Kristy had set both her alarm clock and her cell phone, determined that no accident would result in somehow oversleeping, but in the morning she found herself wide awake at 5AM, staring up at the ceiling in the dim first light of summer morning. She tried to think if it was nerves that had wakened her, or some sound made by Katie getting ready for work, or just the knowledge that she must be up on time.
Getting ready took less time than she had allowed, and she considered going in early, but the memories of sitting in her office with nothing to do but think about the presentation warned her off. She made eggs and coffee instead and consulted the newspaper. Katie’s pizza remained untouched on the stovetop. She felt a sudden craving for the iniquity of morning pizza, but if Katie had not yet touched it she was reluctant to so visibly capitulate by taking the first piece. She let it be.
When she pulled into the parking lot it was already more filled up than at her accustomed hour. Since it was too late to get a spot that would be shaded, she parked well out where no one would park next to the newly detailed coupe and ding it. She strode along the sidewalk towards her building, her good luck pumps giving a commanding tic tic on the sidewalk. Kanga, on guard in the lobby, was wearing a Shriner fez and cradling a Hindu god in her paws. Kristy glanced at the lobby clock. 8AM. One hour to go. She pulled out her phone and checked her email as she walked to her office. Candice in Accounting, with whom she had spent many hours calculating how different types of packaging affected the number of Players that fit on a pallet, and thus per-unit shipping costs by air and sea, had sent a note: “Big day. Good luck!!!” Josh, her boss, had sent one as well, “Stop by my office when you get in.”
She set her laptop on the desk and headed down the hall to Josh’s office. The glass door was shut. She could see Josh cradling a paper cup of coffee and talking on the speaker phone. He waved in response to her knock, then held up a single finger signaling, “Wait a moment.” After a moment he stabbed the phone off and came to open the door.
“Sorry to keep you waiting. Come on in.”
Kristy took the seat opposite the desk. Josh sat, tapped a few stray papers into a more precise stack, and set his coffee to one side.
“All of us appreciate the work that you’ve done on the PocketDJ Player project,” he announced. “I know that all of the leadership team have been impressed with your hard work and ownership of the process. So I know that you will understand this is in no way a reflection on you personally or your performance. As part of a major new partnership and restructuring, the leadership team has decided that a hardware device is not the right direction for the company….”
The meaning of the flood of cushioning corporate-ese in which the essential message was wrapped suddenly struck home to Kristy and she found herself watching Josh speak as if from a distance, hearing only the key phrases.
“…positions no longer required under our new plan…given your length of service at AppLogix that severance will be four weeks pay…contingent on your signing of the non-competition agreement…any un-exercised options…”
It was not yet 8:30 when Kristy found herself passing through the lobby again, feeling unnaturally light with no laptop bag, only the folder of HR paperwork in her arms. (“You can make an appointment next week to go through your office and collect personal possessions.”) Two programmers in shorts and comic tees were playing noisily at the foosball table. Kanga leered derisively from under her fez.
Outside the light seemed unnaturally bright — a time of day when she was normally indoors. She realized that she was shaking. Feeling a sob welling up within her she bit her lip and redoubled her speed in order to reach the shelter of the car. As her pace neared a run she placed a foot wrong and twisted her ankle hard, letting out a cry of pain that she immediately stifled. She kicked off the shoes and carried them the rest of the way, feeling the rough warmth of the pavement under her bare feet. Her reflection in the glistening black hood looked tauntingly similar to the day before, but with red-rimmed eyes looking out from beneath the hair which had inspired such confidence in her the day before.
Once she was muffled in the warm, leathery interior she leaned her forehead against the steering wheel and allowed herself, for a long moment, to cry. Then she wiped her eyes, forced herself to breath slowly, and started the engine. Katie was scheduled to work until two. At least she would have some hours of solitude to gather her thoughts before facing anyone.
Back in the condo she sat at the kitchen table, a cooling cup of coffee in front of her, numbly staring at her personal laptop and willing herself to update her resume. She felt it would have been satisfying to really break down and drain all of the emotions out of herself through tears until she could go to sleep. After the last few weeks she must need rest. But after the first flood in the car tears would not come nor would rest, only overpowering numbness.
The sound of the front door opening only half registered with her, and it was a moment before she looked up to see Katie coming in, still wearing the clothes she had left in the night before and carrying her heels in her hands. Their eyes met and Katie froze.
“You’re supposed to be at work,” Kristy stated.
“I didn’t make it home last night.” Katie responded with the equally obvious fact. “I met a guy, while I was out at the bar.” She shifted uneasily from one foot to the other as Kristy continued to fix her stare on her younger sister. “His name is Brian,” she supplied, as if this clarified matters.
“You met some guy. Named Brian. At a bar,” Kristy summarized in slow sentence fragments, her voice still shaky with the last hour’s emotion and her pain and frustration converting to anger as she spoke. “And you went home with him and blew off your shift at work. Threw away your new job.”
“It’s a stupid job. You said so yourself.”
“Threw away your job,” said Kristy, rising to her feet. “What kind of a stupid, irresponsible, slut—”
With an inarticulate shout Katie hurled one of the shoes at Kristy. The throw was so unplanned, so poorly executed that the shoe flew high and wide, bounced off the kitchen counter and clattered onto the stovetop, where it came to rest on the still untouched pizza.
“What the hell?” Kristy yelped.
“Shut up!” Katie demanded, brandishing the other shoe.
For a moment they stared each other down. Then Katie dropped the shoe and rushed for the bathroom wailing, “Oh God, I’m going to be sick.”
Kristy stood listening to her younger sister’s misery for a moment, then, after a glance at the shoe lying in the ruins of the pizza, went after her into the bathroom.
Katie was crouched on the floor in front of the toilet leaning her arms on the rim. Kristy knelt behind her and smoothed her hair back out of her face.
“You look terrible. Can you get anything out?”
“No,” moaned Katie.
“Have you had any Advil yet?”
“Can we get you to your bed?”
Kristy helped her up and guided her gently into her bedroom where Katie crawled into bed and lay, huddled and miserable, in the middle of it. She put the trash can next to the bed where Katie could reach it easily if she needed it, and pulled the blanket up over her.
“Are you ready for anything to eat or drink yet?”
Katie shook her head.
“All right. Get some rest. I’ll see you in a bit.”
Shutting the door of Katie’s room quietly behind her, Kristy finally felt exhaustion settle upon her and knew that she could rest at last. She went into her own room, collapsed onto the bed, and — conscious even in her numbed and battered state of the luxury of being able to go to sleep in the middle of the day — fell immediately to sleep.
The Back from the Dead Cemetery Walk
1 hour ago