The man didn’t mean to walk past the old office, it just happened. He made a right when he didn’t have to, then a left, and there it was. He looked up at the building, counted the windows vertically until he got to six, nodded. It’d been two years since he left that place. He stared at the sixth-floor windows until he heard someone call his name. He recognized Joe’s voice. Joe flicked his cigarette onto the street and came at the man with his hand out. The man took Joe’s hand, and Joe pulled him in close and patted his back. The man’s cheek pressed up against the mustard-colored collar of Joe’s shirt. The same shirt he always wore with that faded brown stain on its pocket. It smelled of stale office air. The clingy fabric reached for the man as they broke their embrace. Joe asked how the hell he was. Joe asked where he’d been working. When the man told him, Joe’s lips twitched, then he smiled a big smile. “We all thought you’d be here forever, Mr. Fixit,” Joe said. “Progress! Progress!”
He told the man to come on up and say hello to the old crew. The man said he was late and needed to go, but Joe insisted. “Just for a minute,” the man said.
The office was pretty much as he’d remembered: busted copy machine whining its strange whine, note-covered papers thumbtacked to clusters of ratty gray cubicles, dripping faucet in the kitchen. Joe said, “Look who’s back! It’s Mr. Fixit!”
Some people came out of their cubicles and shuffled towards him. Tom, Bill, Sara, Tony, Jonathan. There they were, the co-workers. They smiled and shook his hand. The man wiped sweat from his forehead.
“Ten years, then he ups and leaves us and doesn’t come back to visit until now. This one!” Joe pretended to wring the man’s neck. Everyone laughed. “He’s a bigshot now!”
“No,” said the man, “it’s not like that.”
“Don’t be humble,” Joe said.
“Don’t be humble,” repeated the co-workers.
“Remember how stressed he was before he left? Like he couldn’t picture a life outside this place?” Joe handed the man a coffee, said, “You still take it black, right? Of course you do.”
“Thanks, but I need to get going,” the man said.
Joe stood in front of the man with the coffee and a big grin. “Mr. Fixit’s too good for our coffee now!” he said, and the co-workers went, “Mr. Fixit is too good for our coffee. Mr. Fixit is too fly for our coffee!”
So the man took the coffee.
Joe said, “Now you’ve remembered your manners!” and the co-workers laughed. “Hey, I forgot why we all called you Mr. Fixit. Could you remind us?”
The co-workers said, “Remind us, Mr. Fixit.”
The man sipped his coffee, grimaced. The thick, bitter liquid stuck to his lips and teeth like warm honey. No one ever cleaned the machine. “It was great seeing you all, but I’m so late.”
“All right, all right,” said Joe, “before you leave, you gotta visit your old cubicle.”
They led the man to his old cubicle, which was pretty much just how he’d left it, but a bit dustier. Memos and notes still covered the walls. Joe told the man to sit. The man put his coffee on the faded coffee ring next to the keyboard and sat down on his old chair. The co-workers crowded around him, staring like bored cats.
“It was because two buttons popped off your shirt,” Joe said.
“Hmm?” the man said, logging in to his old computer.
“Two buttons popped off your shirt and we were giving you hell for it, so you stuck paperclips through the buttonholes to hold it together. That’s why we started calling you Mr. Fixit.”
But the man was too busy typing up a report to respond. He sipped his coffee again, then licked the syrupy liquid from his lips. The co-workers shuffled back to their desks, whispering about what to do for lunch later. Joe dropped a stack of bulging folders next to the man, who grabbed a few and sorted through them. “Can I count on you to complete these by Friday? This client is finicky,” Joe said.
The man looked at the folders, recognized the client. “You got it,” he said. He’d have to put in some overtime, but he’d get it done. Joe patted him on the back and left him to his work.
Something fell off the man’s shirt. It rolled off the desk and landed on the floor.
Mr. Fixit didn’t notice.