I wonder what's worth holding on to. Do I keep the stress
ball? Do I steal the stapler? Can I line the whole bottom
of the box with Post-It notepads? I'll toss the company pens:
they're cheap, and they bleed, and they suck.
I can hear people walking by. I can feel their pity and
I can smell their fear. If it can happen to me, it can happen
to them. Ultimately, the most important question that remains
is whether I should bother packing my three cartons of unused
business cards. I take two and leave one, just to give them something
to remember me by: Rachel
Chambers, Editor, The Byzantium Catalog.
The large document box is full and I want to get out
of the office before I start crying. I would like to retrieve
my picture from the wall of company Polaroids. It was taken at
our Summer Solstice Party in the Hamptons. In the photo,
I'm wearing an orchid lei on my head and I look dangerously close
to falling out of my gingham bustier as I bear-hug Alan, everybody's
favorite C.F.O. But that would mean walking by Byzantium employees
deemed not disposable. I top off the box with my pilled
office cardigan, because I know if I don't hurry up I'll be using
it as a hanky.
Rob had called me into the conference room to let me
know the luxury goods market was hitting a really tough spot.
Though they "esteemed my work," and I had made "invaluable contributions
to developing the unique identity of the catalog," they were going
to have to let me go.
"So I'm fired?"
"No, Rachel," he had replied, realigning some papers
on his desk. "Unfortunately, in the interest of cost-cutting,
the company has been compelled to do a lot of consolidation, and
much of the editorial work is in the process of redistribution."
What Rob was saying was that I had been laid off, not
fired—an important corporate distinction between being run
over by a Mack truck, and being run over by a Mack truck with
After pushing the 'down' elevator button, I run my fingers
over the deep grooves of the company's embossed brass nameplate
that hangs on the wall. I turn around to stare at the lush flower
arrangement sitting on the receptionist's desk, behind which Suzie
the receptionist is hiding. The bouquet of Birds of Paradise is
essential Byzantium. As a luxury goods catalog selling high-end
housewares, the company's currency is the rare and over-priced.
The bound catalog's deluxe ivory paper features pen and ink illustrations
selling everything from sculpted cherry-wood end tables to Chinese
lacquerware. My job until ten minutes ago consisted of creating
all the product descriptions and the boldface copy scattered throughout
the catalog. I had been the mistress of prose, responsible for
generating countless synonyms for "superior," "distinctively crafted"
and "one of a kind."
As I wait for the elevator, I hear the muffled ring of
my cellphone at the bottom of my shoulder bag. I balance the box
between my hip and the wall, and dig around, desperate to make
the chiming stop. I find the phone and flip it open. "Hello?"
"Hey baby!" It's Andy. "You are not going to believe
the sweet Pumas I just picked up! Buttery brown nubuck suede.
"So we're on for tonight, right? It should be really
fun. Bradley has no idea we're surprising him."
"I think we're going to Bond Street, the SoHo sushi place—"
"Andy, Andy listen to me. I just got laid off."
"The fuckers fired me!" I hiss as the elevator doors
and Alan are now standing in front of me. They look at me looking
at them, then look down. After all, they are the fuckers in question.
I want to vanish in a puff of acrid smoke. Instead, I step aside
to let them off the elevator. Alan gives me a hang-in-there punch
on the arm, causing me to drop the cellphone. I resist the urge
to kick it into the elevator. Rob bends down, picks it up and
hands it to me. Andy continues chattering through the phone as
my now former bosses step aside and I walk into the elevator.
The endless pause before the doors close could possibly be the
most mortifying moment of my life.