Juliet didn’t usually leave the office for lunch,
but she felt she needed a walk,
a clear mind.
She had just received her performance appraisal,
and she had been given a poor rating
because her supervisor said she was
“not empowered enough.”
“But what does that mean?” Juliet asked,
her cracking voice betraying the eruption within.
“We just want you to be the best possible person you can be,”
she was told by Lucia, who never raised her voice
or wore a wrinkled shirt.
“We want you to feel empowered and act with empowerment.”
“But how?” Juliet asked.
“You have to decide for yourself how you want
to express your own empowerment,” Lucia replied,
signaling with the shuffling of papers
that the interview was over.
So Juliet stormed out of the office
shielded her eyes against the blinding sun.
Flawless blue sky,
explosions of green leaves, and
reds, yellows, and purples of manicured flowerbeds
dotting the city,
honking traffic and thick clouds of tourists,
and the teenage boys in tank tops and jeans
drumming endlessly on white plastic buckets
across the street from the Art Institute.
And Juliet started to feel better then,
started to walk to the beat of the summer,
felt as free as a child
who has snuck away from the school trip chaperones,
with a twenty dollar bill in her pocket
for a McDonald’s lunch and astronaut ice cream in the gift shop.
Just as the absurdity of the previous meeting struck her
and a smile began to blossom at the corners of her mouth,
she stepped onto a metal grate in the middle of the sidewalk,
which promptly collapsed,
and she fell into the darkness below.
She lay in that darkness,
looking up at the hole through which she had descended,
a single puffy cumulus cloud overhead.
Her right leg twisted in some horrible shape,
some sort of liquid dripping on her forehead,
and a skittering sound nearby that could only be
that of some murderous rat.
“Hey,” she called out faintly at the cloud.
A man’s concerned face peered down from above.
He was the homeless man she had passed by
only moments before.
“You okay, Lady?” he slurred,
as he was missing most of his teeth.
“Please,” she cried out hoarsely,
(and what was wrong with her voice?)
“I’m hurt, and I need help.”
One of the plastic bucket drummers was now
assessing the situation.
“Hey,” he shouted.
“Hey, some woman here needs help!”
A few moments later,
presumably after the drummer’s cries
had been ignored by hundreds of passersby,
three other faces peered down through the hole,
but they were foreign tourists
and didn’t speak English,
and it didn’t seem as though they knew how to help her.
A well-dressed older lady,
likely on her way to some sort of fancy lunch
or artistic lecture,
peered down and said, “Oh!”
She said, “I’ll be right back,”
and set off on a mission to find some sort of authority.
More people gathered around the hole,
murmuring words of concern and encouragement
and sometimes loud laughs accompanied by “Damn!”
And as 10 minutes and 15 minutes and 20 minutes passed,
Juliet’s leg only grew more painful and swollen.
And finally a police officer arrived,
and he contacted the fire department,
who sent three fire engines and an ambulance,
and they pushed back the crowd
and debated the best way to extricate their patient,
and Juliet realized that her lunch hour had long expired,
and she hadn’t even eaten anything yet.
And as the firefighters,
who had placed her on a stretcher,
lifted her into the dazzling sunshine,
the sounds of the street,
which had been muted from below,
came fully alive again,
and the crowd gathered around the scene
began to cheer and applaud.
Juliet felt a buzzing in her pocket,
her cell phone,
which she managed to painfully remove and answer,
and the call was from Lucia,
who said, “I’m just calling to check up
on that report. Did you finish it yet?”
even though it wasn’t due for another four days,
and Juliet replied,
“You can just fuck right off.”