I didn’t notice it at first. The change. At the time it was almost imperceptible, at least to me. Looking back, well, it all probably started then. Who knows? Maybe it began well before that. Lord knows I wasn’t happy when I came to that job. I probably brought just as much baggage to that office as anyone else, Josephina Steele included. But if I had to pinpoint some moment in time, it was definitely around the holidays.

As I said, Josephina was never really out of the office. During the second half of the holidays, she physically came into work one of the days. I was already frustrated with Ariel and Alison, more than I probably should have been, so I requested a private meeting with Josephina. Things hadn’t yet changed between us, at least not from my perspective. I still felt comfortable around her, but the stress of working under Josephina was beginning to build. Really, I didn’t know what was happening to me, it seemed situational and if everyone else would just start pulling her weight, maybe I wouldn’t be so miserable.  Or so I thought.

The reason I wanted to talk to Josephina was to ensure that I would stop having to do Ariel’s, and potentially Allison’s, work. It was apparent, to me, that Ariel and Allison couldn’t sit together anymore. If they couldn’t stop talking, they definitely couldn’t do any work.

Josephina and I went downstairs for a coffee in the office building’s small cafeteria.  We took a seat by the window at one of the small square tables for two. Josephina looked at me with her cold tired eyes expectantly waiting for me to say something. I instantly began to feel nervous. Second guesses swarmed my head: What if what I had to say was trivial? What was I doing here? This was stupid. It was too late.

“So what is it?” Josephina asked impatiently.

“Um, well, I just wanted to tell you about your staff in your absence.” Oh God, what am I doing, was all I could think. The words wouldn’t come out right and by then I was certain that this was a very big mistake. I began to worry about Josephina’s reaction and that only made me more nervous. It blinded me to the other changes.

Josephina was staring at me as if I was some sort of idiot, or so I thought. I felt pressed to continue, “Well, Ariel and Allison probably shouldn’t sit together.”

“What do you mean?” Josephina spoke sharply, each word cutting the air as she pronounced the syllables.

“Uh, they don’t stop talking, ever. And it’s loud and distracting to anyone unfortunate enough to have sit near them.” There, it was out.

Josephina sat there silent for a few minutes, adding finally, “Yes, you are probably right.” And then just as abruptly as before, “Is there anything else?”

Ariel is pregnant. Something in my head encouraged me to tell her about Ariel and her accidental pregnancy. I didn’t have a chance to think why or whether or not I should be telling Josephina about it. My nerves were rapidly becoming the only thing that I was able to take notice of, and they were tightening fast. I looked at Josephina’s old and sagging face. Her dark brown eyes were beady and hard, and I started to feel fear, but I still to this day couldn’t say as to of what. I just feared. It was like a building anxiety that soon would never leave me.  Amidst all of this the words just flew out of my mouth, “Ariel is pregnant.”

“Did she tell you that?” Josephina looked at me with eyes full of knowing. Ariel had clearly already come to her with the news.

“Uh, no. She told Allison. The whole office heard. She also told the world that she wasn’t sure what she was going to do about it, that she might still have an abortion and that it was twins. For the last week, whenever she did show up at the office, this was all the two of them were talking about. People get pregnant all the time. It shouldn’t impact her work and disrupt others.” The last two sentences surprised even me. They were so judgemental and vindictive. And yet this growing anxiety blinded me to it. I was so irritated by the idea that I was working and having to do more because others let their personal lives get in the way, I didn’t even question whether or not my behaviour was appropriate. I just didn’t care. It makes me sick to think about the things that I’ve done, especially there.

Josephina appeared to be considering what I had said and added, “It won’t. I won’t tolerate it.  There is work to be done here and it won’t wait for this sort of crap. I don’t care if she is pregnant or not. Lot’s of women have kids. Look at Carrie.”

Carrie Stone was our Senior Manager. She had four kids all born within a five-year span. Her husband and she had come from a small town not too far from The Bubble (that’s what I call the capital). Carrie was older. I’m not sure how old. She was definitely too old that to ask might be offensive, but her youngest child was only ten so it would leave you wondering whether or not she was as old as the deep wrinkle between her eyes suggested. In any event, Carrie had barely taken a couple of months off with each birth and she continued to be the first person to volunteer for overtime. Moreover, she was commuting one-way for an hour every day. I had no idea how she managed, but thought it was probably a money issue. Her husband was just a general labourer. Carrie had no higher education and seemed grateful to have the job she did, which for the last fifteen years had been under Josephina.

“Yeah,” I agreed, “Carrie is pretty remarkable like that.” Having been privy to Ariel’s shoddy work over the holidays, I was less convinced that she had it in her to follow in Carrie’s footsteps and so I told Josephina as much.

Surprisingly, Josephina defended Ariel saying, “The problem is, when she does work, it’s good.” At this I tried hard not to make a face. There had not been one item Ariel had touched, which I had seen anyway, that did not have at least a single glaring mistake.  The woman was clearly incompetent. Josephina’s defence of her didn’t make sense: when it came to the work of others, like myself for example, mistakes were not tolerated. Josephina wasn’t rude about it, (always), but she also wasn’t very nice either. Later I learned that Ariel’s last job had been as an assistant to the Chief of PEWE and that she was yet another “placement” from him.

What Josephina was about to say, however, shocked me even more. Suddenly, and from what seemed like nowhere, she asked, “Do think she is really pregnant?”

The idea had never occurred to me, but given Ariel’s behaviour, openly talking about being knocked-up and abortions, it sort of made sense.  I tried to shake off the stunned look that was most likely on my face. “You don’t think she would make it up, do you?” The idea was so far from the realm of what I would consider normal, despite Ariel’s behaviour. I had a difficult time believing someone would actually do that. And to what ends? “Why would she do something like that?” I wondered.

“For sympathy.” Josephina was blunt. “But I don’t have any for her. I think she is a liar.”


Lia glanced at the Agent, whose face remained immovable. This adopted cover must be great for preventing wrinkles, Lia mused and tried not to laugh at the stupidity of her own thoughts. Sparing Lia the effort, the Agent asked, “So what happened in the end, I mean after this talk with Josephina?”

Lia scoffed quietly and smirked at the absurdity of it all, explaining, “Well, Ariel was moved – to the cubicle beside mine. Her phone was just on the other side of the fake walls partitioning the cubes. They aren’t soundproofed. I had to endure every personal conversation she made, and of those there were many. One day I overheard as she arranged to go snowboarding on a Saturday, but two days after a certain medical procedure, which had her taking a couple of personals days from work.” Lia shrugged her shoulders.

“What about the work load?” The agent inquired, “Did it at all improve?”

“Of course not.” Lia answered, “But this can’t be what you have come to hear.”

For the complete on-going story, please click the icon below.

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