Exercising the craft—August 19, 2013

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: At work, you’ve been getting a post it note on your desk every morning that says, “Why did you do it?” You’ve talked to your boss, the night cleaning crew and your co-workers. No one seems to know who is putting the note there, or why. You decide to work through the night one evening in hopes of catching the person. Write this scene.

http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts/why-did-you-do-it

Despite her best efforts Elizabeth could no longer deny it: she had to pee.  She did another scan of the office and across the half walls of the cubicles.  Still nothing.  No person lurking around with a sticky note in hand.  For the moment, Elizabeth hoped, the late-night culprit would stay in whatever corner she or he inhabited.

All right, here goes.  And I’ll just use the sanitizer in my desk, so I’ll save time not having to wash my hands.

She sprinted to the nearest women’s room and rushed through her time in there.  The stall door rebounded off the wall as she dashed out of the bathroom, tucking her shirt back into her skirt as she made her way into the main part of the office.  Just as she rounded the corner, something planted her feet into the carpet.

Grace Carter pressed the sticky note to Elizabeth’s computer monitor, her face twisted into a grimace.  She lingered by Elizabeth’s desk for a moment—just long enough for Elizabeth to step forward.

“Grace, what are you doing?”

Grace jumped a couple of inches, clutching her chest and breathing hard.  She turned to her right to face Elizabeth.

“Liz, I thought you’d gone home for the night.”

Elizabeth came closer.  “I decided to work late tonight.  Actually, I wanted to find out where the notes were coming from.  Are you—have you been putting them on my desk for these last couple of weeks?”

Anger stained Grace’s cheeks as she jutted her chin forward.  “Yes, I have.  I wanted to let you know that you can’t do what you did and get away with it.  You just can’t be so selfish.”

Elizabeth frowned.  “Look, Grace, I don’t know what happened.  Do you think you could help me out here?”

“I know about you and my husband.  I found the pictures.”

Elizabeth felt her heartbeat increase.  “What…what do you mean?”

“I mean, you slut,” Grace said, stepping forward in a challenging manner, “I found the pictures you sent him of your little ‘outfit.’”  She closed the word with air quotes.  “When were you planning to surprise him with it?”

Elizabeth felt floored, and her jaw actually dropped open.  The last time anyone had accused her of anything was in the seventh grade when Kimmy Gibson had accused her of stealing her locker poster.  Elizabeth gave Grace the same response she’d given Kimmy.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Really?” Grace said.  “I’ll bet.”

“No, really, Grace, I’m not…I’m not the woman you’re looking for.”

“Well, then, maybe these will refresh your memory.”

Grace fished through her purse, pulled out an envelope, and thrust it in Elizabeth’s direction.  Elizabeth took the envelope gingerly, not sure what to expect.  When she took out the photos, she breathed a little easier.  The mystery woman had taken the pictures of herself from her neck down, and her teddy didn’t leave much to the imagination.  Why she hadn’t included her face Elizabeth had no idea, but something caught her eye.

“Look, Grace, I’m sure it was a huge shock to find these, but this isn’t me.”

“Sure, I’m sure all mistresses say that when they’re caught red handed.”

“No, seriously, Grace, it isn’t.  Look, this woman has a mole on her hip.  I don’t have one there.”

For the first time Grace’s eyes exhibited doubt.  Elizabeth found herself letting go of a breath she didn’t know she’d inhaled, and she made herself take a few more.

“That’s an easy thing for you to say,” Grace said, the doubt now creeping into her voice.  “Why would I believe you?”

“Look, I’ll show you.”

As Elizabeth pulled her formal shirt out of her skirt and unzipped the skirt a few inches, she reflected for a minute just how odd it was for her to get half undressed in the office at close to midnight.  But at least she finally had the answer to her questions about who had left the notes and why.  Pulling her skirt down a little bit to put an end to the entire episode seemed a small price to pay for this.

“See,” Elizabeth continued.  “This woman has a mole on her right hip bone.  I don’t.”

Grace leaned down and peered at Elizabeth’s hip as if searching for hidden treasure.  After examining her skin for a little while, she straightened up but her eyes didn’t meet Elizabeth’s gaze.  For the first time since Elizabeth began talking to her, Grace’s body relaxed.

“I’m really sorry, Elizabeth,” she said quietly.  “I guess I was just—I was so hurt and shocked that Robert would actually—and when I found the note and these pictures, I just…I just…”

Tears began slipping out of the corners of her eyes, and she bowed her head.

“Hey, Grace, come on,” Elizabeth said, trotting around one of the cubicles to reach her own work space.  She grabbed a couple of tissues and came back, handing Grace the tissues and putting her arm around her coworker.  “Look, I know that this must all be such a huge thing, and I’m really sorry it happened.  But, if you don’t mind my asking, what made you think it was me and Robert?”

Grace sniffed.  “Look at the stationery.  I thought it came from your desk.”

Elizabeth looked at the card in her hand that had held the pictures.  The cream-colored missive had a large flowery “E” on it.

“Isn’t that the stationery I bought for you when you started here last year?”

Elizabeth frowned.  Something poked at the back of her memory.  Where else had she seen these cards?

Suddenly she remembered, and for the second time that night her jaw dropped open.

“What?” Grace asked, still sniffing but no longer crying.

“You know who else has cards like these?” Elizabeth asked quietly.

“Who?”

“Emily Turner.  She sits four cubes away from us.”

Grace’s eyes got wide as she thought about Emily.  “Didn’t she just get a pay raise recently?”

“Yeah, right about the time her skirt went up about three inches.  Now we know what she’s doing with the extra cash.”

The two women stared at one another for a few moments and then burst into familiar, comfortable laughter.  When their laughter finally faded, Elizabeth gave her friend a real hug.

“I really am sorry about Robert,” she said quietly.  “But I’m glad you found out the truth.”

“Me too,” Grace said.  “But now I’ve got to come up with something really drastic for our little friend, Emily.”

“Count me in,” Elizabeth said immediately.  “I don’t want anyone else thinking I’m the office tramp.”

Grace furrowed her brow in thought.  After a minute her eyes brightened.

“What about if we invite her out for drinks this Friday and have a little talk with her?”

“I love it,” Elizabeth said.  “By the time we’re done with her she won’t be wearing anything shorter than a nun’s habit.”

The women laughed again as they began making plans.  Just before they left the office together, Elizabeth grabbed the sticky note off her monitor and dropped it into the trash.

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