The hallway was dark. The rooms, opening on each side as far as she could see, were equally dark. The silence was deep, infusing every small sound with an unnatural weight. She took a breath that had the ferocity of a gust of wind.
Her boss was an Ogre. Alexis liked the sound of the word, even though the reality was unpleasant. Ogre. Legend said they feasted on human beings and were especially fond of infants.
Inside her office, the computer screen glowed. She set two bags of chips and a can of soda next to her keyboard and sat down.
The land line rang. She grabbed it. “Yes?”
“Is it done?”
“I was waiting for your feedback on the slides I sent a few minutes ago.”
The line was silent. She heard the click of computer keys. Finally, “Okay. Let me check with Matt. I’ll call you right back.”
She ate a few chips. She washed the comforting food down with two swallows of soda and tried not to think of the emptiness in the adjacent wing and in the four stories above her, each one checkered with small offices, computer screens black as night.
She tore open the second bag of chips. The minutes ticked, promising that the moment the call came, she could make a few changes and head toward home. The Ogre was twenty miles north at the main campus. Right now he was conferring with the Executive VP, debating the fine points of her charts.
The second chip bag was empty. She couldn’t remember eating a single one. She crumpled the bag and dropped it in the trash and downed the rest of the soda.
He could call on her cell. She should leave. If she’d left right after his first call, she’d be halfway home by now, in time to hold her baby close, smell her skin. She’d laugh while Jack placed Claire’s very first bite of cake in her mouth.
But if the slides needed changes . . .
She lifted the soda can to her mouth. Her tongue probed the opening for a lingering drop. Nothing. She dropped it in the trash. She clicked through the company website, looking for instructions on call forwarding. The search function was close to useless. It would take her all night to comb through hundreds of pages.
She plucked the can out of the trash, jogged down the hall, and dropped it in the recycling. When she returned, the phone was ringing.
“Where the hell were you? Matt has a question.”
“I just stepped out. You have my cell . . .”
“I don’t have time to call you at eight fucking different numbers.”
“There’s only two numbers . . .”
“What’s the value on the X axis on slide three?”
“Millions. It’s in the legend . . . “
“I’ll call you back. Don’t leave.”
“My cell . . .” The line was dead.
She sat down. Her bladder ached like there was a fist inside of her. Seven-twenty. She texted Jack, but the sad emoticon didn’t express the pressure inside her throat, equal to that in the center of her pelvis.
Forty minutes later when the phone rang, tears were coming out of her eyes, making excuses for the liquid that wanted to rush out of her bladder.
“Here are the changes . . .” He read through the list.
“Can I do them later tonight? It’s my daughter’s first birthday.”
“Your kid will have lots of birthdays. There’s only one launch of this product line and it’s in thirteen hours, in case you forgot.”
She hung up. She grabbed her things and ran to the restroom. She peed, the most glorious experience of her day.
In the main hall, she shoved the panic bar on the back door and started across the courtyard. Lights were spaced judiciously, trying to illuminate the thick shadows. She saw a figure ahead. Immediately she recognized his pallid complexion.
“Where the hell are you going?” he said.
“I thought you were at headquarters.”
“We’re in the executive conference room. You might as well come in with the core team so I don’t have to keep calling you.”
“I’m going home.”
“No you’re not.”
She trudged behind him to the main building. It didn’t matter if Claire tasted her cake today or tomorrow, she’d never know the difference. But Alexis would be eaten by the memory every year. And the Ogre would continue devouring her life every single day.