharp's character admires Anya, but can't make sense of their friendship.

Image generated with OpenAI
Everyone who contracted at the company wanted to be taken on full-time. The allure of an ironclad paycheck was too great for even the gloomiest temp to scorn. Our hourly rate was good, but we received no benefits. The stock was a big deal. Employees who held stock in the company were always going on about the ticker, was it up or down, were they underwater? Company men with ten years or more droned to captive audiences about their worth.

But the way my story was going at this place, I would never have to complain about stock. My surgery from months before felt like a lifetime ago even as the hospital bills arrived regularly. For now, though, the money was good. I had my own place, a car, my dog. Personal stock: ticking up!

Anya worked with me, same title, same group. In the years I was with Lars, I missed the easy energy of female friendship. Anya was quiet and receptive. We quickly bonded on travel, a shared affinity for language. She was a math whiz with a new graduate degree. I was envious of the degree. I made art with Lars for more than two years but had nothing more to show for it than a skewed emotional compass and a hole in my resume that I now scrambled to fill.

I confided in her of my plan to leave Lars. The next day, she left me a small, folded up Post-It note on my keyboard: Ruf du mich an. Call me.

Anya's calm soothed my skittishness. Her prosaic analysis of emotions, relationships, and corporate culture was constant. Here was a guide who could help me make sense of all this and make it work for me. She frequently dispensed armchair anthropology from the blue office recliner, sipping herbal tea.

Free range nerd preserve. The software corporation's campus.

Cat vent. The alias we joked to email when startled by a strange office noise.

The estrogen shield. Female friends.

Anya knew things. Yet her life story seemed to belong to someone else. That, or she was a compulsive liar. How had she crammed so much experience in her young life?

I'm like you, she purred. No one believes your life either.

She sipped her tea as we inspected the cluster of scars from my surgery. The family of worms. I tutted at the hole in my socks.

The holes are so cute, she said. So Edward Gorey. Don't stitch them, ever.

I took Anya's seeming devotion to me as affection, but this was just further evidence of my skewed emotional compass. Hearing her talk about social rules and regulations and restrictions as though people were code variable strings, convinced me that she and I were analyzing workplace dynamics together.

She folded me tightly into her confidence, offering no promises in return. I was another specimen to be observed, described. Pinned down. Anya was very clever like this, hedging all her bets, kind to even the most socially decrepit colleagues, professional with the managerial tier, supportive to the contractors.

The more I knew Anya, though, the more her calm veneer belied a chaotic interior.

We took walk breaks on the corporate nature trail. All employees were encouraged to walk for their mental health and to counteract incipient myopia. Towering firs and carpets of ferns lined the nature trail, surrounded by wetlands with flocks of baby ducks and a wooden bridge.

Soon I walked every day for an hour or two with Anya, hashing out practical psychology and organizational dynamics.

When I walk into a room I size everyone up, she said. I figure out where they are on the totem pole and act accordingly.

I was shocked. You are kidding me.

I'm not, of course I'm not, she said, shrugging. Everyone does it.

Everyone does not do it.

They do so.

I don't.

Well, you're either unique or dishonest, or both.

I looked at a downy chick paddling after its mother. Was that chick sizing up the other duckling? Had its mother sized it up? Maybe I should be a duck.

I was quiet for the rest of the walk. Anya spent that much time and energy, assessing everyone in every room at any given moment? Insane.

Another time, on the benches outside, we were discussing my Larswreck - the recent breakup. I was inwardly shaky but worked to maintain an outer philosophical shield. Like Anya.

I was just surprised that I thought he was looking out for me when he wasn't, I said.

You thought he had your best interests at heart? Her eyes widened.

I did. Why wouldn't I?

Anya snickered. Say it again, the whole sentence: I thought he had my best interests at heart.

I thought he had my best interests at heart, I said.

She laughed aloud. Oh, you innocent babe. I am going to tell you this now and save you time: No one has your best interests at heart. No one.

That's ridiculous. My eyes rolled.

And if they say they do, she pressed on, they're lying.

Everyone wants to use me?

Not just you, she qualified. Everyone wants to use everyone.

I refused to believe that everyone wanted to use everyone. I didn't care if this made me naive.

Anya was hired, of course, and received the blue badge after mere months. She hid the fact of her interview and hire from me, discreetly, controllingly. It wasn't her job to tell me. She didn't owe me this information.

Still, I felt funny about it. I was unceremoniously de-contracted a few months later when I was on unpaid leave in Argentina. I returned to pack up what was left of my office.

Less than three years later, as I surveyed the smoking ruins of our friendship, I had to hand it to Anya: she'd been honest from the start. She used everyone. I was the one who insisted on believing in the goodness of people. The mocking worm lived on in my heart.


  1. Upon reading Monica’s well-told story, many of us will harken back to years spent as aspiring young executroids or as bureaucratic place-fillers. A company that offers good pay, yet no benefits is set on hiring the young, the unattached, the not-forward thinking. The MC learns that lesson the hard way. Often in these environments one finds a person – a “friend:” – who at first blush appears just too good to be true. Usually that impression is a correct one. The MC should have taken Anya at her word; as Maya Angelou has said, when a person tells you who they are, believe them the first time. And the tiresome “company men” -- who go about their accumulated wealth – that’s just another symptom of a diseased working environment. It was a little unusual to read a story without any actual dialogue – at least no quotation marks – but the story was a good one, with a powerful lesson for the imminent executroids and the place – fillers (and seizers). The only mistake the MC made for which she is culpable, is that of blaming herself for her misfortune. The fault is solely Anya’s.

  2. “ armchair anthropology” is a phrase I will use! Thank you! Oh the friend of the narrator is so cynical! Yet it served her in the company. I loved the duck and duckling part….maybe she wanted to be a duck…it’s an apt simile. This piece is everyone at some point. That’s the best kind of story. I loved it.

  3. Monica's story confirms deciding to be a duck instead of a corporate henchwoman decades ago was the right move.

    Signed, Tod Cheney, because they require a corporate password to leave a comment !

  4. I enjoy how this story demonstrates a classic Mastersonian conflict between “mastering reality” and “feeling good about yourself”. Anya is excellent at mastering her reality and seems less concerned with feeling good about herself. She sizes everyone up in a room, etc., she is very adept at mastering the skills in her job environment to both protect and advance her career. Even when these skills might not make one feel good about themselves. The MC however seems willfully disinterested in mastering any of these skills, but she gets to feel good about herself as a generally loving person. …consequences follow…

  5. Anya seemed quite helpful at first. And I like the way she then says such horrible, self-centered things in such a straightforward and upfront manner that the narrator is abruptly shocked and yet, in my opinion, is surprised and even uncertain that she should be shocked. I enjoyed this story.

  6. Narrator seems a bit naive, and Anya a bit over the top. I'm a little surprised that she didn't see Anya's game, but maybe he hanging on to Lars too long, was the way she operated. As someone has said of a promintent business man / "reality show" person, Anya was transactional making easy prey of someone who wasn't. This is a cautionary tail well told - When you are confronted with Anya, don't be the narrator.

  7. I enjoyed this story. A good, cautionary tale. Sometimes people attract a difficult person into their lives in order to learn a lesson. The MC will most likely go forward with clearer insight...