Monday, September 14, 2020

Who To Call In Case Of Emergency by Marina Rubin

Tulip's mundane work environment is brightened by her adventurous, bubbly and promiscuous co-worker; by Marina Rubin.

You can learn a lot about other people's lives when you ask for their emergency contact number. A daunting task Tulip undertook with a mix of idealistic dedication and administrative weariness, when one of her colleagues, a senior underwriter, Didi Estefanos, fainted at work. Everyone ran around the office, scrambling to find a number for her next of kin as she lay on the floor unconscious, her feet in thick brown stockings protruding from the partition of her cubicle. As the crowd swayed above her, spewing water on her face and wailing Didi, Didi, someone found her profile on Facebook, tracked down her son and sent him an SOS message. By the time two masculine paramedics rolled in and strapped Didi onto a stretcher, someone was already on the phone with her frantic son, Nicholas, instructing him to meet his mother at Mount Sinai Hospital.

"Would you look at that man?" Senna, the new girl from marketing, whispered into Tulip's ear, smiling at a tall paramedic with a sleeve tattoo. "It's true what they say - New York has the best looking men!" Senna had recently relocated from Florida so most of her sentences began with "It's true what they say" and were awe-inspired declarations about her new city.

Tulip had seen the tall paramedic before. Twice. Once, when the Operations Manager collapsed with a stroke and, of course, the staff struggled to find his emergency contact number since the one on file in HR was from twenty years ago - his father who had long been gone; and the second time, when one of the salespeople had a seizure while closing a deal on the phone.

"What kind of business is this?" the paramedic sneered, shoving consent papers into his EMS bag. "Everybody gets rolled out on a stretcher! What do you people do here?"

"Healthcare insurance." Tulip shrugged, failing to see what he was implying.

Then she watched Senna, in a surprising display of concern, chase Didi's stretcher down the hall and plunge into the elevator, like a puma, behind the handsome paramedic.

Tulip returned to her desk and, as if on a mission, composed a fervent email to the entire department letting them know she was collecting emergency contact numbers, "so we can avoid another Didi situation". In the coming days, emails floated from every direction, from benefit clerks to C-level executives, offering up names and numbers of loved ones: "...My wife Susan... my husband Edward... my brother Boris... my mother Beverly..." hoping they would never be used, the urgent phone calls that would never have to be made. Tulip included her husband George, although he was impossible to reach, a criminal attorney who spent most of his day in court. Tulip's boss, McNally, a devout Catholic and a perpetually angry ex-alcoholic barked, "If I drop dead, I don't want you calling anybody. Let them throw me to the dogs!"

As the spreadsheet expanded into several pages and circulated around the office like some kind of a death list, there was still no news of Didi. Some speculated she was in a hospital undergoing observation, while others joked she was already on the beach in Barbados, collecting disability.

One morning Senna appeared in Tulip's cubicle and, pressing her body against the grey fabric panel, said enigmatically, "I know you are collecting emergency contact numbers, I'm going to give you my children's father's number."

"Sure, that's fine," Tulip replied, not looking up from her computer.

"Well, he's my ex-husband, actually," Senna clarified, hanging her face on the divider and staring at Tulip with oval eyes full of longing. "But we are not together; the children are with him though... well, they're in boarding school."

An attractive woman in her late 30s with long bleached hair and large breasts, Senna told everyone she had always wanted to live in New York, it had been her life-long dream. She was renting a basement apartment in Brooklyn that she called a dungeon. "It has the allure of a dungeon," she once said at a staff meeting, with tenacity and pride.

"I didn't know a dungeon could have allure!" McNally jeered behind her back.

But Tulip liked Senna. There was a certain endearing quality to her, she was like one of those porcelain dolls, one minute beautiful in a box in a pastel ballerina skirt and the next ashen and warped, left outside in the rain with one eye broken and a dirty dress.

"Actually let me think about it, maybe I will give you someone other than my ex-husband," Senna said broodingly and walked away, bumping into McNally.

"What did she want?" McNally asked, dropping off a report on Tulip's desk.

"She was giving me her emergency contact number."

"Weirdo," McNally hissed and disappeared.

Next day Senna told Tulip by the water cooler, "I'll give you my Daddy's number."

"Great. Is your father here or in Florida?"

"No, he's not my father," Senna laughed. "He's my Daddy... you know, like my master."

"You have a master?"

"I'm in an S&M relationship," Senna said, beaming. "It's true what they say - you can be and do anything you want in New York!"

At home during dinner, Tulip told her husband George about the new girl Senna who apparently had a master. George nodded and yawned, "to each his own." That night in bed, he rolled on top of her and, nuzzling her ear, teased that he was now her master and she better obey him.

On Friday, McNally announced that Didi Estefanos was not coming back to work any time soon, she was officially on long-term disability, and no, he didn't know what was wrong with her. The team filed out of the conference room with an intense sense of envy and resentment towards their sick, stay-at-home colleague. Senna came over to Tulip's desk and declared, "I'll give you a different emergency contact number. It's my neighbor..."

"What happened to Daddy?"

"We had a fight."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"He's such an inconsiderate jerk!" Senna confessed, biting her nails. "He set up a date with this girl and forgot to tell me so I could schedule a date for myself too. Who does that?"

Tulip shook her head. "I hear you. Men are the worst. My husband won't even put his plate in the dishwasher after he finishes eating." Then she leaned in closer. "So it's kind of like... an open relationship? Sorry, I don't know much about these things."

"Open but very committed. We do play dates together and separate, with couples, and singles. It keeps our love fresh and exciting... It's just that he should have given me a heads-up so we could sync our calendars, you know what I mean?"

"Right... right," Tulip nodded.

"You think it's ok if I give you my neighbor's number?" Senna asked, still agonizing.

"Senna, it's just a list! A formality. In case of emergency. If anything should happen to you in the office. Hopefully nothing will happen to you in the office and they won't have to carry you out on a stretcher. Your neighbor's number is just fine! Don't worry."

"Of course. Nothing will happen." Senna smiled, holding up tightly crossed fingers.

In time, Senna and Tulip became chatty confidantes. When they met in the elevator on Monday mornings, they inquired about each other's weekend. Senna was always eager to share her stories, no matter who was around to hear them - here she was making a guest star appearance at some elite orgy, or dressing up as a bumblebee in a simple threesome. Tulip's weekends lacked the same kind of luster and sensationalism, but still, she kept up conversation by recalling her two days of cooking, cleaning and driving her ten-year old daughter, Abby, to ballet classes and gymnastics. When the two women bumped into each other in the hall, they shared a giggling hi-five. When they met in the kitchen for a snack, they always took a minute to whisper what an insufferable prick their boss, McNally, was and couldn't someone just put him out of his misery.

Eventually they discovered they both liked foreign films - naïve romantic comedies starring unattractive yet lovable French men with big noses. They also enjoyed the same kind of music - brooding guitar ballads by Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. They started having lunch at a little Indian place down the street called Ms. Bombay, where they always ordered the same appetizer, aloo papri chat - chickpeas in tangy sauce - and shared chicken tikka masala, wrapping chunks of meat in Peshwari naan. "Can you believe this naan?" Senna gushed every time. "It has raisins and nuts! Only in New York!"

Senna told Tulip about her life back in Sarasota, how she married her high school sweetheart and gave birth in succession to two boys, Chris and Kyle. How she came to be interested in the underground S&M scene; at first her husband joined her at parties at the swingers' club, and when it escalated to dark cellars, chains and fetishes, he opted out, said he was concerned for her safety, but by that time they had nothing in common, and he couldn't stop her. She was still a young, attractive woman and didn't want to live in a matrimonial tomb. So she moved to New York. She met Daddy on-line. "There are websites and user groups for this kind of thing," Senna explained to Tulip, who listened, wide-eyed, her cheeks pudgy from Indian bread infused with nuts. She even told her how she once had sex in suspension, "You haven't had sex until you've done it suspended in the air!"

"Ok, stop, please!" Tulip yelled, covering her ears, "I don't think I want to hear any more."



"So you're now friends with the dominatrix?" Tulip's husband George snickered one night, brushing his teeth before bed. "I hope she doesn't recruit you into the world of bondage."

"You don't need to worry about that," Tulip laughed. "It's the last thing I would want to try! She is sweet, you know, and amusing. I'm not even sure if what she says is true... But she has this touching enthusiasm for life, New York, sex, even naan! Plus, she is not a dominatrix, honey, she must be a submissive, right? She has a Daddy."

George, gurgling mouthwash, muttered something along the lines of you know better, and went into the bedroom tugging at his pajama pants.

"Did I tell you I had a date with the paramedic?" Senna broadcasted one day in the kitchen.

There were other people around, stirring oatmeal, making coffee, slicing grapefruit. Senna did not care what anyone thought. Tulip often wondered if she did it on purpose, shocked people.

"How was it?" Tulip whispered, signaling for Senna to keep it down.

"We met for a drink, then went back to his place. It was very vanilla."

"Vanilla," Tulip repeated, nervously looking around.

That word, the flavor of ice cream she never ordered, came back to her on the train going home to Glen Rock... Vanilla... Was Tulip's life in suburban New Jersey vanilla? As in plain, dull, without flavor or spark? Her job, her marriage, her sex life? Not that she wanted to have sex in suspension, or wear leather in a room full of strangers, hell no, but the thought, as small as a sliver of an almond in a Peshwari naan, nestled between her teeth and would not budge. She was happily married, she loved her husband; when they met in college he was applying to law school and they were such a team, so committed to getting him through it that by the time he graduated and got a job at a prestigious law firm, yes the spark was gone and so was the passion, but this was their joint achievement, a real triumph, plus they already had a beautiful daughter, and Tulip was all gratitude, but that word - vanilla, that sliver of an almond...

For their office summer outing the company organized a scavenger hunt. Everyone ran around the Meatpacking district, agonizing over trick questions and looking for clues in the bricks of the buildings and inside the elevators of the overpriced Chelsea Market. "Which structure used to be a church, a nightclub, a shopping mall and now a sports club?" Insurance adjusters and claim processors struggled to answer on a sweltering day in Manhattan. Senna was wearing a pair of tiny jean shorts and high heels as she leaped over cobblestones, solving demanding brainteasers, winking at construction workers and tossing excited exaltations about the history and beauty of the city.

"Look at her," McNally grumbled as he trudged alone, behind all the teams, smoking a cigar and scratching his rotund stomach, "the only thing she's missing is a balloon cluster!"

Senna's team won. Wearing medals around their necks that looked like chocolate wrapped in gold foil, they celebrated in a seedy bar in Union Square. Tulip had to leave early to attend Abby's ballet recital, so Senna stayed with the analysts from Logistics. Later on she was joined by a petite, dark-haired woman with a wedding ring and a briefcase. "This is my neighbor and lover Francesca," Senna introduced her to a few remaining, intoxicated co-workers. They reported that the two women were fondling each other at the bar until a glistening Mercedes came to pick them up and whisked them to an unknown destination. Next morning Senna told Tulip how sorry she was she missed Francesca, her neighbor and her lover, the one she was telling her about, the one who would be her emergency contact.

"It's alright," Tulip insisted, "I don't need to meet your emergency contact."

The following week, on Friday, Senna was all pins and needles, awaiting a FedEx delivery. "Have you seen the postman?" she asked every executive assistant, madly dashing towards the reception area to see if anything had arrived. She and Daddy were leaving for the long weekend at an exclusive S&M retreat in the Catskills and she had bought a lamp on Amazon to decorate their tent. "It's a beautiful white lotus lantern with twenty leaf string lights," she told Tulip, almost in tears, showing her photos on the Internet. "I was going to hang it around our tent like a garland, so it's festive and inviting, and more people will come to visit us."

"Don't worry," Tulip comforted her. "It's still early, I'm sure it'll arrive."

Oh, how Senna screamed when the FedEx man appeared on the floor.

A week later, the building security office was conducting a fire drill and forced everyone to leave their desks and assemble in the hall by the elevators. As the fire warden droned on about what to do in case of an emergency, Tulip noticed how three women from Payroll with strangely similar hair bobs were whispering to each other and pointing in Senna's direction.

"I need two volunteers to be Floor Searchers," the warden announced, looking at the gloomy faces in the crowded hallway. "One male and one female. The role of a Searcher is very important. In case of fire, you must search the restrooms, offices, conference rooms and instruct all the floor occupants to evacuate. Do I have any volunteers?"

There was an ear-piercing silence and everyone looked at each other.

"Alright, I'll do it," Greg, the HR Manager, like a white angel, descended onto the floor.

"I guess I could be the female Searcher," Senna raised her hand.

"Great! Please come up to me and give me your names. This concludes our fire drill, thank you," the warden said in a raspy voice, as everyone trailed back to the office.

"Knowing her, she'll be checking the men's room first and we'll never see her again," McNally snorted under his breath, loud enough for the interns from Group Benefits to exchange glances and burst out laughing.

The word about Senna was spreading around the firm, and Tulip felt bad for her friend.

"You know, you don't have to tell everyone about your life," she said to Senna in one of the little nooks of the office. "No one needs to know about your lesbian affair with the neighbor, or the hot date with the paramedic, or Daddy and the orgies you attend every weekend. Really, it's no one's business. It's your private life!"

"But my life is not a secret," Senna insisted. "I married young and lived like a nun for years until I realized I deserve better. I have nothing to hide. I'm proud. I'm finally living!"

For her birthday, a pair of shiny thigh-high boots in black patent leather with laces up the back was delivered to the office. Senna hiked up her skirt and tried them on at her desk.

"Daddy sent them!" she exclaimed excitedly. "He's taking me to the opera! We're seeing Aida at the Met!"

"You're not wearing those to the opera, are you?" Tulip asked in a thin, shocked voice.

"Oh no, of course not. These are for the party we are going to on Saturday."

"What do you wear them with?" Tulip asked, feeling the pleather with her fingertips.

"Anything you want, really, or nothing at all! You can always dress them up with a pair of long gloves, or a classic headband."

"Well, have a great time at the opera!" Tulip wished her friend, just as she noticed, from the corner of her eye, McNally standing in the middle of the office, shaking his head back and forth and staring at the black sleek boots, as if they were the cadaver of an animal.

A month later, completely by accident, Tulip met Daddy. On some idle Tuesday when Tulip's husband was working late and her daughter was at a sleep-away camp, Tulip and Senna were having a drink after work. A man in a grey suit and tie surprised Senna from behind by covering her eyes and commanding her to smell his fingers. Bald, stocky, in thick dark-rimmed glasses, the man whom Senna introduced as her Daddy, her master, her lover who fulfilled every one of her fantasies, literally looked like her father, a severe man with a humorless expression, someone the IRS would send to conduct an audit at an automotive company in Detroit.

Senna and Daddy insisted on driving Tulip home. Tulip sat in the backseat, watching Senna weave her arms around Daddy like a willow tree, as he drove in silence with the tempo and precision of a German tankman. Tulip wondered why they were driving her to New Jersey, so completely out of their way. Did they know no one would be home, was this a ploy to get her into bed, did they want her for a threesome, was she being recruited into the world of bondage? They dropped her off in front of her house just as George was pulling down the curtains on the bay window. Tulip breathed a sigh of relief. Daddy stepped out of the car and gallantly opened the door for her.

"Who was that?" George asked when Tulip walked in.

"You are not going to believe it. That was Daddy!"

"Daddy? You mean, your crazy co-worker's S&M master? He looked more like a Certified Public Accountant from KPMG... Do we have anything to eat?"

Sometime in November, it suddenly became bone chilling and viciously windy. "It's true what they say - New York is a toothless witch of a winter," Senna announced. Having moved from Florida, she did not have any warm clothes, so she layered her summer shirts and wore the company sweatshirt advertising their new PPO plan on top. Tulip hated watching her shiver in the revolving doors of the building. Daddy should have bought the poor girl a coat, instead of those hideous knock-me-down-and-fuck-me boots, Tulip thought to herself, fuming. Instead of saying anything, she opened her closets. With care and dedication, she picked a few warm sweaters, a scarf, a hat, woolen socks, even mittens. Then she added a Burberry double-breasted cashmere coat she had snatched up on sale at Neiman Marcus. Something every lawyer's wife should own, she wore it once to a holiday party at George's law firm, now it adorned her closet like a mistletoe, something pretty but useless. She took it off the hanger and threw it in the bag.

"You can have these for the winter," she handed the bag to Senna on Monday.

"Oh my God, you shouldn't have. Thank you so much. That is so sweet," the Florida ex-pat jumped up and hugged her friend. Then she tried on the coat and even though she was taller and bigger in the bust than Tulip, the coat fit her perfectly.

And then the morning arrived when Senna was circling Tulip's cubicle, fidgeting and fretting about something, until she finally came out with it and asked Tulip to be her emergency contact. There was something so heartrending and pitiful about the way she asked, smiling, standing by Tulip's desk, still wearing the coat, holding out banana bread she had made over the weekend in a plastic container like some kind of sacrilegious offering, that Tulip had to look away.

"What happened to Daddy?"

"I don't think he wants to be my Daddy anymore," Senna said, biting her chipped nails. "He found someone younger, and prettier."

"I am sorry. What about your lesbian lover, that neighbor Francesca, or something?"

"Her husband found out and threatened to divorce her if she didn't stop seeing me."

Tulip sighed. "Look, Senna, I can't be your emergency contact, it's ridiculous. We work in the same office. It has to be someone from outside, you know, like a family member or a friend."

"Why?" Senna objected.

"Well, for starters..." Tulip tried to elaborate, until she realized she couldn't come up with anything reasonable, and that's when she folded, "You know what - okay, you got me!"

"Really?" Senna lit up. "Great! Can you put it down in the spreadsheet?"

At night, Tulip was having dinner with her husband and her daughter, a new crock-pot roast beef recipe she was trying with red-skinned potatoes, when her phone rang. It was Senna. "I'm just calling to activate my emergency contact number," she said, laughing like a gloriously happy child.



Sometime around Thanksgiving, rumors, like pocket-sized mice, were scurrying across the office and making squeaking noises in the walls. Employees congregated by the water cooler, in the hallways, in the kitchen, whispering, shaking heads, weighing in on the latest news. Didi Estefanos was not coming back to work, in fact, she had slapped the company with a massive lawsuit, claiming everything from emotional abuse to sexual harassment, ageism, racism, and all kinds of atrocities that had caused her to collapse in the office and get rolled out on a stretcher. What was wrong with her exactly, what particular ailment she was inflicted with, no one knew. Since all the tests came back negative, the doctors assumed it was stress. She hired a high-powered attorney who specialized in harassment in the workplace. The company executives from around the country flew into the New York office and spent long days in glass conference rooms, behind closed doors, talking into round speakerphones that lay in the middle of the table like UFO plates. They walked out, exasperated, wheezing, loosening their ties, pooh-poohing the process, and hurried along to lunches and dinners at the lavish New York restaurants they enjoyed on their expense accounts. Greg, a highly respected HR Manager and a proud gay man since the 80s, was seen standing outside the building, wiping his face with a paper towel. McNally was in and out of meetings, giving testimony, defending himself. "Sexual harassment my ass," he was heard screaming, "that old hag was a hundred years old!"

Meanwhile, a Thanksgiving sale was in full swing at Bloomingdale's down the street. All the girls from the office were shopping in the intimates department. Tulip always joked how their check was directly deposited into the iconic department store.

"I need your honest opinion." Senna came up to Tulip one day with a shopping bag. "I bought this corset for a party on Friday. But I'm not sure if it fits me right. Could you please take a look and tell me the truth, please!"

"Sure." Tulip nodded. "Let me just finish this report."

"Great, meet me in the bathroom in ten minutes."

When Tulip walked into the bathroom, the small vestibule with a full-length mirror and a few armchairs, was empty. She proceeded into the lavatory, it was empty as well, except for the one stall at the end where Senna was fiddling with zippers, swooshing fabric. Someone had left the water running in the sink, Tulip turned off the faucet and waited. Finally, the stall door opened and Senna appeared, wearing just a corset and a pair of a high heels.

"Oh wow!" Tulip squealed, veering her face to the side as if someone had just punched her. "Wow," she repeated, violently, "wow."

"What do you think?" Senna asked, standing in the middle of the bathroom, anxious, alert, her breasts bulging from a see-through corset, her shaved pale vagina on display.

"Looks great," Tulip said, her hand raised to her temple, partially blocking the view.

"Does it make me look fat?"

"No, it looks fine, not fat at all," Tulip stuttered, looking away, focusing on a crack in a tile. She did not expect to see her friend wearing nothing but high heels and a corset. She reasoned there was no real necessity to take off her pants or the skirt that she was wearing, let alone her underwear, to demonstrate a corset, especially one that went only to her belly button. And why the high heels? For the full dramatic effect, the big picture?

"Do you think it's tight in the back?" Senna turned around, flexing her muscular buttocks.

"No... Not tight at all."

"You don't think it's too small in the breasts?"

"No, it's great," Tulip repeated, making an effort to hide her embarrassment.

"Are you sure? You're not just saying it?"

"Definitely! You'll be a huge hit at the party on Saturday," Tulip assured her, as she hurried out the door, blaming an urgent report she forgot to do.

She ran out of the bathroom and walked down the hall, shell-shocked, frazzled, smoothing wisps of hair on top of her head, grinning to herself, imagining her husband's face when she told him tonight what had just happened, how he would fall off his chair, laughing.

"What's so funny?"

Tulip bumped into McNally, who was always stalking the hallways and had an uncanny talent for appearing at the most opportune place at the most opportune time. "What is it?" he demanded, studying Tulip's face. "You look strange... Is everything alright?"

"Yes, fine," Tulip, taken off guard, giggled in a surge of nervousness. "I was in the bathroom with Senna, she asked me to look at this corset she bought at Bloomingdale's, but... she was wearing nothing but a corset, you know..." Tulip laughed uncontrollably. "Oh, and high heels too," she added, slowly gaining composure and realizing her mistake.

McNally stood quietly, his arms folded on his stomach, listening.

That night, when Tulip told her husband about the encounter in the office bathroom, he did not fall off his chair laughing, as she expected. He turned surprisingly serious and asked her all kinds of questions, as if she was a witness on a stand, or a victim, or maybe even a co-conspirator.

"And what did you do?"

"Nothing, I ran out of the bathroom..."

"Why did she do that?"

"I don't know, she's probably an exhibitionist..."

"What is the nature of your relationship?"

"You can't be serious, honey... That's it. I am going to bed."

A few days later, Tulip was in the office kitchen, draping almond butter onto a Granny Smith apple, when Greg, the HR Manager, approached her and invited her in for a chat.

In a corner office crammed with ceramic bowls and teacups that Greg made in the pottery class his partner Rob bought him for his birthday, the tired HR Manager offered Tulip a chair and asked if she wanted anything to drink. She looked at the large pitcher of water sitting on the side of the table, a testament to the many people who came through this office in the last few days, and immediately said, "Greg, I don't know much about Didi, or whatever her claims are... She seemed like a nice lady, very erudite, but other than that I have nothing to add."

"Tulip, I didn't ask you here to talk about Didi," Greg said in a serious tone.

"Okay..." she looked at him, waiting.

"I want you to know this is a safe place and everything you say here is confidential."

"O-kay..."

"Tell me what happened with Senna," he said compassionately. "We have zero tolerance for sexual harassment and abuse in this company, and you did the right thing by reporting her."

"What?" Tulip jumped up. "What do you mean what happened with Senna? What do you mean, reported her?"

"McNally came into HR and filed a complaint on your behalf. He said that your colleague, Senna Andrews, has created a sexually abusive environment for you... Tulip, if Senna has sexually abused you, or harassed you in any way, you need to tell me right now."

"Sexually abused me?"

"Look, we received a complaint... It went all the way to the CEO. Of course, the big wigs upstairs are worried about you suing the company, but I care about your well-being."

"Suing the company? Is this some kind of a joke?"

"There is nothing funny about sexually unwanted advances, especially in the workplace, especially now - with the MeToo situation, we take these matters very seriously."

"This is not a MeToo situation!" she burst out, enraged. "No one harassed me! Not me! This is a NotMe situation!"

"Okay," Greg looked at her keenly. "Then why did you report her?"

"I didn't," she covered her face with her hands.

"Well, you communicated the entire bathroom incident to your manager, Eric McNally. To tell you the truth, I was surprised. I thought you and Senna were friends."

"We are friends," Tulip sighed, a tear rolling down her cheek.

"Then I don't understand what happened. Why did you report her?"

"I did not report her... McNally snuck up on me. That's what he does - he stalks the hallways like a creeper, and he just caught me off guard..."

"I don't know if you realize it, but your accusations could get Senna fired."

"No!" Tulip exclaimed. "It was a mistake, a misunderstanding. I don't want her fired. It was a mistake. Nothing happened. Greg, you have to help me. Don't let her get fired!"

She rushed out of the office and took the elevator down to the lobby. She ran across the street, sat down on a fire hydrant in front of her building and dialed her husband George. He didn't pick up. It was late afternoon and he was usually in court at this time. She kept dialing his number frantically and it kept going into voicemail. She looked at the gnarled trees around her and it suddenly occurred to her that if this was an emergency, if she was sprawled out in the middle of the street unconscious, or taken out on a stretcher from the office, no one would be able to reach George, and she finally understood what Senna had been agonizing over all this time. Tulip looked up at their building. Senna was somewhere on the 24th floor, and so was McNally, and HR, and the big wigs; what was happening up there, she wondered, what were they doing to Senna now?

At night when Tulip finally saw her husband and told him about her surprise meeting with HR, he put down his fork and somberly expressed his disappointment - she had played it all wrong, she should have consulted him first.

"You can't be serious, George."

"When your HR rep said they were worried about you suing the company, he was right. They should be worried, because this was an open and shut case. And if you had teamed up with this Didi woman and joined her lawsuit this would have been a winning case. But instead you chose to defend your little girlfriend."

"I can't believe you're saying this nonsense," she hissed. "I would never accuse a friend of such wrongdoing and get her into trouble like this."

"What are you defending?" George scoffed. "Your lusty little encounter in the fitting room?"

"It wasn't lusty!" Tulip shrieked, slamming the door. "And it wasn't a fitting room, it was a bathroom!" she corrected him, slamming the door again.

There were many slammed doors that night which ignited a bit of spark in Tulip's otherwise vanilla life.



When she came to work the next day, absolutely nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Every one of her colleagues was sitting at their desks, in their cubicles, in front of their computers, doing what they were paid to do. Greg was in his office with his door closed. McNally was on the phone with his back towards the exit. Tulip looked across the floor, studied the layout of the office, and for the first time noticed the precise division of the cubicles, the symmetrical way in which the partitions were mapped out, like prison cells, or a closed mouse maze.

Senna did not get fired. Whether it was Greg's humanitarian efforts or McNally's endless maneuvering, she was transferred to another group, the only division that did not report to McNally. Was she ever called into HR, reprimanded, given a warning? Did she ever find out who reported her, Tulip often wondered with trepidation. But after the bathroom incident, she started avoiding Senna. When Senna asked if she was free for lunch at their favorite, Ms. Bombay, Tulip told her she brought lunch from home, or had an important client meeting, or was running to a spin class at the gym. When Senna invited her for drinks after work, Tulip lied again and blamed PTA meetings, ballet recitals, and date nights with the hubby.

One day Senna came over to Tulip's desk and asked her if she would look at a necklace she bought downstairs. "You would tell me the truth if it was gaudy, right?"

"Sure, let me see it." Tulip nodded with an old familiar smile.

But when Senna told her to meet her in the bathroom, Tulip looked at her for a long time and finally said, "We don't really need to go to the bathroom to try on a necklace. You can just put it on right here in this cubicle."

Senna went to get the necklace and never came back.

6 comments:

  1. A very interesting story, manic characters and pacing, and a look at contemporary issues... libertines and puritans, the straight life and the wild life, the me too movement etc. A bit of a satire of office life perhaps. Tulip was just trying to do her best and cope in a mad world.

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  2. Wow! Thank you for your comment! You nailed it!

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  3. A satire of office life, definitely. Good characterisation, of both Tulip and Senna. I was waiting throughout for Senna to be found to be leading a completely normal and ordinary life... but this didn't happen.

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  4. Very well-written, laced with good tension and subtle humor. Keeps the reader guessing whether Senna's story will take a darker turn or a turn toward the mundane, also whether Tulip will cross the line into Senna's world.

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  5. The story raises the deep question of life: whom to contact in case of an emergency? Who cares for whom? To what extent? Then the ending moves to Senna, who reveals her true self. She does not really care who cares for her. A learning experience for Tulip.

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  6. Very funny, and extremely well-observed.

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