I didn’t mean to discover them. I certainly did not. I’m no office busy what’sis. I keep to myself, passing my lunch hour with my book, my diet soda. I’m usually the one that stays out of the gossip scene.
“None of my business,” I’d say.
“It takes all kinds,” I’d say.
“There’s always two sides to every story,” I’d say.
We all tried to ignore the situation, shift our eyes to the floor when they held each other’s gaze for too long; or, when she would laugh just a little too loudly at his clever quips; or, those times when he lingered too long at her cubicle, his right hand tucked into his pocket, her hands touching her throat. I didn’t want to be involved, but there you go.
She was careless, a stupid girl, so obvious when I think about it now. To tell you the truth, I think we all knew it was going on. The awkward weight of the thing, the anxious anticipation of what might be about to happen, like the proverbial elephant in the living room. When she would accidentally brush his sleeve with her hand, we did not look at one another. Embarrassed — we looked back at our keyboards. Eyes will always tell the truth, like it or not. And so we hid them.
Had the sparks flown from the first interview? I couldn’t say. Perhaps it started that day when she fainted in the long hallway, her blonde hair cascading over her face, a spiky shoe dangling off her foot, her skirt hiked up above her thigh. Anxiously, we stood around her, waiting for the paramedics to arrive while he held an ice pack from the first aid kit to her forehead. When she woke, she was disheveled, confused, but still she waved away the EMTs. It was nothing, she said. She’d neglected to take a regular medication. Late to work, she didn’t eat breakfast. Please, she said, I just need to rest a while and I’ll be fine. Perhaps she could lie down on his couch for thirty minutes?
You can see how easily he’d be taken in, after all. Forty-six years old, married since he was twenty, his children nearly grown. He was a guy who ate the same thing for lunch every day — tuna on wheat. He wasn’t much to look at, kind of dorky with a thin face and torso, his wide forehead covered with thinning hair. Maybe his life was a little worn out, the changes of the seasons marked only by what sports he planned to watch in the evenings on his widescreen television. We all liked him though — a good man, smart and solid, bitingly funny like the Seinfeld characters whose signed photograph hung in a treasured place on his office wall next to his New York Yankees pennant, his MBA certificate and the picture of his wife and two daughters.
Was it all a part of the act? Did she lie there all that time on his couch, allowing his eyes to take in the curves of her long, slender twenty-three-year-old body? His jacket tossed protectively across her, a long-forgotten part of himself suddenly breaking free to the surface? I am not sure.
Working late one evening, I sat in the dull glow of my cubicle light, retrieving documents from shared network drives to clear up space on the server. And there they were, all her records of their tryst. My hands shook as I clicked away, trying to make myself stop reading. Yet, I continued, my heart pounding, sweat breaking out along the small of my back as I realized what we all suspected was actually true. Disgust and embarrassment rose in me, a mounting wave of nausea.
It became worse, much worse. It was clear what had happened, what was happening now, and what would follow as she tied the knot around his throat, pulling it just a little tighter each day. It was late when I reached the last, most recent email trail, the inevitable one. “You have no idea what this does for me,” he wrote, “Please, I’ll do anything you say.”
There was no easy way to do it. An anonymous blog where I posted her pictures, their emails, an untraceable email blast, there for all the office to see. It was not easy, to save him from himself. How long could he have gone on like that, anyway? What sacrifices would his family unknowingly make to keep this secret, his children’s future disappearing as she slowly closed the knot tighter and tighter?
What followed then, well, I hate to tell you about it. Secrets hidden too long in dark passageways will only gain more power, bring more harm. Released from the darkness, I let them fall to the ground like soft, rotten apples.
Stacey Py Flynn lives, works and roams the regions around Washington DC with her teenage son. She’s been writing fiction and memoir since she was a child, takes classes at Gotham Workshop and stumbles bleary-eyed to work each day, surprised at how well she can function in the real world while writing at night. She’s working on a five-part novella told from the perspective of four generations of women.