WEDNESDAY: Happy Holidays


Copyright is held by the author.

SHE WOKE up from a nightmare, muttering, “Hello, my name is Jill, and I am an alcoholic.” Why was someone beating her head with a hammer? I am dying. Oh, God, I want to die. She also wanted coffee, black, and a cigarette. Unfortunately, that would mean moving her head, and reaching for the pack of Marlboros on her nightstand. I can’t. Coffee was miles away in the kitchen, and she would have to run water into the coffee pot. Thinking of the sound of water made her head pound. Even her eyelids hurt.

Is today a work day? Then . . . thud . . . she realized that today was Christmas Eve, and last night was . . . oh, God, no, the office party. She dozed a bit, and then there was a clanging in her head, almost as bad as the hammer. The cell phone was ringing. No way she could answer it. Probably her sister, Ellen. She would want to know all of the party details. Ellen would have that inquisitive, but judgmental tone in her voice. Later, much later, she woke up, and half crawled to the kitchen, holding a pillow on top of her head. I must have a brain tumour. This is not just a hangover. Then the first of many memories, horrible memories of the party, came crashing in on her.

The Christmas party. Jeff, in accounting, the quiet guy, had offered her a brandy. She had already been drinking for about two hours. Jill remembered laughing and asking, “Can I drink brandy after having scotch all evening?” She did drink it. Gulped it, and Jeff got her another one from the bar.

At some point, maybe before the brandy, the big boss had introduced his wife to her. “Jill, I want you to meet my wife, Caroline. Jill is our new girl on the creative team.” Between fits of amnesia, Jill remembered asking Caroline, “You don’t do anything but stay home with your kids?” There seemed to be other tidbits of painful conversation. She wanted to die. The killer headache blocked her memory.

Coffee tasted so good. It was followed by moments of horrific clarity. I was so nervous about the party, my first one with this agency.

Jill’s sister, had shopped with her for the perfect dress. Ellen had found it on the sale rack, and it was still too expensive. “Jill, try it on, the perfect little black dress. Just remember, don’t drink too much. I always sip on club soda at these office deals. It’s work, not really a party.” Of course, Miss Goody Two Shoes would give her this advice. Ellen, who seldom drank. Thought smoking was gross, and rolled her eyes whenever Jill reached for a cigarette. Ellen was successful, put together, but was wound pretty tight. She wondered if Ellen ever regretted anything she had done, or if she ever made a mistake. Sometimes, but not often, Jill envied Ellen.

Jill’s memory of the party alternated with bouts of blurriness. She remembered someone doing a slutty dance to “White Christmas.” Thankfully, it wasn’t me. It was Mandy, a former employee. But of course, Mandy had nothing to lose…like a new job.

Her muddled thoughts kept coming back to Jeff, and to the brandy. Why Jeff? I barely talk with him in the office. Oh, oh. Jeff’s sister. He had mentioned her. Something about Jill getting the job that he had encouraged his sister to apply for, when it was posted. Was quiet Jeff really sinister Jeff? Was this a plot? Not quiet Jeff.

The phone rang again. My head hurts too much to talk. Probably Ellen reminding her not to be late for the family celebration this evening. I can’t go tonight. Wonder if a shot of bourbon would help me?

In the shower, a long, hot shower, Tony, her creative partner, came to mind. She remembered that he teased her last night. That was fine. They had that kind of professional relationship. What was not fine had to do with removing Tony’s Santa Claus tie and wrapping it around her neck.

Maybe being fired would be preferable to having to face all of these people after the holidays. Would there be nosy questions, or merely blank stares?

The phone had rung while she was in the shower. Checking messages, she decided to call Ellen back, but spare the details. If I get fired, then I’ll tell her.

The last message was from an unknown number. “Jill, it’s Stephen.” Her boss! Sorry to call you on Christmas Eve. Christmas. I wanted to talk with you about a new projectbefore we do the end of the yearbudget. This project is a great opportunity for the agency, and it was agreed that you would be the perfect creative person to lead it. Please give it some thought, and call me at home. Happy holidays.”

Her headache, almost gone, she picked up the phone and called her sister with the news.

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