Flapper Press is proud to present short story submissions from readers and writers from around the world. This month we feature Gerda Strobl from Austria.
It was strange. When they said they had freshened up their love, it sounded . . . well, strange. They said it in a tone like you'd say, "I watched this movie and remembered how much I love it all over again." No, that is not right. It was worse than that. It sounded like they'd rediscovered a newspaper they'd liked in their student days. Where was the passion? Where was the feeling of something fresh?
Granted, it's perhaps asking a bit much that a relationship of over 20 years should have the fresh smell of teenage love. And who am I to judge them for trying to believe that their mutual respect and liking is somehow blossoming again into romance?
Yeah, only that's just it. I don't want them to just believe; I want to see it happen, I kept thinking. You see, I love them both dearly, they are the kindest and sweetest people out there. They never complained about my stand-offish manner. They embraced even my disappearing for a week or two on occasion, knowing that there are just times when I can't abide more human contact than I have to stand at work. Our friendship was perfect, and watching their love at work was always a treat. It was kind of my substitute for a lover of my own. I'm not that good with humans. I have a canary, and sometimes that is about as much company as I can take. It's not that I don't care. It's that I'd just live for that other person, and I would be infinitely hurt every time they don't seem to care about me in equal measure.
With Harry and Barbara it was different. I could warm myself in the glow of their feelings for each other, and yet I was never in danger of feeling insult or injury. It was like a safe haven, and it was perfect. Equally, I was never a danger to them, as it must have been pretty obvious how much I enjoyed helping them take care of their relationship. I mean, sometimes I even took care of their kids, and they know I don't care too much for kids. Taking them to the cinema was OK, especially since I knew that it gave them time to do whatever it was they needed. I did it because they were perfect model lovers, and I needed them in my life as just that. A substitute for something I cannot attain myself. It was, no, it is perfect.
Yes, it's pretty perfect. Anyhow, we could all feel that they were drifting apart incrementally. And then they went on this weekend with some sort of love guru, and after that they kept saying they had freshened up their love. And I knew right away they were both lying for each other's sake. It was both sweet and pathetic.
And then I watched this romance movie—not the whole thing, only the second half, so I don't even know the title. Doesn't matter, anyway. At any rate, I watched it, and something clicked. I did a lot of thinking after that. Was it possible? I mean, really? How? Well, I had helped them before. Perhaps I could use the position? I went to their kids. They all lived their own lives by now, and they clearly had no eyes to see what I saw, but they trusted me and agreed to help.
So, it all started with Paulette asking her father one day how he had conquered Barbara. Harry embarked on a lengthy story on how she had not really been interested at first, interspersed with Barbara's comments that she had really only been shy, and so on and so forth. I knew the story by heart, and so did the kids. The idea was just to remind them of the time when they had still surprised each other with little things on a regular basis.
And then the little surprises started. It was just a little flower, and once a week, only for a month. A small dandelion or a daisy from their garden would be placed on Barbara's desk, or in her kitchen, when Harry was away. I let Barbara catch me the last time. I did my best to look disappointed and told her, "Please, please, don't let Harry know you caught me. He's been working so hard to make it look all mysterious like in the beginning when you didn't know it was him. Better not even mention it, cause if he asks, I just know you wouldn't lie to him. Please? He didn't want to do it to be thanked, just to make you happy. I'm so sorry I spoiled it. So please . . . hush?"
She laughed, "Oh, but I always knew it was him. Don't worry, I won't breathe a word. Okay?"
The program for Harry was different: Their son, Rob, asked Harry why Barbara looked kinda sad lately, and what he could do to cheer her up.
We didn't do more than that. We just watched the seeds we had planted to see if they did anything.
I'm still watching. Funny thing is, if it didn't do anything for their love, it definitely improved the bond with their kids. And maybe even with me. Or maybe I'm just more romantic than is good for me. It feels good, though. And there is still hope.
They call me cold. Isn't that funny?
Funnier still that they would never tell me so to my face. Why? If I'm cold, then I won't fly into a rage, now will I? Clearly they can't decide whether I am hot- or cold-blooded. Stupid crowd. Well, what can you expect from cubicle inhabitants? This kind of job . . . Does this sort of job draw an unusual amount of dumb, or does it suck your brains dry—if you are like these small minds? Could be either.
You'd think as a cubicle clerk one would have no emotions left. Everything is bureaucracy and petty hackling over a tiny shred of independence. Like when Ruth was accidentally given a cubicle that was too large for her rank. You know what they did? Haha, they built another wall between her and Tim in the next cubicle! Petty.
Ah, they are ridiculous, these little games of dominance and submission. I laugh about them, and yet they call me cold. I guess it is an attempt to undermine my standing. Doesn't faze me; I am a player, too. Huh, you know, maybe that's what it is all about. They describe me as cold since I'm not all in a frenzy as soon as there is a vacant cubicle that is slightly larger than mine or closer to the window. Or because I don't suck up to the boss so hard. Actually, I don't suck up much at all. That's why he likes me. He thinks I'm not in the running for his job. Yeah, right. Of course I'm on my way up! I'm just not as much of a simpleton as my colleagues.
Ah, my foolish little co-workers. They fear me. They feel my superiority. They can feel that their little games of dominance and submission are child's play to me.
Bertie came in several days ago. He asked me a favor. His printer was down, and his boss had told him to print out his reports here at my desk. I said, "Okay," but my tone was reserved. I know him too well. He's a dick. And right enough, he tried to impress me with how important his report was and why I had to print it right away. At that point, I knew he was playing. So I raised my bat and basically lopped his ball where the sun don't shine. I mildly corrected the date he had lied about to make his stuff seem more urgent. Dick.
The trick is, you don't do it through the tone. Ah, no, sirree! No, I am polite and soft-spoken while I give them the full-on domina stare. Know what I mean? No? It's very simple. People are simple. About as simple as doves, and trust me, that is darn simple. If you stare at a dove for a little while, it will get nervous and eventually fly away. Try it! Seriously, do. Works every time; for me, anyway. Try it till you can do it with a dove, and then do it to people. Like a charm. So amusing. They bustle off like a mouse running from the cat. I don't know why. Maybe it's the thoughts that I keep in my mind. Maybe my natural dominance. Comes with the territory of being dominant. A domina, yes, but never as a job description, mind! No, that's just me; it's part of who I am, not something I've ever been paid for.
I hope you don't think that just because I mentally whooped Bertie's bottom, I'd then run to the toilet to release the sexual tension or anything. Because that was about as erotic as a pat on the back. Sometimes, though . . . Well, sometimes it does get pretty intense. There's been more than one meeting that left me flushed and aroused.
And they call me cold! Isn't that funny?
Gerda Strobl makes her home in the heart of Europe—Austria. She has worked in education, advertising, and the food industry. She's been a storyteller literally since before she could write, eventually extending into poetry, song lyrics, novels, and non-fiction. Almost any type of writing can lure her, and she has dabbled in many genres. A few of her poems have made it to publication—with one showcased on Austria's national art and education radio channel Ö1—though she prefers to keep her writing as a hobby.