“What happened?” He wondered what she was thinking as she stared at him. She had always confided in him easily. Her hesitation now worried him. Did she think he couldn’t handle whatever it was?
“Steve just smiled after my outburst,” she finally said, “but it wasn’t, it wasn’t… a…a nice smile. It was like a snake smiling, with those cold little beady eyes of his. And then he said to me, ‘I’d like to see you in my office in five minutes.’ I just nodded and backed out of there. I was thinking eight more months, Alice, just hang in there for eight more months and you can say you lasted twenty five years. I don’t know who that mattered to except me.” She paused, looked at some point on the floor, then back at Edgar. “But then when I got to Steve’s office, they were both there, Steve and Mike.”
“The young brother bosses,” he intoned, using the phrase Alice had coined for the owners of the company where she’d worked her way up from being a mail room clerk to the Executive Assistant for the former President, Bob Meyer. Way back when, it had been Bob’s wife, Evie, who Alice knew through their work in the PTA, that suggested Alice work there.
When Bob died several months ago, she’d retained her position while the sons stepped in to run the company. In many ways, Alice had more knowledge of the day to day workings and rhythms than they had. The idea made sense at the time, though it had been awkward from the beginning. She still could not think of them as her bosses, instead of the sons of her former boss.
Alice continued. “And Mike said, in a nice enough tone, ‘I know there have been a lot of changes, and you know we value your input, but you’re going to have to trust us on how the team gets re-structured.’ ‘Of course,’ I said. And then I noticed Steve looking at me with this smirk on his face.” She’d gone completely still except for her barely moving lips. “And I noticed that he had dribbled gravy down the front of his shirt, and actually had a bit of some unidentifiable food on his chin. And his shirt buttons barely closed over his big…fat…gut,” she gasped. “I’m sorry.” She placed a shaking hand over her mouth.
Edgar pushed himself out of the chair and walked stiffly towards her, more conscious than ever of his stilted arthritic gait. He reached out. She put up a hand and shook her head. “Don’t touch me,” she said, “I won’t be able to finish.”
Edgar stopped two feet away and let his arms fall to his sides.
“And…and I remembered how hard Helen had cried this morning, just,” she pulled back the sleeve of her coat to look at the Timex on her thin wrist, “just four hours ago, when they gave her notice. I sat with her in the ladies room for twenty or thirty minutes until she was calm enough to go back to her desk. And then, for some reason, I don’t honestly know why, I remembered how badly Janie had taken it when she and that boy broke up in college. Remember that?”
Edgar nodded. Their youngest daughter had been crushed by the abrupt ending of that relationship. It had never been completely clear what happened, but in the end it was evident that some part of their daughter’s innocence had been snatched away.
“Well, I don’t know if I ever told you, but Steve reminds me of that boy for some reason. I guess that’s why, because it certainly wasn’t a conscious thing when…I…”
“When you what, Alice?”
She looked him in the eye and said, “I slapped him.”
“But hard enough.”
“I know.” Her voice was grim.