It’s Friday morning. December and cold. The kind of cold that chews at your bones and scrapes the skin from your face with the precision of a rusty chainsaw. I’m getting coffee from the station near Barry’s office. Barry is our CFO and not what I’d call a model conversationalist. He’s socially backward and leans on a nervous laugh way too often. But I like Barry. Barry signs my paychecks. Barry is Debbie’s boss.
Debbie works in accounting. She says things like “Is it hot enough for ya?” and “You know what they say about assuming.” The woman speaks almost entirely in cliche. It’s hard to imagine anyone being so hollow, but I remain convinced that Debbie was born to be an echo chamber for the obvious and the mundane.
So yeah, getting my coffee and I catch Debbie out of the corner of my eye. Her squat frame filling a small office chair, she stares at her monitor like a third-grader in a graduate level physics course.
How Debbie acquired a position in Accounting — and how she continues to hold it — is an office mystery.
She catches me looking in her vicinity (which is all it takes with Debbie), and blurts, “Hey Spencer, all ready for Christmas?
Ah Christ. “Yeah. Tree up and shopping done.”
“What did you buy your girlfriend?”
A bottle of Jack and a case of condoms. That was my first thought anyway. I desperately wanted to walk away with my coffee and leave her jaw agape.
“Nothing yet. I’ll get a few things online this week.”
“Oh, I don’t trust those online stores. Anyone can steal your credit card number. I saw on Oprah a while ago about…” Her voice faded into the background as she continued to ramble. I stood looking into my coffee and hoping she would perhaps vanish into her tired office chair, never to be seen again.
“Eh, I buy everything online. Saves time and money.” I started to walk away, figuring she would give it up. No such luck.
“I’ve got a friend who bought something on eBay and she got totally ripped off. I’d never put my credit card on a website. It’s not worth it, you know?”
Not possessing the words for an adequate reply, I shrugged with a pseudo-contemplative “Hmm” and took my almost-warm coffee back to my desk.
Hours later, and during my third attempt that day at a hot cup of coffee, I was ambushed by that voice. A meek, vapid voice that could only speak in worn-out euphemisms and the occasional decades-old catch phrase. Had she started with “Where’s the beef?” I would not have been the least bit surprised.
“Working,” I said, not looking up.
“How’s that coffee?”
Fucking seriously? “It’s decent.” Then I added, “A little cold.”
“Yeah.” She stared right through me with those absent blue eyes, desperately thinking of something to say. I almost felt bad for her. Almost.
“Got any plans for the weekend?”
I pondered for a moment whether or not she really cared what I was doing this weekend. She posed the question as if it was the only thing she could think to say. Her old Friday stand-by.
“Not much. You?” I still hadn’t looked up.
“Well, I got a funeral to go to on Saturday, so there’s that.”
I raised my eyes. For the first time that day I noticed her sweater. It was big and red with green trim on the sleeves and neckline, and a giant white snowflake was knitted into the front.
“Wow. A relative?” I was surprised enough to stutter a little.
“Yeah, my brother. He overdosed last week. I just got the call from my dad a couple days ago. He lives out in California. Have you ever been to California? It’s really warm there.”
I didn’t know how to answer. The sudden gravity of the situation caught me off balance.
“Geeze Deb. I’m really sorry. You doin’ okay?” I really didn’t want the answer, but now I was the one searching for something to say.
“Yeah. I guess so. Everything happens for a reason right? It’s all God’s plan.”
“I’m just… I’m really sorry.”
She looked at me with those stupid eyes and I knew she was somewhere else in her head. She was always somewhere else. It’s as if her brain couldn’t handle reality and just shut itself down and put on a movie.
I watched her waddle away, carrying a giant McDonald’s sweet tea in one hand and random thoughts in the other. Her polyester slacks rode up the crack between the two squishy orbs that made up her backside. She didn’t seem to notice.
I turned back to my work then, my place completely lost. Not that it mattered much. The weekend would be starting in twenty minutes, and people were already milling about the lobby in anticipation of mass exodus.
The work could wait anyway. It wasn’t that important. I sat there staring through my rain-streaked window, listening to the cars lip smacking the wet asphalt as they whizzed by the office. The sound was comforting.
An ambulance siren screamed in the distance, maybe a couple of miles away. It faded before it got closer, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Debbie’s life was like that too.
Scott T. Harker: Technical writer by profession. 47-year old single father. Lover of darts, single-malt scotch and anything worth reading.