A real-life friend of mine wrote this short story, and shared it with me so I’d have something to read whilst convalescing last week. She came over last week and among other things, we talked about the story (I loved it) and I offered to put it here to get some feedback for her.
So…can you please read it and let me (her) know what you think?
I’ve got a lot of time to think about myself. I’ve got a lot of myself to think about. I got my job two weeks ago and my new apartment three weeks ago. I got my hair cut four inches four weeks ago after I got to dumping my boyfriend five weeks ago. I get interrupted every eight minutes on average, for eight hours every day. I gotta wonder where time goes and why I feel like I’m always running out of it. Especially today.
I work Reception for Grand Life National Bank in the Corporate Communications and Public Affairs and Marketing Department: I hang up your coat and offer you coffee, tea or water – sparkling or mineral? I take minutes in executive meetings and ensure lunches arrive as ordered, with whole wheat bread, no crust, extra pickles or whatever the wish is for that day. I receive compliments and absorb dirty looks; I’m prettier than most of you, but it’s not your fault: it’s mine. Good skin and great legs; this devil wears spanx.
I keep watch over a catacomb of elevators. I get a lot of phone calls that aren’t for me. My department is so vague in its title that people think anything and everything can be classified as either Corporate or Public, and I don’t blame them. I used to try to help but have now resolved to put them back into the automated directory.
I used to be someone else, but this job, this title, this space I occupy and receive in; it teaches me about myself.
The office air is incredibly dry and I’m creaming my hands when my personal line rings, “Good Morning, Sara speaking.” Dial tone; it’s suddenly warm in the office and even though I’m dressed in light fabrics, I feel weighted in cloth.
I undo the top button of my sweater and wait for Charlie, the postman, to drop the morning assortment of mail.
I walked out on my live-in boyfriend and I can’t really remember why. I recall thinking at the time that we weren’t happy enough, and hadn’t been passionate in a long time. Since then, I’ve been told this is common in lengthy relationships; which begs the question of why even start one?
I place my hands under the desk to push two security buttons that allow Charlie, my overweight and wrinkly postman, to enter. “Hi, I have a package here uh not sure who f’r, can you sign for it?” He asks.
I love those buttons, gives me an excuse to check out my tits. Those babies haven’t been played with in a long time, too long.
“I better, it’s what I’m paid for right,” I have a hideous smile on my face. He’s old. Very old, and quickly I stop thinking about everything sexy. I see him two times a day, sometimes more when he forgets to take a package after dropping one off. He blames forgetting on his nagging wife, her constant berating, troubling his mind. Poor old lady.
“My wife,” He grins, “She got a letter in the mail.” He leans his weight on, and slightly over, the protective ledge of my reception counter, like he’s telling me a secret but he’s practically yelling. I blush a little, hoping people don’t think us friendly and, looking down to hide my red cheeks, I sign the delivery slip he’s handed me.
“The letter’s from the govern-ment, sayin’ she’s gotta give up drivin’ right?” I look up not sure if he’s expecting an answer, big mistake, now he thinks I’m interested.
“She hasn’t got enough oxygen in ’er blood.” I slap the delivery slip down next to his knotted elbows, a polite but forceful gesture that helps him out of my space. He pushes himself up with a heavy sigh; his hands grip the ledge to steady himself. His gold wedding ring is scratched from years of labour. Age has swollen the flesh inside creating a gastric band on his chubby digit. It looks painful.
“She’s stage-four emphysema.” He pauses and leans again, this time a bit further away from me. I’m staring at his elbows and I think I still have that hideous smile on my face.
“Stage-five is worse, but the doctor’s, they gotta tell the govern-ment when that happens, cuz she could pass out at the wheel.” He pronounces the “n” in government, as if trying to establish the verb of domination.
“Not safe,” I say dismissively, caring more about my time being wasted.
“She’s pissed off though,” he continues and slaps the edge of the counter. “Feels like she lost ‘er independence, but I tell ya, so did I! Yesterday I had to drive ’er all the way to Scarbra for an ‘air appointment.”
He’s upset, I can sense it, and I’m surprisingly troubled by it. I can’t help but wonder if he’s about to drop dead, and if his wife would ever come to know he was ranting about her lack of independence when he bit it. I think he’s huffing to catch a breath, perhaps wheezing a little too. I don’t know if I have a first aid kit, not that a defibrillator would be in there.
“It’s about compromise,” I offer, hoping to save a life.
He takes a deep breath, nods and picks up the slip. He hacks a cough and I feel a bit of mist, I avoid my tits and push the buttons to let him leave. Instead of using the handle, he presses his palm against the glass door to open it. He’s studying my signature while waiting for the elevator and as he disappears into the catacomb I’m left to stare at his sweaty handprint. I better call maintenance to have that cleaned up.
Independence is a constant negotiation in a relationship. I remember a fight we had once; thought I’m pretty sure he started it, we determined it was my fault by the time it was over. It was close to the end of our metered time, we had recently moved in together and I was feeling a little stagnant and antsy in our apartment. I planned a getaway weekend, but before doing so, I made sure he was cool with the timing. That scared the shit out of me, had I been unconsciously doing that before? It seems a ‘considerate’ thing to do now, but at that moment, I remember wondering if I had moved in with a control-freak. I began analyzing every word and directive out of his mouth as though somehow he was brain-washing me.
Tricking my free-spirit into submission.
He didn’t understand why with a mouth full of popcorn and in the middle of a romantic comedy of my choosing; my brain explode. I accused him being too needy, of invading my space with his boy stuff and after that; I lost my mind telling him I didn’t need his permission to plan a getaway weekend. When he smiled and asked if I was drunk, I swear, I almost hit him. He convinced me I was having trouble adjusting to our ‘living together’ situation, and that we needed time to become more ‘comfortable’. My free spirit eyed him suspiciously.
He didn’t see it coming he would tell our mutual friends. Neither did I. Felt good to be spontaneous though.
“Good Morning, Grand Life National Bank, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, Sara Speaking How Can I Help You?”
“Hi Sara,” a woman popped gum against my eardrum. “My old husband tripped down some stairs and he broke his old hip. The doctors tell me that at 98, recovery isn’t optional, you know? I’m calling to make sure I’m in his Will.”
This has to be a joke; her chewing gum mouth is too close to the phone. I’m distracted by the sloppy noise so I pretend to have misheard her and provide her a chance at redemption, “I think the doctors mean recovery isn’t OPTIMAL at 98 years old.”
She loudly articulates every word to be sure I’ve got it this time, “I want to know that I’m in his Will before he bites it.”
Her voice gets distant and I can hear her cooing, “I’m not talking to you baby, I’m talking to your bank, we need to make sure I’m taken care of in case my strong bear doesn’t pull through.”
This is neither a Corporate nor a Public Affair.
“I’ll have to put you through to Wills and Estates, please wait while I transfer you.”
“Sure, thanks.” Pop. “Hey Sara, we can do this without his lawyer right?” I don’t answer.
I try to remain non-judgmental. My job is simply to receive not condone, comment or criticize.
I remember we were lying in bed, spent after a long fucking session; we fucked before we moved in together, after however, the urgency was gone. Come to think of it, it was after that we started turning off the light. I remember we talked about Wills. His mother was sick and it was on his mind. I was tucked into his shoulder curled toward him; the sheet was damp with sweat and getting colder. I whispered to him I was leaving all my money to charity. He looked me dead in the eye and with a mischievous grin on his face said, “Yeah right, you could never be that kind.” He kissed me hard and we fucked again but those words stung. Now they make me miss him. He really knew me, in the way that made me hate myself, like those funhouse mirrors, even if it’s a joke, you’re still self-conscious and wondering if you should lose weight or get plastic surgery. I make a mental note to update my Will; I’m giving all this shit to charity.
The air in the office is noticeably dry again and my throat is tight. My personal line is ringing, “Good Morning, Sara Speaking.” Dial tone.
My mouth is dry now and my personal line is ringing again. I can only hear my heartbeat. There’s a dull ache in my temples as my vision becomes foggy. My thoughts are tumbling and my breathing is erratic. I can feel my chest tightening. I force my rubbery arms and freshly creamed hands into drunken action to answer the line, trying to escape this sleepy hollow vision.
“Good Morning, Sara Speaking.” I think I said.
“Sara. I miss you.” I think he said, before it all went dark.