Authors: Lisa Lim
His face went oddly blank. “Well now you know. And I refuse to become another statistic. So Kars, you can tell Carter Lockwood that I am going to celebrate who I am, and live my life how I wish to live it. Not how my parents want me to live it. Or how society wants me to live it. OK?”
“OK,” I said quietly, giving just the smallest nod of understanding.
For a while, we lapsed into a deep and poignant silence. My heart ached knowing that Truong’s tender heart was hurting. I decided now would be a good time as any to change the subject. “Do you want to hear some office gossip?”
Truong sat bolt upright and brightened like the sun. “Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back? Hullo? YES. GIMME SOME GOSSIP NOW!”
I laughed, reveling in the excitement I heard in his voice. And I didn’t keep him in suspense for long. “Pamela and Deepak are dating,” I blurted out.
“Deepak?” His eyes widened like saucers. “Deepak Prasad the supervisor?”
“Uh-oh,” said Truong in a dark, ominous tone, “Pamela’s journey to gonorrhea has just begun.”
“I warned her about him, but she doesn’t seem to care.”
“That sounds just like Pamela. By the way, how’s the living situation going with her?”
I sighed. “She’s not the easiest roommate, but she’s bearable. I just wish she’d stop prancing about. I don’t understand why that woman can’t walk.
. Like a normal person.”
“Pamela the prancing party chick.” Truong gave a great yawn. “Is she even around much?”
“Not really. Ever since she started seeing Deepak, she’s hardly home.”
“Pamela and Deepak,” Truong muttered idly, “who would’ve thought those two would wind up together?”
“I know.” I stretched my legs in front of me and added impishly, “Who would’ve thought you and Ayinde would wind up together?”
His eyes flickered. “You have a point.”
“Anyway, how are things with you and Ayinde?”
“Well . . .” he said hesitantly, “not so great.”
“Ayinde hasn’t given me an Australian kiss. Can you even believe that? And we’ve been dating for over six months now.”
“Australian kiss?” I waited for him to amplify this illuminating statement.
“It’s the same thing as a French kiss,” he explained, “only down under.”
I let out a gale of laughter.
“It isn’t funny!” He pouted. “In fact, it’s a travesty of international proportions. My kitty hasn’t meowed for months because my boyfriend seems to think ‘going down’ is a button you press on an elevator.”
“Truong! You don’t have a kitty!”
“All right,” he amended, “my Snoopy hasn’t whimpered for months.”
“Well then,” I said decisively, “it’s time you got creative.”
“I have been! I even changed my ringtone to ‘Downtown’ and Ayinde still didn’t get the hint.”
Snapping my fingers like Sinatra, I found myself humming to the tune of ‘Downtown,’ and before I knew it, we were bursting into life-affirming music, belting out the chorus Broadway style.
It was such a powerful rendition. We sang with raw conviction, hitting all the high notes, moving in between the medium and low notes with mathematical, though never mechanical, precision. Afterward, we were completely spent.
“That was totally a
moment,” said Truong, catching his breath.
“Totally! Speaking of
, I have to pee,” I said in a rush, like I was Dr. friggin’ Seuss. “Do you have a bathroom I could use?”
“As a matter of fact I don’t,” Truong replied tonelessly. “I shit in the backyard.”
“Seriously, Kars!” He fixed me with a sardonic look. “You know better. When you ask a stupid question—”
I rolled my eyes and finished, “I’ll get a stupid answer.”
He slapped me on the back affectionately, almost winding me. “You
I sighed. “Let’s try this again. Where is the bathroom?”
“Down the hallway, second door to your right.”
Cinco de Mayo was upon us and it fell on me to organize another potluck—my worst nightmare. Most of my fellow co-workers don’t cook, nearly all of their creations are processed or done with shortcuts by assembling canned or frozen ingredients (a.k.a. Rachel Ray style of cooking). And those who
cook have absolutely no concept of food sanitation.
The morning of the potluck, Shoshanna walked in carrying a casserole dish and gingerly tucked it under her desk.
“Shoshanna,” I said lightly, “why don’t you refrigerate your dish?”
“Oh, my casserole will be fine. It’s hot right now and I know it’ll cool to room temperature, but that’s all right. I’ll just heat it up in the microwave oven when it’s time for our potluck.”
I managed a tepid smile, horrified to think of all the bacteria growing in her casserole like brain-eating amoeba in a Petri dish.
Next, Nate strode in with some store-bought potato salad and deposited it next to his workstation. Um, doesn’t he know that mayonnaise must be refrigerated?
I sighed wearily and headed to the break room, intent on refrigerating my seven layer taco dip. When I pulled the fridge door open, my eyes widened and my hand flew up to my mouth in horror. It looked like the inside of a microwave oven after a watermelon explosion.
My stomach did an involuntary lurch. Pssh! How disgusting.
Do these slobs live like this at home, too?
Probably, I surmised.
Really. I shook my head in disbelief. I worked with a bunch of pigs.
I slammed the fridge with deliberate force, scribbled a note down on a Post-it and stuck it right in the middle of the fridge:
CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF! YOUR MOM DOESN’T WORK HERE!
There! I straightened myself, feeling marginally better.
“Let me guess,” came a familiar voice, “the fridge is gross again.”
I spun around and exclaimed, “Yep! Don’t go near it, Truong!”
He started backing away from the fridge like it was a parcel bomb. “Inge has a mini fridge. Let’s go store our food there.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
As we meandered through the maze of cubicles, I grumbled, “Some of these people just don’t understand the concept of keeping cold foods cold and hot foods hot.”
“Relax,” said Truong, patting my back. “Exposure to new bacteria will only strengthen your immune system. Look at me! I’ve got a stomach of steel.”
“I’m afraid.” I let out an involuntary little shudder. “Very, very afraid. I’ll never know if someone didn’t wash off the cutting board with soap in between cutting up meat and vegetables.”
“I guess you’ll have to take your chances.”
“No thanks,” I said gravely. “I don’t enjoy playing Russian roulette with my food.”
“So you’re not gonna eat anything?”
“I’ll be filling up on chips and pretzels.”
“And remind me again, why we do this every month?”
“Potlucks are fun!”
“More like mandatory fun,” I said with resigned forbearance. “At some point these monthly things become a drudgery.”
“You’ll have to admit though, it’s fun watching people fighting to be first at the table for spinach dip and store-bought potato salad.”
“No. When Rick doesn’t bring anything and dares to show up, plate in hand—now
fun to watch.” I made a face. “Ohhhh . . . daggers.”
“I’ll shoot Rick daggers all right.” Truong shot me a sidelong glance with that blade sharp smile of his. “And if he even dares to come back for seconds . . .” He left a portentous pause.
I frowned to myself. “It’s always the ones who don’t bring any food who are the gluttons. By the way, what did you bring?”
“Bread pudding,” he said with a playful wink. “It’s drenched in rum so you won’t have to worry about bacteria breeding.”
As we turned a corner, Jewel wafted past us carrying an oversized Tupperware container. “Oh hell no.” Truong held back a groan. “Please don’t tell me she brought marshmallow salad again.”
“I think it’s called a Waldorf salad. Wait no, I think it’s a Watergate salad. Or maybe it’s called an Ambrosia salad.”
“Just call it an embarrassment,” Truong said dryly. “It’s not a salad if it’s got mini marshmallows in it. Marshmallows are not even a vegetable. It’s candy. Why not just make a Snickers salad?”
“Actually,’ I said tragically, “there is such a thing. It’s made out of Snickers bars, apples and whipped cream.”
“That’s the craziest shit I’ve ever heard.”
An acerbic voice butted in, “What is?!?”
We turned at his exclamation. It was Deepak, a fellow supervisor and a newly minted MBA (he never failed to tell you that). He had a habit of always saying, ‘I’ll take one for the team.’ And yet I’ve never actually seen him make any sacrifices for the benefit of anyone other than himself.
“Hi, Deepak,” I greeted him with a forced smile.
He began sculpting his hair with his fingers. “What were you guys talking about?”
Today, like most days, Deepak wore his hair like his personality—slicker than greased goose shit.
“Oh,” I replied vaguely, “we were just talking about controversial salads.”
Truong, noting that one of Deepak’s hands was laden with plastic bags, asked, “What did you bring for the potluck?”
“I brought two desserts. Ritz cracker apple pie with melted cheddar cheese and mayonnaise cake.”
“Whaaa?” My breath caught in a tiny gasp. “Cheddar cheese on apple pie?”
“I’m from the Midwest,” said Deepak, by way of explanation, “and apple pie without cheddar cheese is like a hug without a squeeze!”
Out of the corner of my eye, I observed that Pamela, Jewel and Debbie were visibly distraught. Like high school cheerleaders, they frequently moved around in a pyramid formation.
The synchronized human pyramid moved in our direction and stopped in front of us.
“Oh, Deepak,” Pamela called tearfully, breaking the formation. “I could really use a hug right now.”
Deepak dumped his plastic bags at his feet and wrapped his arms around Pamela. “What’s wrong, babes?”
“It’s Amanda . . .” she sobbed into Deepak’s shoulder. “Her husband just had a heart attack. H-h-he’s dead.”
“Amanda?” I turned sheet white. “Amanda Briggs on Hillary’s team?”
Debbie barely had the strength to string two words together. “Yes,” she managed.
“B-but,” I stammered, “I just saw Amanda at her desk fifteen minutes ago and she seemed OK then . . . does she even know?”
“Carter just gave her the news,” Jewel spoke quietly. “We overheard him just now as we were walking past his office.”
“Is Hillary even here today?” Truong asked anxiously.
“No,” I murmured distractedly, “today’s her day off.” Then I spotted Amanda leaving Carter’s office. From the stooped curve of her shoulders and from the way she was hugging her arms around herself, I sensed her anguish and deep despair.
Guided by intuition, I cut purposefully across the floor until I reached her side. “Would you like me to give you a ride home?”
“Please.” Amanda gave me a grateful smile. “Let me just go and grab my things.” As she strode off, I popped my head around Carter’s door. “I’m taking Amanda home. I should be back in half an hour.”
Exhaustion was layered into Carter’s face in fine lines. He simply held my gaze and nodded.
I concentrated hard on driving without grinding the gears, which I’ve been known to do whenever my mind’s preoccupied. Amanda sat staring numbly out the window with her forehead pressed against the glass, her shallow breaths forming a ring of condensation around her head.
“How could this could happen to my Ben? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Gripping the steering wheel, I gave Amanda a sidelong glance. She seemed to be drifting in and out of a kind of semi-conscious state. When she spoke again she might have been in a trance. “Ben’s only thirty-five, you know.”