Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life. Rowena's Life, Part 4

Rowena Goes To Work

Fiction by S. D. Youngren

Rowena began to feel odd as she turned off the freeway. Somehow everything seemed strange, unreal—the music from her radio, the colors outside; even the way the other cars moved. Rowena frowned, tried to concentrate on her driving. But the other cars were weaving oddly, the asphalt seemed to shift around when she stopped at a light; and the lights themselves seemed all out of sync. She reached for the radio, switched to a different station, and found a woman speaking in a language she didn't quite recognize, though it sounded almost familiar . . .

She managed, finally, to pull into the parking lot and scamper to the front door. The building too looked odd, but she tried not to let this bother her. She dodged inside—and failed to recognize the place.

It should have been Rorschach & Schmed, whatever that was.

It must have been Rorschach & Schmed.

She went back out and looked at the sign over the door, which said, “Rorschach & Schmed.”

Rowena took a deep breath. “If this is really where I work,” she thought, “my desk will be here somewhere. Somewhere.”

She went back in and looked for it. She passed desks, hallways, doors. A man at one of the desks picked up a phone. “Good morning; Rorschach and Schmed,” he said into it. “What a silly name,” Rowena thought. She was not quite sure after all that this was really where she worked, or, if it was more or less where she worked, that she wasn't dreaming the whole thing.

And then she found a desk with a little nameplate on it that said simply ROWENA. She stopped and looked. To the left of the nameplate was a vase with no flower in it. There was a stapler, a notepad, a telephone. There was a filled In box and an empty Out box. There was a framed picture with its back to her. She picked it up—a photo of herself and her family, ten years old.

Or was it fifteen?

And why would she keep such a picture on her desk?

Rowena sat down. Her chair was wobbly. She pulled out the long top drawer to see what was inside. By now she was not even sure what she was supposed to be doing. She wanted clues.

Paper clips. Scotch tape. Paper with the company logo embossed on it. She pawed through all her supplies, found nothing that really told her what to do.

She couldn't just sit there all day.

It occurred to her to tell her boss she was too confused to work and just go home. But who was her boss? And where? She had no idea.

Someone was walking towards her. Rowena snatched up a box of staples and, as busily as she could, tried to reload her stapler, only to find that the staples were the wrong size.

Rowena hoped this was a dream.

“Hi,” said whoever he was, stopping and smiling at her.

“Hi,” replied Rowena. She hoped she was on good terms with him.

He started to fidget. “Uh, Rowena,” he said. “I need some advice. It's like—well—um, Melanie is . . . I mean, last night she told me—only Bob said that Carolyn and Beth—you remember Phil, the one who lives across the hall from Ted? And the way Melanie spends money, I'm not sure I even—”

Rowena tried to make some sense of this. She tried to remember who all these people were, or at least one of them.

She hoped this was a dream.

“Uh-oh,” her coworker said. “Here comes trouble. Look, just tell me quick—what should I do?”

“Well,” said Rowena.

“You've got to help me.”

“Give her a home-cooked meal,” said Rowena quickly, “and have a serious talk with her and don't listen to anything Phil says.” She looked nervously up at him, still wondering who Phil was and what he may have said that shouldn't be listened to.

“Home-cooked meal . . . Yeah. Yeah. I'll try that. Thanks, Rowena. And you're right, of course; I never did trust that Phil ever since—uh-oh.” And he literally ran away.

Rowena watched him go, bewildered. Somebody tapped on her desk and she jumped; a petite blonde woman in a cranberry-colored blazer. “Here comes the battleaxe,” the woman said. “If she asks, I'm in the Ladies' Room, okay?” She gave Rowena a friendly wink and hurried off.

Three more people rushed past. Rowena looked around, expecting to see driver ants or at least a tiger.

A middle-aged woman with stiff, wood-colored curls all over her head was advancing on her, marching in heavy-footed determination. She wore severe silver-rimmed eyeglasses (with chain) and an equally severe expression; even the carnation in her lapel looked starched.

She came to a halt at Rowena's desk.

“Hello,” said Rowena feebly.

The woman slapped some papers down in front of her. “I see your Out box is still empty,” she said.

“Well, I—”

“Where's Campbell?”

“In the Ladies' Room?” Rowena hazarded. The woman's eyebrows shot up.

“In the Ladies' Room?” she gasped. “Is he—one of Those? Or—” and she looked really horrified, “one of Those? Mr. Schmed will certainly—”

“No—he—Campbell? Did you say Campbell? Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you—no, I don't know where Campbell is. I—I have no idea.”

The woman bent down, planted her hands on the desktop, and peered at Rowena, hard. “You look like you're lying.”

“No; no, I'm not. Really. You know I wouldn't lie to you.” She hoped the woman knew it. “I'm just—embarrassed because you thought I'd said Campbell was—but I was just confused.”

The woman kept staring, though her gaze eased just a bit. “Really, Ma'am,” Rowena concluded humbly. The woman snapped upright so violently her glasses flew off.

“Don't call me Ma'am! Don't ever call me Ma'am! Ma'am is what you say to an old woman. I am not a Ma'am!”

“I—I'm sorry,” said Rowena, hoping very much that this was a dream. “I only meant to show the respect due—due your position.”

“Well. It is certainly true that a certain amount of respect is due Mr. Schmed's Personal Secretary. However, when you speak to me, you say ‘Yes, Eloise,’ ‘No, Eloise,’ ‘I shall endeavor to do better next time, Eloise.’”

“I shall endeavor to do better next time, Eloise,” Rowena said.

“That's more like it,” said Eloise, and marched off, slapping papers onto empty desks in relative silence until she came to one which was occupied with someone else to berate.

Rowena reflected that at least you don't have to talk to driver ants.

“Yes, Eloise,” the new victim said.

Rowena began sifting through the papers—loose papers, bundled papers, envelopes—which Eloise had given her. She peered around her desk; yes, she had a wastebasket. She picked up a memo and read it.

“In the interests of safety, all personnel will avoid performing their duties in a hazardous or reckless fashion. W. Schmed.”

Rowena read the memo again. She thought of hazardous and reckless things she might do to Eloise. She reread the memo once more, thinking that in a dream it would probably have changed.

It hadn't.

She heard footsteps. She scrawled out a response to the memo—“But not at the expense of productivity”—and jammed it into her Out box.

But it was only the blonde woman in the cranberry blazer. “Did she ask about me?”

“No,” said Rowena. “She asked about Campbell, though. I was so flustered I told her he was in the Ladies' Room.”

“Oh, God!” the blonde squealed. She put her hands over her mouth and giggled madly.

“I seem to be having,” Rowena said, “a bad day.”

“You think you are. Wait'll Eloise finds poor Campbell.”

Rowena hoped it was a dream again.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

She worked as best she could for what must have been several hours—what must have been a not-dream. She read more memos. She checked lists. She filed things. She answered the phone, transferring people at random because she didn't know where they should be sent. When someone asked her about the wrong transfers, she said she'd gotten a few herself. She returned from lunch and found her Out box empty again.

She hoped it was maybe a dream after all.

Just after four o'clock, someone stopped by her desk and gave her a smile. She put her latest caller on hold.

“Just wanted to tell you,” the man said, “that Mr. Schmed loved your reply to his memo. He thinks it's brilliant. He just can't stop talking about it.” He patted her shoulder, awkwardly. “Keep up the good work,” he said, and strolled off.

Rowena hoped it was Friday.


Next Story:
Rowena Chooses Between Coffee And Tea

Rowena's Life, Part 5

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