Don’t lay me off. Don’t lay me off. Don’t lay me off. Don’t lay me off. Don’t lay me off. Don’t lay me off.
Berenice was so worry about hearing the decisive words ‘You’re laid off’ that she couldn’t even listen to the long monologue of her boss. He was talking about his company’s state of business and the internal issues that had forced the board of directors to take drastic measures such as the playoff of twenty employees. Four per division.
And now, after praying for a long time in the last few days in the hope of being never called to the director’s office, she was just there.
She was terrified at the idea of being laid off. What terrorized her was not so much the thought of leaving a job in which she had prepared pay envelopes and filed invoices for four years like a robot, as all consequences deriving from that. Above all her mother advising her to come back home, under her oppressive and protective wing.
She was so overcome by despair that she could only catch some fragments of his boss’s long speech.
“The economic crisis leaves us no way out… the financial plan… there were some discrepancies… a wave of change is needed… new liquidity… unfortunately… too many employees… great expense… without a new policy there will be some unavoidable downsizing… Miss Collins, do you agree?”
Berenice went on nodding, frightened, while thinking of something else.
“Miss Collins, did you get it?” asked the man with a little more determination in his voice, making the young woman jump from her seat.
“Of course I did. I totally agree with you”, answered Berenice, collecting herself at once, hoping that she hadn’t just said to agree on her layoff. When she got nervous, why couldn’t she ever follow a speech without losing the thread of it after two seconds?
“Fine! So do you already have a good plan for, I guess, the next three… five years?”
“Of course!” Just don’t lay me off.
“I didn’t think that you were so well-versed in this field. I even had your name in the list of people to dismiss! Now there’s nothing left for me but to wait before reading your ideas. For next Monday I expect to have an innovative financial plan for our company on my desk.”
“Yes. Nothing special. Just two ideas about how to make the company get back on top within three years. These documents can be helpful to you. Take them and… please don’t disappoint me.” Then the boss sent her away, handing a six-inch-thick packet of papers to her.
Once Berenice got out of Mr. Footer’s office, she found herself walking to her desk with her head that was still dazed. She didn’t know whether to jump with joy for saving her own job o to run away, far from there, throwing up all those files: she didn’t even know where to start to organize a financial plan that could improve the fortunes of the publishing house for which she worked.
For four years she had been preparing pay envelopes for all the company’s employees by using a very easy computer program or she had been recording the internal communications and filing the invoices at the most, after handing them to her colleague Sandy.
Those tasks were the only ones she was able to do. The only ones she had learned, apart from spending her spare time on Facebook and Twitter or doing shopping on Amazon and eBay.
If in the computer field she was a mere dilettante, in the financial one she was totally ignorant.
As she got to her desk, next to Sandy’s, she awkwardly dropped into the chair with a faraway look.
“Nice, well? Did he lay you off?” began to get worried her colleague.
“Not yet,” answered Berenice downhearted.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that I’ve escaped the layoff just for now, till Monday,” she informed her while taking a chocolate-covered plain biscuit from the drawer. Stress always made her hungry.
“I told you to buy the lucky charm on eBay! With that one you wouldn’t be in this mess now,” blamed Sandy, waving a red bookmark with some Chinese golden writing and a red ribbon, bringer of luck and success, just in front of her face.
“I don’t believe in such things.”
“That’s bad! Above all with the Saturn and Venus’s quadrature that will make this June become a living hell for all Sagittarians. Two weeks ago I warned you that this month you’d have one nasty surprise after the other. My cousin Dorine is a Sagittarius too and you can’t even imagine what she’s going through.”
“Sandy, please… I was born under an unlucky star and the choice of my name is a confirmation of that,” grumbled Berenice, exasperated by her friend’s excessively superstitious nature. And besides she hated her name. It reminded Berenice, a tragedy by Racine in which her namesake renounced her love forever thus choosing the loneliness. The same loneliness Berenice had felt for a long time now.
“Well, what now? Is our Berenice the fourth employee who has to leave the company?” said the velvety voice of Karen Jordan, the newcomer who seemed to be too smart to risk losing her job.
Too smart in getting Mr. Footer into bed!
“Not yet” was Berenice’s tart reply. She gave Karen a withering glance, but Karen had already turned away, laughing, and went towards some other helpless victim to bother.
“I wish I could dress like her,” sighed out Sandy, trying to suck in her stomach without taking her eyes off Karen’s athletic and sinuous build. Karen wore a close-fitting black leather suit that made her look like an intriguing and sexy panther.
“And be like her? No, thanks. I hate people who exploit their beauty to get whatever they want.”
“I agree with you, but people see us just as two large-sized girls who are envious of an extra-small one. What a terrible world!”
Unluckily Sandy was right and finally there was nothing left for Berenice to do but put her chocolate plain biscuit back in the drawer and go back to work.
When the two colleagues knocked off, unlike the others, they made for the coffee bar next to the office where Sandy’s cousin worked.
“Why should we rush into the parking lot at once and squabble with the others, when we only have to wait for a half an hour to find a half-empty space where we can maneuver without fear of hitting other cars?” said Sandy again and again to justify the big cup of ice cream that she always ate before going back home. At home she would have found her mother waiting for her with the usual undressed salad that her daughter had to eat if she wanted to lose weight.
As usual, they opted for two cups of ice cream with whipped cream.
Harry, Sandy’s cousin, came to take their orders.
“Have you noticed how much excitement there is after the crew for the movie The Supremacy came to town?” exclaimed the exuberant Harry.
“I’m wondering how a famous movie director like Rob Sorenson could shoot some scenes of one of his movies in a so anonymous and colorless town like Brocketville,” commented Sandy after casting a cursory glance at the ice cream list, that she actually knew perfectly.
“Or how he found out about this God-forsaken small town! In short, Brocketville hasn’t any significant artistic and cultural heritage, there are no offices of a famous company or some supernatural phenomena have never occurred here. How can one choose a place like this for a movie?” echoed Berenice.
“I don’t know, but yesterday they said on TV that today would have been the last day for shooting and the street out front would have been finally reopened to traffic. Too bad! Lots of people came here to drink something, hoping to catch a glimpse of some actors. In these three days we’ve done a roaring trade.”
“I don’t really understand what’s so special about these celebrities,” admitted Berenice annoyed. Although she had always parked her car next to the barriers delimiting the area in which the movie scenes were being shot, she never stopped for a moment to have a look with the intention of seeing an actor, especially David Donkey and Marc Hailen, and the town was plastered over with their photos and inscriptions by their fans.
“Are you out of your mind? I’d go to any lengths to have David Donkey’s autograph. I’d also asked Mr. Footer a day off, but that bastard didn’t concede it to me,” burst out Sandy, still furious for the shooting with her favorite actor was just a few steps from her workplace, and yet she couldn’t stay to see him.
“I wouldn’t know what to do with an autograph,” burst out Berenice.
“Not even if it was Marc Hailen’s?” teased Harry who knew his old schoolfellow’s tastes.
“That’s right. I liked how he played the violin, not his handwriting,” she hastened to clarify. Marc Hailen was the violinist of a pop group who caused a sensation. Combining the sweet melody of the violin and the most urban notes of The Dark Angels made the famous band move up the charts, above all if the young violinist in question played on the stage with just a pair of torn and threadbare jeans on, leaving the rest of his perfect body on display. However, in the recent years this musician had given up playing and had been interested in cinema.
After two movies directed by the famous couple Emily Keys and Steven Maddle, the boy’s aunt and uncle, Marc had launched out totally into the cinema and after only three years he had acted in four successful movies.
“Well, I hate him. How could he leave The Dark Angels? He betrayed his own friends and all his fans!” intervened Sandy.
“He probably wasn’t paid enough. Some people can’t be contented,” supposed Harry.
“You may be right. I’ve heard that Marc Hailen has just insured his body for ten million dollars,” whispered Sandy scandalized.
“It’s true. I read it in the magazine Tabloid. It seems that if only you punch him in the face and he bruises just a little bit, you have to work for ten lives to make up for damage done.”
“What a narcissist!” objected Berenice, remembering that she had read that piece of news on the internet just that morning.
Luckily the two ice creams arrived straightaway and all the subjects and the dark thoughts about their job insecurity were at once forgotten in order to give way to the taste of creams mixing in the cup.
When they came out the coffee bar the sun was replaced by a downpour that had cooled the air and soaked any unfortunate person without an umbrella in a few seconds.
“Oh no! I’ll get soaked and soil my new shoes,” complained Berenice immediately, in an attempt to shelter her red suede flat pumps from the pelting rain.
“I told you so! The horoscope never lies! See you tomorrow,” said Sandy while laughing and running towards her own car.
Surrendered to the idea of being the victim of celestial bodies, quadrature and unlucky stars, Berenice started running to the opposite direction, towards the oldest and shabbiest car of the parking lot that was empty by then.
Once she got to the car, she was wet to the skin, with her hair being stuck to the face, thus blocking her view.
Luckily she did not have to waste time trying to find the keys to open the car, since the last time she had her car serviced the lock broke down and now the car could be locked only from the inside.
She finally decided to stop spending money for that wreck and she became convinced that she could use it even if she could not lock it from the outside.
Besides… Who on earth would steal a car like that?
It was not even as worth as the gasoline in its tank.
But at least she could go to work with a car and in less than four years she could even have boasted to possess a vintage car.
If it had lasted for another four years!
Short of breath for running in the rain, Berenice closed the door and started getting her breath back while drying herself.
When she started up the engine the rain had already stopped.
All she had to do was wait at the coffee bar for another ten minutes and she would not have been wet through and soiled her new shoes.
She cursed the misfortune and engaged first gear, then she left the parking lot setting off for home.
She took the last bend feeling better at the thought that she would have taken off her soaked and sticky clothes shortly after, but just when she was driving in the courtyard of her condominium a car shot out from her left side, cutting in before her.
“You moron! You can’t see the stop sign!” shouted the girl, swerving suddenly to not conclude that day with a street accident.
She was about to regain control over her vehicle, when she saw the wall running along her condominium in front of her.
With her heart still in her mouth for the lucky escape a few seconds earlier, she was able to have enough quick reflexes to brake with all her strength.
The car bumped loudly, making Berenice’s body leap forward so much so that it hit the steering-wheel, although it was fastened by the seat belt. The ‘huge object’ occupying the back seat leaped forward too and then it fell headlong onto the floor behind the front seats.
Dazed and trembling for that succession of disasters, Berenice started the engine again that had stalled because of the sudden braking.
Cursing the horoscope, Sandy and the lucky charms that her colleague always invited her to buy in order to avoid any kind of tragedy, she engaged the reverse and set off for home a few feet away from there.
Another few meters, then I’ll be saved!
She was about to pass the gate, when she heard some noise come from the back seat.
She was too focused on driving after all that she had just went through that took only a quick glance from the rear-view mirror.
From the reflection she caught a glimpse of two menacing eyes looking at her from the inside of her car, but this was enough for her to scream with fright and lose control of the vehicle again, so it crashed into the partition wall of the numbered lots in the residents’ car parking.
No airbag popped out and Berenice found herself with her breasts pressed against the wheel and her right knee hit the dashboard, while the presence behind her hit her seat.
Her moaning with the other’s one became confused.
When Berenice opened her eyes again and saw that the front part of her car was a total wreck, she had to keep from bursting into tears.
Now she did not have even a car!
“Where did you learn to drive?” shouted a furious male voice, making her start in fear.
She tried to turn, but the seat belt was stuck blocking her, so she had to take off.
While she was fiddling with that trap that held her captive, the stranger had already got off the vehicle.
Enraged and frightened, she jumped out of the car, careless about her aching knee.
In front of her she found a boy of about twenty-five trying to stop his nose hemorrhage with the sleeve of his pullover.
“Who are you?” shouted Berenice in return. She did not know whether to kick him for giving her a fright to such an extent that she had wrecked the car, or to help him since his nose had began to puff up and was bleeding freely.
“Look at what you did to me, idiot!” he attacked her furiously, pointing at the swollen bruise on his nose.
“I’m sorry, but maybe you should have thought about it before getting on my car secretly! Look at my car! What a disaster! And now who’ll pay damages?”
“Should I pay for that clunker? Are you out of your mind?! It’s nobody’s fault if you don’t know how to drive!”
“I know how to drive! Excuse me if I was almost struck down by a heart attack when I found a potential homicidal maniac behind me while I was maneuvering!”
“Do I look like a homicidal maniac to you?” said the boy irritated, getting near her.
Although Berenice was still upset, she could not help having a closer look at that face before answering.
She studied him just a moment. She was about to answer rudely, when she was attracted by something behind him.
Just behind him there was one of the posters stuck up by fans of the actors starring in The Supremacy, the movie that was being shot in those days.
It just took a few seconds for her to match perfectly the image of the actor Marc Hailen with that one of the man being in front of her.
She opened her mouth to speak, but she was barely able to make sounds.
“Well, what now?” he went on, more and more irritated, making Berenice’s brain go haywire. This last one was reviewing all the articles and videos that she had seen about him.
“You insured your body for ten million dollars,” was the one thing she could say with a feeble voice, being just about to faint.
“That’s right. And now, unless you want to spend the rest of your life paying for your mistakes, I would advise you to give me some ice and a coffee. At once.”