The following account is true as relayed to me by a friend of a neighbor of none other than Alice herself. As I could not find an illustrator adequate to the task of capturing the true essence of the day in question, I am forced to provide pieces from the work of John Tenniel originally intended for the story of another Alice. My apologies for the disparity.
Alice sat alone at her desk with an eye toward the window. Six months ago, she couldn’t have imagined she would have worked her way up to the development office, yet here she was. Suddenly the door burst open.
“Wilson!” the man said.
“It’s Webster, Mr. Fern,” Alice replied. She had grown accustomed to being called by her last name by nearly the entire company. What she had not grown accustomed to, however, was being called by the wrong last name.
“Right,” Fern continued, “I wonder if you’ve had a chance to bring on that new hire we talked about. We’re really anxious to expand.”
“Do you mean the one we discussed yesterday?” she asked.
“The very same. How’s it going?”
“Sir, I just posted the ad last night. Still, we do have a few interviews lined up for this afternoon. In fact, I believe the first is waiting outside right now.” She held back her incredulity with admirable poise.
Fern paused, cocking his head to the side before disappearing through the door. “Keep me posted,” he mumbled as his voice faded into the reception room. He glanced about the room at what appeared to be some sort of circus of candidates. At a glance, none seemed the right fit for the toaster oven industry, but he’d been wrong before, especially when it came to names.
Moments later, a voice echoed through the reception room from the abused walnut desk of Elaine, the secretary Alice had hired only last week.
Elaine, send in the first candidate.
She fumbled over the buttons of the intercom, still unsure of herself in the new position. After speaking to the dial-tone only briefly, she found her bearings and replied, “Yes Miss Webster. Right away, Miss Webster.”
Looking up from her desk across the commotion of the room, she found the young gentleman who had arrived first. “Miss Webster will see you now.”
Alice looked up just in time to see her door burst wide open as the humility of the room was sucked out by the steely-eyed gaze of a man in an expensive suit. His hair seemed almost plastic, right along with his smile. Without waiting even for a greeting, he began, “Welcome to the opportunity of a lifetime! I’m here today to speak to you about microwaves.”
“Microwaves?” Alice asked, confused by the apparent role reversal.
“Microwaves,” he replied. “It is time to take your business to the next level.”
“Microwaves,” Alice repeated.
“But of course!” the man replied. “You don’t think you’ll hold the public attention if you continue with meager toaster ovens. I have plans for you, as you will soon see.”
“Plans?” Alice found she could do little more than repeat this slippery man’s nouns.
“Well, I understand you’re not exactly designed for microwaves, so here’s the plan. We’re going to build a space—a modest space, mind you—right across the alley. Maybe 20% the size of your current facility, where we will build and distribute the finest little microwaves.” He grasped his lapels, thrust his shoulders back and allowed his eyes to close in confident silence.
“So you want to build a microwave factory just off to the side of our toaster oven factory.”
“MmHmm that’s right.” He was pleased that his point had been so clear.
Alice stood and began walking toward the door. “I’m afraid we’ve had a misunderstanding. It would be rather foolish to abandon our core business to focus on this new endeavor. And to run both side by side would seem foolish. After all, our customers might become enamored by the lights and the speed and the—”
“—Imagine Ramen at the speed of microwaves,” he added smoothly.
“Right. While I’m sure you would bring a lot, and I mean that, to the company,” she hemmed a bit. “You see, I’m just not sure what you’re proposing is right—that is to say—I’m afraid we’re just not willing to make so drastic a change,” Alice said, opening the door to indicate the interview was at an end.
Before she could close the door, a wiry individual slipped through and stood behind her. Shocked, she spun around. “Oh, I see. You must be—” but as she attempted to close the door, another wiry individual made it in. All told, eleven individuals stood behind her before she managed to close the door.
“There are a lot of you,” she began.
“We come as a team,” one said, though Alice could not tell from whence the voice had come.
“I’m afraid we just can’t afford to hire a whole—”
“—Though we are many,” another interrupted, “we require but one salary.”
“We would never want to be a burden,” added another.
“Just one salary? Well that’s interesting.” She was intrigued. After a moment’s thought, she continued. “You may have noticed that one of the work requirements is the ability to lift fifty pounds. I’m afraid I couldn’t see any one of you lifting more than, maybe, seventeen pounds at a time?”
“Perfect,” said another.
“Ideal,” a voice piped from the rear.
“We work in threes,” said yet another. They seemed reluctant to use a spokesman.
“In threes, you say,” Alice said.
“Yes,” said another. “Each day, we will bring three delightfully small workers to the office.”
“Indeed always three.” Their voices were nearly indistinguishable.
“No one of us will have that great an impact, you see, but we believe you’ll find that the combination of three, each ever so slight, will increase your joy and output immensely.”
“And you believe you will be able to contribute to the toaster oven plan?” she asked.
“Seamlessly,” one said.
“In fact,” another continued, “before you are even able to get accustomed to one of us, let alone the combination of three, we will be in a different formation. You’ll find us so tediously effective,” one began.
“Yes, tediously,” interrupted another before the other continued.
“So effective that you’ll find you wish you had never bothered.”
“Excuse me?” Alice asked.
“Perhaps I’ve said too much,” another said. They glanced each to one another awkwardly before vacating the room in a single file.
“But—” Alice began, but it was too late. Perhaps, she thought, it was for the best.
Alice found herself alone again and wondering what she had gotten herself into. Without time even to breathe, a polite knock sounded through the door. She rose from her chair and, for unknown reasons, asked without opening, “Who is it?”
“They call me the fixer,” the voice said in a hushed tone.
Oh dear. She opened with trepidation.
The shadowy figure never budged, but instead remained in the doorway leaning forward. Alice leaned in instinctively, though the moment seemed more than bizarre.
“I understand you really messed things up,” said the whisper.
“I don’t believe so, no,” she replied.
“They say your toaster ovens had so many issues in the first run that you needed someone in my line of work to, you know, clean up the mess.” The whisper remained upright, as if it were Alice who was applying to him—or her—she really couldn’t tell.
“Um, no, that’s not the case,” she said, recoiling to an upright stance. “The reviews are quite positive. I don’t believe that’s the case at all! In fact, because our first line was so successful, we’ve simply decided we wanted a bit of help incorporating new ideas.”
“New ideas?” the whisper asked.
“That’s all,” Alice replied. “Just the new ideas. Thankfully, we’re growing.”
“Mmm. Growing,” the whisper repeated, sounding disappointed. “I must have the wrong address. I thought for sure it was the toaster ovens. Perhaps it was the factory across the street. N—nevermind.” And like a phantom, the whisper was gone.
Two individuals remained in the reception room. One was pulling a large crate on a dolley with a tool box, the other was sitting quietly near the door to the lounge, eating a piece of toast.
“Well, let’s try you,” she said to the man with the toolbox.
“Great!” he said, springing to his feet. “Just give me a minute to get things set up.”
Alice sat at her desk and watched as the man unhitched the crate and began setting up an elaborate system of counters, cabinets, electrical outlets and hundreds of small bits of toast-able food.
“This is more than an expansion,” he said as he waved his arms around his creation. “This is a revolution. I’m ready to completely revamp your infrastructure.”
“Pardon?” Alice asked with a raised brow.
“I’m talking electrical upgrades, cabinet upgrades, countertop upgrades—even food upgrades! I plan to surround your toaster ovens with the best, the finest of good fineries. I have contracts lined up with premium materials suppliers in fourteen different countries, ready to work together at a moment’s notice and without hesitation to serve you. Your customers won’t know what hit them!”
Alice was a little overwhelmed. “But how will that help our toaster ovens?”
“Oh these have nothing to do with toaster ovens. No ma’am. This is all about the world around the toaster ovens. Enhancements to—distractions from—baubles about toaster ovens. Look at your oven right there in the middle. Doesn’t all this just make your oven look fantastic?”
“Well, yes,” she hesitated. It did look nice. “But does it all fit?”
“In the package? Goodness no, you see the crate I used. No, your customers will need to purchase a wholly new setup like I have here.” He walked with several grand flourishes, pointing at the various components. “They may need setups for their setups! How exciting!”
Alice’s expression must have revealed her hesitation as he moved to the crescendo.
“Your customers will be blown away!” he said, mimicking an explosion with his whole body until he was laying on the floor in a dramatic heap.
“Do we have a deal?” he said, sitting up and offering an enthusiastic handshake.
“How will we fund all of this?” she asked.
“Kickstarter, of course,” he replied, popping back to his feet and dusting off his backside.
“I’ll get back to you,” she said, and opened the door. She stood holding it for near eighteen minutes as the man packaged up his custom kitchen and left the office.
“I suppose it’s just me,” the woman said from the waiting room. She had just finished her toast.
“I suppose so,” Alice said, without any hope of success. “Come on in.”
“My name is Margaret. Margaret Wilson,” she said, offering a firm handshake and taking a seat at the desk.
“Wilson, you say?” Alice added. “And what is it you want to do to our toaster ovens, Miss Wilson?”
“Do? I’m not sure I understand,” Margaret replied.
“Well surely you want to change us in some way,” Alice said.
“If that’s what you want me to do, I suppose I could help,” she said, “but honestly, I read your ad and I thought maybe I could come and see where I fit in, you know? I just want to help. I never really thought of changing anything.”
Alice sat up in her seat. “You mean you don’t want to add a microwave factory?”
“To a toaster oven operation? That sounds ridiculous,” Margaret answered.
“You don’t want to work with ten of your friends, but only three at a time?”
“Um, no, there’s just the one of me.” Margaret was beginning to wonder if Alice was having a bad day.
“And just to be sure, you’re not here because you assume we must need to fix things?”
“Your ad said you were looking to grow.”
“And no crate of extra bits and pieces that have nothing to do with anything?” Alice asked in hopeful exasperation.
“None whatsoever,” Margaret said, encouraged by the exhale of relief that came from Alice as her shoulders perked up once again. “I just want to help you give folks more of what they love.”
“You’ve got the job,” Alice said. “Let’s get to work. But I’ll have to warn you about Mr. Fern.”