Art of Giving

red leaf

Tap, tap, tap.

It was still early in the morning when there was a soft knock on the glass patio door.

“Don’t answer, you know who it is,” Jan said without looking up from buttering her toast.

She stood at the kitchen counter in a long nightgown and slippers, while her husband sat at the table holding a steaming mug of coffee. He perused the headlines of the news, rattling the paper as he turned the pages.

Across the table, old newspapers were haphazardly spread and stacked with colorful advertisements and junk mail randomly shuffled into the mix. Salt and pepper shakers in the shape of birds were in the middle next to a plastic napkin holder with plain white paper napkins. Her husband, Dennis, reached over and gathered the papers into a messy pile to clear a space for his wife.

“Come sit down.”

He looked over the top of his glasses, unsurprised that the seat remained empty. Jan was still standing at the counter shaking cinnamon from a spice container with an aluminum head onto the buttered toast. She risked a peek out the door and then quickly looked away, reasoning that without eye contact there was nothing to stop their visitor from leaving.

Tap, tap, tap.

She felt a secret thrill, he wasn’t leaving. The hint of a smile played out on her face as she turned to her husband for another peek out the door over his shoulder.

She feigned surprise, “Oh Denny, it’s him again. What should we do?”

He laughed and the skin around his eyes crinkled like old leather, “We?” he asked.

“Don’t you mean what should you do?” he clarified with an emphasis on the word, you.

They had to play this game, their roles and the rules were both well-defined and rehearsed. He gave his wife a knowing look that was a mixture of amusement and annoyance and sipped his coffee.

“In that case, I better give him what he wants,” Jan said coyly.

She reached for the jar of peanut butter in the cabinet and pulled out another slice of bread from the breadbox. Humming to herself, she quickly slathered the bread with a thin layer and cut it into triangles, just the way she used to do.

Tap, tap, tap.

“Oh, hold on,” she said with in pretend irritation as she balanced the triangles flat on the palm of her smooth, white palm and made her way towards the door.

Sliding the door open with one hand, she knelt down with surprising flexibility for her age. She tucked her nightgown around her legs to hold it in place as she balanced on the balls of her slippered feet.

“Well, hello there,” she greeted a fat brown squirrel with shiny, black eyes.

The squirrel twitched its nose in recognition.  It chattered with excitement and held its claws out for breakfast. Jan extended her hand towards the creature. It sniffed her fingers and looked up at the woman; they locked eyes for a brief moment of connection before the squirrel grabbed a triangle and took off for the edge of the patio, still chattering as it disappeared up a tree.

Jan straightened out her legs and back as she stood, and noticed at her feet a unusual, bright red leaf carefully brought in from an ornamental tree of a far off yard.  It was left not as a payment, but as a present.  Jan left the rest of the triangles with a smile now fully fixed on her face and took the leaf, grateful for the gifts of the day.

Here today and gone tomorrow.

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Cheap Band-Aid

raindrops2

His eyes welled with tears that refused to fall.  Men don’t cry.  Yet, there they were, tears. 

Real, big, and wet splashy drops.

There was something about his light hair and emerging pain that reminded me of someone else.  I wanted to wrap him in my arms and whisper, “It’s going to be ok,” knowing that the words would be a lie.

And it was wrong to lie, except when…

I paused to consider the times for which this rule was meant to be broken and was only able to summon instances that were superficial, meant to save face and limit discomfort, short-term fixes to things that required permanent solutions, like a cheap band-aid to hold together a gaping wound.    

So, I told him the truth and watched his tears fall.

 

Biological Warfare

germs

Signs were posted everywhere with big red, bold letters.  It was flu season and germs were not welcome.  The usually bustling office restricted visitors and required anyone with the chills or body aches to wear a disposable mask and latex gloves, yet the flu was still spreading.  

More handwashing stations went up, while the news streamed stories about the rising death toll of flu related deaths.  Strangers and friends alike started to eye one another as potential disease vectors and withdrew from conversations at the slightest hint of a sneeze or a sniffle, slowly backing up so as not to startle the germs into action. 

Things were breaking down quickly and not much work was getting done until the genius management put their oversized egg heads together and came up with a three-part solution to the problem.

More signs, they decided, because the first batch was so effective.  Then, they gave the front desk staff unlimited authority to stop and interrogate all visitors and employees.  Lastly, they tightened up on attendance policy so that employees were afraid to use their time off and instead reported for duty, bleary eyed and feverishly punctual.  

It was a perfect plan, seemingly infallible, and still the flu raged on.

Unaware of this change in the flu fighting approach, I walked in from the bitter cold and practically collapsed at the front desk, unable to proceed toward my office.  A red, velvet rope partitioned off the hallways and forced all entrants to pass through a narrow channel monitored by a large woman with heavy braids and long, colorful nails depicting ten tropical island scenes.  She pointed to a sign on the counter with a chubby finger and looked expectantly at me.

My glasses had developed a fog from the sudden change in temperature and my hands shook as they started the painful process of de-thawing after the long walk from the public parking lot.  

I took my glasses off and squinted at the woman, “Good morning. What’s going on?”

Irritated she sighed, “Need to see your id badge, we’re only letting employees in today.”

“Would I be here if I didn’t have to be?” I joked, seeking common ground.

“Don’t know and don’t care, I have to see your id if you’re going in.  Visitors have been impersonating employees to get into the office.”

My hands stopped shaking by this time and I put my glasses back on, catching her bad attitude faster than the rampant virus that was shutting down the city.  I tried all of the positive affirmations I knew to reset my frame of mind, but it was too late.  

“And what does that have to do with the flu?” I asked flatly.

“Visitors are bringing it in,” she said as a matter-of-fact. 

Shaking my head, I dug through my purse, pushing aside my wallet, a pack of gum and a ring of keys; delving deeper into the bottomless pit, I found a hot pink pen with origins unknown, a folded cardboard book mark and a sticky, partially unwrapped cough-drop before latching onto my id badge.

“Aha!” I declared in victory and considered the course of the day that was already off to such a great start.  Was it too late to go home, I wondered for a second before remembering the attendance policy. 

I pulled the id badge out and flashed it at the woman with a frown that I tried to turn upside down, resulting in a weird smirk that was as close to a smile as I could muster.  Meanwhile, another employee had come in behind me, hacking a dry cough with red rimmed eyes and overheard our conversation.  

“I would complain about the cold, but I’ve been feeling so hot this morning,” she explained as she extracted her id badge from her coat pocket with a still-gloved hand.

“Anyways, you know, if anyone is bringing in the flu, its going to be an employee,” she coughed again and shuffled off towards the heart of the building.  She said over her shoulder, “Just trying to be helpful.”     

And still the flu raged on, baffling the eggheads.

Poor birdie

Forlorn

bird

What do shivering birds in winter, a wet, bedraggled cat after a bath and my new coworker huddled over his desk all have in common?  The apparent desire to be far, far away from their current situation. 

Joe has successfully stayed off of the radar since he started and with 87 days left to go, he still has a very long orientation period.  Our supervisor suggested bringing him into our office with a tiny, temporary desk to hang out, hear our discussions and naturally integrate into the flow of things.  A good idea that was quickly shot down with any hope that Joe would learn to love the work or the team.

We were a schizophrenic group.  We wanted a man on our team, but we didn’t want a man in our office. We wanted an experienced co-worker, but didn’t want to train him, but wanted him around to give him exposure and opportunities to learn.  It was a unanimous decision that our boss struggled to understand. 

I tried to explain it in the lamest way possible, “He’ll be bored in here.” 

Then, driven by guilt, I went off to be more inclusive.

I peeked into Joe’s office and startled him, he was busy texting and avoiding conversation.  There was a blank screen of blue on his computer monitor and a mostly blank pad of paper on his desk with a few scribbles and a doodle along the edge of the paper.  He pushed his heavy, black rimmed glasses up on his nose and discreetly slid his phone under his leg without saying anything.

“Hey there, how are things going?” I asked.

He blinked at me with the eyes of a sensitive little bat, just brought out into the light.  He did not appreciate this intrusion into whatever it was that he was working on, likely an epic game of Tetris.  It was a strange situation, like a cat after a bath, this was an uncomfortable and disagreeable interaction for him, and like a bird in winter, his feathers still weren’t thick enough to protect him from the cold of group dynamics. 

 

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