BY YVONNE JAYNE
Copyright is held by the author.
I DID not want to walk into the room. She was in there directing a meeting and talking in her high pitched screw you voice. When I opened the door, I could feel her perfectionism splattered across the walls. I quietly slipped onto a chair. I never knew when she would put the spotlight on me and arrogantly twist me to shreds.
Today it was Charlene’s turn to bask in the spotlight. Poor Charlene. She was shy. She was like a turtle that lost its shell and was trying to hide under anything it could for obscurity.
“Charlene, what did you say your figures are?” she asked in a high pitched voice.
“Um,” Charlene replied.
“Speak up, so everyone can hear you.”
“I said, 50,000 for the year.”
“Fifty thousand? Where did you get that number?” She walked over and grabbed the papers from the table in front of Charlene. She studied the papers intensely.
There was a stiff silence, the kind of silence that harbors shame and fear, rolled into one starched professional meeting.
“I uh, couldn’t find, I mean, I tried…”
“Oh here it is,” the she queen shrieked. “This column is completely wrong. Payouts were much larger, and you forgot to include the professional expenses for last August. Where did you say you went to school?”
She threw down the papers as Charlene whimpered. No one said a word. All these professionals: social workers, department of human service workers, counselors gathered together in one room. All of them let her carry on like this at each meeting. Their silence revved her cruelty up a notch at each meeting.
She was the spear-head for the agencies in our town. She was connected, and she came from old money. She paid her employees extremely well. She gave her employees payday advances when they had hard times. She also loaned people her personal money when they were in marriage break-ups or in health crises.
She wore designer clothes and expensive hats. She invited people over to her fancy mansion for luncheons. When everyone arrived, they were nervous. They were supposed to have fun, but her tenseness permeated everything. She sat like a queen ready to decapitate heads as she pointed to her fancy cakes and catered plates of pricey foods. She sat quietly. She was at her worst when it was time to have fun. She could not play and it annoyed her when others could. Everyone sat and made small talk, counting the hours until it was time to go.
I sat in the meeting eyeing her warily. Her dark pants suit matched her dark hair and eyes. She appeared shadowy on this particular morning; something was off about her. She paced across the room and interrupted herself, changing course in the middle of her sentences several times. Everyone cleared their throats and sat at attention. The room felt hot and stuffy.
“Where is the air conditioner?” she cried out. “Someone get it turned up.” She accidentally knocked a book from the podium onto the floor.
“Someone come pick this up!” Several men jumped up and ran to get the book from the floor. “Hey Rick, you stay right where you are,” she cried out as one of the men stood up.“What did you tell me last night Rick?”
“Yes, tell the group here what you told me last night.”
“I told you that you were at risk if you got audited.”
Rick nervously patted his balding spot, and his eyes flickered like a snake lying in wait for the shovel moving towards his head. Rick, the smartest accountant in town, impeccable with his figures, was being lambasted by the she queen.
“Stand here,” she said. She pulled him around to face the room. He nervously grinned at the audience.
“Now tell the people here what you said to me last night.”
“I’ve already told you.”
“What did you say is wrong with my figures?” she screamed.
“The traveling expenses do not line up. You know, the out of town expenses.”
“No, I do not know what you are talking about.”
“Kara, get up here right now. Tell the group what is wrong. What did you fail to report? Aren’t you supposed to be my assistant?”
Kara, a flaxen haired petite middle aged woman who recently divorced, edged slowly towards Rick. She was pale and pinched. “I uh, I uh, reported everything. There is nothing wrong. There can’t be. I’ve double checked the books.”
“Ha! Rick, what do you think? Has she worked the books?” The she queen turned towards Rick with a look of disdain on her face.
“Well, I’m sure she . . .”
“Did you or did you not see her work the books Rick?”
Rick looked stricken. He had an outstanding reputation; he had been married for 20 years and had two children in high school, both accepted for college. He was a smiling, well mannered man, never one to make a crisis or a fuss. Now he stood in front of a room full of professionals, looking stiff and uneasy, being accused of something he was not sure of.
Kara stood next to him twisting her fingers, looking as if she was hanging over the edge of a cliff.
“So,” the she queen said, as she looked at them both, “did either of you work the books with the other?”
“Together?” Rick meekly asked.
“Not exactly,” Kara replied in a soft breathless voice.
“We talked about the books together.”
“Yes,” Kara replied as she twisted the edges of her collar.
“During our late night meetings.” Kara said. She began to cry.
The she queen edged closer to them. “Late night meetings?”
“Yes,” Rick replied nervously, “ Kara wanted to update her abilities. I agreed to teach . . .”
Rick froze. Kara sobbed uncontrollably. Words flew out between her sobs. Words like: in love with Rick, couldn’t help my feelings, thought he would leave her for me, hought he was bored in the marriage.
There was a stunned silence in the room. The she queen moved away from them and gloated at the audience. Charlene ran up to Kara and pulled on her.
“No, don’t believe him. He did the same thing to me. He promised me everything and he gave me nothing. I surrendered myself to him and he gave me lies. The truth is, he will never leave his wife. Never!”
Rick turned to them both. He said: “now girls” in a condescending tone. The colour was gone from his face. His career and reputation was flushing into the sewer.
“What about your trip to . . .?” Rick burst out as he turned to the she queen.
She looked nonplussed. “What are you accusing me of, Rick?”
“Remember how you and I . . .?”
“What exactly are you saying Rick? Why don’t you tell the audience?”
“I’m not sure.” Rick suddenly looked down at his shoes. He was like a balloon trying to soar, and instead, remained deflated and useless.
She smiled and called out to the audience. “What do you say everyone? Shall we get on with business? My, what a day it has been. Okay, everyone sit down. We have lots of business to attend to.”
I watched the trio of clowns climb down from the stage. Kara, Charlene, and Rick. She worked them into her hands like obedient pigeons. And of course, she was crowing as usual. No one could touch her. If they tried, it was their ruination.
I heard her say to Rick as she passed him at the end of the meeting, “You will get our books in proper order won’t you?”
“Right away,” he replied as he nervously tried to move away from her.
She pulled on his suit and said, “Rick, you need to be in my office at eight sharp tomorrow. Be prepared to pay for travel expenses. Remember, I was on business. You weren’t. What did you think, all that room service was on the company? Think again, Rick. Bring your cheque book.”
I saw the edges of her eyes crinkle as she smiled large and wide. She turned and began shaking hands and hugging everyone in the room. I looked down at my feet and scurried past her, afraid she would notice me. I felt her eyes boring into the back of my skull as I headed out the door. I felt her wanting to slice out a part of me for her limitless appetite. I got into my car as quickly as I could and got on the fast lane of the freeway.