Don't be Late! (Madison)
I jerked into consciousness, startled by the invasive blaring of my cellphone, ringing and vibrating simultaneously from every corner of the room. 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.
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 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 a jolt, my eyes snapping open in surprise. 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. Giving up on the blind search, I stretched across the bed with exaggerated reluctance, snatching up my phone from the bare bedside table before glancing down at the screen. The immediate glare caused my eyes to sting and I forced them to adjust, attempting 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.
I hesitated with indecision, my finger hovering over the green answer button as the ringtone continued to grind at my nerves, threatening to end its sequence at any moment, leaving me in suspense as it proceeded to ring and ring. 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 gone religiously ignored. Clearing my throat, I finally press the “answer” button, and place the phone to my ear.
“Good morning, Madison!”
She sang her salutations through the phone, enunciating each word and brimming with joy and energy, and I warmed to the sound of her voice, one I’ve heard many times over and have grown accustomed to. Her tone was boisterous and cheerful, surprising for the early morning when most who were required to be awake seemingly just after dawn were probably stumbling around, questioning whether it was really worth it to be out of the comfort of their 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 3rd 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 and I have grown nothing but admiration for her companionship, 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. 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, striving to assume the same bright tone, though my eyes remained closed, trying 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, leaving me to wonder if I really sounded like such a whiner. “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 apprehensively 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. 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. I couldn’t say I enjoy it.
I worked as both a Receptionist and an Administrative Assistant, 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 flight out and let Andrea know that I was taking a break to enjoy the unemployed life for a while with 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.
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 and 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. 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, awaiting my answer.
“Madison, are you there?” She asked me warily from the other line, 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. I knew what I had to do, but I wasn’t going to like it. Trying to delay the inevitable, I asked, “What’s the job?” to stall for time, but the question in itself was a veiled confirmation. It’s been a slice, but who was I kidding? I needed money.
Her voice instantly brightened up with overblown excitement, 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, not too far 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 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 blankets, 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. Often times, someone calls in sick or has to leave for a variety of reasons, and they need someone to come and fill in as soon as possible until the person returns. 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 smack into the side wall, feeling around blindly for the light switch, flicking it on in a flurry. The lights flash on and I pinch my eyes tightly shut at the sight of the stark white bathroom, opening them half an inch at a time, peering through my lashes. Slowly, the room regained its colour, reflective of the chocolate coloured shower curtain and chrome bathroom accessories.
Once the momentary blindness settled, I snatched up my toothbrush and squirted a glob of herbal toothpaste on the nearly worn out bristles. I think they say to change your toothbrush every six months, but it always failed to cross my mind except for the few minutes in the morning and before bed when the brush was in use. I pondered how long I’ve used this one as I brushed vigorously for lack of time, and absently took a moment to glance up at the mirror above the sink. 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 had a two-sided closet, packed to the brim with mainly whites, blacks, greys, and an occasional spotting of other colours along that side of the spectrum, yet I still managed to struggle with clothing options.
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.