to eat cereal at 3 PM. No, let me try that again: I need to eat cereal at 3 PM.
For breakfast I have half a banana, and
I bring the other half to work. I also bring two strawberries and a little box
of Total. When 3 PM rolls around, I go into the breakroom and do what needs to
be done. Cereal, skim milk, half banana, and two strawberries. Two. That’s what
must go into that bowl.
One day Dorothy
brings blueberries to work.
me make this clear: she has a whole tub of blueberries. I just take one because
she won’t shut up, and it isn’t even good. It’s bitter and it’s mushy. The two
things that a blueberry absolutely must not be.
great, thanks a lot.”
Tuesday is one of the horrible days. I still haven’t finished the monthly
report, and Mr. K is getting really snippy about it, and the Seattle office
wants me to double-check some files, and then we get hit with this surprise
departmental meeting that sucks the soul right out of my body. I’m looking
around at everyone thinking—the only thing that really makes sense right now is
a mass suicide.
get out of that meeting at six minutes to 3, and all I am thinking about is
cereal. This is the only thing that gets me through to 5. And I’ve got my Total,
I’ve got my half banana, and then Dorothy comes in when I’m cutting up my
strawberries. Two strawberries.
look like good strawberries.”
look good. I mean, those look like some really terrific strawberries.”
right. They’re those dark red, taste-the-whole-summer strawberries. She wants
some, but how many do I have? Two. If you get a chance some time, put two
strawberries on your desk and see if it looks like a lot of fruit. Am I supposed
to give her . . . one? Am I supposed to give her 50 percent of my strawberries?
I work these things out—half a banana, two strawberries. I know the ratios that
I need. I once accidentally mashed my banana on the way to the office. It just
about wrecked me. But Dorothy keeps at it.
if it tastes as good as it looks.”
today—of all days—honestly, I can’t even pretend. Dorothy just stands there and
watches while I put . . . both my
strawberries in the bowl. Just before she leaves the breakroom, she makes a noise,
a subtle snort. Like a pig would make. Like a subtle pig would make. By the end
of the day everyone is looking at me like I’m some selfish bitch who takes and
takes and never gives. I see how you might think that without any context. But
this is the context: I need my cereal exactly the way it has to be at exactly 3
day at 3, I go in and the strawberries—my two strawberries—are gone. I search
every part of the fridge. Nothing. I eat my cereal with just banana, but it is
a complete disaster. Later that day, Dorothy walks past my desk and gives me a
look. Not much, but clear. Next day—same thing. Stolen strawberries. So I start
to store my fruit in my desk, but six hours in a desk, and you become a tepid
strawberry. And that is almost as bad as no strawberry. Three days of this, and
I’m going out of my head.
Friday—well, I don’t remember it so well. I do know there was a regular meeting
and an interdepartmental meeting. And
I know I sketched a picture of myself hanging by a noose from the light
fixtures while Mr. K ran PowerPoint.
I’m not always the most socially acute. Apparently, Dorothy hadn’t told anyone
about our fruit run-ins. She’d wanted her revenge to be quiet. My coworkers
reported no friction between the two of us, but they did report a lot of disturbing
behavior on my part. My clear depression, my gruesome artwork, the way I’d
always suggest mass suicide pacts instead of meetings. Yes, there was a
course, everyone testified that I clearly labeled my food. Red-pen block
letters on every side of opaque Tupperware. It was obvious that I hadn’t
intended to hurt anyone other than myself, but it isn’t legal to bring poison
into a communal refrigerator. By the time the cops got around to interrogating
me, however, I had it pretty well figured out.
am I under arrest, or can I go home and kill myself?”
checked me into a psychiatric hospital. Six months of quiet chats with
understanding shrinks—all on the corporate dime. Half a year after the event, it
didn’t seem to make sense to prosecute me for reckless endangerment or
possession of controlled substances, so I moved to Florida with a little
resettlement money from the company. I’ve heard Dorothy’s grieving family is
suing them for so blatantly missing every warning signal from that freaky,
little cereal girl in the office. That’s probably fair.
Eventually I’ll have to
find another job, but for now, I walk on the beach, collect shells, sing into
the wind. And when 3 o’clock rolls around I make it home. And I get exactly
what I need.
Preston Lang is a writer from New
York. His short stories have appeared in Thuglit, Spinetingler, All Due Respect, and Plots with Guns. He also writes
a monthly column for WebMD.com.