Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Fatal Error

Shirley mostly kept to herself at work,
sipping her tea alone in her office.
She always, always wore a sweater,
even in July,
chilled to the bone by air conditioning
when everyone else flaunted the dress code
with bare shoulders and flip flops.
She didn’t gossip with the girls half her age,
was never asked to happy hours
or ridiculous activities
like dodgeball leagues or axe throwing
with the rest of her team,
and she thanked God for that.

But every other Wednesday,
Craig stopped by her office,
asked her if she needed any help
with her computer.
At first she’d abruptly say no
and turn back to her work,
but then he started asking her
questions, just simple things:
like, “How’s your day going?”
or “Crazy weather, huh?”
Then he saw the book
she had been reading during lunch,
the third in a series,
and excitedly discussed the plot and the characters
and how the movies were not nearly as good,
and before she knew it,
half an hour had passed,
and it was the longest anyone had spoken to her
in that office for years.

So Shirley started to look forward to Craig’s visits,
found herself dressing up a bit every other Wednesday,
maybe putting on a pair of earrings
or a bit of lip gloss
or even letting her hair down.
She wasn’t great at spontaneous conversation,
so she would look up topics she thought
he would enjoy talking about,
and before she knew it,
he would greet her every other Wednesday
with a cheerful, “Hey, Shirl!”

Then one Friday,
Craig unexpectedly stopped by,
when she had been feeling ill,
with a throbbing headache
and a sinus infection.
She had woken up late that morning,
so her hair was unwashed,
and she was wearing wrinkled khakis
and the same dress shirt from the day before.
“Hi, Shirley,” he said,
“Oh!” she replied, dropping a pen
and brushing back her hair.
She had a coughing fit then,
and her nose started running,
and she desperately waved off his concern
as she searched for a Kleenex.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he said
with a pained expression.
“I just wanted to say goodbye
because your company has contracted
with a new IT consulting firm,
so I guess I won’t be seeing you anymore.”
She didn’t know what to say then
and faked another coughing fit
so he wouldn’t notice the tears
that had sprung to her eyes.
“Well, it’s been nice working with you,” he said,
before she had the chance to speak again,
and then he walked away.

A few weeks later,
on a Wednesday that should have been
the best day of her week,
after a long meeting
during which her workload was increased
and her deadlines were shortened,
and the least experienced coworker was promoted,
Shirley sat in her office,
no longer cold,
inflamed with the injustice of it all,
and she went to her spam folder,
found the most obvious malicious email,
clicked a few links,
and spread a vicious virus among all her contacts
and deleted permanently about three-fourths
of the files on the server.

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