Eye-rolling from almost every member of the staff when she enters the room. Others, especially those involved in “the bottom line”, regard her as invisible as yesterday’s coffee cup. She offers comments such as let us look at the bright side, or certainly something positive will come of this. The result is a room of groaning, except the Organization’s President himself, who avoids her eye. She smooths her hair toward her lucky moon-moth hairclip. When someone at the table – she doesn’t know their names yet; they all look equally grave – reports a tornado erased a warehouse, she quips, in disasters communities come together. A prominent member of the group throws his pen. Dark-suited men standing behind the oval table escort her from the room as she sputters thank you for noticing me.
It is settled: her contribution to the President’s morale – to remind the depression-prone leader, who is wavering during violent and disturbing times, that there is virtue within humanity – will be done without any hard-working-world-weary staff to witness.
She visits him in the mornings, before the news, as he takes his Wellbutrin and juice in bed, to give him an early boost of optimistic high notes: volunteers clear a lake front of plastic bags! Kindergartners forego chocolate milk in order to buy bananas! She arrives, hair glistening, parted neatly down the middle, armed with cheer and well-being, listing the noble citizenry deeds while observing the Organization President’s eyes crinkle with growing joy, until a guard dismisses her before the second paragraph, the one she treasured the most: anonymous donates furnished apartments to homeless just in time for Thanksgiving!
It is decided – behind closed doors – that daily consultation is unnecessary; the O.P. has genuine concerns, trials, take-overs and tactics to contend with. Not chocolate milk, a man in a black trim suit spits at her, not minutiae. He says it minushaaaaaaay while pulling down his lower lip to expose stumpy bottom teeth.
She is allotted sixty seconds once per week of the Organization’s President time to give him the warm fizzies, as his assistant puts it. Her bangs, swiping out of their tender order, fall across her vision as she fervently collects stories of kindness, rescues, miracles, fashioning the details down to bursts of passionate half-sentences.
When Friday comes, she is informed by a man with indoor dark sunglasses that she is no longer needed: the President’s medication has stabilized; he is back in decision-making mode. She looks up at this man, noting the white line of her straight part in the reflection of his lenses. It looks like a long empty road to nowhere, the kind of road where if you ran out of gas, you might wait days until another vehicle goes by, wishing you had a scarf, water, food. With a gritty emotionless voice, reminding her of the grating noise a snowplow makes when it scrapes pavement he states, The shareholders thank you for your contribution and wish you well.
She passes her car, undoes her lucky moon-moth hairclip, throws it on the well-groomed grass. When she arrives at the lake, miles away, the sky is dark gray, snow pending, hair whipping, waves lurching in the water.
The lawn groomsman, noting the heavy sky and thinking this might be his last mow of the season, hears the brief unceremonious crunch of the now-mangled hairclip, as small a noise as one might hear when stepping on a shelled sunflower seed. Most people wouldn’t notice a sound as small as that. You’d really have to be paying attention.
Stefanie Freele is the author of two short story collections, Feeding Strays, with Lost Horse Press and Surrounded by Water, with Press 53. Stefanie’s published and forthcoming work can be found in Witness, Glimmer Train, Mid-American Review, Wigleaf, Western Humanities Review, Sou’wester, Chattahoochee Review, The Florida Review, Quarterly West, and American Literary Review.
(Next story: New Friend by Barbara O’Donnell)
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[Picture derived from a photo by Dick Culbert]