by Joe Zabel
Kathy carried a box down the hall, and a maintenance man pushed a cart beside her loaded with more boxes. They came to a corner office, and Kathy said, 'Here, let me get the door.'
'Gettin' a new office is almost as good as getting a promotion,' said the maintenance man.
Kathy laughed. 'I hope so! It means I'm going to be under my boss's eye a lot more!'
'Don't worry-- he's not here much!'
After the maintenance man had unloaded the cart, he steered it back into the hallway. 'Thanks a million, Sam!' said Kathy. 'I really appreciate the help!'
Sam smiled. 'We help each other around here. It's a small building-- everybody knows everybody else. You take care, now.'
Kathy scanned the office, with new furniture unpacked from boxes that were still stacked in the hallway. She looked out the window. Her fourth floor quarters had a view of the long parking lot that stretched North of the Hunt building. Freshly plowed, it was bordered in small mountains of driven snow.
'Hi, Deidra!' said Kathy as the slim blonde staffer from Human Resources walked in.
'Here's the latest batch.' She deposited a stack of resumes on Kathy's desk.
'Thanks,' said Kathy, as Deidra departed. The young publicist sat down and paged through the resumes. They made her intolerably sad... but at the moment, she couldn't afford to become immersed in melancholy. She had a lot of work to get done, and first on the list was getting her office unpacked and back in functional order.
She took each box and found a corner to set it down, corresponding to where she wanted to stash things. She concentrated on the books, because they were easiest, and within a half hour had filled her shelves and produced ten empty boxes. She dragged the empties out and piled them in the hallway next to the door. Winded, she sat down at her desk and pulled up a small box containing some personal things.
Rummaging through it, Kathy came across a folded newspaper.
It was folded over to the obituary page. A headline read, 'Jen Marriott was VISR executive assistant.' Next to the column was a picture of Jen.
'The event was a company picnic, here at VISR' said Kathy. 'It was outdoors, in spring weather, in a park with lots of grass and trees-- but the odd thing was, the park was located here, outside the Hunt Building. It was on some kind of tilted platform that was quite large in size, so that it could support the entire acreage of the park. And the platform extended out over the freeway. There was grass and trees above, and cars and trucks below. And on the grounds of the park there were cracks and holes where you could look down and see cars speeding by at 70 miles an hour.
'The holes made me nervous that I was going to fall through and land in the middle of the freeway. But I tried to put a good face on, conversing with everybody from the office while we all sat there, suspended on this tilting platform of trees and grass.
'I remember getting into these intense, personal conversations with people from work that I didn't really know very well-- people I didn't even like! And I was thinking, now we're going to end up being friends, and I dreaded the thought.
'But then Jen Marriott came around and sat down with me. And in the dream, I didn't remember-- you know, I didn't remember what had happened to her. And I started having this really enjoyable conversation with Jen, and I was thinking, 'Thank God to be talking to a real friend instead of having to be a phoney!
'Jen was laughing about the platform we were on, and she was saying, 'What an outrageous idea!' She wanted to point out to me the supporting column that held the whole thing up. So we went over to one of these big holes in the platform, and she brought me over near the edge.
'Just then I started to remember some things about reality, and I got really worried for Jen. So I turned to look for her, but she was gone!
'Then I looked down over the edge, and I thought I saw something. But all of a sudden I tripped on the vines and fell through the hole! And the next thing I knew, I was dangling over the freeway, holding on for dear life to the roots of a tree! And Jen was below me-- she was clinging for all she was worth to the laces of my shoe!
'I think the terror of the situation caused me to wake up' said Kathy. 'When I first woke up, I remember thinking, 'Gee, I'm glad that was only a dream, and Jen is going to be ok...'
Kathy looked at Dr. Yang. 'And then, of course, I remembered.'
Yang nodded. 'Do you find yourself thinking about Jen a lot?'
Kathy looked down, subdued. 'It's only been three weeks. I guess I can't help but think about her. And there are constant reminders-- I have to hire a replacement, for instance.'
'Have you ever known anyone else who committed suicide?' asked Dr. Yang delicately.
Kathy's brow knit. 'I can hardly even think of anybody I know who's died!'
Yang looked at her. 'Then this is your first real experience with grief?'
Kathy shook her head slowly. 'Oh, no. I've felt grief before... I'm sure of it.'
Kathy and Margo were having lunch at the BSC Food Court.
'You know, Margo, I was only her boss for a week; but I worked with Jen all the time the two months I was a contractor with VISR. I knew she was moody, but I never would have guessed...'
Kathy looked at Margo. 'Why did she do it? I just don't understand!'
'I think she was carrying an unbearable load of guilt,' said Margo.
The older woman considered her next words. Margo Kravoski was in her forties, had been through two marriages, and was currently raising a pair teenaged daughters on her own. She had a way about her that led people to confide in her; she'd 'seen it all,' had good judgement, and could be trusted.
'I don't think she'd mind my telling you this. She'd want you to understand. Jen used to have affairs with married men. She was just drawn to them for some reason.
'Well, she started going out with a lawyer whose wife was mentally disturbed. I guess the wife found out about the affair, and suffered a complete mental collapse--
'And so, one fateful night, she found the keys to a drawer where a pistol was kept. She shot her husband through the head, and then put the barrel of the gun in her own mouth and pulled the trigger.
'The media found out about Jen's role, and the citizens of the small, tightly-knit community where she lived proceeded to hound the girl day and night, until she was practically forced to flee for her life!'
Kathy shook her head. 'The last she said to me was, 'If anything happens to me, I deserve it.' But she didn't deserve that. What she deserved was to get some help.'
'You're right,' said Margo. 'But what was anybody going to do for her? How do you go back and erase the past? How do you give a person a new life?'
Later that day, Dr. Vaughn stopped by, steering his wheelchair easily into Jen's spacious office.
'Hello, neighbor!' he said cheerfully. 'Hi, Karl!' said Kathy.
She was still busy putting away files from her morning's move. 'I hear you booked five more tours,' said Vaughn.
'Yeah-- Newsday, Channel 4, and three small-towns,' said Kathy.
'Not yet. If we pass channel 4's 'audition,' maybe.'
'Hmm. The hearing's been bumped up to the 15th.'
'In December?!?' asked Kathy.
Vaughn smiled. 'No-- January.'
Kathy laughed. 'I was going to say-- with the holidays!'
Vaughn was looking out the office window. 'I hated to give up this view. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. What are you going to be doing for Thanksgiving?'
Kathy smiled. 'Margo Kravoski invited me over for turkey, but I turned her down. I've still got so much I want to do with my apartment.'
'Uh huh,' said Vaughn. 'After the break, you're going to need to hire a new assistant. We've got a ton of work for you-- the patient surveys, rounding out the corporate contacts. If you aren't able to hire somebody, lets get some temps in here to give you a hand with the workload.'
'Ok, Karl,' said Kathy. 'Will do.'
After Vaughn left, Kathy began unloading the boxes of her former secretary's supplies. Taking a softcover grammar book from a box, she noticed that it had a crumpled sheet of paper tucked in it. Kathy pulled the sheet from the book and looked at it. When she saw what it was, she frowned with puzzlement.
Typed on the sheet, in 30-point lettering, were the words, 'RETURN TO THE FOLD!'