Good Fortune Comes Your Way
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
(This story has been published in The Literary Hatchet.)
This morning I gave my seat on the bus to a lady midget without one. A seat, I mean. She was only about half as tall as anybody else and I felt sorry for her because people were ignoring her and she looked as if she might be crushed. When I caught her attention, I pointed to my seat to let her know that since I was sitting on it I owned it for the moment and I would gladly relinquish it to her if she wanted it.
She squeezed past the assholes over to where I was sitting and smiled up at me. She had an oval head the shape of an enormous potato and what I think they call a beehive hairdo the color of honey. She wore a little yellow-and-white waitress’s uniform that looked like it might have been taken off a doll. The nametag on her chest told me that her name was Marlene. Marlene the Midget. I liked that.
After making sure that Marlene was ready to grab the seat as soon as I stood up, I lunged for the nearest unoccupied pole and grabbed onto it. I couldn’t keep from smiling to myself as I hung precariously onto my greasy pole because I had a done a “good thing” for someone less fortunate than myself. I looked over my shoulder at her one time with proprietary interest to make sure she was comfortable. Her eyes were closed and she was clutching her handbag to her chest like a life preserver. She got off in two stops and somebody else took the seat.
As soon as I got to the office, any happy feeling I might have derived from my good deed had vanished. I made my way to my desk, head down, trying not to attract attention. I didn’t want to give anybody the bright idea that I had just arrived at work and needed something to do. I took off my coat and hung it on the rack behind my desk, thinking about how many hours I had to get through before I could put it on again and leave.
I sat down at my desk and took out my yellow legal pad and a handful of pens and red pencils. I took out some papers and covered the desk with them to give the impression that I was working, when, in fact, I planned on doing nothing at all. I could usually go the entire day without doing anything, while giving the impression that I was deeply immersed in an important project for Mr. Junius “Groucho” Wexler, the business genius who started the company from nothing and turned it into the colossus it is today. The best thing I could say about Mr. Wexler was that I hardly ever saw him.
I picked up my pen and made a few notes on the yellow legal pad. Sometimes when I was pretending to be busy, I wrote a couple paragraphs of my novel that would bring me literary fame and would make it possible for me to quit my job and never have to spend another day of my life cooped up in an office. (They want to turn my book into a movie? How thrilling!)
After a few minutes of pretending to be busy, I became terrifically sleepy. I might toss and turn in my bed half the night, but as soon as I arrive at work I feel like I’ve taken a powerful, sleep-inducing drug. I might try to lean my head on my hand and close my eyes and snatch a few seconds of sleep in the upright position, ever wary of approaching footsteps, but I’ve tried this and it doesn’t help. It somehow makes the desire for sleep even more powerful.
Besides being sleepy, I was also hungry, having skipped breakfast altogether. I went to the break room to see if anybody had brought in any donuts. There were no donuts but there was a pack of chocolate chip cookies on the table. I ate one and when I saw it wasn’t too stale I took two others and put them in my pants pocket before anybody saw me. (I had to remember to take them out of my pocket before I sat down again.) I wasn’t a coffee drinker so I fixed myself a cup of tea and stood looking out the window while the water heated.
With my tea and cookies, I returned to my desk, prepared to stay put until lunchtime, pretending to work, while my mind, every second, was on anything other than work.
Once when I was about five years old somebody gave me a helium balloon on a string. It was a novelty for me. I had never even seen a helium balloon before, let along being lucky enough to own one. While I was outside in the yard, admiring my balloon on the string, it somehow got away from me in a gust of wind. I stood there, watching it, feeling helpless that it was gone and I couldn’t get it back, no matter what I did. I watched the balloon rise in the air until it was just a tiny speck and then could no longer be seen at all. I had a hard time holding back the tears. I still think that balloon is somewhere up there in the sky waiting for me and I might one day get it back.
My mind was aswirl with these and other memories when I heard footsteps approaching my desk. I began to write furiously on my pad, copying meaningless phrases from an open book in front of me.
The footsteps belonged to Freda Himmler, general office manager.
“What are you working on, Elliott?” she asked.
“This. I’m working on this.” I leaned back so she could see the papers on my desk.
“You shouldn’t be working on that,” she said. “That was finished two weeks ago. You need to be working on something more relevant.”
She wasn’t the boss, but she thought she was. She dropped out of the sky several times a day to check up on all of us and report back to Mr. Wexler. She was his eyes and ears.
Freda Himmler was a squat woman with broad shoulders and even broader hips. She was anywhere from fifty to a hundred years of age. She wore boxy, unattractive clothes forty years out of date. Her hair was pulled into a severe knot at the back of her head, so that her large ears were always prominently displayed. She had no eyebrows to speak of so she drew them on; they were never the same two days in a row. Her mouth was always slathered with blood-red lipstick, which sometimes overextended her lips in a clownish way. She had about her a peculiar smell that might have been formaldehyde or some other chemical used in embalming corpses.
Any time Freda Himmler came near me, I had to swallow my loathing before I could speak to her.
“This is what Mr. Wexler said he wanted,” I said lamely.
“You’ve been sadly misinformed!” she said. “Meet me in Miss Wexler’s office immediately about lunch! The three of us need to have a little talk!”
The “three of us” meant, of course, Freda and Mr. Wexler and me. I’d rather eat sand and wrestle an alligator than meet with those two for one of their little “meetings.”
Freda Himmler had interrupted my flow of work, so I figured it was time for a break. I stopped by the men’s room, took care of some business, and from there went on to the break room. My friend Lonnie Dove, kindred spirit, was standing at the sink washing his coffee cup.
“What day is it?” he asked. “Is it Friday yet?”
“Three days to go,” I said.
“Do you absolutely hate this place, or what?”
“I think I probably hate it every bit as much as you do.”
“Doesn’t it make you want to go up to the roof and jump off?”
“I wouldn’t want to give anybody here the satisfaction of knowing they had driven me to suicide,” I said.
Abhorring the thought of going back to my desk and risking another encounter with Freda Himmler, I got into the elevator and rode the six floors down to the lobby. I went outside and walked down to the corner and when I got to the corner I turned around and walked all the way back to the other corner. I had the feeling that Freda Himmler knew exactly what I was doing and was watching me out the window every second.
After another torturous hour-and-a-half spent at my desk pretending to be busy, it was time for lunch. I left as fast as I could before anybody spotted me. The trick was not to let anybody know what time you left, so then when you got back they wouldn’t know how long you had been gone.
I wanted something good for lunch so I walked a couple of blocks away to a little restaurant called Manny’s Fine Eats. I had been there before and I knew the food was good and the service excellent. I was gratified to see the place wasn’t crowded; I sat at a small table next to the window beside an enormous potted plant.
My waitress, I was surprised to see, was Marlene the Midget from the bus, in her little yellow-and-white uniform with the name tag. I smiled but I wasn’t sure if she recognized me from the bus. I ordered the spaghetti and meatballs. I didn’t have long to wait long before Marlene set the steaming plate of food down in front of me.
The spaghetti was delicious with just the right amount of garlic. When I finished, I was sorry there wasn’t more. I finished my iced tea and gestured for Marlene to bring me my check.
“Will there be anything else?” she asked.
When she handed me my change, she also handed me a single yellow carnation.
“Good fortune comes your way,” she said with a cheery smile.
I thanked her and before I had a chance to say anything else she was gone again. It was lunchtime and she was busy.
I walked all the way back to the office carrying the carnation in front of me like a charm to ward off evil. I dreaded my upcoming meeting with Mr. Wexler and Freda Himmler. I knew she would put me on the spot and make me feel like a fool in front of the boss. As I went up in the elevator, I felt a bad headache coming on and a sharp pain in my abdomen. I felt like I might be sick.
Getting off the elevator on the sixth floor, I met Lonnie Dove. He was smiling and obviously happy about something.
“Where have you been?” he asked.
“I was hungry, so I went out for lunch.”
“You missed all the excitement.”
“Freda fell down the elevator shaft.”
“Oh, my gosh! Is she dead?”
“No, she only fell about twenty feet or so. They came and took her to the hospital. I didn’t see her after she fell, but they said she probably has some broken bones. Where’d you get your yellow flower?”
“A midget gave it to me,” I said.
“I think it’s our lucky day,” he said.
I put the carnation in a glass of water and set it on the edge of my desk where I would be able to see it. I sat down and picked up my pen and pretended to be working, but I knew there was no way I was going to get any work done for the rest of the day. A party atmosphere had taken over the entire office. Someone had a bottle of whiskey and was passing around drinks.
“Ding-Dong, the witch is dead!” they all sang together. “Which old witch? You know which one!”
I had a couple of drinks and then I sneaked out the back way and took the early bus home.
Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp