My first morning reveries are fond recollections of my husband, followed by the remembrance of his twenty-three year-old-girlfriend. Falling short of wanting to jump out of bed to sing with the birds outside my window, it is all I can do to muster up a decent rage to jolt myself out of bed. I need to pray.
Dear God, I thank you for … What? My wonderful husband? No, he’s a lying…never mind about him. A nice home? No, it’s not mine. I had a list somewhere of nice things to say in prayer. Where did I have that written down? Shit! Oops, I cursed. Dang. Oops again. Sorry. Amen.
Hopefully that will do. I don’t have food in my house. I do, but I don’t like to cook it. I prefer to go the café. Tom, my regular waiter, has a new goatee. Has it been that long or are his follicles that ambitious?
The scones in the window beckon to me, so I procure a dozen with my credit card. Maybe someone at the office will pitch in on the eating part. One could always count on that. After walking into my office full of caffeine, sugar and God-knows-what goes inside of those evil scones, Loren walks in. She is followed by Lyle, her new assistant whom I can only assume is disgusted by me based on my personality and not due to loyalty to Loren. He seems to dislike her, too. I think his eyeliner gets in his eyes and distorts reality.
“Isa,” she has assigned me this faux, friendly nickname. My name is Isabell. I’ve learned not to argue. What I earn, she can call me whatever she wants. “I need you in my office.”
Her office, like her, is pale and evil. Rows of manila file folders are neatly displayed on her desk and by its sides in brushed aluminum rolling carts. A clear blue sky shines over the financial district skyline. Beyond us I can see the majestic Golden Gate bridge, fooling us all that everything will be okay.
“I’m sorry, Isabel. We have to let you go,” Loren says smiling at me with capped teeth and tapping an acrylic nail on her desktop.
“Excuse me? I’ve been here eleven years. That’s longer than my last marriage.”
“We’re just not able to justify your salary. You’re more than welcome to keep coming in ten minutes late every morning with your coffee and pastries but we can no longer pay you for that.”
I start to think about bills that are already piling up, the excuses I’ll use when friends invite me on expensive outings. My life will be complete mayhem. I begin to cry.
“Don’t put on that pathetic act, Isabel,” she says. “You’re simply not performing.”
“What?” I ask. “I’ve done everything that has been asked of me, nearly flawlessly, always before deadline.” I know I have her here. This is one area where I do not exaggerate. To my knowledge my performance is brilliant.
“Let’s watch a video,” she says pulling a remote control device from her desk drawer. She clicks a button and the television screen affixed to the wall behind me displays a scene taking place in my office. “Care to explain what this is?”
There I sit in her office but also at my desk on the flat screen, visibly bored after completing a meaningless task — flawlessly, I might add — sipping my latté and listening to smooth jazz on my iPod. “But those cameras are for security,” I say to which she simply replies, “Not yours.”
Oh. My. God. Did video-me just yawn and cup my own breasts? Loren is giggling so I must’ve. “This is my favorite part,” Loren says. “Are you talking to yourself here?”
“No. I’m reading on my kindle,” I say. “I had it hidden in the report binder in case someone snuck in my office. I move my lips when I read.”
“Ding!” Loren cackles. “Here’s your chat buddy, Elvis69. He’s entertaining. You have interesting internet habits yourself.” Her enthusiasm for sadism has no limits. I’ve never seen a grown woman have so much fun with her pants on.
When I finally stand up to leave she barks at me to stay. “Lyle!” she calls her assistant. “Help Mrs. Lang clean out her desk. Isabel, I’ll need your ID and card key, parking pass, too.”
Lyle sports a muffin top over the tight waistline of his hipster jeans. He has a certain west coast look down pat, like he began the process of dressing with gusto: the hair gel is just right, the pale sea-foam green scarf is carefully chosen to compliment his eyes. It drapes over his seventy-five dollar ironic tee-shirt just so. But he looks like after those particular efforts — I’d say about ten minutes of work, which is all I’ve ever seen him do in a day anyway — he said, “Screw it,” and threw on a pair of beat up, smelly skinny jeans and flip flops. No wonder young men always look so unhappy. Those tight jeans are cutting off the blood flow to their happy parts.
Against my wise inner voice, I look back to get one last look at ultimate evil. I feel my eyes burn for a moment. Maybe it’s just the glare of the California sun from her panoramic high rise window.
Lyle follows me to my desk. For a moment, I consider some action along these lines: grabbing hold of the locked door handle on my desk and digging my heels into the short red carpet forcing Lyle to pull me away. Instead I look at him disapprovingly and ask, “So, are you just going to stand there and watch me pack?”
“That’s what I was told to do.”
So, he stands there and watches me pack. I stand with the box of my personal belongings, knowing they really belong to the part of me the company owned, and think of the last safe haven I’d been before the shocking news. I hail a cab and direct the driver to the café, then give him the last bit of cash I have on me. “I’m going to need a new prescription,” I tell the driver.
“What?” he responds.
“I’m not ready to be an adult with a child’s paycheck,” I joke, but the driver doesn’t seem to get my humor. I sit in the café playing over in my mind the reel of what should have happened in Loren’s office. “It’s not me that doesn’t work,” I would say, “it’s your system.” Then I would take a thoughtful moment, thread a freshly sharpened pencil behind my ear. “You could have thrown me an assignment or new client during that time you watched me on video, like some voyeur.”
“What did you expect from me?” I would continue. “Was I to pantomime work for the camera? I’m not some fresh-faced Hollywood actress. Is that what you meant by not performing, that I should put on some kind of an act?”
How much I understand the futility of it all that I sit back and allow Tom with the ambitious goatee to pour me a fresh Diet Coke. “What’s on your mind?” he asks.
“I’m thinking about how it used to be.”
“Interesting,” he says, and lingers at the table. “What do you mean by ‘it’?”
“Never mind, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter,” I say, trying to imply mystery and a smidge more confidence than I have. “What are your plans this afternoon? Given it much thought?”
“Usually what I do in the afternoon with beautiful women doesn’t require much thought,” Tom replies.
“Well then, Tom, I reckon you’re the new boss.”
Twenty minutes later he slides into the passenger seat of my car. I smell feta cheese and beer on his breath. He retrieves a cigarette from his shirt pocket. I wince: I want to tell him to light it outside but figure I’ve had enough of people telling people what to do for one day. I rev the engine, put her in reverse, and I’m scared because I don’t know what happens next and I think to myself, This is so not going to be okay.