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African American Fiction Friendship

The Countdown

Every year started the same. On January 1, wake up to the sound of Dad cursing the dying Christmas tree as he struggled to remove the lights and the star." Why do I /*$%4@# let them con me into a real tree yearly, ouch Y.^*#$g?" About then, Mom shouts, "Chows on, get it while it is hot." Only a few hours until there's nothing on TV except football games for almost twenty-four hours. I'm unsure why we do the same things and wish for different outcomes.

Maybe I am stressing over the upcoming events that will unfold tomorrow at work. Tomorrow morning. I will walk past office C-5, where my long-time friend Jane worked for the best years of her life and twenty-plus of mine. I had the pleasure of hearing her latest countdown every Monday morning. For twenty-three years, I would listen to how many days until our next raise, the next week-long training conference, or our follow-up reviews. I looked forward to the daily updates at lunch, maybe because I didn't have a life outside of work or because I was flaky and didn't keep up with the deadlines. Jane was the glue of our team. Senior members of the team and I looked up to Jane, and Junior members knew to ask Jane about the obscure codes that didn't get updated but still helped the social workers.

Tomorrow morning will be the first time I won't get the latest information about the upcoming events that we will need to familiarize ourselves with. Last year, Jane finally stopped counting down the days until retirement. For years, she calculated in months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and even seconds how long she had to work to get her complete 40-year retirement package.

The walk down the hall to my office tomorrow morning will be only the second time I will not see the dimly lit lamp on in C-5. Jane rarely turned on the overhead lighting; she enjoyed the tranquility. She said, "In the dim light, people will relax and forget the lies they told on the phone," was Jane's belief. Maybe that is why she held the most remarkable record for fraud finding in Virginia for fifteen years running. I would be asleep at my desk before and after lunch with nothing but a lamp.

An alabaster-thin blond rocked out to Miami Sound Machine on Monday, October 3, 1987, as I interrupted her focus at the copier. Will you be long, or is there another machine somewhere else? Ma'am? I lay my stack on the table next to hers. "Hey, you must be Kimberly. I'm Jane Ferneyhough, the same fossil that works next door to you in C-5. I meant to greet you and give you the bubble gum tour this morning, but it was a typical first day back from the Holiday season with a family in crisis. Now that I have twenty minutes before my next appointment, can I show you a few things on the only thing here older than me, this copier?" her references to age didn't match her looks or mannerisms. Sure. "Look in this cabinet for a smock before you use this old gal, she spits. I gave up on wearing good clothes on copying day. So, I brought in some of my painting smocks for anyone to use. I'll grab you for lunch at 1 p.m. for the tour and talk. I got to run; see you then." Like a teenager, she ran up the steep stairs.

It's noon, and I hear the game on the TV downstairs. My day will be filled with the classics; each one of these movies offers an inspiring or revealing message:

1. It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey learns:

  • Your life has a purpose
  • Keeping up with the Joneses is crazy
  • Bad guys don't always get punished

2.       In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy Gale discovers:

   Nothing is more valuable than family love

3.      Trading Places, Billy Ray

o    Goes from rags to riches and sticks it to the man like most of us dream of daily.

I watch the same three movies yearly on New Year's Day because it was our thing, Mom and me since we got a color TV. My children won't watch them with me anymore. I hear Dameon, my youngest, telling his cousin Pedro she is doing it again: "Yo, Dro, what's up with our Moms and those old movies on TNT during the holidays? George just heard a bell ring. Next is the damn Munchkins singing Follow the Yellow brick road. The tears will follow that. Then the ice cream and Billy Ray Valentine."

Movie night wraps up the Christmas vacation at midnight.

(alarm beeping @ 5:00 am)

Oh well… Picking up two black coffees and sausage biscuits for us, the newbie and me. I'm now the new training agent. I have big shoes to fill. We start with the most important places: the copy room, the break room, and the employee restrooms. Onto the employee elevators, and I reveal the code but explain why we can't bring clients up in these elevators. Do you understand? "Yes, ma'am. I knew Miss Jane and miss her every day." We walked to C-5. I said if you need anything, I'm in C-7, and I brought us some breakfast if you'd like? Before I could extend my arm, she stopped me. "I'm Muslim and pregnant, so thank you, but no thanks." She looked at me with a puzzled look and closed the door.

Batting zero, I didn't know if I should bother her for lunch. I entered C-7, clicked on the overhead light, and hung up my purse and hat on the hook next to the light switch I installed after the incident that took my friend. I turned toward the window and saw a box under my desk that I didn't leave. I brought home my only present, I thought. When I opened it, the card read: "Well, you're in charge now. So, I'm giving you my emergency kit. It contains everything you'll need to succeed. Inside were five different-sized pamper boxes, three different kinds of formulas, two tampons, sanitary pads, condoms, lollipops, safety pins, rubber bands, and 1 Hershey's kiss. At 12:55 pm, when I went to C-5, it looked undisturbed as if ….?

September 18, 2023 08:10

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6 comments

David Holmes
09:30 Sep 28, 2023

Not sure I understood all the nuances. Maybe because I'm UK based. But as I read the words, I felt I was looking at a series of moving pictures and the people involved in the story. Very difficult to achieve. So very well done.

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Kimberly Walker
00:41 Sep 29, 2023

Thank You I attempted to leave the reader an open-ended ending to ponder, to fill in or not.

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Marty B
21:33 Sep 27, 2023

To me this is a story about change, and how life is a big circle, cycling back over itself. I like how the MC took her friends place, and he cycle began again.

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Kimberly Walker
00:39 Sep 29, 2023

Thank You

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Mary Bendickson
19:40 Sep 18, 2023

'nough said...

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Kimberly Walker
23:57 Sep 18, 2023

Haha, hmmm!

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