Misconduct at the Potluck

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

I can’t believe it. 

Susan ate my food. Food made for a select group of people, not the entire hoard, not Susan. What gives her the right to dine on my baked macaroni and cheese? I don’t even think she contributed anything to the feast. There’s the cole slaw Mike brought in, store bought and soupy. There’s the homemade fried chicken Danielle made; hard work that paid off with its irresistible flavor. And here’s Susan, chomping on them all. Most of the mac and cheese is gone now. Didn’t she see the sign I posted? ‘For Mike and Danielle’s Taste Buds Only’. 

Not Susan. 

I bet Susan doesn’t know how to cook. How could she? She didn’t contribute, just about as worse as those who sign up to contribute napkins. Then there’s her poor taste in dress; those flimsy sneakers I could find for three dollars at any corner store she wears. Finer attire would be more appropriate for the workplace, I say. If I were in charge, things would be very different around here, and any potlucks we had would be selective. A slogan like: ‘If you don’t contribute, you don’t eat!’ 

Yes, that’s it, just like that. We need to be forceful to get the message across so leeches like the Susan’s of the world don’t muster up any bright ideas for a free meal. As a matter of fact… 

Kathy stomped over to her cubicle. It was a domain to tread lightly by. Everyone knew she watched and listened from this spot, waiting to catch any malfeasance, assumed or proven. While on hold for Human Resources, Kathy gazed over her ‘Ten Commandments of Kathy’s Workplace’ framed in rose gold.  

C’mon, pick up, I need to report Susan’s misconduct.  

Bottom of the barrel elevator music met Kathy’s ears, drowning out the sound of a gentle voice calling in the distance.  

“Kathy?… Excuse me, Kathy?”  

Bashful in approach, Susan was hesitant to speak as she tugged on her sweater, a poor attempt to hide the holes within its once vibrant gold fabric. Kathy’s eyes narrowed in suspicion, the phone still pressed to her ear.  

What does she want now? I hope she’s here to apologize for eating my food.  

“I’m so sorry to disturb you, this won’t take long. I just wanted to thank you for bringing in the baked macaroni and cheese. It was great, I haven’t had a decent meal in a while. I don’t know if you heard, but my family has been struggling as of late. My husband, Bill, I believe you met him at the team builder bowling event we went to last year? Well, Bill was laid off about three months ago and money has been tight. Any food we have goes to our kiddos, you know? I was so hungry… I was on day two of not eating much of anything until you, Mike, Danielle, and everyone else brought in your great dishes. I’m sorry I couldn’t contribute, I would if I could, it’s just, well, we all go through things, I guess. All I wanted to say was, thank you. I appreciate you Kathy, you really made my day.” 

Susan shuffled off, Kathy’s eyes remained fixed on the void where her enemy just stood. She put the phone down, just as Human Resources answered on the other end. Her eyes trailed to the mirror, staring at her reflection. Guilt painted her face, and the taste of hurt filled her mouth like doses of poison. She recalled her own journey where she walked a similar path as Susan once. 

…This was all a misunderstanding. 

Besides, who the fuck cares who eats what at a potluck? 

The Email Webs We Weave

It started at work, with a Happy Birthday email addressed to ‘Beverly’ titled ‘Yo Bev!’  

Who the hell is Beverly? 

I assumed the initial email was likely sent to a massive group of people throughout the company — if not everyone. One thousand plus emails later, I felt I jinxed myself.  

I shuffled through the emails, deleting them one by one — Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday. There were important emails stuffed in between the garbage, some pending urgent responses. There was no end to the messages.  

How many people did this Beverly know? Why was I on this email? 

When will it end? 

Beverly’s Birthday Wishes were stale and kind at the same time, hoping she had the greatest day of her life, so on and so forth. Others demanded immediate removal from the email chain. As if they thought some powerful email forces would take note, shuffle through thousands of names and remove each of them one by one, per request. Not today, your Majesty. 

My annoyance was building. I imagined myself responding with the most powerful reply to end all replies; everyone would see it sweep across their screens, blown away at their desks like the man in the Maxell “Blown Away Guy” advertisement.  

Damn. Kirsten’s badass, they’d whisper in shock and awe.  

But I would only add to the influx of everyone’s inboxes and further infuriate others. Likely for the soft hints of sarcasm I wouldn’t be able to contain. Instead, I promoted myself to armchair expert for the day, gathered the juiciest responses to the ‘Yo Bev!’ email and analyzed their hidden meanings.  

For example:  

“I don’t know how this happened, but you have people from Middlefield, OH on this email chain…” 

This employee has pride in their town. More than likely he grew up there, married his childhood sweetheart, nuclear family. I pictured Middlefield as a delightful town chock full of wholesome values where nothing happens — the good life. If something went awry, the town Sheriff would solve it within a half hour.  

“I don’t know who Beverly is, sorry.” 

Who asked if you did? This individual is in the upper echelon of the employee hierarchy. Beverly? Birthday? Those things don’t exist in my air. Begone peasant email. Shoo, shoo. 

“I would appreciate it if ‘Reply All’ is not selected when replying as it is very disruptive.” (With their boss and the initial senders boss carbon copied) 

They expose the guilty party, getting off on the thought of their co-workers’ punishment. They’re the ones who refresh their inbox, eager for the reply. They draft several responses, an arsenal of comebacks and put-downs ready to go, preparing to battle in a war they’ll mainly fight in their head.  

“Not sure how I was added to this thread, but Happy Birthday!” 

This individual works from home and does nothing, but doesn’t want to be exposed and lose their chill lifestyle. They maintain the illusion of consistent productivity by responding to random emails as proof they did something at work. With so many witnesses available, why miss out on a golden opportunity?  

“I seem to have been put on this list in error, who is in charge of compiling this list?” 

She’s upset and there’s a great chance she’ll file a complaint to Human Resources. Who is in charge of this list? I demand your head! She wants a word with the owner of “The List”. She wants to rip them out root and stem for the travesties that befell her inbox and return justice and honor to the workplace.  

“Here we go again, Happy Anniversary Bannon!” 

I know what they’re up to with these responses. Let me reply all too, so I can show that I know everyone keeps responding on purpose and be snarky about it. 

“Happy Birthday Beverly from the office in Ireland!” 

Oh wow, this email reached us, this far away? They must care! Employees halfway across the world from the main office are clearly forgotten. The subtle mention of their location serves as a striking reminder of their distance and their desire to keep the lines of communication open. Layoffs are likely ahead.  

“Please remove me,” and “Same” 

These two are slightly different and quite similar at the same time.  

Please remove me: This employee is just business, no time to explain. Harsh, but understands the power of tiny pleasantries such as ‘Please’ and the occasional smiley may help to soften the bluntness of their request.  

Same: These employees piggyback off the ones who already requested to be removed. They’re in too much of a hurry to explain further, or question why they received the email. They don’t celebrate birthdays because time doesn’t exist. They are robots who want to move on from their piece of lettuce for lunch, work their 17th hour straight supported by countless energy drinks while sacrificing time with family and friends to work toward that big promotion.  

I kid. I kid. 

I should be grateful, I spent the greater part of my day laughing at the fact everyone was doing the same thing that they wanted to avoid. It was better than letting it annoy me and consume my mood. Besides, I ended the day with egg on my face as well with the discovery of the ‘Ignore’ button. All I had to do was select one of the responses and they’d all filter straight to the deleted items folder. Duh. 

I could’ve done this with the first email and went about my day undisturbed. Ah well. One thing I learned as I got older is to make light of life’s little surprises.  

Most things aren’t worth getting upset over.  

Strawberry Rainbow Eye-Squinting Sour Sweet Squishy Shake

Image by Kirsten on PENUP/Snapseed

I freeze in place with the distinct sound, sweet and slow enough to catch. The reminder from a year past beckoning me to rise.    

Here it comes, inching closer by the second… Hurry!

Wait, I need money. The rush begins: Quarters, nickels, dimes; I need one penny, just one. I can always find rogue currency mushed beneath the couch cushions, or on the floor of the car, and now that I need one, I can’t find one.     

Ah, got it! Finally

I run for my life out the front door.   

Second in line wasn’t so bad. I can relax while I review my options, pick what I want, and order in confidence by the time it’s my turn. The variety was exquisite. I purchased four of what looked the best and flew past the horde.  

“I love it. It’s so good!” 

At home we sat with satisfied smirks, slurping our shakes within a calm spring breeze and gentle sun. Mom and Dad daydream about the times they dabbled in the same joys of youth. The rush to find money, the pressure to catch the music, the relief of making it just in time. Their inner child blooms, immersed in happiness. We’re swept away in laughter, aching bellies in all… 

Until mom spit out an eyeball.

All There Is, Is This.

Image by Quang Nguyen vinh from Pixabay

Into faded sheets starball drifts  

above water, still as glass

showcase dancing leafy reflections

enticing, seeking my audience,  

for a show of quiet bliss.

Yet curiosity blooms,  

pulled from a trance… 

What exists beyond there? 

Son sits beside, examining the starball    

What wonders exist?

Everything and nothing, I replied.    

All there is, is this.

Dandelion

Image by jplenio from Pixabay

Lost in the sky

your spirit bound to me

our existence forever entwined—

oh, why can’t it be? 

Amethyst Alabaster Time

Image by Michael Bryant-Mode from Pixabay

I became.

Assembled, ready for consumption.    

The first to lay eyes upon me was a gentleman walking the city streets at daybreak. He wore a proper suit and tie, briefcase in hand, worn from excessive use as he took apprehensive steps toward me, chewing his bottom lip like chunky gum. He didn’t linger; I would not forget him.     

Throughout the day, others spared their time to visit. They got the hang of me, as I of them.       

I observed their whispers, the way their eyes widened and narrowed, and widened again as their hands swept across my form. A select few took amazement with my texture: a smooth egg shape, blank surface bright as alabaster. I felt tepid hands, rough and silky, harsh and gentle. Their faces drew near, noses expanding the closer they peer. Unscented, they repeated, I understood this word first, followed by taste after receiving an interesting number of licks; all unique hesitant soft strokes, passionate deep pokes, and aggressive stabs.      

In return, I provided them with glimpses of their genuine desires. This pleased them to their core. 

They gathered by the masses. The ones who touched me were the fastest to read, so I dispensed more pleasure at their behest. The more I observed, the more perturbed I grew with one woman, known by a close set of others who surrounded her, as Amethyst. She stood in the distance, skeptical during her first visit, and in the second, I read her as anxious and withdrawn, arguing against friends who encouraged her to try me. Yet Amethyst did not desire pleasure… But I can reach through acquaintances.    

Near evening, the gentleman from earlier returned, coming back whence he came, determined to see. As he touched me, I learned he was an accountant who desired his husband’s brother and early retirement. But, as quick as he arrived, he left in sudden shock, once he saw the murder.  

At daybreak, I found people had gathered by the masses to behold me. Word traveled fast throughout the small community, and I became the latest hit. 

Consider Mrs. Byxbe’s memory of her son waking early before school to play a video game; the one he waited a year for, just released overnight. He sits cross-legged on the beige carpeted floor, eyes wide, mouth agape. He clutches the controller, propelling himself into the air, overjoyed to play. Oh, the thrill of it all! I felt Mrs. Byxbe’s warm heart as she held me. It was an alternative to his missing life, taken only months ago.   

It wouldn’t be her last visit.    

One glance at me and the connection forms. Seconds inside and I’ve known you for a lifetime. Now, I’ve seen millions of minds, thoughts, actions. I even know you, as I came to know Amethyst. The pressure of being left behind touched her, and as always, she had no choice but to give in.   

When Amethyst looks, she sees endless darkness, a massive void where down is up, far is near and nothing exists.        

She traces her finger across my inscription, and I can see it: Time: I am nothing. Until I am. I keep this knowledge. Amethyst yanks herself from me, grim faced. She stumbles backward, turns and runs.    

Suddenly, she approaches again, wielding a baseball bat.   

“LIES!” Amethyst screams, shattering me, gone.    

I am nothing. I am nothing. I am nothing.    

Cracked alabaster pieces reunite, piece by piece, assembled, ready for consumption.    

I became.  

Door Talk

Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

Most of his companions thought he was a captive the way he interpreted his home life: “Just wait until you’re 18, man. It’ll get better when you’re an adult,” they’d reassure him.  

At home, the teen felt free within the cluttered confines of his room. Only upon cravings for food and drink would he emerge in a mad dash to the kitchen and back to avoid the constant questions and suffocating concern of his parents. Their hopes of a productive conversation with their son often resulted in faint, rushed responses through a locked door. 

Why doesn’t he talk to us? Where did we go wrong? Mother and Father wondered, reliving the happier days when their son was little and enjoyed their company. Now, they were a nuisance. Sometimes it was simpler to just leave their son be.  

“We’ll always be here for you, no matter what,” his parents reminded him every day.  

They prayed for their son’s success as a writer, encouraging him from afar with every tap, tap, tap, of the keyboard behind the locked door into the late hours.  

He’ll hear us one day. 

And as time went on, the son became a father facing a similar dilemma. His daughter scoffed at every hello and shunned questions, avoiding his presence to great lengths until she needed something which made him feel used. He knew these tricks, the evasion.  

But why me? I was always the cool one. 

Water grew thicker than blood as friends replaced him and his famous adventure novels she once held dear, left to collect dust on the bookshelf, old news. 

Why doesn’t she talk to me? 

The epiphany struck a heavy blow. Now, the son, the father, heard them.  

“I’ll always be here for you. No matter what.” He couldn’t believe the same words moved from his lips, his parents were somewhere above smiling. And there was no response from his daughter other than the familiar sound of soft brushstrokes. 

He knew deep down she would hear him. One day… 

The Green Goodbye

Image by Lucy Prior from Pixabay

A collision of illuminated gold specks and lush green made up the intensity of his eyes, yet his facial expression bore a gloomier shade.  

He was my morose classmate forever staring at the exit, desperate to leave. 

I know, I sat beside him going through the same thing. Fate destined us to take the required history course and see it through until the bitter end, as boring as it was. It was comforting to find another classmate who shared the same disposition.  

He was an unusual sort. He never took notes during lectures, never uttered a word. During group projects attempts to engage with him resulted in a glare built of stone and odd silence that spoke volumes.  

Was he okay? 

One day, however, he possessed an aura filled with the brightest light when we returned to class.  

Affable, natural, happier. He must have received some good news, I thought, imagining a tar-like substance of dark weight slipping from his shoulders. I took his gleeful demeanor as a welcome signal for a friendly exchange. And while I can’t recall what I said, the memory of piercing golden rays dancing along his eyes as he laughed remained with me. Warm feelings of wholeness surrounded my heart — it all felt so familiar.  

In the following days, the repeat occurrence of green found me. Traffic lights kept the color as a constant fixture which made my travels smooth. Teal, Mint, Lime, Fern, Forest, Sage and Olive foliage, signage, and structure captured my curiosity in every direction; accompanied by the golden hues of a fall sun, the sights were unforgettable. Appreciative of such beauty, my classmate came to mind.  

He’s okay, I remember thinking to myself.  

But the next time we returned to class he wasn’t there, and a strange sadness clouded my mood. Something was wrong. Our instructor stood by the door, stone faced and mute.  

“He killed himself,” her words a jumbled whisper. Waves of silence ensued once we grasped the news.  

I pictured his eyes then: shimmering green pools drained of its potential, sunlight laid to rest. Class dismissed early dealing with the news, departing through the same exit he always stared at.  

Did he find his way? 

The shock of his death remained with me. I felt he was someone I had to look after and failed. Perhaps another lifetime, another path. Maybe we would meet again, maybe not. Were we meant to? What was the point of our laughter? The thoughts drove me mad, although in time I took comfort when I remembered the vast array of luminous colors of green that found me.  

And knew he was now, okay.  

Trash Apology

Image by PublicDomainArchive from Pixabay

“Excuse me! Excuse me!”

He yelled at them from across the street, demanding an answer. The two individuals had exited through the backyard gate instead of the front door, looking around a house they couldn’t afford. He had never seen these people before, young people, different people. What were they doing at this house, if not up to no good?  

“Hey, you!”   

They ignored that, turning to the backyard, shutting the door behind them.   

“HEY!”  

 He’s louder, angrier sounding. The couple opens the gate.

“Yeah? What?”  

“What are you doing there?”  

“We live here.”  

“What are you… the new tenants?”  

“We don’t rent. This is our home.”   

He places a dramatic hand over his heart, shaking his head. His authoritative voice transitions into the role of a caring neighbor.  

“I am SO sorry. I was watching you outside my window thinking there was a break in. I’ve been over to introduce myself and bring over some cookies I baked, but you never answer the door… Oh, you got the house painted?”  

“Yep. Just finished today, we were checking out the finished result.”   

“Ah.”   

After the casual introductions and light talk, they parted on strange ground.    

When the neighbor came to their house again, gifting his baked treats, the wife answered. 

“Thanks!” She says with a ginger smile taking the round tin container, she peeks, fresh-baked cookies. The events of the prior day fresh in both of their minds. He apologized, again.   

Once inside, she tosses the apology. 

Dawn’s Healing

Art by Kirsten on PENUP/Snapseed

Sometimes

waterfalls break

from glassy pools

of temporary gloom.

Evaporate

in slumbers arrival;

troubled thoughts

left to darkness,

forgotten,

in Dawn.