Melba Ann Duncan was caught filing her nails while her phone was ringing and her computer was telling her, "You have mail." A pile of snail mail lay on her desk. It was her job to distribute the mail to the appropriate people as soon as it came in. It was 10 a.m., but Melba had not begun to file anything but her own nails.
Her boss, Rhonda Ann Tarrant, emerged from her office to check on what her employees were doing. Ms. Tarrant, also privately known as RAT to her underlings, periodically came out of her office to see what was going on in the main room of the Tarrant Insurance Agency.
Ah yes, Benjamin Boomer was talking with a customer on the phone. Lara Oppenheimer was working intently on a report. Then Ms. Tarrant looked at Melba, who was filing her nails while chewing gum. The horror!
"Melba, what are you doing? Well, I see what you are doing. You are neglecting your work while chewing gum and filing your nails. Is there some explanation for your behavior? Go ahead, I'm listening."
Melba took out her chewing gum, wrapped it in a tissue, and threw it in the wastebasket under her desk. That gesture gave her time to think up an explanation.
"Well, Ms. Tarrant, when I arrived this morning I broke my fingernail somehow on the front door. It hurts a lot. I then looked for a nail file, but I didn't have any, so I went down the street to the drugstore where I bought some emery boards, and had a cup of coffee to relieve the stress."
"I do not think that coffee relieves stress."
"You're right. That's why I bought the chewing gum."
"How long does it take to file one broken fingernail? Which one was it?"
As Melba held up her middle finger right in front of Ms. Tarrant's face, she heard slightly repressed laughter coming from her coworkers.
"Are you giving me the finger?"
"Yes, you, my dear. I believe it is time for you to leave. Please be gone asap. I'll mail you whatever pay you are entitled to. Take your personal belongings, including the emery boards and your pack of gum, but leave everything else."
"You're firing me?"
"One could say that."
Melba started to cry as she put her personal belongings in her tote bag: the package of emery boards, the chewing gum, a small cosmetic bag, a pack of tissues. That seemed to be it. She said goodbye to her coworkers, who looked serious but did not want to say anything against Rhonda Ann Tarrant, so the goodbyes were perfunctory. No hugs, no exchanging of phone numbers, just a bit of muttering.
Then Melba was gone. She shut the door of the Tarrant Insurance Agency with a bang. When she got into her car, she started to whistle. Then she burst into song, as she started the car.
"Well, that worked. Unemployment insurance, here I come!"
Anita G. Gorman grew up in Queens and now lives in northeast Ohio. Since 2014 she has had 94 short stories and 20 essays accepted for publication. Her one-act play, Astrid: or, My Swedish Mama, produced at Youngstown Ohio's Hopewell Theatre in March 2018, starred Anita and her daughter Ingrid. You can find her website at anitaggorman.com. Twitter: @aggorman