FRONT DESK WOMAN: Volume 1
There were no blank spaces left on the front desk, and only a single hazel eye peeked through the leaning towers of unstamped, unaddressed outgoing mail. On a whim, the managing editor decided to make a surprise well-visit to the office that morning.
“Welcome, Mr. Dingle,” she chirped in an uncharacteristically high pitch. “What brings you in today?”
“I can’t see who I’m speaking to behind all of that clutter,” he said in response. “I assume you’re the new front desk girl?”
“Front desk woman,” she said under her breath. “No sir, actually, I’ve worked here for five years now…”
“Welcome,” he interrupted. “After you clear your desk of disarray, fax these to my ex wife.”
He slammed a manila folder on top of the highest tower of alphabetically sorted envelops, sending them plummeting to grey carpet at her feet. Tears welled up deep from the empty pit of her stomach.
“Ah,” he said with a slick smile. “You’re very pregnant, aren’t you? Congratulations are in order. Six weeks leave is all I’m able to offer you. And I need at least a month’s notice so I can contact the temp agency for a front desk girl stand-in while you’re away.”
“Front desk woman,” she said through barbed teeth.
“Where should I fax this to?” she asked without acknowledging he’d posed a question at all.
“Her address is in my file,” he snapped in response. “Look it up.”
As he walked away, she eased to her tired knees and began scooping up the haphazard letters one by one. The Z last names were now intermingled with the J’s and T’s and L’s. With a quick flick of the wrist, he’d undone an hour’s work. Her low belly began to ache and she felt the impressive urge to pee. Almost stubbornly, she squeezed her legs together as if forcing urine back into her body. Then, an undeniable kick.
“Ouch!” She yelled at her stomach before falling backward onto her soft rear end, and with her head in her hands, she began to cry freely right there under her desk.
A bit of time passed and then the telephone rang. She used her wet hands to pull her bloated body back into her swiveling chair.
“Hallelujah Magazine, how may I help you?”
“Pansy?” asked a familiar voice she couldn’t quite place. “Pansy Pickett?”
“It’s Stanford now,” Pansy replied, trying to place the voice. “That hasn’t been my name in years, but yes, this is Pansy.”
“It’s me, Baby,” said an elderly Alabama drawl – as soft as a stuffed pillow top mattress and as hard as a woman forged in the segregated South.
“Nana?” Pansy whispered. “How is this you? You’re…” She hesitated before finishing.
“Dead?” Nana replied. “That’s right, Baby.”
“Your baby girl’s coming today,” Nana said with confidence.
“But she’s not due for another month,” Pansy panicked. “That’s not possible. It’s dangerous. Can you stop it?”
“No, Baby,” she replied with a smile on her voice which calmed Pansy slightly. “She’ll be fine. I want to prepare you though.”
“I’ve read the books,” Pansy said with pride. “What to expect when…”
“Shhh,” Nana interjected calmly. “Not about being a mama. A mama doesn’t need to read a single book to know how to be a mama. That’s instinct, Child. No. I’m talking about how to be a superhero.”
“Is that a personal call, Front Desk Girl?” Mr. Dingle’s squinting green eye peeked around the corner.
“Front Desk Woman!” Pansy screamed with pure rage, accidentally taking her ear away from the receiver for just long enough to make a scene.
“You dare!” he replied before stepping around the corner to show off his entire stature and gut.
Pansy placed the phone back to her ear. “Nana?” But she only heard a loud, menacing dial tone. “Nana?”
She felt a creeping down her leg – pee she’d assumed since she’d been holding onto it for so long. Then an overwhelming cramp hit her square in the stomach. She doubled over from it and briefly caught disgusted eyes with Mr. Dingle. She yelled out.
Gertha and Helen, the back room clerical staff, heard the screams and came running to her flank as mom-coach, clerical sidekicks.
“Someone call an ambulance,” said Gertha in a panic.
“This baby’s coming early,” added Helen. “Call them, right now!”
Mr. Dingle stood there like a stunned deer on a two lane highway. “Me?”
“Yes, you!” Gertha and Helen said in an angry unison.
Mr. Dingle went to pick up the receiver, but Pansy screamed again. “Don’t hang up on my dead Nana!”
Gertha grabbed Pansy’s chin and calmly said, “Pansy, I need you to calm down and breathe.”
As Pansy attempted to look back over her shoulder toward Mr. Dingle, another intense cramp punched her in the abdomen. She heard him speaking from behind her.
“Yes, we need an ambulance to Hallelujah Magazine on Tinderly Avenue,” he said breathlessly. “My front desk girl’s leaking all over my brand new carpet.”
Pansy tore herself from Gertha and Helen’s grasp, stared Mr. Dingle directly in his eyes and yelled. “I’m thirty-three-years-old, goddamnit! I’m the Front Desk Woman!!!”