Bloated, but not demoted!
Complacency be damned! Just a few hours ago, everything that mattered dissolved like lotion on skin: Melanie and I rolled about in the closet; Allison almost stabbed me; and then… Oh, my God.
“My appointment!” I exclaim and bonk my head against something round, smooth, and plastic. What is this? Am I a pickle now with my head in a jar?
A masked woman rushes over. “What’s wrong?”
I grab her by the shirt and gesture to the thing around my head. “I need to be somewhere by 3. Where are we?”
The woman pulls away and straightens out her garments—scrubs! “This is the hyperbaric oxygen therapy center.”
Allison and Melanie, also wearing plastic things on their heads, awaken to the scuffle. “If this is a hospital, why are we camping?” Melanie asks. All three of us are sitting in beds planted on asphalt. Light ekes through a fabric canopy that is rustled by the wind and sounds from the street.
“This is the outdoor hyperbaric oxygen therapy center,” the nurse says. “One of you isn’t vaccinated.”
“Who?” Allison and I ask. Melanie blushes and looks away.
“Thanks, Melanie,” Allison says with a tone that suggests she is not thankful at all.
“The vaccine was rushed,” she says. “We’re supposed to get our immunity from breast milk, not needles.”
I again attempt to unscrew the lid from my face. “I need to get to the office!”
“I highly doubt your appointment still stands,” the nurse says, a lot less friendly. “You three are being treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.”
“Carbon monoxide?” I ask. “As in a gas leak?”
“No way,” Allison says.
“You almost died,” the nurse says.
“I wondered why I was so happy,” Melanie says and pulls a copy of The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe from nowhere.
“Ask your boss,” the nurse shrugs. “He called and said he’ll come soon.”
This cheers me. Alfie is a house with decorations on Halloween: approachable. With him by my side for the past few years, the team flourished despite catastrophes such as the Great Printer Blowout of 2008. I impress upon my underlings the importance of his arrival.
“Allison, straighten out your oxygen tank,” I bark, perhaps a bit too sharply. “Melanie–try not to cough so much. I know it’s hard since you’re not vaccinated.”
“The two have nothing to do with each other!”
“If you are such an expert in biology,” I say. “Why are the plants in our office always dying?”
“I don’t want the shot messing with my fertility,” she responds.
“Fertility?” Allison says. “When were you planning on using that?”
Melanie responds to Allison with a pillow to her face. There is a thud as her book slides to the ground as Allison responds in kind.
The nurse ignores my scuffling coworkers as she places cups of water next to our nightstands. Maybe I could somehow still make my appointment, but I realize I have no idea how much time has passed since our last day in the office. The minutes pass. I wish I could find sitting around and doing nothing as entertaining as my fighting counterparts do. My gaze follows the water droplets on the side of my cup as they race one another to the bottom. I was really looking forward to seeing that candidate.
My underlings do not slow their snap fest, and Allison sits up to fling her blanket at Melanie and knocks down my cup on the way. Melanie gasps as it hits the asphalt with a clang. Allison holds her breath, staring at me with fear in her eyes, but she need not be so apprehensive. The ice is speaking to me again: condensate, don’t condescend.
“Allison,” I say after some time. “We need to work on your grip. It is weak. Not just when you are assaulting Melanie with your bed things, but in general in life. Quite frankly, I need to be a better guide than I have been because I recognize your many positive qualities.”
“You do?” Allison and Melanie both ask.
“…not 100% of the time, but sometimes!”
“She tried to kill you,” Melanie says.
“Completely by accident,” I reply.
Allison looks away. “…Yeah,” she says.
I continue, “I have not been involved enough in both of your work.” Allison and Melanie side-eye each other.
The plastic curtains of our tent part, and our boss, Alfie, split the morning sun as he steps in. His silhouette, clothed in a half-buttoned white shirt and stonewashed jeans, is neither short nor tall, and as he comes up, I could make out the half-grown beard hair. The smell of Calvin Klein Obsession calms me: there is nothing to worry about. It will all be okay.