Toxic workplace

6. Monday, part 2

A frothy conclusion to your typical, uneventful Monday!

            When did we replace the pew with the standing desk? Before it, we sit, stand, and kneel, not knowing to whom we pray. Once, it was the sun, then it was God. Now, all that is left are our jobs. It’s only work from here on out, folks! You do that until you’re too slow, and I guess you log out then.   

            Today is a nice break from all that. In the supply closet, colors float and expand like jellyfish around my coworker and me. Previous concerns swell and croak like bullfrogs that leap from my insides. Melanie and Allison’s rebellion and today’s very important appointment had been weighing on me, and it is nice to let them go and watch them hop about freely.

            “I can’t tell if we’re experiencing something beautiful or frightening,” I say.

            “Maybe it’s both,” Melanie says. She stops rocking herself and looks up. Her glasses slide down to hit the floor with a clang.

            “What do you mean?” I say and lean against the La Croix packages stacked behind us. The cans press into my back, but the sensation that pokes through feels detached, as if coming from miles away. My palms are cold; I rub them on my breasts. Now, they are warm but dry.

            Melanie says, “A year ago, I found a wart on my ass. Remember how I used that donut pillow? I modified a regular one that didn’t fit after my doctor removed the mass. When I returned for my check-up, he warned me to watch out for another one.

            He prescribed mindfulness classes when I told him I couldn’t sleep. There, a nice, blonde lady told me to find fulfillment in presence: HAH. I told her that I am the most present of them all. Fulfillment is for women with BMIs under 30, and in a few years, I could be confined by tubes to a hospital bed while my own behind consumes me from the inside out. In the time that I have left, I will accomplish nothing and come home to nothing, except to wonder if it is better to die or live painfully. And then, I meet the answer in its eyes.”

            I feel the answer staring at me then as well. I think about the appointment I am going to miss, the one that I had been fantasizing about all weekend. I leapfrog from commitment to commitment, control c and control v, until we hit that final appointment that really, really cannot be missed. “I need a coffee,” I say. I need a coffee I need a hug I need a Xanax. 

            Melanie continues, “This morning, I was so stressed about All-Hands, and you were a bi-… a boss, and now instead I’m here, finally happy.” She leans on my shoulder. Her head weighs as much as my cat.

            “What happened to us?” I say. In the gap between the storage closet and the outside office, rays of light descend like beads on a string.

            “I don’t know, but I am getting sleepy,” she says. “And thirsty.” She picks at the plastic on the packages behind us before pulling out two cans of La Croix. Lime. Lime. Li-muh.

            She presses her thumb in the pop tab to make the tsk noise, and I laugh when a small spritz of bubble water hits me on my face. Seeing me struggle to breathe, she too chuckles before handing me a can.  

            “There are ants on my tongue!” I say after sipping, and she slurps and giggles.

            “It’s so lemony,” she says. “Like the drinks at the engagement party.”

            “I wouldn’t know,” I say and turn away.

            She grips my knee. “I get why she did it, but I’m sorry she didn’t invite you.”

            The sincerity of our connection mists up my eyes. “This means a lot, coming from someone like you.” Tears rise and spill over like the sea on the sands.

            She sniffles as well. “I thought you were a power-hungry witch, but now I see you’re only an insecure and lonely witch.”

            “That is just so kind!” I lean back again and almost blackout. Purpose shakes me from my sleepiness. “Melanie, just know that I was born to protect you. And I mean that. I take my role as a manager very seriously.”

            “We know,” she says and tries to nap again. I put my head down too, listening to the chiming of my mental triangle. And then, a howl.

            “What was that?” I awaken.  

            “Probably the bum from outside,” Melanie says. I stand up. “Where are you going?”

            “I have to protect Allison,” I say. “There is evil afoot.”

            “Can you grab me a latte?” Melanie calls before dozing off again. I shake my head no. She has had enough lattes in her lifetime.

            Christmas ornaments hang from the ceiling and replace the fear I held previously for the outside world. I try to pluck the hanging fruit, but as I approach, they disappear into the sparkling cotton candy that has somehow worked its way through the office.

            Another howl reminds me that Allison could be in mortal danger, but first, I need a La Croix. The refrigerator groans when I search its bowels for that crowd-pleasing Pamplemousse. And then, I hit a bag of ice.

            I tug at the plastic until it rips and releases its contents over the floor. What falls out is beautiful and cold and shatters my world. A ray like a candle’s flame beams through a cube, revealing a kaleidoscope, and within that kaleidoscope is a bridge that grows as I clear a way to it with my finger. My eyes walk me down the bridge’s path: to my left is a flowering wall; to my right is a river that gurgles. I am at home; I am in my place. Froth collects at the banks in red and blue and green, and the birds bob up and down around.

            I clear more ice around the floor, and the reflections reveal a desk—my desk! I sit down at it and open my email. What can I say? Crack a smile; smell the roses; break a limb.

            Ah, Outlook, how the hours slog along with thee. Each year, Silicon Valley announces its new communication platform with fireworks, catered lunches, and erotic dancers, but we always slide downhill into that pile of mulch. One day, I will die and dissolve like Emergen-C in water. Melanie will take over my emails, and I will float on to What Comes Next. The email chimes, my heart squiggles. The company releases me, and I melt.

Released at last!

            But Allison and Melanie could take over more than my emails… what about my legacy? Tears escape me—I don’t want to leave my girls! I want to see them thrive! It’s a scary world out there, filled with lattes, howls, and insurrections, and someone needs to protect Allison and Melanie, and I doubt Melanie can help either of them. It has to be me. 

            I twist around to a seething Allison. She must not know what I have discovered. “I found the answer.” I say and show the puddle of water. “The answer is ice.”

            “It was you,” she says. “You poisoned us!”

“I never poison, only protect!” It is not enough, and she leaps on me. I shake her off.

            “I am your boss, Allison. Remember me? We care for each other!” This only makes her roar and launch herself at me again. I throw some ice in her face and she slinks off.

            I relax for a second but leap to my feet again when she returns with a knife. A scream erupts from my mouth as I slide from the kitchenette to the conference room and try to lock the door I slam behind myself. This doe of a woman must be tearing meat off carcasses in her free time because she manages to knock me off in one push.

            She takes the cup of coffee from my desk as she steps in. “Have some of this!” She pours it on me: soy milk, espresso, everything. The contents are warm like tears. She then resumes with slashing her knife and trying to murder me.

            “I’m sorry!” I wail and jump on a desk. “I’m sorry for embarrassing you with my all-hands presentation! For nitpicking you all the time! Please don’t murder me. You’ll have your benefits: 401k, PTO, you name it! I’ll even throw in dental. Please–mercy.”

            She pauses. “Mercy? For you?!” 

            “Yes!” I say.

            She laughs. I join in: HA HA HA. Please don’t kill me. And as she convulses, a curious thing happens: her growl droops, her knife falls, and she lays down. As I marvel over the most auspicious nap of my life, darkness webs over my eyes, and I too sit down and rest.  

            Somewhere, my alarm goes off.

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