This weekend, I was lucky enough to attend a gallery at the St. Pete ArtsXChange in the Warehouse Arts District. A piece I wrote to accompany a Carrie Jadus painting was on display. If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to check out Carrie’s website to see some of her amazing work. I had a guttural reaction to her piece and fell in love on the spot!
The untitled piece is below. Keep St. Pete Lit curated several pieces for this exhibition, all under 800 words.
When I arrive at the office this morning, my mouth is covered by a double lined face mask. Sunglasses shade my eyes. I keep them on until I reach my desk and can half close my door, angling it so no one in the hallway can see me. My boss says we are not a company that shuts doors on people. I would if I could, though.
I wonder if my coworkers think I like them. We laugh with one another on Zoom calls and sign our emails with smiley face emojis. When my mother died last summer, one of them brought me a small wreath of jasmine and small red berries. She placed it on my desk with a smile, like I was supposed to be thankful, and I pretended to be just so she would leave.
The secretary has left three pieces of mail scattered haphazardly across my keyboard, even though I have a mail basket a foot away. I pick up the pieces, running my fingertips across the hardened corners. I remember early in the pandemic when mail was scary, and she would mist Clorox onto a paper towel and drag it around the envelope while wearing toilet cleaning gloves. It made everything damp and easy to rip.
Today, I am graced with a bill. An ad. The last is an invitation to an online event. I’ve been nominated for a business award, probably by someone at my company.
“Dolores?” I call.
She hacks a cough, then calls back. “Yes, ma’am?”
“Somebody send in an award application for me?”
A pause. “Don’t know anything about that, ma’am.”
I look down at the envelope. I don’t know why but something about it tugs at me. There are days when I feel like pieces of me are sloughing off like dead skin. Working through a year-long pandemic means you wear one face for 8.5 hours and then when you go home sometimes it’s hard to remember what you looked like before.
After tucking the invitation inside my desk, I sit down and turn on my computer. Squeeze hand sanitizer across my palms and rub them together. I’m halfway through my emails when the wreath giver shows up in my door. She has on a rose patterned mask this morning. It matches the maroon dress she wears. “Dolores said you got the invite.”
“You didn’t have to do that.”
“I don’t have to do anything,” she replies.
She lingers in the doorway and I wonder what she wants. Sometimes she will show up out of the blue and ask me if I want to go for a walk during lunch or sit on the benches in the park and split a salami sandwich from the gourmet deli down the street. She is soft in a way most people aren’t after this year, and when she looks at me, I can tell she knows I’m not. It’s nice, in a way, to be seen by somebody. “Lunch?” I manage.
“It’s nice out. We can get Chinese and sit at the picnic table.”
I think she’ll go away now, disappear into the maze of hallways and glass encased offices, but she lingers with her hand on the doorframe. Her nails are painted red to match the rest of her outfit. Seeing how hard she still tries is one of the few things that gets me up in the morning. “You good?” she asks.
“I’m good,” I say. “You?”
It seems like her eyes go sad for a moment, but it’s hard to tell for sure anymore. “All fine here. See you at lunch.”
She leaves and the office is quiet again, cool air shifting through the vents above with me a dull hiss.