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 malice. 

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. They're awesome!"


"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 open.

Rob 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.


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