8. Bloated, part 2

Featured: The Art of the Deal!

           “Woah,” he says, setting down a flask on the nurse’s stand (“Seriously?” Melanie says when he takes a sip from it). “Why did they put you out here?”

           “The hospital’s punishing me for not taking the jab,” Melanie says.

           “Punishing us,” Allison says. “Are you going out?”

           “Nah, coming back in.”

           “It’s seven in the morning,” she says. “On a Tuesday.”

           Alfie straightens out his shirt and ignores her. “Team, I hate to be so forward now, but we have to go over an important issue-“

           “How Melanie needs to get vaccinated?” Allison says.

           “Our medical right to bodily autonomy?” Melanie jumps in.

           “No,” I say. “The new hire.”

           Alfie does a double-take. “The gas leak and your wing’s future.”

           “So, the new hires,” I say. I try to pull the plastic can off my head. “Any help here?” I ask the nurse. She puts down a tray of pizza before assisting me.

           “Finally, some food,” Melanie says eagerly.

           “Are you sure you want to talk about hiring now?” Alfie says. “You barely survived gas poisoning. You are all lucky a candidate for the admin position happened to be returning for an interview. Otherwise, who knows when you would have all been found.”

           “Which one?” I ask, my heart racing. “The handsome one?” Alfie replies that he is not sure whether he is the best judge of that. Everything falls into place! “All the more reason to prioritize hiring him,” I say, taking a bite of pizza. “Bleh! This is cold.”

           Alfie looks away and sighs. “What do you do at our company?” he asks Allison.

           “I’m the intern,” she says.

           “What drew you to us?”

           “I majored in Environmental Sciences and wrote my senior thesis on the intersectionality of contraception access and waste composting.”

           He cackles. “When did you plan on applying that?”

           “Melanie, for today’s sake, this tent is our office,” I say to my office manager. “See what you can do about getting this pizza reheated.”

           “I can’t go in, remember?” Melanie says. “I’m not vaccinated.”

           “But of course. Allison!” I order. “Go follow the nurse and see if you can get our food warmed.”

           “But I don’t know where anything is!” she whines.

           “When in Rome, roam,” I respond.

           “Thanks again, Melanie!” Allison snaps, throwing her blankets off and rolling out of bed.

“Your oxygen tank!” I call after her as she leaves. She returns for it before stomping off again.

           “Where were we?” I say to Alfie. “The candidate. He is the perfect growth-minded individual for the office—”

            “I don’t think I am making myself clear,” Alfie says. “There’s not going to be an office.”

           There is silence in the tent. Only the wind and the rustling of the canopy can be heard. I realize that my mouth is open.

           “No office!” I whisper. “Melanie, did you hear that?”

           “Mhm,” Melanie says. She tries to lick her finger to turn the page. The plastic funnel blocks her.

           “What do you mean by this?” I continue. “We ended remote working ahead of schedule, and productivity is through the roof (despite some acknowledged restructuring). Our team has never been stronger, and I see it strengthening still-”

           “You don’t understand,” Alfie says. “This is a good thing. This is good news. You can take a nice vacation—paid for of course.”

           “What about my employees?” I say. “They need something to do. Alison is in a sorority—do you think she knows how to fill her time productively? And Melanie, she would drown emotionally without my support!” Melanie grunts.

           “I don’t know what they should do,” Alfie says after some trepidation. “They can always apply for unemployment, I guess.”

           “Would I qualify?” Melanie asks.

           “Oh yes,” says Alfie. “We’d give you a hefty severance as well.”

           “Wouldn’t that hurt my insurance amount?”

           “Oh no, not at all, that’s a common misconception. Your severance pay is separate from unemployment,” he says. Melanie looks up from her book.

           “Though the company will be sad to let you go, this is an auspicious time to not have a job. To make up for a gas leak (which was completely not our fault) you’d also get free health insurance for the rest of the year and next, as well as rental assistance and a food allowance.” Alfie continues, “Think of this time as a vacation before your next role. A vacation from bills, work, worry…”

           “No way!” Melanie smiles for the first time that day.

           “No way,” I agree. “I can’t let the company just do that to you and Allison.” Melanie harumphs and returns to her book.

           “Pardon?” Alfie says. “This arguing is very… uncharacteristic of you.”

           “I haven’t been feeling myself as of late,” I say.

           A break appears in the tent’s wall again. A woman peeks in, attractive despite her mask. “Hello?” she says.

           “Hello,” Alfie says, grinning and straightening out his shirtsleeves. “How can we help?”

           “Is Allison here?” another woman says. Two more of them peek in behind them: the first one Asian, the second, African American. “She texted us that she was sick. We’re her sisters.” All of them are attractive, young, and slim.

          “What a diverse family!” Alfie says.

          I sigh. “Let’s return to the matter at hand-“

          “There is nothing to return to,” he says and watches them set up balloons and cards on Allison’s empty bed stand. “The office is closed until the leak is cleared. Your position is on hiatus-“

          “But what about my employees?” I say. My voice, sharp enough to slice a piece of silk drifting through the air, draws Alfie’s attention from the Asian sister’s behind back to me. This was my moment to stand up for what I believe. “I promised the ice I would protect them!”

          “Good luck,” says Melanie from her book.

          Alfie ignores her. “We’re doing what we can,” he says. “But the monoxide poisoning only sped along changes that have been long in the works. See, HR went through the numbers, and we don’t need a separate branch with bloated admin.”

          “Bloated?” I ask, “Did you just say bloated?” The sisters turn from their little arrangement to see what hell has caused our tent to freeze over. A meeker me would butter this speech in Slack emojis, but the wind is blowing in my hair and a purpose is flowing in my veins from toes to fingertip, pumping my heart and motivating me to save our team.

          “Underwater and full of gluten, bodies and bellies bloat. Our team is more essential to the company’s survival than either of those things are to our own. I know that Allison could have a quicker response time, but she has become quite the formatter. And Melanie is helping me create a tome that we will consult to determine exactly how this gas leak came to be—”

          “Tome?” He asks.

          “Yes! Like a book, especially a large one. Do you want to know how this relates to our company?”

          “I do,” he says and sits down, accidentally landing on a squealing Melanie.

          “Melanie!” I say. “What are our Pacifica contracts and main complaints, beginning with the letter M?”

          Melanie says, “McAllister, long wait times. Mulligan, sales team was inaccurate…” She doesn’t even glance up from her reading as she recites all through P.

          Alfie cuts her off. “But…but why?” he asks. “Why expend all that time and effort?”

          “You don’t need a database when we are the database!” I beam. “We wanted to calculate efficiency of the entire organization from the parameters of our KPIs.”

          He folds his head in his hands.

          “Soon, we will be able to tell you everything that should be there and shouldn’t be, from the micro-level with respect to macros.”

          “How do you have this information?”

          “Internally, but I can’t tell you everything right now. It would take weeks, no—months, to recant my sources. With everyone off, we will have all the time in the world to reconcile our notes. My personal project would be to compare what we promise investors to what we actually deliver.”

          “Is that a threat?”

          “Why on earth would that be a threat? This company prioritizes integrity among our core values. I’ll even pay for Allison and Mel’s time from my own pocket just to prove this about us. So much for bloated admin!” I can’t help but add.

          He studies my face, not believing how much I care. Little does he know!

          “That’s it!” He says and leaps to his feet. “You’ve convinced me!”

          “Of what?” I say.

          “We have greatly underutilized the talent in your wing. Only a fool could leave you to your own devices, and I would love to pick that brain of yours to see just where we can improve. Promotions for everyone!”

           At that moment, Alison steps into the tent, pizza box in one hand, oxygen tank in the other. “They had no fresh food, so I just Doorda—what are you guys doing here?” she squeals.

           “Surprising you, silly!” one of her sisters says.

           “Congrats on your promotion!” another says, popping open a bottle of champagne.

           “Promotion?” Alison squeals. Soon, there is enough cheering and giggling in the tent to lift the structure by its ankles. Even Alfie joins the sisters in their merriment.

           “See, Melanie?” I say to my colleague. “That’s what I call the art of the deal!”


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