Coffee Break – Tom Gaffney
“So unreasonable. Just unfucking believable. What a day.”
Zola’s foot kicked at the iron leg of the café’s table. She sat in the corner with her doppio, which was actually a very good doppio, and a glass of seltzer. She found herself picking up the glass, ready to hurl it, every time her imagination found stillness on the issues at hand.
We have so much to do. And these are people – don’t they ever think about that? What kind of day or week are they going to remember this as?
Her gaze turned from the window to her phone and the message regarding preparation for layoffs. I don’t have enough people as it is. How am I going to meet my goals with a shortened staff? Who is going to support me then? When are they going to let me go?
She put the phone down. Besides the email it reminded her of the call from the mechanic. Her debt was soon going to be rising. How did I arrive at such a point? I hate cars. Hate them, but need them. Checking the time, her calendar. Make sure to leave five minutes earlier tonight. I do not need to be taxing the charity at pre-school. Supposed to be there by 5:30 or else. At least the car is functional today. Work to pre-school and then home on the bus would make for a much longer evening.
Back to the list. George, Barb, Evan, Patti, Anthony, Dean. Two! I have to choose two! Simply, rationally, make a list. Rate them. Who are the lowest two? Factors: seniority, productivity, prior disciplinary issues. Ugh. So frustrating.
I need more coffee. Still no response from Henry. When he’s got problems at work he’s on me right away. And if I don’t get back to him quickly enough, well . . . When he texts me I get right back to him. Where is he today? Three is enough, if I have not heard from him already, I give up. He can make dinner. I wish he realized I need someone to talk to.
She got in line to purchase another doppio. She normally had a very strict pattern of coffee consumption. Today though, she was ready to ignore that. Already tired. And she was pretty certain sleep tonight was going to be difficult. So, what’s the difference?
She heard them making a ruckus as they came in the door. Dean closing the door on Anthony as he stubbed out his clove cigarette to save for later. The two banter machines on the move.
“Zola, Zola, Zola, where have you been girlfriend?”
“Yeah between the mood at the office and your incongruous departure, something has to be up. I figured you must be at a séance. Some kind of cleansing ritual.”
“Or maybe an early martini, before you don your Mom costume and head home.”
“Are you guys on another break? Have you no shame?” At least they have not guessed what is going on. Or they might not be as much fun as usual.
“Oh please, I had to get out of there. Making me crazy. Plus all those suits from Dallas are in the office.”
“Yeah. What’s with all the flyover suits? I am not sure how I feel about new ownership.”
“They need a fashion consultation too. Please. The office needs some help as it is – and they are not improving it.”
“Plus, I had not gone for a smoke since before lunch. I was getting the fits.”
Sweet. Funny. Nice guys. Certainly not the most professional. Best people in the group to go out for a drink with though.
She grabbed her second doppio – grateful that the barista did not comment upon her shift in ritual.
Sitting down she made sure to have the first sip while it was almost too hot for her mouth. Richness and simplicity. Capped with the seltzer. So good.
“So what’s the story sister – you look like you are stressed out.”
“What did Henry do now?”
“Do we need to talk to that young man?”
“Did he finally take you out?”
“Yes,” she smiled. “Henry’s alright – he’s not that bad. I just need someone to vent to now and then.”
“Exactly – you have to let stress out. Breathe. Let Dean in on your troubles. You know I am here for you. You will feel better.”
“Don’t worry guys. Believe it or not, there are some things I have to keep to myself. Maybe you can pay my mechanic for me.”
“Oh the car – that’s right. I hate cars. What a pain. You’re making more than me Z, you should be offering to pay my mechanic.”
“Right. I need a raise! What have you done for me lately Zola? “
“Well how about some cocktails then?”
“Don’t you boys need to get back to work? Get something done. Forget about your cocktails.”
“Is she dropping the hammer Anthony?”
“Sounds like it Dean. Power – so corruptible.”
“Yeah – let’s go. The atmosphere in here is . . . changing. Plus, I can’t finish my clove in here.”
“Alright sweetie. We’ll see you upstairs.”
And off they went.
The doppio was gone. She looked out at the dry sidewalk, wished it was raining, wished the gray was wrapping downtown up in its blanket. The sunny day seemed perverse. This is not why she had pursued the promotion. She wanted to work, lead the group. And she was good at it too. And so are they. There is nobody I want to get rid of, none of them deserve it.
The phone chirped with a new text.
And it isn’t from Henry. Damn. It’s Helen. She needs me to have my list ready at three so we can perform the deed this afternoon.
Zola tossed back the last of her seltzer, gathered her coat and headed out the door.
She reviewed the list. No matter how many times she did it, the same two came out as losers. Anthony and Dean. What a terrible no-good day.