28 days of Flash — 26 of 28
Mari was in the salad bar line at the grocery store at lunch when she felt her phone buzz with a new text message. She ignored it.
Texts were for ignoring until you decided to pay attention to them. Mari didn’t want to pay attention right now. She had spent all morning reading from the same script eleven times in five minute increments every twenty minutes. Three an hour until the last one when they couldn’t find Thomas and she only had to do two. A new record. 11 newly jobless people in one morning. She didn’t have to find Thomas to set it.
“Hi (Name), Thank you for joining me today. Over the last twelve months, there have been significant changes in the company’s need for (job title). As a result, your position has been eliminated. (Name of HR Representative) is here from the Human Resources team to take you through your severance package and answer any questions that you might have. Please know that we didn’t arrive at this decision lightly. We understand the impact to you, and we have outplacement services at your disposal to help you secure new employment. Do you have any questions?”
Did they have questions. Mari had questions. Who was this “we” she kept referring to? Mari grabbed the tongs and threw a few piles of lettuce into a styrofoam container. How did I get into the middle of this?
She grabbed an awkward spoon from the cherry tomato container and began taking tomatoes one at a time and dropping them onto the lettuce. They rolled haphazardly across the field of greens. It was like watching a replay of eyes rolling as she tried to deliver the same message over and over again.
“Have empathy, but be succinct,” Tia had told her. “And don’t answer any questions. The people who you think will take this badly will likely do the best, and the ones who you think will be gracious will come unglued. At least, that’s my bet.” Tia was her HR business partner, and probably the only person she counted as a friend in the business. Tia had done this hundreds of times. “It never gets easier, Mari, but I’ve never seen anyone end up worse off.”
Most of these people whose lives Mari changed with her recitation this morning, she had no issues with. They were just among the last hires. That was the only reason they were among the first to go, except for one. Trini, the admin Mari had never wanted, didn’t need, and now had to lay off.
As she scattered the fresh peas over the lettuce and tomatoes, they rolled like tears down cheeks. She had to skip the beets even though they were her favorite — too much red. She couldn’t see the reddish purple bleed into the white ranch dressing and not feel sick to her stomach.
She felt her phone buzz again in her pocket, and her watch pulse against her skin. Another text message. Another moment to ignore her work as she paid for her salad and sat at the table nearest the windows. She always sat there. No one liked sitting there because it was too close to the doors and the wind usually blew not it. Mari liked it because no one would sit around her. She could be alone.
She stabbed at random ingredients in the salad and drug them through the pools of ranch dressing. She hadn’t actually eaten anything. She just shuffled vegetables.
She looked down at her salad and put her fork down. She bowed her head deeply and closed her eyes. No one would know she was just trying to breathe and stifle the growing ache in the pit of her stomach. They would think she was praying over her food. She didn’t remember the last time she had prayed. She wasn’t going to start now.
Mari opened her eyes and finally shoveled her fork into a pile of garbanzo beans and stabbed a tomato. She had only just gotten the food into her mouth and started chewing when she saw Thomas walking toward her from the coffee bar.
She swallowed hard and shifted her glance back to her salad, acting like she didn’t see him. Every fiber of her being was screaming GET OUT, but the gap to leave would have been when she wasn’t praying with her eyes closed over the salad she didn’t want to eat.
“Hey Mari,” Thomas said as he got close to the table. “I figured you’d be here.”
“Hi.” It was all Mari could say. She couldn’t ask how he was doing or what was up. All of her thoughts were stuck in her throat with half a tomato.
Thomas flipped the chair around that was directly across from Mari and sat down in it backwards. He propped his arms across the chair back. “I know why you wanted to meet with me this morning. Anton texted me.”
Mari stared for a moment and then managed to say, “We really should go back to the office.”
Thomas shook his head. “Why? So you can tell me about the four months’ severance and job placement? I can get that over the phone.” He shook his head. “I’ve been through this rodeo before, and I’ll be fine. But you,” he stopped and shook his head again.
Mari pinched her eyebrows together. “What do you mean, ‘you’?”
“Word on the street is, they used you to do the layoffs this morning and you’re next this afternoon.” Thomas shook his head. “You ever been through this?”
“No, but why do you think that’s going to happen?”
“When you’re in tech, the first thing you learn is to make friends with the people in HR.”
Mari’s phone buzzed again. She fished it out of her pocket. 4 missed texts from Tia. The last one said, Stop by my office when you get back from lunch.
“From HR?” Thomas asked.
Mari nodded. “But it could be anything. Tia and I are friends.”
Thomas tipped his head to the side. “Are you?” His eyebrow raised.
Mari just sat there, staring.
He continued, “I’ll let you finish your lunch. If you get out of the office in time, I’ll be at the 2:15 show at the Planetarium.”
Mari couldn’t finish her salad. She read the messages from Tia — had she gone to lunch yet, she needed to talk to her, and she hoped the morning hadn’t been too hard preceded the ask to stop by.
When she drove back to the office, she pulled into the parking lot near the row of offices where Tia was, first floor in a corner but by the emergency exit. She noticed that Tia wasn’t alone.
Mari’s boss was in Tia’s office. Sure, it could be a coincidence. But it was something she hadn’t seen happen until today.
Mari parked. “Hey Siri, text Tia.”
“Okay, what do you want to say to Tia?”
“Hey Tia. If it’s not true that the next conversation you’re going to have is telling me I don’t have a job, call me.”
She sent the message and waited. Her phone buzzed with a new text. I wanted to tell you personally.
Mia pulled out of the parking space. “Hey Siri, use Waze to get directions to the Planetarium.”