Whispers

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: October 31, 2019

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Submitted: October 31, 2019

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Word (or line/page) count 2573

Short Story: Fiction

 

 

WHISPERS

 

Bang! Gerald opened the top drawer, then slammed it shut. Once again, he had an audience–the usual non-participating observers in the office, watching him from their desk at Quality Quinn LLC. Look at them, looking like rubberneckers on the highway watching an accident, he thought. The last thing Gerald Quinn needed this morning was turmoil.

 

Charlene slipped behind Gerald. Tapped him on the shoulder. “Need help?”

 

He jumped. “I got it. No need to make a fuss over it.” He shook the copier, then pulled at the bottom drawer, spewing paper all over the floor.

 

Charlene Brown, was an Administrative Support Assistant, a conscious worker in the mailroom basement.

 

“But I can help you,” she insisted.

 

Gerald took a step forward, standing over Charlene with his hand on his hips. He pointed at the door while tapping his wingtips. “Go.”

 

Charlene scooted around him, extended her hand across the machine, and tapped the reset button. The copy machine rattled, then shook, and ejected one sheet of paper on the side. Gerald grabbed the paper and stormed towards his office mumbling, “Why do I keep putting up with this?”

 

~*~

 

Debbie, the office manager, frowned during the entire scene of Gerald’s usual tirade. Todd, the UPS worker, managed to show up right on time to watch the drama unfold. His usual front-row seat, the edge of Debbie’s desk, was his for the taking.

 

“Gotta go sunshine,” Todd said shaking his head at Debbie. “Gerald’s at it again. Ranting and raving. I hate the way he treats that nice girl.”

 

“He does it all the time… and she lets him,” Debbie said shrugging her shoulders.

 

Charlene passed by with folders in hand looking down. Todd stood in front of her leaning on his hand truck. “Ms. Charlene, Promise me you won’t let him talk to you like that again?”

 

Charlene waved him off. “You’d better go. You know he can hear you,” she said in a low whisper while glancing over her shoulder. “He hears everything.”

 

“Don’t let him take advantage of you. Okay?”

 

“Okay.”

 

“See this?” He said pointing to his forearm muscle. “You gotta be tough. Stand up to him.”

 

Charlene squeezed his forearm. “I will.”

 

“When?” Todd questioned

 

“Leave her alone. She’ll be alright,” Debbie said with one hand sliding the mouse back and forth and the other on under her chin.

 

Charlene placed her finger over her mouth and tiptoed past the desk smiling. She closed the glass door, waved, and headed for the elevator.

 

Todd let out a forceful sigh. “Debbie. You don’t have to put up with that either.”

 

We’re not afraid of him. He’s harmless,” Debbie said looking at Greta nodding. “We sort of feel sorry for him.”

 

“Yeah, I know the type. No life. No wife. No children. He can’t boss anyone around. That’s why he’s here. He’s always had everything handed to him. If he changed his attitude-”

 

Debbie looked over her glasses at Todd. “We’ll be just fine.”

 

“Yeah. Yeah. I get it.” Todd said heading toward the elevator.

 

“Bye Todd,” Greta and Debbie said in unison. He waved his hand in the air behind him.

 

~*~

 

Debbie explained the history of the company to Greta, the new Administrative Assistant; Explaining how Gerald Sr. owned the business for twenty-five years. Everyone in the office called him, Senior. His wife, Cynthia, was the Bookkeeper for the office. One day Senior decided to retire and move to Florida.

 

Slam! “Shhh. Here he comes.” Debbie said to Greta. Debbie was the smart one. She knew better than to let Gerald catch them chitchatting or ragging at his expense.

 

Gerald stopped at the corner of Debbie’s desk and started patting his foot. “Did you ever hear back from FedEx about that missing envelope?”

 

“Yes. I’m waiting on a callback,” Debbie said and continued typing.

 

April fifteenth-the end of tax season, Gerald’s desk had every document, but the ones needed for Sunshine Advertising. Ms. Erica Dunn was the owner and his lucrative client. The itemized receipts and information she mailed hadn’t arrived. Gerald worried. He knew not to tick her off. Erica and Gerald had history. She broke off the relationship with Gerald to date a famous lawyer. Loyalty to Senior kept Erica with the company. Sunshine Advertising belonged to Senior first. When Erica and Gerald started dating, Gerald took over the account. Gerald and the entire office knew she would ruin him for sure if he messed up her account.

 

“I’m going to the mailroom to see if I can find the envelope,” Gerald yelled storming toward the elevator.

 

~*~

 

Gerald read the sign, rolled his eyes, and knocked.

 

“Hold on please,” the voice on the other side responded.

 

Gerald felt his heart beating out of his chest. He looked sideways at the door and drew his hands back. When the two doors flung open, Charlene jumped. Gerald’s eyes fixated on the manila envelope-specifically the words Sunshine Advertisement.Gerald’s nostrils flared with each step toward Charlene. Her body stood still, but her long arm shook like a leaf in a cold rain, handing him the envelope.

 

She gulped. “I can explain.”

 

Gerald snatched the envelope. “Where did you find this?” He yelled.

 

“Umm.” She held her breath then pointed at the FedEx envelope on Charles Wagner’s desk.

 

“You’re a liar!”

 

“I asked Charles about these documents weeks ago. The postmark says April first.” Gerald clenched his fist. “I’ll ask you one more time. I’m not playing. Where did you get this?”

 

“Please. Calm down. I already told you,” she said backing up against the wall.

 

“Did you know about this?” He yelled shaking the document in the air.

 

“No, I did not. The important thing is, we found them. Right?”

 

Gerald knew how much Charles trusted Charlene. She’s quirky, but ten years with the same company, she certainly proved her loyalty. If he told anyone about his plan, it would have been Charlene. Who would she tell? Who would listen to her?

 

Three years ago, Charles, worked for Gerald’s father. He was the assiduous Junior Accountant, Senior’s Golden boy and son grafted in. In the first five years, Charles landed the best accounts for the company. Senior was proud. Gerald felt like the prodigal son where Charles was concerned. Gerald begged for his father’s affection. Charles only had to show up. “Why can’t you be like Charles?” If Gerald had a nickel every time he heard that, he’d be rich. Rumors floated around the office about Charles running the family business when Senior retired. Not if Gerald had anything to do with it.

 

Then, it happened. The Golden boy messed up. Fraud and Forgery had no place in a CPA firm. Although Charles came to Senior immediately explaining his side of the story, neighboring partners had a different opinion. Senior couldn’t risk his good name being tainted. If word got out, one by one his clients would leave. He’d be bankrupt by the end of the year. Gerald wasted no time fanning the flames for Charles’ two infractions, hoping it would make his father turn over the throne and scepter that much faster.

 

Senior had a heart. He believed in giving people a second chance. Charles was certainly worthy of one. Instead of throwing Charles away like stale bread, he decided to speak with the mailroom supervisor renting space in the building for the past fifteen years. Senior made a deal with him to train Charles before retiring.

 

Gerald was ready to take the throne and scepter until he found out that Charles was sitting pretty. Who gets a plush office in the basement after dismissal? Senior was a patient man. He’d wait until the smoke cleared and rumors faded. Senior would hire Charles back in a heartbeat. Charles swore he would get even with Gerald. Maybe this was it.

 

Gerald punched the wall. “That damn Charles. Wait until I see him.”

 

“I didn’t know about this,” she explained. Swoosh. “I found it hidden underneath this pile and I was just about to contact you. But-” she paused.

 

Gerald walked past Carlene. Sat down at Charles’ desk. “Am I that bad?”

 

Charlene gulped. “Umm.”

 

“What did I do so wrong in my life that people hate me?”

 

She shrugged her right shoulder and winced.

 

“You can’t even tell me the truth.”

 

“Why does it matter what I think?” she said shuffling papers. “You see me as a stumbling block. Always in the way. You take my kindness for weakness and see me as slow. Just like everyone else. But I’m not,” she said looking away. “I suffer from depression. Ten years ago I had a nervous breakdown. I spent two weeks in Dorthea Dix hospital. Therapy, coping mechanisms and mild anti-depressants aided my recovery.”

 

Gerald's stomach had an uneasy feeling. He swallowed hard. Kept starring at Charlene. For the first time, he didn’t have anything to say. No sarcasm. No snappy comeback. Something

 

Charlene’s face reddened. “Should have known better,” she said shaking her head. “You’re judging me.”

 

“No. I’m not.”

 

“Why are you looking at me that way?”

 

“I…I admire your bravery,” he stuttered.

 

“Bravery? Don’t patronize me.”

 

“I’m not.”

 

“You think spending time at Dorthea Dix makes me brave?”

 

“Yes. Mental health is a stigma. Do you know how hard it is to share your story?”

 

“I guess.”

 

“Don’t you see? You’re valiant for not letting this keep you down.”

 

“It’s been years. I still get choked up talking about it,” she said crossing her arms, rubbing them up and down. “But, thanks to therapy, I now have a purpose in life.”

 

Gerald reared back in the chair. Took a good look at Charlene. The string of small pearls hung low around her neck. The silk shirt tucked inside the black pencil skirt, with heels to match. Neat and professional. Plain. Different from the women he was used to dating-wearing a pound of make-up and lipstick-playing hard to get. Making him chase them. Charlene didn’t need him. He liked that. He admired her soft brown eyes and the way her long wavy hair swooped across her olive complexion. She had dimples. How come he never noticed before? She’s beautiful.

 

“Will there be anything else?” She asked.

 

His eyes read the sign on the wall behind her-Be the best that you can be…You will succeed.

 

“Guess not,” she said, rolling her eyes at Gerald, then heading for the door.

 

Gerald jumped up and reached across Charlene. “No. Please wait.”

 

“Move.”

 

“Charlene. Would you please wait.”

 

“I’m sorry I shared anything with you!”

 

“Why?”

 

“I hate being vulnerable,” she said pulling at the doorknob.

 

Gerald extended his arm over her head. Pushed the door closed. “I’m sorry. You’re not vulnerable. I’m just an idiot.”

 

She stood against the door with her back to Gerald, looking at the floor. “Why can’t you be like your father?” She said, shaking her head. “He knew how to treat people. I miss him.”

 

“I’ve lived in his shadow all my life. Believe me. He’s better than most. Shoes I’ll never fit.”

 

“Your father was the best. He knew about my breakdown. Never told a soul. He told me if I ever needed anything, I could count on him. He understood me,” she said sniffing. Charlene ducked under his arm and squirmed away, only to stand against the wall.

 

Gerald rubbed his chin. “Dad was so patient with you. Now I understand. He treated my mother in the same way. Caring. Understanding. Patient. He loved my mother. But he always wanted to fix the problem. ‘Just take one of those pills. You’ll be as good as new,’ he’d tell my mother. He empathized and worked with her. Maybe I was the one who didn’t get it. I couldn’t wrap my head around her episodes of bad days. Depression isn’t something you fix. I know that now. I thought dad was in denial, giving up a successful business and moving mom to Florida,” Gerald blurted out. “It was me!”

 

“I wouldn’t expect anything less from your father. You can’t possibly know about that.”

 

“It’s easy to block things out. Especially when you’re young… and don’t want to deal with things. My mother spoke in soft whispers. I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t speak up. Why my father always spoke up for her. She was my father’s problem. The shame. The embarrassment. The constant episodes of sadness. Why didn’t she attend any of my school functions? Why couldn’t she be like other mothers, full of life and happy? Why was she so withdrawn? I didn’t get it.”

 

“You were young. They didn’t know what to do back then.”

 

“My father did.”

 

“He loved her,” Charlene said moving away from the wall, taking baby steps.

 

“I wish I could take back the immature things I said and did back then.”

 

“You were young. You didn’t know.”

 

My mother deserved better.”

 

Gerald appreciated the life lessons his mother taught him: “Nothing in life is free. There’s no such thing as can’t. Do a good job. Be respectful. Be kind to others,” she’d say.

 

Gerald’s mother instilled the golden rule in him. Somehow, Gerald lost sight of those lessons and became bitter. He hoped he’d never become like his mother. He now realized, maybe he was the one who was weak.

 

“Mom was a lot like you,” he said pinching the tip of his nose. “She succeeded,” he whispered.

 

Charlene blushed. “Yes, she did. But you can too.”

 

“How is that? I’m nothing like my mother or father. I’m arrogant… and haughty! Working on that haughty part,” he said shaking his finger. They looked at each other and laughed.

 

“Admitting you have a problem. That’s a start,”

 

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Sorry for my behavior earlier,” he said wincing.

 

“It’s okay. I’m used to it,” she said with a quick shrug.

 

“That behavior’s never okay. You deserve better,” he said abruptly.

 

“Thanks,” she said with a sigh of relief.

 

Gerald Glanced at the clock.

 

Charlene grabbed her sweater. “It’s getting late. I should be leaving.”

 

“Yeah, I’ve held you long enough. Besides, the girls are gone. I still need to take care of this and get it to FedEx for signatures. I’ll deal with Charles later.”

 

Charlene lowered her arm holding the sweater. “I can stay and help.”

 

“I can’t ask you to do that. It wouldn’t be right.”

 

“It’s okay. Tuffy can wait for another hour or so.”

 

“Tuffy?”

 

“Oh, the dog?” He blurted out. Relieved that she only had a dog waiting for her. They both laughed. Gerald shook his head back and forth. “I really can’t ask you to do that. You already think I’m an idiot.”

 

Her eyes widened along with her smile. She bit her bottom lip-refusing to answer.

 

“You don’t have to say anything. I know.”

 

“You’re not that bad.”

 

He waved his hand in the air. “And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. I rank above average on the idiot meter. How’s this? Hi, my name is Gerald,” he said extending his hand.”

 

When Charlene took a step closer, Gerald wanted to embrace her. Resisting the urge, he knew this wasn’t the time.

 

“Hi, Gerald. I’m Charlene. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” She placed her hand on the envelope, touching his hand. Gerald felt the warmth of her touch, looked into her eyes, and smiled. She blinked softly. “May I assist you with this?” she whispered.

 


© Copyright 2019 Ms. Zipporah. All rights reserved.

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