Misreading Between the Lines

It’s no wonder why most of us hate Mondays. Returning to the scene of that continuous crime. Your individuality and humanity lying there on your desk surrounded by its taped outline.

But by 2:30 PM Friday, I was looking forward to Monday, not because I’m some kind of 9:00 to 5:00 masochist, but because it meant I had survived the weekend.

It was after taking one of my decompression walks by the river—the one that always called to me from ninety feet beneath the pedestrian bridge, “C’mon in, the water’s fine!”—I returned to my office to find this message written in a spooky red script on the wall-hung whiteboard upon which I brainstormed plots against the ultimate plotter:

Whatever happens, don’t die. See you Monday.

No signature, of course. I mean why would someone sign such a non sequitur to the statements I’d left on it when I left for my walk:

We cannot all be masters, nor all masters
Cannot be truly follow’d.~ Iago

I had no idea who defiled my little nook in the office library. It was a space I’d carved out for myself because it kept me from having to listen to the masturbatory ravings and sycophantic mewling of my supervisor, Grant Godfrey.

There had been days in my time under his alleged supervision, though he was more overseer, when I would lift my depression-heavy head from its drool puddle on the desk and begin the staggering trek down to his office, where I sought to confront him, then grasp him in a strong hug of brotherhood. This embrace, preceded my throwing both of us out the fifth floor window to the pavement below. Didn’t matter which of us died. Either or both would do. I saw it as a Win-Win.

But I’d always run out of gas by the time I’d reach his office door and slink back to my quiet space by the water cooler and the collected monthly board proceedings from 1948 to present.

Who the hell left this message? You really can’t recognize whose handwriting it is on a blackboard or whiteboard. It’s larger, vertical and perhaps more legible than any note or signature they might give you.

I walked to the librarian’s desk and asked, “Janie, you see anyone slink into my sanctum sanctorum while I was out?”

“Nope, but I was down on 3 where they had cake for Annie B. She’s retiring AND getting a chin lift next week,” she said.

“Oooh, The Villages here she comes?” I said, my hands up and shaking like I was scared. If I was a guy in that Florida retirement community, I would be.

I thanked Janie and wandered across the hall to my friend Phil’s office in Legal. He was a jokester with a view of humanity and bureaucracy about three and a half levels below mine.

“You didn’t leave that message on my whiteboard, did you, Phil?”

“Joey!” he exclaimed, for he always exclaimed, never spoke, the name I let only three people outside my immediate family call me. “Nah, I was down in Human Resources checking how many weeks until I’m eligible for retirement. What’s it say?”

“You too?” I said. I’d been doing that since Grant usurped the position of my supervisor when my sainted boss, Jack Peters retired. “Retirement seems to be our biggest seller these days.”

I told Phil what the message said.

“Hmmm, cryptic. You think it might have been The Despicable One? He’s certainly not above screwing with your mind.”

“I dunno, he’d want to watch my reaction. No one was near my space when I got back,” I said.

“You could always ask him if he left this vile intimidation message,” Phil said.

“I don’t know what the hell it is. It’s just that someone came into my space, erased my quote on the whiteboard and left that message in its place. Maybe I will mosey down to Mahogany Row and kick the over-inflated tires,” I said.

When you want to deal with executives, the rule of thumb I established back in my reporter days was to develop relationships with the angelic keepers at the pearly gates——the secretaries. Yeah, I know. And Satan was an angel, too.

I decided to start at the top, the most, shall we say senior secretary in the exec wing, Donna McKenna. She’d been assistant to the previous Director, but when new leadership came in, her boss was swept out. So she took two steps down to the Assistant Director of Not Much.

“Hi, Donna. That a new picture of the grandkids there?” I asked, figuring there were not enough o’s in “smooooth” to describe my rapport with these non-coms who essentially ran this joint. And Mary was the Senior Master Sergeant, despite the fact that the new director’s hot secretary considered herself queen of the hop.

“Same picture as the last time you blew smoke up my skirt. What do you want, Joseph?” she said with her ex-smoker’s rasp.

“Was wondering if you heard if anyone,” I nodded toward The Despicable One’s office, “was down in my office trying to fuck with me.” I told her what I’d found she I returned from lunch and it was like talking to one of the guys in the locker room.

“How the hell would I know? I’m not his keeper,” she said in a combination of annoyance and relief.

“You know lots and you hear even more. You’re the Oracle of the Fifth Floor,” I said. “I trust your knowledge, instincts and counsel.”

“Excuse me while I hose the bullshit off my keyboard. I only know he was talking to his buddy Tom over there. Yucking it up about giving you some crap assignment like letting out his dog at lunch or picking up his laundry. You know, something demeaning because he’s afraid of you.”

“He has no idea,” I said, recalling my flight and drop of fancy fantasy of his demise.

“But he’s been down here kissing director asses and stomping on everyone under him, which is everyone, all day. Never even left for lunch. Princess over there picked it up for him and peerless leader.”

I was in thrall of her supreme bitterness. Olympian in her acerbity.

“Okay, thanks. I can’t see anyone else trying to mess with me like that,” I said.

“Don’t flatter yourself, Joseph. No one around here gives a shit anymore. We’re old and have snakes of x’s winding around our calendars all aiming for that last ring that circles our getting out of here before another purge or he takes over,” Donna nodded toward Grant’s office.

I decided to wander back to the office and erase the offending mystery from my wall and my memory. I figured a few beers would help.

When I arrived back in my lair, the afternoon sun was pouring through the door-to-ceiling windows like a prism and beginning to bake everything.

And there, captured in the otherworldly rainbow light, was my criminal conspirator, Tess Blake. She’d been Grant’s speed bag to my heavy in relation to his training for taking over the hearts and minds of the proletariat on floors 1 though 5. She had been lucky enough to transfer out, but stopped by a lot to talk to me and other friends so unlucky to have been left behind.

“Did you see my note?” she said she saw me coming.

“What note? You leave it on my desk or chair?”

“No. silly. The note I left to remind you to fully water the peace lily and spider plant I left in your care over on the sunny side of the building,” she said, not realizing the extent of my animus and paranoia where Grant came into play.

“Um, that note was from you?”

“Yeah, I wanted to make sure you knew what to do for Hortense and Edgar here before you take off and to wish you a happy weekend.”

“I see…” I said my face heating from the sun outside and embarrassment within.

“So will you?”

“Will I what?”

“Hydrate and have a great weekend.”

“Only if you help,” I said.

“Sure, let me get the watering…”

“Already did that before my walk, incase I didn’t come back. I meant why don’t you come help me hydrate at the Blue Bayou and help ensure I get this weekend off to a good start.”

“Oh. Okay, sure. Let me just close the blinds a little bit and run over to Legal and get my stuff,” she said with a smile.

“Thanks, that’d be great.”

As she closed the door, I grabbed my green marker and drew a flower on the whiteboard. Beneath it I wrote:

There is that in the glance of a flower which may at times control the greatest of creation’s braggart lords.~ John Muir

I guess my own suspicions and fears had conspired to scare me into seeing something sinister where there was nothing but nothing. I had met the enemy and it was me.

Story-a-Day May Day 5’s fluffy bit of desperation. It’s based on the premise of finding that first statement on the whiteboard in your office. Started this late and finished before midnight. I’m done until I see you all tomorrow. Another chance to get it right.

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3 thoughts on “Misreading Between the Lines

      • It’s a good draft, Joe. I like the exercise of a poem a day or a story a day. I did a poem a day for a couple of years and it was quite a productive experience. Some of the poems were worth the time or refinement and submissions. Enjoy!

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