"For some patients the patch may not adhere completely," I admit. "In which case it should be warmed gently with a hair dryer before application."
The reporter snorts. He points out that another company markets a gel. The disdain in his voice suggests he'd rather talk to a used-car salesman than a PR flack.
"True, but the patch provides a steadier dose," I explain. I look over the padded beige walls of my cubicle at the pockmarked ceiling tiles. Someone's piping sleepy gas into the office. I want to curl up on the floor with my head on my purse and just sleep.
My boss, Lara, a size two Armani jackhammer, says I have to get two positive media stories on the patch-one local and one national-by the end of November. That leaves about five weeks for me to redeem myself. Lara's quick to point out that there haven't been any media stories on our company or products since she hired me. She says that if I don't nail the two stories, she'll slam my hands in her desk drawer, severing several fingers, and I'll never be able to type again. Then she'll fire me, and the mortgage company will auction off my house. She didn't say this with words. She said it with her eyes, with the quick cock of her head, her lips pursing into a little red knot. If this guy writes a positive story, I'll be halfway through my quota.
"Most patients aren't bothered by the minor inconvenience of using the dryer," I tell the reporter, reading from my tip sheet, "because of the benefits of the product." I imagine my mailbox at home stuffed with property tax statements and soaring electric bills. The problem is, I like to keep lots of lights on at night so it seems as though people are home. "On low heat, though," I tell him. "Never high."
The clacking of the reporter's keyboard and his intermittent chuckles make me nervous. He wants to know if I really think guys travel with blow dryers, if they own blow dryers. "We provide complimentary dryers upon request." At least I think we do. I probably shouldn't stray from the tip sheet.
The reporter says he has to go so he can meet his deadline. As I listen to a long silence and then the dial tone, I think of how my other English major friends have more noble jobs: one's a travel writer in Paris, another teaches creative writing to women prisoners. Finally I hang up the phone and get back to work on the press release I'm composing about the patch. It's nearly lunchtime and I've made little progress. There's a pea-size hole in my panty hose just under the hem of my skirt, and I've taped it to my leg so it doesn't head south.
I think of the white-haired lady in the grief group whose husband drove her everywhere. I picture them in a Chevy Impala driving forty-five on the freeway, two cottony heads peering over the dashboard. I wonder if it is worse to be widowed later in life, when you and your spouse are as attached as roots to a tree. The cursor on my computer screen blinks: mort-gage, mort-gage, mort-gage.
When I first moved to Silicon Valley to be with Ethan, I found a job I liked editing university publications. I had my own office, with ivy growing along the windows, and went home every night by six. But at parties, other women in their thirties compared BMW models and how many direct-reports they had at work, and I decided I needed a higher-paying job with stock options. What kind of loser worked at a place without stock options?
I got this job during Ethan's remission, after he'd finished his radiation therapy and it seemed that he would be all right. This gave me a brief surge of confidence, during which I drove down the freeway at eighty miles an hour with the moon roof open, the wind in my hair, old songs like "I Will Survive" and "A Girl in Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing)" blasting on the stereo. Then the cancer came back, this time as a tumor in Ethan's chest. It was the home wrecker that stole my husband. I almost wished it had been another woman-a slutty thing in a miniskirt whose tires I could have slashed.
From Good Grief by Lolly Winston. Copyright © 2004 by Lolly Winston
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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