Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Writing Prompt: Failure of the Problem Solver

Alex was the best problem solver in the office. Not only did he never ask for outside help with his own projects, but he was able to help others with theirs whenever he was needed. People often asked him what his secret was, but he would just smile, a look which informed us he would never tell. Various people tried to find out, but the only intelligence that several different cube-neighbors had been able to collect was that sometimes Alex muttered to himself in his cubicle.
So it was really a coincidence that I was able to solve the mystery.
I was nearing a deadline and stayed later than usual one night. As I was leaving, I walked past Alex’s desk, and thought I heard him speak. I stopped to listen, thinking he was talking to me.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t know what else I can say, but she said she doesn’t want me to speak to her again, not even to apologize.”
I suddenly felt like I’d intruded in the middle of a conversation. I knew that if I walked away, he would hear me and know that I’d been eavesdropping. I craned my neck to see if he was on the phone, but it was in its usual place next to his computer.
“Alex,” I said softly, “what are you doing?”
He jumped as though he hadn’t known I was there, and I heard a strange squeaking noise.
“Are you all right?” I asked him.
“I was just…” he began guiltily, “I was just problem-solving. Or trying to.”
He spun around in his chair and opened his palm.
This is your amazing problem-solving tool?” I asked.
He nodded sheepishly.
It was a rubber duck. A squeaky, yellow, bath time duck. How could he possibly solve problems with this?
The question must have come through loud and clear on my face, because Alex explained: “When I’m stuck on something, I explain the problem to the duck. By simplifying the situation, I can solve the problem more easily. Simple problems are easy to solve.”
“And… what was this problem?” I asked.
He blushed. “I killed my roommate’s houseplant,” he reported. Then, continuing in a tone of martyrdom, he explained that the orchid had been a gift to her from her grandmother and therefore was irreplaceable. He had only watered it because she was always saying that he didn’t do enough to keep the apartment clean, though he always tried to keep his room neat and attempted not to make a mess in the bathroom and never forgot to take care of his dishes after making a meal. “What more can I do?” he finished, gazing at the duck hopelessly.
I shook my head. “It’s a tricky situation,” I replied. “One that might be hard to simplify, and even if you did, it still might not be simple enough to be easily solved.”  
Alex sighed. “I was afraid that might be my final conclusion, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to try.”
I checked my watch and noted that it was about time that I ought to have been getting home to my wife. I patted Alex on the shoulder. “I don’t have any advice to give,” I told him. “Women are complicated. And I doubt a rubber duck knows any more about them than you or I do.”

Writing Prompt #684

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