By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: (from The One-Minute Writer) You’re so sick of dealing with the worst boss ever. Remember that Monday when he showed up wearing a bikini? Ugh. Today, you just can’t face another day in the office with him. You’re going to call in sick. But you need a really stellar excuse, one that even that cow at the front desk will believe…
Erin hesitated before pressing the keys on her cell phone. “Do you really think this is going to work?”
Jessica rolled her eyes. “Come on, Erin, how many times are we going to have this same conversation? I think you’ve flaked out about 20 times in the last 10 minutes. Just suck it up and call Larry.”
Erin nodded. “Okay, I’ll do it.”
She hit the speed dial number for “Work” and waited, counting the rings and tapping her finger to some erratic rhythm. What if Larry didn’t buy it? What if Phyllis refused to transfer her call in the first place? That would make all the effort for coming up with the story—
“Good morning, the Miller Agency, how many I help you?”
Erin grit her teeth at the sound of the receptionist’s nasally voice. “Hi, Phyllis, this is Erin. I wanted to let you know that I can’t come in to work.”
“Oh, really,” Phyllis said. Erin could practically feel her smirking through the phone. “And why can’t the princess show up for her job today?”
“Well, I have a cold, and—”
“Yeah, and who doesn’t, honey? This is winter, in case you haven’t noticed.”
“I understand, Phyllis, but it isn’t as simple as that. See, I’m in the hospital, because—”
“The hospital? For a little cold? You’re really pushing it, Erin, aren’t you?”
Erin suppressed a sigh. Miller Agency had a grand total of 25 employees, including Phyllis and Larry, so it wasn’t hard for Phyllis to keep track of people. It didn’t help that Phyllis was Larry’s sister-in-law and took it upon herself to breach office protocol and read everyone’s progress reports and then comment on every happening in the office.
“Look, Phyllis, this is kind of complicated, and I know how busy you are with everything you’ve got on hand. Can you please just put me through to Larry, and then I don’t have bother you anymore with it.”
“I can’t bother Larry for a cold, Erin. You’re going to have to provide me with a little more information before I transfer you. After all, I’m not the only one working hard here.”
Yeah, well, if Larry hadn’t given you a job you wouldn’t be working at all, Erin thought sourly. She exchanged a look with Jessica who had tilted her head toward Erin’s to listen to the conversation, and Jessica answered with another eye roll.
“All right,” Erin said aloud, trying to sigh melodramatically. “But just remember, you were the one who asked for the long version.”
“We’ll see if it’s worth the time you’re taking.”
“Well, I woke up this morning with a cold, like I said, and it was a monster of a cold, Phyllis, let me tell you, not one of those little Dayquil types. I felt so bad I was practically nauseous, so that’s how I knew this wasn’t normal. I called my doctor’s office and told them how I felt, and they said my doctor would get back to me. She called me back 15 minutes later, but she said she wasn’t in her office today. She had to go see some of her patients in the hospital. I told her how important it was for me to be at work, so she told me if I wanted to see her I could go to the hospital and just wait in the waiting room for her.”
“Let me guess, you got to the hospital, broke an arm, and now you’re in a body cast.”
“No, no, nothing like that. I went to the hospital and sat in the waiting room for about 30 minutes, and I kept looking at my watch because I was starting to get late. I wanted to make sure I could make myself presentable before coming in today, and I was losing time to do that. I’m always thinking about the image of the agency.”
The sarcasm in Phyllis’ voice made Erin miss a beat, and she almost resigned on the spot. Jessica shook her head and motioned with her hand: Keep going, you’re almost there.
“I got tired of waiting around for my doctor, so I started asking around for her. I explained to the person at the information desk about how important it was for me to get to work, but she said outside of paging the doctor there wasn’t anything else she could do. I just had to wait. Well, I decided that wasn’t good enough. I had to go find the doctor so I could get the all clear to come to work. So I just waited until the lady at the desk wasn’t looking, and then I took off down a hallway to look for my doctor. But I kind of got lost, and I ended up in the wrong part of the hospital.
“But then I heard someone say my doctor’s name and tell somebody else she was in a certain room, so I just thought I’d go that room. I didn’t see the quarantine sign until I was already through the door, Phyllis, honest.”
“Yeah, I happened to walk into a room where my doctor was checking on a patient who just got back from Hawaii. The guy got bit by a mosquito and is in the hospital under quarantine for malaria. Did you know that malaria is highly contagious?”
“Uh…yes. I did, actually.”
“I begged the hospital staff to let me go—I mean, I didn’t actually touch anyone. But my doctor wouldn’t hear of it. So that’s why, even though I’ve only got a cold, I’m in the hospital.”
Phyllis didn’t say anything for a moment. “How am I supposed to know you aren’t making this whole thing—”
An overhead announcement suddenly squawked so loudly that it drowned out the rest of Phyllis’ words. Erin waited for the nurse to finish paging some doctor or the other before answering.
“If you want I can have the doctor fax—”
“Never mind,” Phyllis said hurriedly, her change of tone immediate. “Take all the time you need. How much sick leave do you all usually get?”
“About one work hour for every 30 days we’ve been there, so I think that’s—”
“It doesn’t matter,” Phyllis interrupted again. “Just email me a sick leave request, and I’ll make sure Larry approves it before the day’s over.”
Erin made sure her sigh of relief sounded appropriate but not too loud. “Thanks, Phyllis, but…well, I don’t know quite how to say this, but I’ve got bills, and—”
“Sick leave is paid after you’ve worked here for a while, so no worries there,” Phyllis said, all of a sudden the efficient receptionist. “Just concentrate on getting better.”
Jessica gave Erin a thumbs up and started doing a little dance from her hospital bed.
“Thank you so much, Phyllis,” Erin said, pouring on the gratitude as thick as possible. “I can’t tell you how relieved I am. The Miller Agency really is the best place to work.”
Phyllis ended the call as soon as possible, and Erin forced herself to press End before bursting out in laughter.
“That was too easy!” she exclaimed, trying to get the words out in between laughing. “And the nurse paging the doctor was the best part. I don’t think I could have planned that any better.”
“So what are you waiting for?” Jessica asked. She gestured toward the door. “Get out of here! Get away from your idiot boss and his idiot receptionist and do something for yourself.”
Erin breathed in long and deep, this time feeling gratitude that was genuine. “Thanks, Jess. You’re the best sister.”
“Well, one of us had to stay here and have a baby, and we know that wasn’t you. So go get some sun for me too, okay?”
Erin leaned over the side of the hospital-issue bassinet and gave her new nephew a feathery kiss before hugging her sister almost as gently. “You got it. I’ll send you a postcard from Hawaii.”
“You better!” Jessica called to Erin’s retreating back.