Dead End Job: A Louisa Hallstrom Novel(12)

By: Ingrid Reinke

When I’d exited the lobby and gotten to the elevator bay, I used my keycard to call one of the twelve elevators and took it up to the twenty-ninth floor to reception. By this time of night, the office was dead quiet. Most people don’t realize that there’s artificial white noise pumped in to the buildings where they work to help drown out the endless chatter of office phone conversations and to wipe out the creepiness of an empty floor during those deadline days when you work hours past your colleagues. I’d heard from co-workers that the white noise in our building abruptly shuts off at 7:00 PM, but I’d never stuck around long enough to experience it for myself. Now that I was in the office without the artificial noise, I agreed that the result was eerie.

I buzzed myself in through the glass doors and rounded the corner to my cube. The lights were still on, but I didn’t see anyone in the office when I slipped in as quickly as I could, grabbed the bottle of meds from my locker in my cubicle, popped an Ativan and went to the kitchen to get a sip of water. On the way out I leaned on the counter by the water dispenser for a moment in the silence and took a deep breath, then buzzed myself out and marched back down the block to my parking garage.

When I got home, I was feeling much more relaxed. I slunk upstairs, threw on my “uglies” (grey, oversized sweats and a worn out University T-shirt), and crawled into bed. It was only a quarter to nine, but I was exhausted. I could hear Kathy downstairs in her bedroom directly below mine on her phone talking about something that she’d read in a highly popular national news magazine and how that “publication should be banned, as it is journalistically flawed and unethical blah blah blah.” To drown her out, I flipped on the little flat screen at the foot of my bed and started playing the latest Real Housewives from my DVR. I thought about going to the kitchen to pour myself the last glass of pinot grigio that I knew was in the fridge, but I didn’t want to take the risk of running into her and having one of our polite daily chats. This would entail having to either lie about my evening or go through re-telling the story, so I let the medication take over, and I fell asleep.

Chapter 4: Shock to the System

The next morning was more brutal than usual. When my alarm went off at 6:15, I was having a horrible nightmare that the world’s population of great white sharks had somehow mutated in a way that allowed them to grow human legs, and they were roaming around the world’s beaches and waterfront cities looking for their next snack. This topped my two most popular anxiety dreams that I A) had failed my senior year Physics 111 class and was not going to graduate from college or B) was pregnant, and could not for the life of me remember who the father was. Yikes. Is this my subconscious’ interpretation of my dating life? Sharks with legs? Happy Wednesday, Louisa.

I had never been a morning person, which meant that waking up at any time of the day was a terrible, traumatic experience. 6:00 AM sucked. 11:00 AM sucked just as bad. I can, and have, slept all day when the situation allowed for it. On this particular morning I was going through my usual routine of thinking up every excuse possible that I could email work to let management know that I would not be in the office today: I had a migraine, I contracted HIV, my dog ran away, my left arm fell off sometime during the night and I had to find it. I pushed the snooze button on my phone four more times in nine minute intervals before I finally forced myself to get up and go to the bathroom. I sat on the toilet for another few minutes while I brushed my teeth, all the while trying to get my eyelids to open up enough to where I could take a shower without the possibility that I would fall back asleep and drown in a little pool in my bathtub.

When I rolled into the office at ten till eight, nobody in my department was there yet. Score. I opted to keep earlier hours for this specific reason. You see, even though I was technically twenty-two minutes late, I could say that I got there at whatever time I wanted, because no one was there to say I didn’t; that way I could justify leaving just before four o’clock every day. Of course, this didn’t always work because some of the time, one of the associates or someone horrible like Jenny would already be there for a client call, or to meet some deadline, and then I would have to pretend that my arrival time was just a fluke, and I had to behave as if I was running very late and act all flustered and embarrassed.

I pulled my makeup case out of my locker and started to put myself together, which I did every morning at my desk for fifteen minutes while I was alone in the office. I took my time and applied some foundation, a touch of my favorite nude sparkly eye shadow, a generous swipe of bronzer, and a couple coats of drugstore mascara. I heard the loud beep and click of the front door opening and quickly gathered my makeup from my desk, tossed it back into my case and chucked it in my locker. If it was Elaine, I really didn’t want to be caught doing my makeup at my desk. I took a deep breath and composed myself, feigning deep scrutiny of Merit’s home screen as the person approached.