Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Last Hour of the Last Day

“You don’t have to do this, Val.” Henry had tried everything. For two weeks, he had bribed, negotiated, guilt-tripped, and begged, but it was all for naught. He had spent more time plotting and scheming through all the ways of convincing her to stay than he had actually working.
He found her at her desk around 4:30. It was a Friday, and most people left the office at 4:00 on Fridays anyway; Val always stuck around until 5:00. She had this strangely noble sense of self-righteous when it came to her work ethic, even on the weekends. Granted, Val spent much of that last hour talking with Henry, and didn’t actually get anything done, but that was beside the point. What was he going to do now, when she was gone? Who else would google co-workers with him? Who else could he talk to about the latest episode of Lost? Who else would listen to him complain about his wife’s cooking? All of the other forty-somethings in the office lacked personality, but not Val. As those two weeks waned on, Henry realized more and more that Val was an anchor of sanity for him: without her, he’d probably have gone postal by now.
“This is my dream, Hen…I’m never going to get a chance to do this again in my life. Even Corporate offered their support. Who knows, maybe I’ll make enough money to retire before I’m fifty…which I guess isn’t that big of accomplishment at this point…but see, that’s why I have to do it. I’ve never had an opportunity like this, and I probably never will again.”
“Maybe I can convince the boss to give you a raise, or something, and you can make just as much money here…”
Val laughed. Her laugh was warm and charismatic, its sound more than enough to remedy even the worst of days. And this would be the last time he’d ever hear it.
“Somehow I don’t quite think you have the clout for that, Mister. For God’s sake, no one’s going to listen to you when you’re wearing white socks.”
Henry smiled at the floor, and without lifting his head, offered Val a stack of self-addressed stamped envelopes, each containing two sheets of expensive stationery. “I figured…you could write to me. We could be like, pen pals. Only…older.”
Val smiled as she tried counting the envelopes. “You’ve got envelopes here for a year and then some, Hen!” She laughed again. Henry just blushed, and finally looked up at her with his half smile. “I might as well get a head start, then. I’m going to write you a letter right now.”
Val sat down at her desk and got to work. She still had fifteen minutes until 5:00.

April '06

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