In front of a non-descript store-front on a busy Manhattan street, Helen Gil saw something that caught her eye.
‘Let us make you H – APP – Y,’ it read. So obscure was this suggestion that Helen leaned in and immediately wondered if the person who wrote it actually wanted anyone to see it considering how they’d situated the silver writing on the right-hand corner of a rather large glass pane. Helen had only stopped after a burly man inadvertently struck her while she was sipping from her coffee cup, and yet here she was peering into an office with a desk, two chairs, a filing cabinet, and a poster of paradise on a whitewashed wall.
“Why not?” she asked herself. “I mean, this day can’t get worse, can it?”
Helen entered a small office space holding her high heels in one hand, and before she could say anything, the woman behind the desk instructed her to sit. Helen smiled and sat, watching as the woman made many ‘Uhum’ sounds into a headset while she typed. When the woman finished speaking, she flipped the microphone away from her mouth and introduced herself.
“Hi, my name is Carmen. How can I help you?”
“Hi, I’m Helen. Helen Gil. I saw your sign, and I was cur…”
Helen abruptly stopped talking when she noticed Carmen staring.
“Is something the matter?” Helen asked.
Carmen said nothing and pointed to the brown stain where Helen’s right breast made an impression in her shirt.
“Oh that,” she said. “Some idiot railroaded me on the sidewalk while I was drinking my coffee. I mean, he almost knocked me into oncoming traffic, and did he say sorry? No!”
“And the high heels?” Carmen asked.
“I hate the damn things, don’t you? That, and I got a heel stuck in a grate. Look!”
Helen showed Carmen the shoe with half of a heel.
“Sounds like the morning from hell,” Carmen said.
“And then some. Look, can I ask you something?” Helen said.
“Please,” Carmen replied.
Before Helen spoke again, she double-checked her surroundings with narrowed eyes.
“Have you been here long?”
“No reason. It’s just there’s isn’t a whole lot going on here, is there?”
A silence followed while behind Helen a Kit-Cat clock ticked, its eyes moved, and Carmen applied a coat of chap-stick to her lips.
“With all due respect, Ms. Gil. Our clients are only interested in one thing, and it’s not our office furniture.”
“Happiness?” Helen asked, laughing.
“Exactly,” Carmen replied, deadpan.
“And how does one acquire – Happiness?”
“Through the Happy App – what else?”
“I see,” Helen said.
Helen leaned back in her chair when Carmen leaned forward in hers.
“Tell me, Helen, are you happy?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I mean, we could all do with a little more happiness, right?”
“I’m curious, Helen. What do you do for a living?”
“I work in advertising in Manhattan.”
“Mom or Dad?” Carmen asked.
“Mom or Dad – which one worked in advertising?”
“Dad! And how did you know …”
After Carmen leaned a little further across her desk, she steepled her hands with a smile that whitened her lips.
“I bet there’s stuff you dream about saying to people, but you can never find the courage, right?”
Helen considered this, “I guess.”
Helen answered quickly. “No.”
“Mom brings it up all the time, though, right? I bet she says the city is no place for a woman.”
“How did you know …”
“Your mother is wrong, Helen.”
“I know she’s wrong,” Helen announced. “Wait a minute, what the hell is going on here?”
After Carmen snapped her fingers and fell into her seat, she quickly opened a drawer and produced some paper sheets.
“Do you have a pen?” Carmen asked. “Mine’s out of ink.”
“In my bag,” Helen said.
After a moment, Helen produced a pen and slid it in Carmen’s direction.
“Now what?” Helen asked.
“Usually, at this stage of the conversation, you – the subscriber – has a glance at the these, answer the questions, and then signs their name at the bottom in blood.”
“I am kidding – about the blood-part, of course.”
Helen allowed Carmen to slip the pages she was holding into Helen’s hand. Helen read and answered the questions – name, address, Hobbies, favorite books – before stopping at a particular question that someone had already answered.
“Problem?” Carmen asked.
“I’m not sure. The question marked – Are you happy? is already answered.”
“I know,” Carmen said. “You wouldn’t be here if the answer was marked yes, now would you?”
Helen was about to sign her name when she lifted the pen away from the paper and asked,
“What exactly am I agreeing to?”
“My apologies. I almost forgot,” Carmen said. “After you sign the papers, I’ll download the Happy – App onto your cell phone. After that, you’ll be given a two-week trial where the App will control all aspects of your happiness. If, after two weeks, you’re are satisfied with the results, you will incur a small fee of $9.99 a month.”
“That’s it,” Helen said. “An app is going to determine my happiness.”
“Yes, provided you keep your cell phone charged at all times.”
Carmen smiled and held it while the sound of the minute-hand increased.
“Perhaps I should sleep on it, eh?” Helen said as she lowered the pages onto the table while still talking. A moment later, she felt Carmen slip her hands over hers like a blanket.
“Sign the papers, Helen,” Carmen whispered. “You won’t regret it. I promise! Anyway, what’s the worst that could happen?”
After Helen looked at the Kit-Cat clock for approval, she signed her name and handed Carmen her cellphone.
“Bear with me,” Carmen said. “This usually only takes a minute or two.”
A moment later, Carmen handed Helen her cellphone. On the screen was a smiley face without its smile set against a black backdrop.
Helen was staring.
“Use your finger to put a smile on the face, Helen, and you’re good to go.”
Helen woke early the following morning when she heard a rather loud knock on her door.
At first, she ignored it. After all, it was Saturday morning, but the knocking persisted.
“Enough already,” she announced. “I’m coming!” Helen opened the door with one eye closed while wrestling with her robe.
“Jaye, what the hell is going on? I thought my apartment building was on fire.”
Jaye, Helen’s partner of two years, immediately dropped the box he held, blocking the doorway while his teeth gnawed at his bottom lip.
“Jaye, what is it? And why is my stuff in a box?”
“You’re kidding me, right?” Jaye asked. “I mean, this is what you want, isn’t it?”
“What I want? What the hell are you talking about? It’s seven-thirty in the morning.”
Jaye briefly glanced at his watch, “I hadn’t noticed. I guess I’ve been up all night.”
As Helen’s eyes began to loosen, she noticed Jaye had a lot of energy, although he clearly didn’t know what to do with it.
“Jaye, how much coffee have you had?”
“Ha, coffee,” Jaye said rather loudly. “How could you do this to me? I mean, how could you type such nasty things about me and then casually break up with me as if I mean nothing to you.”
Helen’s head shook after she finally got around to tying her robe.
“What on earth are you talking about? I didn’t send you anything last night. I didn’t send anyone anything. I came home, had a bite to eat, and then fell asleep in front of the T.V.”
Helen was still talking when Jaye began slapping his coat and rear pockets when he produced his cellphone after a moment.
“What’s wrong with the way I chew?” he asked, reading from his cell.
“Excuse me,” Helen said.
Jaye read on, “The sound of you chewing, slurping, tapping, even breathing makes me want to take a bread knife to your throat. Thanks, Hel, if I’d have known how you felt, I’d have taken the bread knife to my throat myself.”
“I never said that,” Helen said.
“Sure, you didn’t, just like you didn’t say all that stuff about my bedroom habits.”
“What did I say about your bedroom habits?”
“Oh, come on, as if I’m going to announce to the apartment block what you really think of me when the lights go out. And for the record, that time in Vermont was as much your fault as it was mine.”
“Vermont? That was two years ago.”
“And still,” Jaye said, “and still it keeps you up at night.”
“Jaye, can you calm down? Please! Look, allow me to get my cell, and I’ll show you I didn’t send any messages – hurtful or otherwise.”
Jaye scoffed. “You know, if you wanted to break up, you should have said. I mean, breaking up is one thing but humiliating me is quite another.”
Helen extended her hand, but Jaye refused it with a look, “Jaye, please. Come in and let us sort this.”
“I feel like an idiot, Helen. And all because I thought you and I had a good thing going when behind it all, you were busy trying to find ways to dump me. Well, congratulations. Your onslaught of abuse worked.”
Before leaving, Jaye thought about kicking the box full of clothes, keepsakes, and toiletries, but that wasn’t his style. He did ball his fist, though, insinuating to Helen how much he’d love to punch a hole in the drywall.
“Jaye, where are you going? Jaye, come back.”
“Monster,” Jaye yelled over his shoulder.
“What about him?” Helen asked.
“I’m keeping him.”
“But he’s my cat. Jaye? Jaye, come back.”
After Helen drank two mugs of coffee, she scoured her cell phone half a dozen times. The last message she sent Jaye was at nine-thirty pm, and that read, ‘Before I forget, we ought to try the new restaurant on Lafayette.’ While Jaye’s reply was, ‘Consider it done.’
Helen felt pain building behind her eyes, a tension in her neck resulting from hours staring at a screen. She put the cell phone to one side and closed her eyes, thinking of ways to fix things with Jaye. Suddenly, her phone pinged. The Happy – App was alive, the yellow smiley face was pulsating on the screen, and the smile Helen drew yesterday was slightly larger.
I feel … okay, she thought. I mean, I wanted to end things but Jaye for some time now. Not like this, of course, but …
Helen thought about something else – laundry that needed seeing to – when Jaye’s face appeared in front of her for a moment, and guilt set in.
“Jesus, what have I done?” she announced.
After a shower and a half-cooked plan to make things right with Jaye, Helen received a phone call from Sharleen Huxtable, Booyah advertising’s senior assistant.
“Ms. Ruggles wants to speak with you A – S – A – P.”
“But it’s Saturday,” Helen said.
“You have one hour, Helen.”
And then Sharleen signed off with a dial tone.
Thirty minutes later, and the journey to the twenty-fifth floor of the MetLife became somewhat more daunting when the super informed Helen that all the elevators were out of order.
“All of them?” Helen asked.
“All of them,’ the super said as he hung more ticker tape in front of the elevators.
By the time Helen reached Booyah’s glass doors, she could taste the sweat cruising down her spine. She’d only stopped to catch her breath when on the opposite side of the glass, she saw Sharleen Huxtable tap her watch and mouth the words, “Ms. Ruggles is waiting.”
Helen didn’t need to knock on Ms. Ruggle’s office door. It was open.
“Ms. Ruggles, is everything okay? I got here as quick as I could.”
“Sit down, Helen. We need to talk.”
Helen sat while Ms. Ruggles continued to read with her hand over her mouth and her eyebrows furrowed. A moment later, she closed the file folder and removed her glasses before exercising her eyes.
“Care to explain?” she asked, pointing to the folder.
“I’m sorry,” Helen said, “but I’m not quite sure I understand.”
“You should! I mean, you wrote it. Sharleen called it a ... Manifesto.”
“Me? I wrote a Manifesto. When?”
“How the hell do I know when you wrote it, Helen. All I know is that you emailed every member of staff, including me – your boss and sole owner of Booyah – to let us know how you really feel about working here.”
“No. No, I didn’t. I can assure you, Ms. Ruggles, that whatever is in that folder was not written by me.”
“Helen, the opening paragraph details how much you want people to know that every word is … and I quote ‘From the heart.’ Not to mention but you sent it from your personal email!”
“Doris – Ms. Ruggles – I swear on my mother’s life, I did not write a Manifesto. I mean, …”
“Helen, you’re fired! Collect your belongings and get the hell out of my office. Mine – not my fathers.”
“Your father’s?” Helen asked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Ms. Ruggles swiped the folder from her desk and thumbed the pages until she found the one she was looking for. She cleared her throat.
“The way Ms. Ruggles talks about hard work does nothing but make me laugh. I mean, she does know her father handed her a million-dollar company for her fortieth birthday, right? And she’s been behaving like Lady Godiva ever since. Correct me if I’m wrong, fellow members of staff, but how cringe-worthy is it when Ms. Ruggles tells new clients her ‘Rags to Riches’ story?”
“You don’t honestly believe I wrote that, do you?” Helen asked.
“Ms. Gill, by the time I’m finished with you, you’ll never work in this city again. Does that answer your question?”
Helen felt her knees begin to shake and decided she needed to quickly leave before security tossed her onto the sidewalk like yesterday’s trash.
“By the way, Helen. Good luck. I hope your little coffee shop works out.”
“Coffee shop? What coffee shop?”
Ms. Ruggles pointed to the folder one last time before she tossed it to the trash can beside her and announced, “I believe you said something to the effect, ‘As soon as I tell Ms. Ruggles and Booyah Advertising to kiss my ass, I’m going to open a nice little coffee shop upstate where people actually care about one another.”
Helen decided she didn’t want her belongings sitting on Sharleen Huxtable’s desk, so she headed straight for the elevator, where she stood for five minutes before realizing the damn thing was out of order. In her pocket, her cell continuously pinged until she took it in her hand and acknowledged the ever-growing smile on the screen.
“Not happening,” she whispered to herself before pulling the cell closer to her mouth. “This is one big coincidence, you hear me?” she whispered again. Helen doesn’t remember the walk down the stairs nor the walk home, but she did remember the needles of rain hitting her face as she avoided one call after another from her mother.
Helen spent Sunday in bed with the curtains closed, the music on, and a smile on her face. Meanwhile, her mother continued to call her cellphone. Helen could have been between dreams, she wasn’t sure, but at some stage, she thought she heard her mother yelling from the opposite side of her apartment door. By nine – am the following morning, Helen Gill was standing in the Happy App office.
“Ms. Gill, it’s been two – days. I guess the Happy App is not for you, eh?”
“Quite the opposite,” Helen said. “In fact, I don’t want to wait two weeks. “
“Oh,” Carmen said.
“Yes, I’d like to sign up for the Happy App permanently.”
“Ms. Gill, that’s a record even for us. Care to tell us why?”
“Let’s just say I’ve got a few things off my chest that has been holding me back.”
“Excellent, Ms. Gill. Let me get the paperwork.”
Helen had one more comment to make when her cellphone rang.
“Do you mind?” Helen asked with a smile. “I really need to take this. It’s my Mother. And right now, I’m pretty sure there are a few things she needs to get off her chest.”
“By all means, Ms. Gill, take as long as you need. I imagine that particular phone call is years, if not decades, in the making.”