Thursday, January 4, 2007

Splendor In A Glass

It was a warm and sunny day that Michelle Christian, Interpretive Specialist, emerged into from the darkened depths of the headquarters building. Making her way across the parking lot, a stiff canyon wind blew swirls of orange red sand across the tarmac.

In one swift motion she unlocked her 2-door Honda Accord and quickly reached under the front seat and plucked out her quarry, a half empty fifth of bourbon. The glistening brown liquid swirled in the bottom of the bottle as she held it up into the bright desert sun. Looking around the lot for any sign of people, she quickly poured a snootful into a slightly dirty travel mug. Gulping quickly, a soothing and sudden wave of heat hit her stomach. A second swig caused her body to shudder with relief and liberation. For a moment the reality of the surrounding cliffs and stark red rock were new and amazing again, as if encountered for the very first time. This fleeting appreciation of her geographical setting brought a keen sense of satisfaction and momentary peace.

Michelle had never been especially fond of this park. Its overpowering and glaring red sandstone, gloomy canyons and sparse collection of fauna was not her cup of tea aesthetically. Coming here to work meant a permanent job in the government; which was nothing to sneeze at. A life of predictable comfort in a cordoned sanctuary dedicated to the beauty and sterility of unadorned nature. A taxpayer funded monastery for timid souls afraid of a real world full of degrading demands and rituals. “Not a bad trade when you really think about it”, Michelle mused, as she poured a second jolt into the mug.

Reaching into the back seat she gathered up her most recently completed batch of Ted Sanders paper dolls. She had been cutting them out and coloring them in as a way to relieve the stress and strain of working under his micromanaging oppression. Devising new ways of torture and defacement on these intricately cut facsimiles was becoming quite amusing to her.

She had kept this occupational voodoo therapy secret from all of her co-workers, even her boyfriend Bart. The main reason for such secrecy was her fear that Sanders might somehow find out about it! She could vividly see the scene in her mind; the dolls would be confiscated and immediately placed into her personnel file, to be pulled out every six months at evaluation time. “So tell me how’s our creative level these days Ms. Christian?” her evil boss would sadistically intone as he playfully toyed with one of her caricatures in his immaculately manicured hands.

The mere thought of this scenario caused a shudder of revulsion to wrack her frame. It was dangerous just having them on the premises even though they were all constructed on work time, which was a key ingredient of their therapeutic value.

From a worn manila envelope she began pulling out a long string of identical little paper dolls, all colored green and gray and cut into the shape of a ranger with their silly looking mountie hat on. She took especial pride in her rendering of his glasses and moustache.

Michelle fell into hysterical laughter as she began burning a hole in the green leg of one the dolls, using a freshly lit Marlboro. Rolling down the window, with the burning edge finally engulfing the head of the Sanders doll, she quickly flicked it out of the car. Fluttering towards the ground the spent cinder swiftly skittered off in the brisk morning wind. Another totem had been sacrificed at the altar of momentary salvation, a miniscule reprieve from the stress of compromise, under-achievement and micro-management. Straightening her uniform tie and gulping a few mints, she took a quick look at herself in the rear-view mirror. “Good enough for government work" she clucked to herself.

Across the lot Dena Bother, Education Specialist, began descending the exit stairs on her way to an outreach program in Santjarge. Spying Michelle heading across the parking lot Dena made a beeline towards her. Michelle attempted to avoid all eye contact, but finally couldn’t pretend any longer and strode towards Dena. “I hope these mints are working", she thought, as they got closer.

“Michelle, are you all right?”

“I’m fine.”

“You look sort of sad or something.”

“I do?” Michelle said a little panic stricken.

“I remember being sad, before I moved here, just before I got my permanent.”

“At the beauty parlor?” Michelle asked mirthfully.

“You’re bad. Of course not, my permanent job with the park service.”

“Oh. So what was it that made you sad?”

“I accidentally let my indoor cat get outside and it ran away. Later I found out that it was living happily across the road with some other family.”

“Did you tell them it was yours?”

“No, it seemed to like living on the outside. I would never let her out of the house, because I worried that she might get run over by a car or into fights with other cats. I didn’t want to deal with a dead cat on my hands.”

Michelle felt a bourbon burp welling up in her stomach. “I gotta go Dena. Good luck with the second grade.”

“Thanks, but it’s actually pre-schoolers, part of a new partnership initiative through the regional office for locally focused special emphasis programs…”

As Dena vacantly chattered on Michelle mounted the stairs which led back to the quiet desperation of unventilated bureaucracy. Inserting her special employee key into the door she felt slightly faint. “I better eat something soon or this stuff is liable to rot my guts away.”

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