I returned to work looking like Frankenstein’s monster. Rita, one of my employees, gasped when she saw me.
“Oh, my,” she said. “Mr Solo, what happened?”
“I had an accident. It’s fine.”
She was an older woman. Aside from her, very few people said anything. The sutures on my face were to be removed in a couple of days, but I couldn’t wait that long to get back to work. Maybe when the stitches were out it wouldn’t look quite as bad. I hoped.
I knew they were all whispering behind my back. No doubt the gossip was made all the more juicy by the fact that Rey hadn’t returned, after the mysterious ‘business trip’. I felt guilty about that, for her sake, remembering how appalled she’d been when my family thought she was some sort of call girl. But it was embarrassing for me, too. The only solace was that no one dared say anything to my face.
There was an overtime form that Rey filled out at the end of each month, then gave to me to sign, before sending it to the clerk who handled the salaries. I did that now and then I took care of the paperwork necessary to end her employment. I signed my name at the bottom of a letter that would be sent home to her, confirming her her resignation. It was a standard letter, impersonal and business-like.
I should have written her a letter of recommendation. She deserved one. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I felt too self-conscious and there was also a small part of me that resented her, for leaving, for not giving me a chance to explain, for breaking my heart.
I hired a new P.A. This one was a guy and he was very obviously gay. In fact, he reminded me a little of of my mom’s P.A., who was incredibly camp, but seemed to be completely oblivious about it; he had no idea people noticed.
For some inexplicable reason, Dave, my new P.A., decided he had to tell me he was gay.
We were in my office, we were talking about the upcoming month and he was taking notes. Then he suddenly put down his Ipad.
“Mr Solo, there is something I feel I should say,” he said.
I thought he was going to quit, citing all the overtime, or maybe personal reasons, which was code for ‘I can’t stand you’.
“We’re kind of in the middle of something,” I said.
“I know, but…”
“Okay, fine, what is it?”
He straightened a little in his seat.
“I feel I should let you know that I am gay.”
I stared at him.
“Okay,” I said then.
“I hope that isn’t going to be a problem.”
Why the hell did he feel he had to tell me that? It wasn’t as if I hadn’t noticed.
“Is that it?” I said.
He gave a curt nod. I could tell he was uncomfortable, which made it even more of a mystery why he’d said anything in the first place.
“Yes,” he said.
“Okay, fine. Can we get back to the schedule then?”
“Yes, of course.” He picked up his Ipad.
It wasn’t until later, when he got up to leave, that I realized someone else in the office could have been giving him grief about it.
I was too young to remember, or to take notice of it at the time, but Mom had told me that when she and Amilyn got together, there were a bunch of neighbors who stopped talking to her. It was before we moved, so we were still living in our old house. Either those people were incredibly fond of my dad, or they took offense at two women living together.
I was a kid, I didn’t understand that there was anything unusual about it. I was upset my dad had left, and I wondered if it was somehow because of me, but I liked Amilyn from the start. I had never met anyone who had two moms or two dads, but I was really naive and didn’t think about that. Until a kid in my class said something.
I didn’t even understand some of the words he said, I had never heard them before, but I understood that it was insulting. So I got into a fight with him, and I had to go to the principal’s office and then they called my mom. I was just six years old and worried because I was in trouble, but then Mom told the principal to go fuck herself. That amazed me. I’d seen my mom angry, plenty of times, but I had never heard her say anything like that.
Thinking back now, I couldn’t remember what the principal had said. It was probably too subtle for me to fully understand at the time. I was utterly bewildered when Mom took my hand and marched us out of there. We moved not long after that.
“Has anyone said anything?” I asked.
He turned back to me.
“To you,” I said. “Has anyone made any comments or harassed you?”
“No, not at all.”
He nodded and smiled a little.
“Goodnight,” he said.
I drove home. There wasn’t much traffic. I stopped at one of my favorite restaurants and picked up some food. When I got home I looked through my mail. There was a padded brown envelope, my name and address written by hand on the front with roundish letters. I tried to remembered if I had ordered anything online. There was a bookstore, a small one, but they could get hold of almost anything, whose packages looked homemade, and I sometimes ordered drawing materials from another place, but this didn’t feel like a book and I hadn’t ordered anything.
I ripped it open. There was money inside. Not a whole lot and the bills weren’t new, just ordinary crumpled ones. What the hell was this? I checked the envelope again, even though I already had, but it was definitely my name and address and there was nothing written on the back.
I counted the money. Why would anyone send me money? Was it a joke? And then it hit me. The total amount was roughly consistent with the payment for that week. Actually, it was probably the exact sum, down to the last cent. Rey had sent this.
Something began to squirm and press against the insides of my ribs. I tugged at my tie until I could pull it off. I felt rotten. More than that, I felt like a fucking creep and I hated it. I grabbed the money and threw it, but of course it weighed close to nothing so the bills just scattered in the air. I swept my arm across the kitchen island instead, pushing everything to the floor.
The powerlessness was crippling.
The phone rang. One signal, two…
“What a greeting.” It was Mom.
“It’s not a good time right now.”
“Okay, call me back later.”
For a while I just stood there, until I had calmed down. I had nothing to eat now, my dinner was on the floor.
I wasn’t hungry anyway. Actually, that wasn’t true, I was starving. I went to one of the kitchen drawers and rummaged through it. I always got menus from fast food joints in the mail and my maid put them in here. There was a whole pile of them. I picked one at random and ordered a pizza.
Then I looked at the mess. I should clean that up. It didn’t seem quite right to leave it to the maid, but then I left it anyway.