By Francis DiClemente.
Sally wore a king-sized tan pillowcase to work on Tuesday, cutting three openings in the fabric for her head and arms and fashioning the cover into a short dress. As Sally walked into the office, all of the men looked up from their desks or ducked their heads out of their cubicles so they could inspect her figure bulging inside the pillowcase. The “dress” rode up on her and her upper thighs were exposed. Later when she rose from her desk to make copies, her ass cheeks could be seen hanging out of the bottom of the pillowcase and the men leered at her, excited by the fact she wasn’t wearing panties.
When Sally passed Bob Dorffman, a mid-fifties accountant with white hair and a pink face, he asked, “What’s the story, Sally? We’d love to hear it.” But Sally did not answer him; she kept her head down and moved quickly toward the copy machine while glancing at last month’s aluminum and copper sales figures. She worked as an account manager for Alloy United Industries of Newburgh.
Sally began making her copies and took note of the time on the wall clock. After she finished, she went into the break-room, filled her coffee mug and headed back to her desk. She was starting to fall into the rhythm of the day. “It feels like a Tuesday,” she thought to herself.
When Sally strode past the glassed windows of the human resources office, the HR administrator, Rosemary Colvin, jumped up from her seat and stormed into the hallway. “Sally, get in my office right now,” she said.
Sally tightened her grip on her coffee mug and the stack of copies and followed Rosemary into the office. Rosemary let Sally pass her and then closed the door; it made a clicking sound.
Rosemary went behind her desk and sat down in her black office chair, while Sally remained standing. “Go ahead and sit down,” Rosemary said.
Sally sat down in one of the two chairs in front of Rosemary’s desk.
“So what’s the meaning of this?”
“What do you mean what? Your clothes. Is this some kind of joke? Are you trying to get fired?”
“No,” Sally said. “My boyfriend and I had a big fight last night. He threw all my clothes on the front lawn and then burned everything. This is all I could find to wear.”
“Are you joking?” Rosemary said.
“No. I’m serious. It’s the truth.”
Rosemary bit her bottom lip and shook her head back and forth a few times as her blue eyes inspected Sally’s frame. She seemed to be waiting for Sally to deliver a punch line. “All right,” she said, “if that’s the case, why didn’t you go to the store and buy some new clothes?”
“I didn’t have time. I woke up and needed to wear something. Plus the stores weren’t open yet.”
“You could have found a Walmart or something Sally.”
“And what would I have worn to the store?”
Sally’s face revealed no emotion as she waited for Rosemary’s next question. Her eyes were cast down and she scanned the dates of the calendar stretched across Rosemary’s oak desk. It was mid-August, and Sally was thinking about taking a weekend trip to Boston toward the end of the month. She also felt grateful that the fight with her boyfriend didn’t happen in February.
“I guess you have two choices,” Rosemary said. “One, go home and change, or two, we’ll have to let you go. This is not acceptable behavior for the workplace.”
“I could go home, but I still don’t have anything else to wear there. What would I change into?”
“You go to the store, Sally, and buy something.”
“I don’t have any money. Mike stole it from my purse.”
“This is unbelievable. I feel like you’re trying to get away with something.”
“All right then,” Rosemary said. She stood up and went over to a large black metal filing cabinet lining the back wall of her office. She opened the top compartment and pulled out a small metal toolbox with a padlock on it. She retrieved the key from the top drawer of her desk, opened the box and grabbed a stack of bills. She counted 200 dollars in twenties and slid the money across the desk to Sally.
“Take this and go to the store,” Rosemary said. “Spend it wisely. You need panties, socks or stockings, a blouse and pants or a dress.”
“Yes, I know,” Sally said, taking the money. “I’m not an idiot.”
“Well your actions today lead me to think otherwise. Now go, and don’t waste time coming back.”
“Thanks,” Sally said and she stood up. She grabbed her coffee mug and the stack of copies, which she had placed on top of Rosemary’s desk.
Rosemary followed Sally to the door and opened it for her. Reggie Foster, the owner of the company, was standing in the hallway. He saw Sally, looked at Rosemary and asked, “What’s going on here?”
“It’s fine,” Rosemary said. “Sally had a problem this morning, but I’ve given her some petty cash and she’s heading to the store to buy some clothes. We’ll take it out of her check next pay period.”
“You didn’t mention that,” Sally whispered.
“Never mind,” Rosemary said to Sally.
Reggie peered at Sally and then looked over at Rosemary, who was still standing in her doorway. He smiled, took a long sip of coffee from his royal blue Alloy United Industries mug and said, “Oh, I don’t think that will be necessary. Sally, can I see you in my office right now?”
Sally nodded and stepped into the hallway. Reggie’s office was right next to Rosemary’s, and Reggie put his arm on Sally’s shoulder as he led her into his office.
After he shut the door, Reggie dropped the blinds on the window and sat down at his desk.
Sally placed her coffee mug and the copies on top of Reggie’s desk but remained standing in front of him.
“I could just fire you, you know?” he said.
“Yes, I know.”
“But I won’t, not if you play nice. Now why don’t you come over to my side?”
“I’d rather not.”
“Oh, come on; I won’t bite.”
Sally moved closer to Reggie’s chair. When she came within about a foot of him, he reached up, grabbed her left breast and gave it a good squeeze. Sally backed away. “I’m sorry. I should really get to the store and buy some clothes.”
“Wait, you have time,” Reggie said, standing up.
“No, I need to go,” Sally said. As she rushed across the room, Reggie said, “If you go, I’ll fire you.”
“Fine, fire me,” Sally said. She opened the door and added, “It’s not worth this.”
After she slammed the door she heard Reggie shout on the other side, “Don’t bother coming in tomorrow. You’re fired.”
Sally entered Rosemary’s office and slapped the clump of bills on top of her desk.
“Wait, what happened?” Rosemary asked.
“What did you think would happen? He grabbed my breast and then fired me when I wouldn’t go along with it.”
“That’s right. And I’m out of here. No job is worth that.” Sally started walking toward the door. Rosemary grabbed the money, got up from her desk, dashed across the room and caught Sally before she could leave. She placed a hand on Sally’s upper arm.
“Hold on a second. Keep the money, Sally.” Rosemary slipped the bills in Sally’s hand. “Now go to the store and come back tomorrow with new clothes and a fresh start.”
“He already fired me.”
“Don’t worry about Reggie. I’ll deal with him. This isn’t the first time he’s done this.”
“What can you do? He owns the company.”
“I said ‘don’t worry about it.’ Leave it to me.”
Rosemary gave Sally a hug and stroked her brown hair. “You’ll be fine. Just go.”
“You’re welcome. And Sally …”
“The next time you find yourself with no clothes, do me a favor. Call in sick.”
Sally smiled and nodded her head and then exited Rosemary’s office. She stopped at her cubicle to grab her keys and her purse. As she reached for them, she heard the squeaking of an office chair behind her.
“Looking good, Sally,” Bob said. “Keep up the good work,” he added and laughed loudly.
She wanted to turn around and flip him off, but she thought better of it. She slipped her purse around her shoulder and turned for the door. As she moved past Bob, he said, “Oh, have a heart. Sit on my face.” He said it more like a question, and it drew the laughter of some of the male co-workers in the area.
Sally looked at him. Their eyes met and she studied his red face, sagging jowls and potbelly. She thought about his wife making him a tuna fish sandwich that morning and packing his lunch, or Bob fixing his daughter’s ten-speed bike over the weekend. She thought, if his family loved him he must have some good qualities, and so she was going to ignore his comments and cross the main administrative floor toward the exit. It wasn’t worth a confrontation, she thought. You can’t win at this place.
But then Bob pulled out his smartfone and said, “Nothing will ever top this.” He snapped a photo of her and added, “I need to get this up right away.”
Sally set her purse down on her desk chair and marched over to Reggie’s office. She opened the door and went in. Reggie was talking on the phone as Sally walked across the room, and she snagged her coffee mug and the stack of copies that she had left on his desk.
“I forgot these,” Sally said in a low voice as Reggie looked up at her.
She walked out of the office and went back to her cubicle. She set the papers down on her desk and then Bob said, “What, did you forget to sit on my face?”
“No,” said Sally, as she turned around, still holding onto her coffee mug, which was three-quarters full. “I’m just tired of all your sexist comments.”
“Well,” he said. “Maybe you shouldn’t wear a sheet to work. You ever think of that?”
Sally tossed the coffee in Bob’s face. He gasped as the tepid black liquid dripped down his face and chest and made a dark stain on his white dress shirt. “You bitch,” he said.
Sally dropped the empty mug on his computer keyboard and it made a loud bang. “Have a great day, Bob,” she said, and picked up her purse and left the office.
Rosemary had witnessed the scene as she was walking back from the kitchen, where she had gone to fetch a cup of coffee. After Sally walked out, Rosemary said, loud enough for everyone on the administrative floor to hear, “Well it’s about time someone put you in your place, Bob.”
Bob wiped his face with a white hankie, swiveled his body in his chair and looked at Rosemary. When he didn’t break eye contact, Rosemary said, “Bob, I suggest you turn around, keep your mouth shut and go to back to work. It’s either that or we can fire you for sexual harassment. The choice is entirely up to you.”
Bob turned around and faced the interior of his cubicle, and Rosemary went back inside her office and closed the door.
FRANCIS DICLEMENTE is a video producer and freelance writer in Syracuse. He is the author of three poetry chapbooks and his blog can be found at francisdiclemente.wordpress.com.