THE INITIATION—Clark Humphrey
Tudi has her mid-morning break by herself at the back table of the office break room. She doesn’t feel like making small talk this morning. Hell, she doesn’t want to be at work this morning, but she is.
As she sips her vending-machine drip coffee with extra sugars, she decides it’s a good thing she can’t remember all of what happened to her that night. She knows her status in the office has been forever altered. She just hopes there won’t be any legal consequences.
What she does remember, in a hung over haze, is disjointed, a group of moments. She can’t remember what order in which they occurred, or even whether they all really happened or whether she later dreamed some of them.
What’s easy to remember is how it started.
Oh, she’d always known Mitzi and Magda had their cruel streaks about them. She was always hearing them say awful things about their co-workers, family, and “friends;” she’d long suspected they said things just as bad about her when she wasn’t in the room.
So, as the after-work party for her birthday wrapped up, and they suggested keeping the party going at another bar, she hesitated a bit, no a lot, before she said yes.
She knows the three of them went to another bar. At least three other bars; maybe more. That’s where the details and the timelines get jumbled up.
An early memory involves Mitzi and Magda vetoing Tudi’s drink order. She wanted a “celebration” cocktail, something with fancy flavors and happy colors. They yelled at the barmaid to get them all vodka shots, then Bourbon shots, then tequila shots. No, that might not have been the correct sequence, but it was something like that.
She remembers flagging down a waiter at another bar, trying to order food; only for the other two to get that changed into another round of drinks.
Other things she more or less, sort of, remembers:
- A series of toasts: to her, to them, to the company, to the upcoming retirement of a boss Mitzi and Magda particularly detest; to Magda’s ex moving to the other side of the country next month (at last); to the positive cancer diagnosis of Mitzi’s “wicked stepmother, except she’s my real mom”; to guys who meet what Mitzi calls “the highest ratio” of money spent on women vs. sex demanded from women; and probably others.
- Noticing the taste of the drinks less intensely as she has more of them.
- The three of them standing around in a crowded bar with loud oldies music on the PA. The other two chatting up a succession of men, looking for the one who’d be “the right birthday present for our friend here.”
- Similar scenes to the above, in at least two other bars. Either Mitzi and Magda were picky about potential “presents,’ or they were just joshing, or their attention spans were shrinking fast. She herself feeling relieved whenever she got to stop talking to any particular one of these men.
- The three of them crowded in the back seat of a Civic being used as a Lyft car; Mitzi whispering racist “jokes” about the driver.
- Going to the women’s room in one bar after Magda had left it; smelling a hint of vomit by the sinks; not asking about it afterwards.
- Being handed a straight Coca-Cola by a male bartender, who’d assumed she was the designated driver just because she was the only sane one in the trio. Her accepting it without complaint.
- Tudi insisting she won’t get into Magda’s car again; Magda insisting she’s just fine, as she almost trips over her own high heels.
- Coming back from the women’s room, overhearing the two saying brutal things (apparently) about her; the two giggling briefly just before they see her. Tudi feeling grateful that Magda’s wearing (at least some) underwear under her little black dress.
- The last (or was it?) place they were at together. A condo building, less than a block from the last bar they’d been at. Tudi herself saying repeatedly she wants to leave. Magda, still boistrous and laughing, saying no no no not yet. Mitzi starting to ramble, albeit incoherently, like a bitter old woman disgusted by her fate in life and by the whole world. Magda saying she knows just what they all need now. Tudi wondering what that could be. Pot? Pills? Blow? Still more booze? Some combo of the above? Now she really wanted out. So what was stopping her? Only her own rising sense of fatigue. That and a sense of “surrender.” Something she hadn’t felt in a long time, if ever. Surrender to the moment; to the mood.
- Awakening, very briefly, in a strange bed in a strange bedroom, vaguely aware of the sound of someone else’s breathing, re-closing her eyes without investigating.
- Awakening again in her own bed, alone, on top of the sheets, her shoes off but otherwise fully dressed, with a hangover headache, and no idea how she’d gotten home.
- Dreaming (or was it?) about being back in the condo, suddenly seeing a man starting to strip out of a fake pizza-delivery uniform, then strutting toward her. Her turning away as Mitzi, Magda, and perhaps several other women screamed “SUCK IT!” repeatedly at her. Her closing her eyes and the sounds almost immediately going away.
- Dreaming (or was it?) about kissing a male stranger, who may or may not have been the stripper. At one point she looks away and sees Mitzi and Magda gawking at them; at another point she looks away again and sees nobody.
- Fantasizing (or was it?) about bopping Mitzi and Magda on the head with a cast iron skillet.
- Fantasizing (or was it?) about suggesting running off with the stripper, only for him to tell her his husband wouldn’t like it.
As Tudi sips and tries to sort out the images in her head, she sees Magda entering the break room, with one of the other people from her division (and with a head looking un-bopped-on). She turns her back to them, hoping not to be noticed. She pulls out her phone, to have something to bury her face in.
As soon as she turns it on and enters her security code, she hears the familiar “new texts” sound. There are three of them: two from an unknown number, and one from Mitzi.
“Congrats. You passed the initiation. You’re one of us now.”
Tudi turns off her phone and buries her face in her hand.