The sharp sound wakes me from sleep. The clock reads 4:30, and that’s enough to make me punch the pillow in protest, but obediently I rise from my warm covers.
“Hello?” Not surprisingly it’s work.
“Boss says get here.” Charming.
With no time for washing, I slip into my best uniform. Boss insists on slacks—even in the summer—and heels could earn me a strike on my almost-spotless record. Still, I take the time to rub the surface until it looks like new.
It has been months since I’ve gotten a decent night of sleep, since my boss hasn’t woken me up before dawn, since I’ve slept beside my husband. You could say my hobby is traveling. New places and new people give me a high. But my eyes are always heavy, my stomach is always in knots and the constant motion has my nerves wrecked. Boss gives no advance notice before staff retreats like this.
I should quit.
I won’t quit. What else would I do? Hang my tail between my legs and tell my mom I wasn’t tough enough to make it with the big dogs? No, I can’t quit now.
When I arrive, breakfast is already laid out for us, causing my stomach to rumble. The runny eggs slide onto my plate and intermix with instant grits. “Thank you,” I tell the man who offers me an extra scoop. There is not enough salt in the office to make that taste right.
Work is always fast-paced, the way I like it, but there’s something different about today. Matthews still whistles at me when I walk by his office, and Ortiz accidentally runs into my chest in his hurry, again, but the mood is serious. There are rumors that a competitor stepped onto our turf last night.
Boss calls a meeting to make a plan, but takes the time to yell at me for asking to visit the bathroom. I imagine vomiting those eggs on his boots, but he quickly moves on to our strategy session. My assignment is scouting in the company car with Ortiz, who immediately sends me a wink, and reporting back for lunch.
We spend a slow morning watching from the car, baking really, and what I wouldn’t give for a pair of shorts and a tall drink. Ortiz mutters something about a tall drink of something I pretend not to understand. Instead I follow every move made by the five men who could shut us down. They are being careful—as if they know they are watched by sweaty strangers whose boss has territorial issues.
When we finally get back to our desks there is a notice. A company trip next month. No option to decline. I fight the tears welling behind my eyes—I was supposed to be home for our wedding anniversary in a few weeks. Unbidden comes to mind the divorce rate for this job; it is double the national average.
Finally back in bed, I close my eyes tightly to block out the sights and sounds that threaten my sleep—the outrageous snores I can hear through the walls, the bed next to mine that has been empty only a few days. I don’t want to see its tight corners, or think of the girl who will no longer sleep there. The competitor may take her out and there would be nothing left to send home to her family.
Only a folded flag. Only a soldier’s salute. Taps by her graveside.