At last. An hour SEPTA ride, multiple days in line at security and seven hours in a sneezy plane and Clare and Caroline had finally arrived in Lisbon, Spain. They mosied out of the plane, leisurely looking at the shops they passed as their seatmates rushed by them. They had nearly two hours before their connection to Geneva so what was the hurry?
Then they came upon two roads diverged in an airport. One line for EU passport holders – the extremely short, fabulous people line – and one line for non-EU passport holders – the twisty, snaking, miserable people line.
With her teeth clinched and lips barely moving, Clare grumbled, “God damn it Caroline, why did you have to stop and talk to the captain about how wonderfully he flew the plane for 15 minutes? He knows he did it well, we all know because we are alive. It’s a binary test. No extra commentary required.”
Caroline wasn’t even listening. That was one of her immense strengths – selective hearing. She was so supremely confident and yet had so few skills – harsh words just melted right off her.
The two women sunk into the zombie-like queue shuffle.
As the silence set in, Clare began picking at the freshly earned scab that was her firing. The past week, she found she always went there when the rest of the world went quiet. Her iPhone was dead so she couldn’t drown out her thoughts with the latest My Favorite Murder podcast. And so her fractious brain opened that attic door just a crack and whoosh it just blew right open.
It was the first week in January. A week after she had given her ultimatum – Promote me to Senior Manager or I’m out.
“I’m telling you, I may get fired today,” Clare avowed to her assistant.
“You will not, the only way you’re leaving here is if you decide it.”
“Clare, do you have a sec?” Clare’s boss, Russhole, quietly commanded while gliding by her office. He was such a quiet sniper, she could never hear when he was coming.
Clare walked in and saw the HR lady perched at the tiny conference table, her back nowhere near the back of the chair, her butt so close to the edge, Clare was pretty sure that if she kicked the chair just right, Mrs. HR Stuffypants would fly right off it. Mrs. HRS was straight out of a 90s career gal movie. She had two hair-dos – one involved sleeping in curlers the way the wives of the three stooges would have done (did those idiots even have wives? Probably. What gluttonous, balding, shits-himself type man in this world doesn’t?) and the other involved a “French twist” clipped into place with a tortoise shell barrette. She had no husband, she had no children. Her cat was on her coffee mug. But she was at the top. She was not only Mrs. HR Stuffypants, she was the COO – that was a real title even Clare couldn’t deny.
On this day, Stuffy was wearing the pulled back French twist look – her face ruddy with anxiety.
Russhole shut the door behind Clare and began, “I have some bad news”. Stuffy looked at Russhole and gently nodded at him, encouraging him to continue the tough road he had aho.
Clare began to feel her whole face flush red, her ears filled with blood. She was sitting at the miniature conference table and felt a sharp pang of light piercing through the blinds into her eyes. She squirmed to get out of the way of the light.
Clare knew exactly what was coming, she thought God I can’t wait for this to be over. I cannot forget to throw away my Colon Cleanse tablets in my desk.
Clare started cataloging likely reactions from her back-stabbing coworkers. God damned penguin pushers.
Janice would be tickled, Chris would be fake outraged. Everyone would drop their jaws in true outrage. Mostly out of concern for their own jobs though.
All the slights from the past few weeks started stacking up in her brain as if someone getting off an escalator wasn’t moving out of the way and people were starting to stack up closer and closer to each other until they would all fall like one giant domino.
Clare felt a bump from her suitcase being smushed against her and was jostled back to her current life – in line. The Asian guy behind her was clearly trying to….was he seriously trying to just butt in front of her? Clare had lived in Hunan, China for a year and she had witnessed the utter disregard most Chinese people had for lines. They were just a suggestion to most.
She was all fired up after thinking about Russhole and Ruddy HR Stuffy and was not ready to let anyone get away with anything. She truculently looked the man in the eye and jutted her suitcase horizontally across the aisle, creating a barricade. She wasn’t going to let one more person get one by her – no thank you, sir. She felt a sigh of relief as the pressure from her suitcase subsided, message received, enemy is in retreat.
But then she saw Caroline making googly eyes at this dopey mouth breather, practically begging him to skip the line a bit and stand near her. Well, here we go, Clare thought as she fortified her barricade with her bookbag.