Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all. If I was paired up today, the other half would definitely be getting this in their inbox:
But let’s face it, I really just want Carl Kasell’s voice on my answering machine. Hell, I may go out and buy an answering machine just for that.
So happy heart day, yes. Today’s short fiction unavoidably has some mention of Valentine’s Day, but it’s by no means the star. It’s a back-to-work-Monday story. And who can’t relate to that? Hope you like it.
How to Drink Office Coffee
She sat down at her desk. It looked like an ant farm of eraser shreds, mazing between Post-It notes, pens, and paper clips. She tried to remember where she had stopped before the weekend. It must have been the flow chart she was finishing. Had she finished it? Where is the flow chart?
Drenched in numbness she groped for her headphones and coffee mug for reinforcement. Just as she had plucked in the right earbud,
“You got a Valentine, Beth?”
It was quite exactly the last question she wanted to be asked. And yet she had rehearsed all weekend what she would say if she would be asked it. She heard the Joyce Carol Oates line ring in her head, “A daydreamer is prepared for most things.” She blinked across the cubicle. What was it she had prepared to say?
“My cat is my Valentine,” she said.
As soon as she said it, she cringed at how awful it sounded out loud. It was meant to be whimsical. It was meant to be silly. Unfortunately her coworker had posed the question quite seriously. She must remember to rehearse out loud next time. The wrinkled-up nose look from her coworker was bearing down on her, she could already feel its weight on her forehead.
“That’s cute,” he said and spun back around.
Oh my God, she thought. If she could have given herself a slap in the face without her coworker hearing it, she would have. Her whole body felt a rising warmth and the thought of coffee as a respite was disgusting. She couldn’t think of any music she wanted to listen to. There was no escape, mental, real, or otherwise.
She stared at her keyboard. What was she going to type? She couldn’t remember. With three fingers of each hand curled up on their assigned keys, her index fingernails began to pick at her thumbs’ cuticles. She was dazing when blood sprang from her left thumb.
Dammit, she thought. She raised her thumb to her mouth to try to suction the punctured skin. She ran her other thumb over the wound as if one clean sweep would be the cure all. But it didn’t work, so she brought it back to her mouth. Then her coworker wheeled back around in his chair again.
His mouth was posed to ask another question, undoubtedly non-work related, but he stopped and said instead,
“Are you sucking your thumb?”
“I have a paper cut,” she hurled back. What the hell, man, she thought, but dared not say it.
“Use a Band-aid.”
“I would… if I had one.” Suddenly she felt no need to shield him from her hurt. Why would he even ask her that question? Who did he think he was?
He gave a hefty sniff from his right nostril and wheeled back around, forgetting his original question.
And just like that her insolence was enough to get her through the workday. The wounding that had been done her, the wrong that was left unrighted against her was the cross she would carry as her day’s primary care. The stacks of papers surrounding her that made her an island would be only secondary to this.
She reached for her coffee. The generic roast left her mouth sterilized and tasted like vengeance and cream.