Dead End Job: A Louisa Hallstrom Novel(11)

By: Ingrid Reinke

Oh man, this guy was drunk, sweaty and was high as hell. He was still smiling, but now also gnashing his jaw, uncontrollably chewing on his tongue and lips. Weird. It looked like he was having some sort of strange seizure. Not that he gave a crap –he was completely oblivious to the situation, and furthermore, he seemed to be having a good enough time that he wanted to stick around. He got up from his barstool and leaned in next to my face, running his hand up and down my back. I could smell the acrid mix of coke, whiskey and red wine on his breath.

“Hey there beautiful!” he oozed. “I’m going to go outside for a quick smoke. Want another round?” Without waiting for the response he walked towards the door, snapping to get the bartender’s attention. “Hey buddy, another round over here.” Then to me, “Be right back, Pumpkin.”

I made sure he was gone, then jumped into action. I stood up, grabbed my purse and coat, plunked a couple of $20s down on the bar and slowly started walking towards the ladies’ room. I thought about waiting around and cancelling our next round of wine, but I didn’t want to take the chance that Jonah would re-appear while I was trying to get the bartender’s attention. Plus, he could just stick it in the fridge and serve it to the next person. Pinot grigio sells quickly, I reasoned. Now I could justify what I was about to do, which was to run away from a date. Instead of taking a left into the ladies’ room, I quickly walked down the server hallway next to the food window and straight out the back door into the alley.

By the time I got to what I deemed a safe distance from the scene of the bad date, I had broken a sweat in my new dress. I felt like a wussy for running away, had a slight buzz on, and was on the verge of some kind of emotional outburst, but my body couldn’t decide if it was going to be laughter or tears. I really didn’t care because I also realized that I was in the midst of a panic attack. These days my “occasional anxiety” was a little more frequent than occasional, and the pills my doctor had prescribed for it had become kind of a crutch for me to get through an average week of my life with work, paying bills, and dealing with being a young, broke, single woman with 20 pounds to lose. I didn’t know if these bouts of anxiety would ever fully go away, but according to my expensive therapist I “stifled my emotions,” so my anxiety attacks were a physical manifestation of some deep-rooted problem that I was choosing not to deal with. Now, my heartbeat was pounding so hard in my chest that I felt like it was constricting my throat and I couldn’t get a breath. The harder I tried to breathe, the more I panicked, and the harder my heart beat, creating a vicious cycle. I leaned against the dirty alley wall next to a dumpster fighting off the nausea that had suddenly gripped my tight chest and tried to slow my heart rate by forcing myself to take a few deep slow breaths. My palms were sweaty and I worked myself up even more because my internal dialogue was on repeat, it’s happening again, it’s happening again, it’s happening again.

I decided that the only option was to get myself to the office to grab one of my emergency anti-anxiety pills before I completely lost it. Even though the date had seemed to last for hours, the sun was still shining brightly, but there was hardly a soul on the streets. Using the deep breathing my therapist had taught me, and anticipating taking my meds, I managed to walk the couple of blocks to my office building in relative calm.

When I entered the lobby, I passed the night watchman and shuddered. Martin had renamed this guy “Chi-Mo,” which was short for “child molester.” I know, I know, it’s completely terrible, but in Martin’s defense, this guy was irrefutably uber-creepy. Beginning each day at noon, Chi-Mo worked maintenance in the building, washing the glass doors, performing basic maintenance work and re-stocking the bathrooms with fresh toilet rolls. He was a skinny, shifty-looking bald man who was probably in his late forties. He had a habit of constantly and menacingly glaring at the different office workers while quietly mumbling obscenities to himself. Every time I saw him I walked away quickly and avoided eye contact. I didn’t know if it was true, but my co-workers and I often recounted the office lore that he was actually an ex-con, currently on probation for a nasty, violent crime. I think everyone in the office was scared of him, which probably served to isolate him further, causing more extreme behavior, making people more afraid and so on. I kind of felt bad for talking all that crap about him and practically running every time I saw him, because I knew from the hours and hours I’d invested watching reality TV that most likely the stories weren’t true and in fact, he might be fighting some horrible disease or have a heartwarming story about saving puppies that no one knew about. Even so, I didn’t have the time or willingness to evaluate the social dynamic of the building at the moment, so I rushed by, feeling his beady, blue eyes on my back.