Short, short story, under 1,500 words.
Short Story The Decision
The secretary had been coming out of her building to eat her lunch on nice days for months. She walks out of the building and goes left to go sit by the water wall, as usual. She loves how the water appears to flow upwards when seen from the right angle. It is almost noon, but the secretary is able to find an empty bench with a decent view of the water. She takes out her food and proceeds to eat, not really tasting what she is eating.
The secretary stares at the water and thinks. She knows that the water doesn't go up the wall. It’s an optical illusion. Her mind perceives that the water goes up, despite what she knows to be true of gravity. She thinks of how she perceives herself, versus how others perceive her. She sees herself as a quiet, yet efficient secretary. She thinks she is nice and decent to look at, if a little plump. Others perceive her as a nice, quiet secretary, or not at all.
Her boss only thinks of her when he needs something. If her boss needed to give a description of her to the police, were she to go missing, he would probably give a very generic and non-specific one. His end of year review of her is always good, but not glowing. When he needs something, it is there and when he tells her to do something, it gets done. Truthfully, he doesn't even know her first name, just calls her Ms. Barnes. The boss didn't even hire her; his old secretary did so before she left. The secretary knows she does her job and does it well. However, she is now looking at what she does in the scope of the greater picture of her life. The secretary answers phones, files, types reports, gets coffee, and makes sure her boss has what he needs, when he needs it.
Suddenly the secretary wonders what she’s doing. She goes to work each day, goes home, and eats dinner while watching TV. The secretary used to have friends but they have all gone on with their lives, while she is stuck in limbo. The secretary sometimes gets downhearted that she doesn't have a family of her own. What happened? She went to school on loans and took a job right out of school to pay those loans, figuring she would work towards something fulfilling once she had some stability. Sitting there watching the water she suddenly perceives that her world is upside down and she has convinced herself that it wasn’t. The secretary shakes her head and realizes that she has eaten her food, with no memory of doing so and couldn't have told you what she had eaten. She feels that to walk back into that office and sit at that desk for another four hours will kill her. She will suffocate if she sits in that office.
The woman is decided. She has had enough of being a secretary. She studied the greats, following her heart into the humanities, rather than business as her parents had wished. Philosophy and English had called to her when she looked at the course catalogs back in the day. She wants to spend her days reading and thinking, maybe even writing.
It has now been an hour, and the woman is due back at her desk, but she can't go. The decision is made and she can't go back. She sits and ponders her financial status. She has paid off her loans in the past 10 years, and has some savings. What is she waiting for? The woman can find a way to do this. She just has to stop feeling suffocated.
The woman looks down at her typical office outfit of a skirt, blouse, and jacket. She pulls the jacket off and ponders the sleeveless blouse underneath. The blouse is a brilliant emerald green, sedate under the tan suit, but eye catching without the jacket. The woman looks at her arms, which she feels are flabby, but decides to embrace the flab and holds them up overhead laughing. She pulls at the pins holding her hair in a tight, respectable bun and shakes down her hair running her fingers through the wavy dark blonde locks, and suddenly realizes how long it is. She hasn't even thought about her hair for years. She washes it and puts it up with no thought. She shakes her hair to feel the weight of her hair on her back and shoulders.
A man walks by and smiles at her. The woman is taken aback and looks around to see whom he smiled at, but it's her! She takes her purse out, finds a small compact, and opens it. When she looks into the mirror, the woman hardly recognizes the eyes that are looking back. She suddenly remembers a lipstick her mother gave her a week or so ago that she dropped in her purse, figuring to never touch it again. Her makeup is always neutral and soft. She pulls the lipstick out and reads the name on the bottom, Ravishing Red. Her mother told her she needed some color and to give it a try. Now she will. The woman uses the compact and applies it gently to her lips and smiles. It's gorgeous; her mother has the same coloring and had been right that the shade would look good on her. She stands up and stretches her arms up over her head, untucking her blouse as she does so. The woman doesn't care. She grabs the trash from her lunch, balls it up in her jacket, and throws it all in the trashcan nearby.
The woman walks back to her office with a bounce in her step. A handsome man follows her onto the elevator. He goes to press his floor number, but it seems he is going to the same floor as her. He gives her an appreciative look as he steps to stand beside her. The elevator closes and she smiles at him in the reflective mirrored surface of the doors. She can feel a difference in how he looks at her. He probably doesn't realize it, but they have ridden this elevator together in the past. She was a different person then. When the elevator opens, he steps aside and lets her go out first, as opposed to the other times when he would rush out ahead of her. The woman smiles at him as she brushes past. He watches her walk away and head to an office down the hall.
The woman walks into the little antechamber where her desk is and finds her boss rifling the documents on her desk, obviously looking for something. He looks up at her and says, "I apologize, ma’am; my secretary seems to be late back from lunch. Do we have an appointment or is there something I can help you with?"
The woman just looks at him and begins to laugh. Still laughing, she walks over to her desk, and gently bumps him aside to sit down in her chair. He looks at her again and finally recognizes the woman. He is at a loss for words. She takes the mouse, wakes the computer, and opens a word document. She adjusts the font and size from the sedate Times New Roman 12 to Curlz MT 20 and types: “To Whom It May Concern, I, Alexis Barnes, resign effective immediately.” She puts the date on it and selects to print two copies. She signs both, puts one in an envelope, and addresses it: HR. The envelope goes into the interoffice memo box. Alexis collects the few things in and on her desk that are personal: a photo here and a brush there. She hands the boss the other notice. The boss is still looking at Alexis and watching what she does as she walks to the doorway. He hasn't looked at the piece of paper in his hand. Alexis points at it and with a smile walks out of the office. As if her exit is a bell, being struck the boss shakes his head and follows her out of the office. He watches as Alexis walks to the elevator and pushes the call button. As the doors open Alexis looks back at the boss and with a smile and a wave steps onto the elevator.
Alexis walks out of the office building, she looks up at the sky and asks, "What now?" No answer comes, but she smiles and heads to her car, ready for whatever does come her way.