Spins, pitches, angles. I always mean to do this. But mustering the courage to leave the house every morning leaves me too enervated to lift the pages of Time or Newsweek. I read the health care reporter's lead for the patch story. Gentlemen, start your hair dryers.
I can't read the next line, because there's a Post-it note stuck over it with a note from Lara: See me.
The bum fluorescent bulb over my cube ticks and buzzes like a cicada.
I head straight for Lara's office without taking off my coat. Lara and I are opposites, and in our case opposites deflect. She's only two years older than me-thirty-eight-but she's already a vice president.
She's as polished as a lady news anchor, and her whole being seems dry-cleaned. She meets her personal trainer at the gym every morning at five, arrives at work by seven-thirty, eats lunch at her desk-peeling the bread off her turkey sandwich to avoid the evils of carbohydrates-and leaves at seven-thirty in the evening. I get up at five in the morning, too, but only to pee, my sole workout being a shuffle to the john. The next time I wake it's ten minutes before I'm supposed to be at work, never mind the forty-minute, second-gear commute and the fact that my hair is in one long snarl like the Cowardly Lion's in The Wizard of Oz.
As I stand in the doorway to Lara's office, she's on the phone. "Un-huh, un-huh, un-huh," she says impatiently, punching her PalmPilot, sipping coffee out of a giant mug, and checking her e-mail. She motions me in. I hover at the threshold. Simon says: Go into your boss's office! I take a big step in. She yanks off her headset and tosses it on her desk. Her expression is in the fully upright and locked position.
For the first time, I almost wish I'd get fired. I would probably be eligible for some kind of severance or unemployment. I could get roommates to help pay the mortgage. We could do the Jumble together and cook pot luck suppers. I can live off a couple weeks' salary for a little while. I actually like chicken pot pies....
"Sit," says Lara. I sit. Good dog? Bad dog.
"We'll get a correction printed." She smiles, containing her irritation. Her teeth are so white, they're almost transparent; I think she used her bleaching trays a few too many nights.
"Right," I tell her, as though I've planned this all along. I realize I'm still wearing my coat. "Did you take this reporter to lunch?"
Lara has a real thing for taking reporters to lunch. She thinks you can control the media with smoked turkey and fusilli salad. I shake my head. Bottom line: The patch doesn't stick. "I'd like to be able to tell Ed by noon that a correction will be printed tomorrow morning."
Ed's the CEO. Turn down your teeth, I want to tell Lara. I can't hear you. Instead, I nod. "I'll get on it." First, get me out of this oxygen-depleted room.
Of course, this doesn't count as one of my two media placements due by the end of November, since it didn't even mention the downsides of the competing product. But when I get back to my cubicle, I realize there aren't any errors in the story. It's all about tone. It's a tone piece. Tone, voice. This reporter has found his voice! It is the voice of an asshole.
The phone rings. I pick it up. "Hello?" a man says.
I know he'll ask a question I can't answer. I'm supposed to be able to remember scads of facts for this job: each product name, its generic name, its indication, whether it has a trademark or service mark, how long it's been on the market, whether it's part of a joint marketing and distribution agreement. Then there are the common side effects, adverse reactions. But since Ethan died I can barely retain a seven-digit phone number. I slide one finger over the button on the phone, hanging up. The man will think we got disconnected.
From Good Grief by Lolly Winston. Copyright © 2004 by Lolly Winston
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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