The Smoke (Break)
The sun danced through the swaying branches of the Serviceberry trees as the two young women plopped themselves onto a green bench, pulling cigarette packs from their purses. They tapped and lit up almost simultaneously, like a choreographed ballet, and did not speak until their first conjoined puff exhaled skyward.
Do you think it’s really true?
Is what really true?
What they are saying?
What who is saying?
The office, our coworkers.
That’s a lot of people.
What are they saying?
The tall skinny chick with the long dark hair and the ring in her nose.
Don’t know her.
Been here a few weeks, maybe.
That’s not very long. I’ve been here five years. How about you?
Almost three. Sure you don’t know who I mean?
She’s a gothic chick. Chalky complexion, busty, has a unibrow. Always wearing black.
I might have seen her in the elevator or whatever, but I don’t know her.
She’s friends with Chad.
I don’t know Chad.
He’s the guy with glasses.
Lots of guys wear glasses.
The cute guy with the red glasses. He works in the mailroom.
That says maybe.
Well, they’re friends.
Good for them. I don’t know either.
They work on 35.
I’m on 28.
Then, how would you expect me to know them? I’ve never been to 35.
I just thought you might. This place isn’t that big.
Well, I don’t.
If you say so.
The courtyard in which they sat was between two giant glass monoliths that reached high into the sky. On cloudy days, you couldn’t see the upper floors but today the midmorning sun was refracting from windowpane to windowpane, creating a kaleidoscope of light amid the clear blue. The air had a freshness about it, cleansed by a light early morning rain. The planting beds were moist and there were a few small puddles on the pink granite pavers of the courtyard but the tree-shrouded bench was dry. The two pulled their second cigarettes from the pack, having flicked the first into a puddle near a storm drain.
Are we going anywhere?
With the story. About Polly, Chad’s friend?
So, what’s everyone saying?
You really haven’t heard?
About her going down on guys in the file room?
That’s news to me.
Behind the filing cabinet, next to the copier. You think it’s true?
How should I know?
I was just asking.
How about you, you think it’s true?
It might be. Everyone says it is.
Then it MUST be so.
That’s kinda gross, don’t you think?
Did anyone see her do it?
I guess so.
Someone must have. Right?
Are there pictures? Evidence?
Not that I’ve seen. But people are talking. I’m sure management knows.
This is the first I’ve heard, and I work with people.
So, you don’t believe it?
I have no opinion.
You don’t? Seriously?
Why should I?
I thought you might.
Because if that sort of thing is going on, it says a lot.
About what, the office?
No. Polly. About a girl who would do THAT at work. She deserves to get fired.
Maybe it says something about the company.
How could it?
Maybe it says that people are petty.
Petty and vengeful. Out for themselves.
Because of what they are saying?
Because of what they are repeating as fact, when it might not be, trying to pull others down.
Is that a shot at me?
You know, I bet you’d like to be Polly.
Getting all that attention in the file room. You sure?
How do we know it wasn’t you up there, wearing a Polly wig, doing those things?
If a rumor got around that it was you, do you think people would believe it?
Why would they? I’m not that sort of girl.
Don’t you think people might see you as that sort of girl?
Why would they see me that way?
People see what they want to see.
I don’t dress like a girl who would do THAT.
Not all the time.
What do you mean?
There are days when the skirt has been a little too short, the top button or two open a little too low. If I noticed, others did too.
Just because I dress for the weather doesn’t mean I’d do THAT at work.
It’s not about what you would do, but what you look like you’d do.
Tell that to the people who blame rape on the woman because she looked nice.
I don’t like where this is heading.
Well, you asked what I thought.
After the morning rush, the traffic had simmered down to a hum. Except for the occasional tire screech, brake squeal, or horn blare, the two women could almost have imagined themselves in a park. A sudden burst of wind blew a sandwich wrapper across the courtyard and threatened to extinguish their smokes. A squirrel foraging in the groundcover caused them each to pause.
I was telling you about Polly.
Now you are upset with me because I gave my opinion.
I’m not upset.
That’s not what your face says.
I was just asking what you thought.
What you were asking for was collusion.
That’s not what I wanted!
It sure sounded that way.
I was only repeating what I heard.
I don’t know and don’t care about Polly, Chad or the file room. They have nothing to do with me or my job.
Fine. Change the subject.
Well? I brought the last one.
Look, I gotta get back.
Yeah, me too.
Cigarettes finished, the women rose from the bench and headed towards the glass edifice without another word to one another. As soon as the bench was vacated, the squirrel emerged from the undergrowth and leapt onto the metal, where he perched until the next pair of women came out of the building pulling cigarettes from their purses.