The Company You Keep

vending - Neff Conder

Suzanne asked me, “Does it count as saving someone’s life if you just refrain from killing them?” I thought she was joking but felt her steel gray desperation.

We’d worked together only a couple months when she made the comment. I sensed her discontent with customer service before but thought it nothing serious. Perhaps her true feelings got lost in her patois. She often said things that didn’t fully make sense, perhaps intentionally. Most of the time, it sounded like meaningless jibber jabber.

The skin of her forearms squeaked across the sticky veneer top of the break room table as she leaned in closer to confide her secrets at closer range. She cleared her throat nervously and said, “You know I’m just joking, right?” A heavy hank of brunette bangs tucked behind her ear fell forward and created a welcome, if not flimsy, barrier between her gaze and my own. “I think I saw that in a cartoon once,” she tried justifying.

Those conversations made me a tad nervous. I stared beyond her at my reflection in the vending machine glass instead of looking Suzanne in the eye. Considering the calories in a chocolate wafer package came easier than contemplating her brand of crazy.

What if she actually went through with one of these quasi-threats and I’d been privy to the act beforehand? I hoped to not be held culpable.

She looked at me, waiting for an answer. As the center of her intense attention, I blanked on what she’d asked and remained silent. Only the second hand’s tick of the clock on the adjacent wall interrupted the stillness. I glanced around to make sure no one saw us eating together before I threw away my lunch remains and returned to work.

Weeks later the front door security code changed, indicating someone had quit or been fired. I honestly didn’t suspect it might be Suzanne until the office grapevine’s tangle reached my cubicle in late afternoon. Garry whispered from across the partition between us, “Psst … you hear about Suzanne?”

I wheeled my office chair to the wall’s opening and bumped its casters over power cords stretched across the threshold, my greed for fresh gossip a little too obvious as I leaned hungrily into Garry’s space. “What happened?” I inquired, wide-eyed.

“It’s all hush hush, but Janet in H.R. told me about it,” he said. “Sure,” I responded. “She sent out the email about the new code, so she’d know. What gives?”

We’d heard how Suzanne couldn’t stand her supervisor and found the menial tasks he assigned degrading to her level of self-importance. “Well, you realize she hated Myers, right?” I shook my head knowingly, my interest piqued.

Garry continued, “She came to work last week dressed in a Girl Scout uniform, a few sizes too small at that.” I gawked at him in disbelief. “Myers made Janet call her in to discuss appropriate professional attire, but Suzanne said if she was meant to ‘serve mankind’ then she would dress like it. Needless to say, they let her go.”

I shook my head, hardly knowing how to react. “She really was a whackadoodle, eh?” In retrospect, I felt relieved for not associating with Suzanne in the breakroom any more than I had.

“You don’t know the half of it, girl,” Garry said. He seemed to love telling the story to its climax. “On Monday morning Myers finally found the source of the horrible stench in his office he’d been smelling since the week prior. He had Custodial Services search the place until they finally turned his chair upside and found a dead mouse taped to the bottom of the seat.”

Doubt entered my mind. “But anybody could’ve done that,” I proposed. “Nobody really likes Myers.” We both nodded in agreement, and I shrugged, but Garry raised a finger to make his point. “The poor thing had a little green ‘Life Saving’ badge pinned to it … just like the ones on a Girl Scout uniform.”

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – patois

image: Neff Conner via Flickr  Studio30


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