Monday, March 7, 2011

Two: In which existentialism is overthrown in favour of a shopping spree

"So, listen. I don't have anything to do this afternoon," Katie's best friend, Melissa, said in a low voice. "What do you say we get out of here and hit the end-of-winter sales?" She raised/lowered her eyebrows in a conspiratorial, silent-film actor way.

Katie glanced around the board room. It had emptied out pretty quickly; the only person left in there with them was Natasha, the young intern who was responsible for the terrible coffee at meetings. She was tidying up the coffee cart, making a show of not listening to Katie and Melissa. Katie mouthed, "Natasha," and cast a look of what she hoped conveyed Great Significance at Melissa.

Melissa only rolled her eyes and spoke in her normal voice. "Natasha doesn't care what we get up to, does she?" Natasha looked over at the two of them and smiled, shook her head, and backed out of the boardroom, pulling the coffee cart with her. "So. Do you want to ditch with me or not?"

Katie glanced at the clock. Three in the afternoon on a Friday. Surely she couldn't be blamed for taking off early. After all, she'd probably put in a solid, oh, 8 hours of work this week. Surely that should be rewarded. "Okay. Okay. But that's the last time this month. Judith is getting suspicious."

Melissa shuddered at the mention of the office manager, a humourless, shapeless woman in her fifties who made a point of not making friends with anyone, even the other humourless, shapeless people on staff, with whom you'd assume she'd share an immediate rapport.

"Fine. The month's nearly over, anyway. I'll meet you at the Senator in fifteen?"

"Make it twenty," Katie said, and felt a rise of panic/excitement, like when you're on the brink of something really good but also kind of bad.

Katie headed back to her desk. She didn't like skipping work, because she didn't like lying. The problem was, she was a really good liar. People always believed her. So she could deceive people whenever she needed to, but it pained her that people were so gullible. It was a God-given talent, she supposed, this ability to make people believe her, and she knew that God hated nothing more than wasted talent. Aunt Angela had an embroidered pillow with that very saying on her guest bed, and for those Terrible Four Months when she'd been homeless and unemployed, Katie had stared at that pillow, lit by the unforgiving moonlight that shone in through the gauzy curtains, whenever she was hit by insomnia (which was often) during those Terrible Four Months.

The office was "open concept", meaning that the company was too cheap to build indoor walls. Katie's department (or, sorry, Katherine's department) was smack in the middle. The executives and marketing and sales geniuses got the outer desks, near the windows, and Katie and the small team of three graphic designers were in the centre with the lower-level copy writers, where Melissa worked as senior staff. When she'd come for the interview, Don Juan had explained that this was because the "creative" teams were the "heart of everything we do here at Ambrose-Olyniuk" but she knew it was because they were the lowest paid people there. The worse you were paid, the further you had to be from the window. This was a rule. Somewhere, she was sure, it was written down.

"Nice meeting?" Erica, the world's smallest, quietest computer nerd looked up from her station. She was the techiest of the team, and the one with whom Katie found herself wanting to shake the most often. "Why are you such a cliche?" She'd yell at her un-make-uped, be-spectacled face, her hands gripping the shoulders of Erica's unironic wolf-picture sweatshirt as she shook her back and forth. But Katie knew she couldn't do it -- she was, herself, her own kind of living cliche, and at least Erica's cliche was happy with her life choices, wolf-sweatshirt and all.

"Yeah. I guess. Where are Mike and Paul?" The two other desks in their area were empty. She hoped they were still here. If they'd decided to skip off early, too, Erica would be left on her own, and that wasn't fair. Unlike Katie, Erica had no talent for deception. She even used her real name for online role-playing games.

"They're in the copy room. Making copies." Erica and Katie locked eyes and stared at one another, silently, for a long minute.

"Copies." Katie said, still looking at Erica.

"Yep," Erica's eyes were wide behind her overly-large glasses (the outsized frames worn un-ironically, bless her).

"How long have they been gone...?"

"About fifteen minutes."

"So I shouldn't go in there..."

"I'd give it about ten more 'til the copies are made."

Both Katie and Erica knew that Mike and Paul had been sneaking off to the copy room for mid-day rendezvous, but they'd never openly discussed this. Nor had they ever mentioned it to Paul and Mike, who would make up elaborate stories about why they had to make copies, and why they were gone for so long. But it was so obvious, and yet, in an effort to remain professional, Katie assumed, they were determined to pretend nothing was going on. Which meant she and Erica had to do the same, and she knew that this ruse was torture for her soft-hearted, honest colleague.

She knew she should address the issue, as their supervisor, so Erica could stop lying and Mike and Paul could stop their "corporate theft" of time, during which they engaged in illicit, secret sex instead of graphic designing. But Katie didn't want to deal with this. For one thing, it was secret, illicit sex. How do you bring that up in a staff meeting? And for another thing...the more sneaking around they did, the easier it was for Katie to justify her own bad behaviour. Like skipping work.

"Okay." Katie knew she had to get out of there soon if she was going to make it to the Senator on time. "Listen, Erica, I have to leave a bit early today. I got a text message while I was in the meeting and I have something personal I have to deal with. Will the three of you be okay without me?" Katie had been busy putting on her coat and getting her bag together so she didn't have to look at Erica while she lied. She looked up and Erica had tears in her eyes. Oh, damn.

"Is it your sister? Is she okay?"

Erica's mention of Anne caused Katie's heart to squeeze. Oh, oh, oh. Katie's eyes got a bit teary, too. "No, Anne's fine." (She wasn't, but there was no way that Katie was going to use Anne to get out of work to go shopping, as tempting as it was, and as much as Anne would likely support this exploitation of her current situation. ) "My house is, um. It's the basement. It's flooding. Again. So I have to go deal with that." She shrugged and sighed. "Never own a house, Erica. It's such a bad idea."

"Oh, I won't," said Erica, happily and earnestly. "It's rent-free at Mum and Dad's." She waved a tiny, un-manicured hand at Katie. "Good luck with that old basement!"

"Thanks." Katie hurried towards the elevator, her eyes downcast, and managed to get down to the first floor without anyone noticing her or catching her eye. Victory! She thought to herself, and pushed all thoughts of her sister, of Erica's trusting eyes, of her flooded basement (it really was flooded, it had flooded three days ago, Katie just didn't know what to do about it and was therefore ignoring it), and of Mike and Paul's steamy romance, and thought about the hours she was stealing back for herself.

Ten minutes later she was seated in a big wing-back chair with Melissa at the old hotel near their office. They were drinking lattes. "So you didn't even lie?" Katie was incredulous.

"You know I'm a terrible liar. I just told everyone that I had to leave early to get some shopping done."

"And you're not worried they'll, I don't know, report you?"

"To who? I'm their boss." Melissa took her role as department head much more seriously than Katie. She actually really liked work. "They won't rat me out." It was probably true. Melissa's staff was kind of afraid of her. There was no way anyone on her team would be sneaking off for illicit gay sex sessions. Melissa would have dealt with that head-on.

"Honesty. How novel." Katie took a sip of her latte and smiled at her friend. "So what are we shopping for?"

Melissa, with her long brown hair, long brown legs, and long brown neck, was like a coat rack (not that she was skinny, oh, no. This simile is indicating that she was able to wear anything, effortlessly). "I need a dress for Lucy and Brent's wedding. It's next weekend and I just found out David's going to be there. So the one we got last weekend won't work. It's too...tame."

"Oh." Katie made a face. David was Melissa's ex-fiance. They'd been broken up for a year, but hadn't seen each other much since. "Okay. Holt's it is!" She got to her feet, prepared to head out to Holt Renfrew, Melissa's go-to shopping emergency department store, but Melissa pulled something out of her bag with a slow smile. "Actually, I have something different in mind."

Katie looked at the flier. "Sampleicious!" it read. "One weekend only! Noon to Midnight! All your favourite designers, plus some you've yet to discover. Great prices! Amazing finds! Vintage, runway, and off-the-rack!" Below it were logos for the various designers and brands they could find there. It looked too good to be true. Which was what you wanted in a sample sale.

"A sample sale? Huh." Katie knew she should feel elated. She knew she should be feeling the way Melissa was -- it was obvious from her face, all aglow with excitement -- but she just felt tired.

"What's up?" Melissa was standing, getting her coat on. "This is the first real, legit sample sale I've found in months. This is what we live here for!"

"I guess." Katie tried a smile. This was her life. She'd chosen it. She had chosen to move back to Toronto, she had chosen to leave Bobby and she had chosen this job, this salary that meant she could afford things like an (albeit small, flooded) house and designer (albeit sample-sale) clothing. She knew that married women, homeless women, and women with children everywhere envied her this freedom, this life. "I just feel like a cliche, Melissa. Don't you ever feel that way?"

Melissa sighed and sat down in the wing back chair next to her. "Is this more of your existential crisis? I thought we got over that months ago." Katie blushed at the memory of Melissa sitting at her bedside at Aunt Angela's when she'd first got back to town, reading aloud from magazines and trying to get her to get dressed and go outside.

"I don't know. I just feel ... unfulfilled."

Melissa shook her head in exasperation. "That is what shopping is for, Katie. Now come on. If you don't want to come with me, fine. But please, if you do come with me, can you leave this whole Sartre-mood here, and try to find pleasure in this? I have to look amazing at this wedding. You have to help. I need you."

Katie knew Melissa was right. This was not the time nor the place for a meltdown. This was a time for shopping. "Okay. I will be good. I will be happy. I will come shopping. Who knows? Perhaps I can find a killer black suit for work."

Melissa shot her a glance. "Killer black what?"

"I'm joking." Katie had yet to own a suit. To her, a suit meant surrender. "I'll look for a dress, too."

"For what?"

"The wedding! You'll need a date, right?" Katie pushed her arm through Melissa's and squeezed her friend tight. "I can't let you face David alone."

"Thanks, Katie." Melissa's voice was soft, her eyes kind.

"No worries," said Katie, squashing her existential what-ever-it-was down to the tips of her toes. This was not the time.





Please leave comments below. Majority Rules! Expect the next installment within 3-6 days.


  1. They are separated, and end up buying the same dress (more than what you asked for again...).

  2. I vote the streetcar breaks down.

  3. separated. Think of the drama.

  4. ooh! it's a tie! i will wait a few more days to see which side wins!

    ps i do like hearing your plot ideas, i promise. i just can't guarantee i'll use them. as long as you are cool with that, and know i might not get to your plot points, please do keep providing them! who knows? maybe we can use them to write an entirely new story?

  5. Hope I'm not too late to say that they shop and lose one another...who knows who or what else they will find?

  6. I like the streetcar breaking down. Many possibilities for conversations with interesting strangers...

  7. I like the idea of the street car breaking down...