Home > The Big Fake

The Big Fake
Author: Penelope Bloom

 


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PEARL

 

 

Some days, there was just a feeling in my chest that everything was about to go very, very wrong. You could call it a form of “ESPN,” as my cousin would say–like a telepathic connection to the future. Maybe it was just my supreme intellect collecting subtle clues and assembling them in my subconscious. Then again, it could’ve been the text from my friend at work begging me not to come in.

Yeah, it was probably the text.

I rode the elevator up to my floor, fingers twitching against the hem of my coat and feet tapping. My heart was hammering. Thump. Thump. Thump. Big, punching beats that practically rattled my bones.

I slid my eyes up to the row of numbers at the top of the old-fashioned elevator. A red arrow slowly slid from left to right, working its way past four, then six, and inching ever closer to ten.

I had no idea what was waiting for me on the tenth floor. Whatever it was, Marley was definitely trying to convince me not to come in today, so it had to be bad.

Now, me freaking out wasn’t exactly national news worthy material. I had a little bit of a known habit when it came to being overly anxious. If I saw a friend walking the same direction toward me down a city street, I’d go into defcon four over the decision to wave, smile, or pretend I didn’t notice them. A confrontation at work? That was grounds for calling in sick. All week. Even rain freaked me out sometimes, because I imagined all the gunk floating in the air getting a public transit ride via a drop of water straight into my eyeball. I wasn’t sure if that’s how you got gonorrhea, but I didn’t see the reason to take chances.

With a little professional help, I managed to transform myself from a constant mess to only a mess when I had an excuse. The problem? There was always an excuse to freak out if you looked for it. Once, I’d read about a little fish that swims up the tip of men’s penises. I think it was local to Africa, but if you really thought about it, what was to stop one of them from hitching a urethra-taxi over to the States? How did I know it wasn’t in there with a lover, ready to colonize our waters? And why would it only be the penis?

But my therapist would tell me to control what I could control. Take deep breaths. Convince my body we were calm and it would take my lead. Except I was about to step into some real shit. I should be on high alert, shouldn’t I? I should be ready to use every ounce of martial arts skills I didn’t have to attack the problem.

I put a hand over my chest just to make sure I wasn’t imagining the racing heart. Nope.

One of my co-workers was at the front of the elevator. He must’ve heard my heavy breathing. He turned around, half-leaning and giving me that pursed lip, eyebrows raised look that said–Mondays, huh?

I tried to smile back at him, but in my current state, I think I mostly just showed my teeth as if the dentist had asked me to open up for his tools.

He gave me a confused double take, then rushed out as soon as the doors opened on the tenth floor.

I felt clammy all over and I was definitely sweating. It wasn’t a polite, dignified level of sweat, either. I was pretty sure my white button down blouse with the puffy, super cute sleeves was now pit stained and my nose was definitely beading with perspiration.

All of my nerves had been sparked roughly thirty minutes ago. I was minding my own business, as I tend to do. I had my morning coffee in hand–actually, I don’t drink coffee, but that’s between you and me. I get a coffee cup and fill it with soda. People judge when they see you sipping on a Diet Coke, so I found it easier to just sneak my sodas in coffee cups. Sue me. Actually, please don’t do that–I was never more than one thread away from broke at the best of times.

Anyway, I’d bopped out on the streets of Manhattan–a city I still couldn’t quite believe I lived in. Like many people, I’d fantasized about living and working in New York for years. I’d imagined it would be romantic and exciting and life-changing. Honestly, it was all of those things. It also stressed me to high hell, but I was getting better about that. A text came through on my phone from Marley, a friend from Pollard who works in finance. I’m paraphrasing here, but the exchange went something like this:

Marley: Are you coming in today?

Pearl: Yep. Why? Are my clocks wrong? Am I late? Is Jonas looking for me?

Marley: No, no, and no. I just thought you could use a day off. I can run it by Jonas for you, if you want.

Pearl: Why would I take today off? I’m already dressed. I’ve got my coffee. I’m wearing one of my favorite outfits.

Marley: So take your coffee, cute outfit, and go chill in the park. It’s beautiful and warm out there today.

Pearl: Why does it feel like you’re trying to get me to stay away from work?

Pearl: Is there something I shouldn’t see at work?

Pearl: I’M FREAKING OUT! WHAT IS GOING ON AT WORK?!

Marley: Just skip today, Pearl. Please. Trust me.

And that was where the conversation ended. I was no detective, but all of my investigative senses were tingling. Hard. The ESPN was blaring at full volume, and something was absolutely amiss.

Pollard Marketing composed the 8th floor through the 12th floor of the Metford building in the Upper East End. Everybody on my floor worked in design.

Every single person on the floor was gathered around the cork board right outside the elevator. I had to nudge and push my way through the crowd. First thing in the morning, I was five foot six in the morning–you lose a little height throughout the day as you squish down and compress, and you can trust me on that because I’ve measured it. I could barely see anything except the suit-clad backs of my co-workers from my low vantage point.

“Excuse me,” I said, heart still banging away like it was auditioning for The Blue Man Group.

Everybody was murmuring and whispering. There was excited chatter like they were gathered around a dead body. Was somebody dead?

Was I dead? Was this how it happened when you died? You go back in time and show up to work to watch everybody gossiping over your corpse? No, Pearl. That was the anxiety talking, and my anxiety had no business talking. My anxiety was like the constantly high friend whose paranoia made them wonder if the house plants were bugged with listening devices and thought the mailman was their stalker because he drove by the house every day, rain, snow, or shine. It was a nearly constant voice of irrational fears I had to work to keep at bay. If that didn’t work. I needed to simply ignore it.

The last two men finally parted enough for me to see what the fuss was about. The entire corkboard was plastered with the same black and white image. Little cheerily colored thumb tacks were stuck at the top of each page. Only one paper was different–slathered with thick red text almost like it was written in lipstick.

I squinted, moving even closer until I was in front of the crowd. It took my brain a second to piece together what I was seeing. It looked like a woman was sitting on the copy machine bare ass naked. But that wasn’t the worst of it. There were two large, masculine hands planted on either side of her ass and… Yes. That was a pair of balls between her legs. It wasn’t completely clear from the image, but I would’ve bet my grandma’s knitting collection I knew what I was looking at.

That was P in the V right there. Sure as day. I could see the squished, sad little sack. There was a hint of shaft. There was some more smooshed up stuff right there in the valley. Yep. I didn’t even need ESPN for this one.

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