Work colleagues are like family in that we do no choose them but we are inseparable from them – at least until they’re gone. In “Designated Mourner,” the most traditional story of the collection, a middle-aged man is saddled with one underling, a middle-aged woman he doesn’t particularly like. Blessed and cursed with a personality trait perfect for the corporate world – the needed to be liked if not loved by everyone – he is determined to do the right thing after she falls ill with cancer. The cancer is fatal, and during the woman’s decline, he finds himself making hospital and home visits, meeting the un-monstrous mother that the underling has been complaining about so openly and endlessly at work. He attends the wake, where her friends tell him that she talked about him all the time. They thank him for all that he did for her. He still has one more role to play at work in connection with her: he must help their colleagues process the loss. He is of course appropriate, even moved, although he is never sure what he really feels, and may never know if his sense of obligation created a love for this testy, difficult person he otherwise would have never felt, or robbed him of whatever true affection he might have harbored for her.
In submitting for publication the Transcendent Guide to Corporate America, my collection of stories about work and life in the corporate era, I wrote a detailed description of the book. It turned into a story-by-story summary about how themes in the stories relate to the general themes of the guide. I thought I'd present them here, one story at a time. This is the ninth. As for what the individual stories are actually "about," you're on your own. If you'd like to read one, some can be found online here.