My newsroom colleagues' comments filter into my consciousness.
"Eww! Is he dead?" says one reporter. "He can't be, he's not floating," opines another. "Not yet," cracks a third, as everyone chuckles.
The typical mixture of genuine concern and gallows humor has me thinking they're gabbing about some gruesome police-scanner chatter.
Don't judge. We are not really heartless. Most of us, anyway. It's just that our humanity is steadily assaulted by daily streams of 911 horrors. And inappropriate laughter soothes our souls.
Morning, noon and night, the squawking box crackles snippets of tragedy. We gather together in a collective attempt at deciphering sentence fragments: "... there are flies and maggots on her ..." or "... bleeding profusely from a ..." Brrrrzzzzzrrrrttt! Wait! What? Then what!?
More ears really are better, especially when what you really want to do is plug your own.
But my cohorts aren't clustered around the scanner speakers this morning.
"Where did he come from?" someone asks.
I rise from my seat at the farthest end of Damnation Alley and peek over the cubicle wall. Four fellow journalists peer intently at a square, glass container on the former intern's desk. At the bottom of the tall skinny vessel sits a motionless, inky-blue blob.
"It's a Beta fish," someone says. "They don't move much," I add, in tandem with another editor.
An editor pops his head up and says our summer intern brought "it" in — and left "it" there on her desk.
It doesn't seem logical that our long-gone intern left this bedraggled little fellow as a parting gift. But maybe she left this fellow as something for us to remember her by. Or perhaps he's meant as a comment on our sad little cubicle lives.
I grab the container off the empty desk. At least if this neglected fellow abides in my cubicle, he'll have a window view. Maybe I'll get him a plant. I know better than to get him a buddy. Or change his water from the tap — at least without letting the chlorine evaporate out. Learned that lesson the hard way. Or, I should say, my goldfish did. Eons ago in Pasadena, I moved a few fishies out of a murky pond into squeaky clean environs, which I'd filled via the garden hose.
"Wow! Look at them swimming around so fast! They must be really happy."
Went to bed with a song in my heart. Woke up to dead, white floaters. The local paper later ran a mea culpa from the city for using excessive chemicals in the water. Oops.
The walk back across the newsroom jogs the deep blue fellow into motion. Flapping his filmy fins, he does a couple laps before settling down again.
"He's alive!" I shout.
Hoping someone can come up with a better name than Rupert, I post his mug shot on my Facebook page. Suggestions ranged from Inky Dink to Jimmy Olson to Periwinkle Plagiarist.
But suddenly I am accused of a heinous crime by the Nightcrawler. Simply because "Flash" actually belongs to one of our vacationing photographers, Julia.
"I was baby-sitting until you fishnapped him," writes the fellow who rolls in around noonish each day.
I slosh the little finned one back where I found him, pithily pointing out the first rule of baby-sitting: "Do not to leave your charge unattended."
Flash has since left the newsroom. Please join me in a prayer that he survives until his mother returns.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email@example.com.