Don't be Late! (Madison)
I jerked into consciousness, startled awake by the invasive blaring of my cellphone. It rang and vibrated simultaneously from every corner of the room, the notes bouncing sharply off of the pale walls before penetrating my ears. The tone had an odd quality to it; permeating the dark, stifling abyss with an urgent array of trumpets, forcing me from the brink of slumber and spawning me back to life in a foggy haze. It took a moment for me to realize that the sound wasn’t attributed to the dream I had been having, now faded from my memory with snatches of blurry scenes and the remnants of unfinished conversations left at the tip of my tongue.
Ring. Ring. Fucking ring.
Someone had better be dead, or whoever’s calling will be.
Annoyed, I smacked around the area in arms reach with a languid hand, embracing the slight recoil each time from the inner springs of the mattress. The tremors reverberated through me, and either that or the coolness of the sheets on the uninhabited side of the bed, chilling me and craving my warmth, caused the hairs to perk up along my arm, rising in unison. The sensation soothed me, relaxing my tired muscles as shivers climbed up my arm and extended through my torso and limbs. I laid like this for what felt like hours, breathing in the cramped apartment air, now in the absence of dreams as I slowly sunk back into a state of sleep.
The tone started up again almost immediately, waking me with an electrifying jolt. My eyes snapped open in surprise. And just like that, the tolerance I had mustered up to snooze through the incessant ringing had vanished. With a slight panic, I drew my hand across the bed once more in search of my iPhone, but my hand failed to locate the familiar shape. There was only one other place it could be. I stretched across the bed with exaggerated reluctance, snatching up my phone from the bare bedside table before glancing down at the screen. The shock from the intense glare caused my eyes to sting and I forced them to adjust, squinting as I attempted to decipher who could be calling me at what felt like the hours only roosters should be awake, cock-a-doodle-dooing their way to some feed and scraps.
I extended my arm away from my face to better my view until Andrea’s name came into focus, cutting across the screen in bold, white scripted letters. A lump climbed up from my stomach, lodging in my throat as my heart stalled, gripped by anxiety. I was expecting this call to have come weeks ago, but when the days passed without a ring or even an email, I spent the time in blissful solitude and easily smothered my apprehension. I almost believed that I could get away from it all, that I could start anew in my cozy, little apartment, but in my hand, my other life taunted me at each ring, urging me back to the life I used to live and cannot seem to truly escape. The one thing sucking the life and energy out of me to no end.
I hesitated with indecision, my finger hovering over the green answer symbol as the ringtone continued to grind at my nerves, threatening to end its sequence at any moment. I sat idly in suspense as it proceeded to buzz and chime. I considered allowing the call to go to voicemail, but deep down I knew I wouldn’t be let off the hook that easily. The phone would ring and ring an endless musical torture until I summoned the courage to answer. I took a moment to quickly run through my options in my head, but all scenarios ended with the same conclusion. I had no choice, I had to face her.
With a groan I quickly disentangled myself from my blanket, the accumulated body heat escaping briskly from the sheets as I pushed myself upright into a sitting position. I did my best to ignore the sharp cracking of my joints, pleading desperately for exercise, yet for years having gone religiously ignored. Clearing my throat, I finally pressed the “answer” button, and placed the phone to my ear.
“Good mooooooorning, Madison!”
She sang her salutations through the phone, enunciating each consonant and bursting with joy and energy. I instantly warmed to the sound of her voice, one I’ve heard many times over and have grown accustomed to over the years of working together. Her attitude was consistently boisterous and cheerful, surprising for the early morning. If I had to be awake seemingly just after dawn every day, I’d be stumbling around, questioning whether it was really worth it to be out of the comfort of my bed. But that’s Andrea for you; always prepared with a smile permanently plastered from ear to ear, ready to conquer whatever is thrown at her in a day. I imagined her on her third coffee for the morning, drowning up to her nose in paperwork, yet still smiling like she just won the lottery. We’ve known each other for years now, but her endless supply of optimism still somehow failed to rub off on me.
She hummed patiently in the background, waiting for me to respond and I lost myself in the rhythm. I could almost feel the time crawling by, aging me by the second. The worry lines on my forehead deepening ever so slightly. Shutting my eyes, I steeled myself for the inevitable conversation ahead.
“Good morning, Andrea. What’s up?” I chirped nervously, striving to assume the same bright tone, but failing miserably with each crack in my voice. It’s too early for this. I kept my eyes closed to maintain some semblance of sleep.
“I’m so sorry to wake you! I just really need your help. And I know what you’re going to say.” She cleared her throat, preparing her chords to do her best impression. ”‘I don’t do temporary work assignments anymore, Andrea.’" She said in a nagging, pouty voice, then quickly advanced on as I stifled my brimming annoyance. I did not sound like that.
“I know, I know, but I’m really hoping you could do me a solid here.” After rambling on, she seemed to stop all at once, holding her breath and waiting nervously for my answer. To be honest, I didn’t know my answer, myself.
Andrea works as a Staffing Recruiter for one of the top employment agencies in the city. Over the years, she assisted in securing temporary employment for me on a consistent basis, finding me to be a diligent, reliable worker when to be honest, I just wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t have a place to go everyday. So, I work hard. Or else I would have spent my days cooped up in my room, tucked in bed until the late afternoon, sleeping my worries away. Like I do now. Like I’m doing now. The random temporary jobs were a reason to get up in the morning, an opportunity to make friends, and a way to earn money to reduce my stress. Except lately, I’ve needed better reasons to get out of bed.
I work as a Receptionist, and after a while of being the designated bitch for various companies, I accumulated enough money to do some short excursions to nearby cities. I booked the next bus out and let Andrea know that I was taking a break to enjoy the unemployed life for a while. The date of my return “to be discussed”. She wasn’t too happy to hear that. Nevertheless, I sought refuge in the mountains, and even rented a small boat, taking to sailing whenever I became sick of land. I let myself become lost within nature, swapping lush couches for the forest floor, expensive perfumes for the fragrance of damp earth trodden with fallen leaves and the tartness of sap oozing from nearby birch trees. Mainstream radio hits long forgotten and replaced by the cawing, singsong communication of the birds. It was bliss, and I reveled in it all as the stresses and anxiety seeped from every muscle and tendon, freeing me from the inhibitions of modern day society. But it didn’t take me long to miss my bed.
I knew it would all come to an end eventually, but I had no idea it would be so soon. It has been only 2 and a half months since my last temp job, and according to the bills piling up unopened on my dining table, I would need to start working again soon to continue living in my pathetic, 1-bedroom apartment, sequestered at the edge of the downtown core. I glanced around at my scarce room—bare walls, lacking of a personal touch—considering whether I was ready to go back to work yet. A part of me was still in flight mode, ready to hang up the phone and hop on the next plane going anywhere, but I couldn’t continue running, not with my accumulating debt holding me back.
My thoughts went rampant, warning me, taking me back to memories of the amount of stress sustained by my body and mind over the last couple years, buckling under the pressure of social environments. It warred with the thought of the gentle sway of the boat, guided by small waves and delicate spray. The briny scent wafting away with a subtle breeze. I released a depressed sigh, cutting it short once I realized Andrea was still on the other line, waiting for my answer.
“Madison, are you there?” She asked warily, disrupting me from my reverie.
“Yes, I’m here.” I pinched the bridge of my nose, the beginning of a headache forming in my temples, snaking its way through to the back of my neck. I could hear my heartbeat pulsing in my ears. I knew what I had to do, but I wasn’t going to like it. I asked her for the details of the job first, but we both knew the question itself was a veiled confirmation. It’s been a slice, but who was I kidding? I needed money.
Her voice instantly brightened up more than it already was, but not before bursting out a hog-like squeal for things having gone her way, as per usual. A tiny bloom of excitement formed in my chest, but the fear eclipsed it, keeping it at bay. I’ve spent the last couple weeks in my room, burrowed in my bed, a new job might be good for me, but after so long, I wondered if I would be able to handle it. I listened while Andrea vented her excitement. “You rock, Maddy.” She cheered, and just like that, I regretted my decision.
“Don’t call me that.” I warned, half-serious. I hated it when people took it upon themselves to offer me a nickname. It made me feel young, and I was far from it. Mentally, anyway.
“M-a-d-d-y!” She teased.
She screamed for me to wait, apologizing profusely and I laughed, amused that she actually believed I would hang up on her, but that was the type of relationship we had. Even with all of the frustration I unloaded onto her on the daily, we have a bond that goes beyond a work relationship, and honestly, she’s become one of the closest friends I’ve ever had. She giggled along with me until it slowly subsided, then jumped back into work mode with professional ferocity.
“Okay, so the job is downtown, in walking distance from where you live, actually. Your role would be the assistant to the executives of an independent Real Estate firm, contributing the usual administrative tasks. You still with me?” I huffed out a tired “mhmm”, and she took it as her cue to continue. “Filing, scanning, time management, the usual. Pay is in your requested range. Assignment goes from today until the end of next week. Cool? I’ll send you the details.”
I could hear her scrambling on the other line, flipping pages and shuffling around, a pause, and then the distinctive hollow sound of a coffee cup being placed forcefully on her desk before the shuffling resumed. I shook my head. Oh, Andrea.
“Oh, and one more thing. You need to be there in...half an hour. Thank you, Maddy! Let me know how it goes!”
And just like that, she was gone. The sudden quietness transported me back into the reality of my pitch-black room. I sat there, dumbfounded and staring at my phone, and at the top of the screen, the time stated 6:59am.
I stumbled wildly out of bed, tripping over the duvet, now wide-awake and panicking. I wanted to be mad at her for not giving me more of a heads up, but the rush has always been a part of the job. Exciting, even. Often times, someone calls in sick or has to leave for a variety of reasons, and they expect someone— usually myself— to be sitting in their desk in as little as 30 minutes to showtime. I’ve grown accustomed to the haste, peeling minutes off the time it would normally take me to get ready, effortlessly.
Sidling through my walk-through closet to the bathroom on the opposite end, I smacked into the side wall, feeling around blindly for the light switch, flicking it on in a flurry. The lights flashed on and I pinched my eyes tightly shut at the sight of the stark white bathroom, opening them half an inch at a time and peering through my lashes until I knew it was safe. Slowly, the room regained its colour, beige walls reflective of the chocolate coloured shower curtain and chrome bathroom accessories. The colours filled me with warmth in contrast to the smooth tile, icy beneath my feet.
Once the momentary blindness settled, I snatched up my toothbrush and squirted a glob of herbal toothpaste on the nearly worn out bristles. I brushed vigorously for lack of time and could feel my gums throbbing in protest. When I took a moment to absently glance up at the mirror above the sink, I stopped dead. My jaw dropped at the sight of my appearance, my toothbrush nearly falling from my gaping mouth; my hair was flattened against my head on one side, and disheveled on the other, paired with a set of purple rimmed eyes from another night of restless sleep.
I bent over and turned on the faucet, rinsing out my mouth then splashing my face with freezing, cold water in hopes that it would fix my morning pallor. It didn’t. I dabbed at the droplets with a towel once folded neatly on the shelf and now tossed haphazardly back in place, quickly drying my face before slathering on a bit of lotion. I grabbed my makeup bag from its compartment behind the mirror cabinet on the left wall and got to work. I spread some foundation and concealer under my eyes like war paint before tackling the blemishes on my chin and forehead. I hurriedly moved on to mascara, then my eyebrows, then finished with a swipe of bronzer on each cheek to add a touch of contour. I checked my reflection once again and tugged some of my chestnut hair over my shoulders, maneuvering it back to normal so the natural morning mess accentuated my features. Not bad, but still tired.
I dashed back into my closet, flicking my eyes wildly through the contents. I settled on a white, long sleeved blouse and a fitted, grey plaid skirt that reached just above the knee. Back in the bathroom, I selected a subtle, matte red lipstick to accompany my outfit. As I drew it across my lips, my phone chirped its familiar tone, letting me know I had a new email. I threw on a black trench coat, stuffed my feet into my barely comfortable “comfort sole” office heels, then checked the email waiting for me from Andrea as I wrapped my hand around the doorknob of the front door.
From: Andrea Bishop <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Madison Priar <email@example.com>
Subject: THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!
Company: Wallace & Co., Real Estate Advisors
Address: Suite 2400, 350 Centre Street Boulevard
Date: September 5th - September 16th, 2016
Time: 7:30am - 4:30pm (1 hour lunch provided)
Go rock their socks off! Thanks again, Maddy! ;)
I checked the time: 7:17am. There was no way I would allow myself to be late, and based on the address, I was pretty confident that I could probably make it on time. Maybe. Hopefully. With a twinge of anxiety roiling my stomach, I swung my handbag hurriedly over my shoulder, and before I could change my mind, I was out the door. Here goes nothing.