Scene One – HELP – Merrimac, Wisconsin, yesterday.
“Pull your car into the empty space next to the green Ford.” He waves his sun-tanned arm to the left of my Oldsmobile Delta 88 toward the last open space on the car ferry.
I drive my Olds over the ramp, onto the ferry, and await departure.
He shakes his head and walks to my car door. “Nope, please stay in your car. Leave the car in neutral and we will line you up correctly. My name is Bill.” He offers his hand.
“Tom Johnson.” I shake his hand and gaze out the window at yellow stripes that mark traffic lanes on the floor of the ferry. I had not parked parallel to the lines of the lane.
Three men dressed in grease-stained blue denim bib-overalls and black work boots join Bill. Shit kickers we called those boots when I used to load trucks. The men lift and move my Olds slightly to the right, in perfect alignment with the Ford, as if lifting 3,500 pounds of General Motor’s pride was a simple inconvenience. I carefully press the brake pedal as my car begins to roll backward toward one of the men.
“Not necessary,” Bill shouts, slamming the ferry gate shut behind my car. “Now jump out and join us in the trunk.”
“Trunk?” I scratch my head and walk to the rear of the car. The trunk is open. I reach to close the lid. “I don’t remember leaving this open.”
“You didn’t.” He motions toward the open trunk where his three companions sit. “Climb in, there’s plenty of room.” I follow his lead. Indeed, the trunk is spacious. Beep, the car ferry sounds her horn and we pull away from the dock.
“I don’t understand.” I shake my head, lean back against the rear of the trunk that is as plush and comfortable as my living room sofa, and watch the ferry’s wake as the dock disappears from view. “Who are you?”
“Never mind.” Bill leans toward me and grins. “Let’s just say I’m here to help.” Poof, like a reenactment of a cheap 1930s Hollywood film, he disappears in a cloud of blue-white smoke.
His companions chuckle and light cigarettes in unison. The car ferry lurches over an on-
coming wave and the trunk slams shut.
Scene Two – ASSIGNMENT – Zimzing Technologies Company, Edina, Minnesota, a Monday in the future.
“Welcome to Zimzing, Johnson.” He pumps my arm like dad used to work the old handle to draw water from the well on the farm. “First day Johnson?” Gold sparkles in his grin. “I’m Fred Zimzing, chairman of this company. You come highly recommended. Machine language programming on a PC platform – is that what you do?”
“Well, not exactly.” I shift my weight from left-to-right and right-to-left. “I did a little bit
of programming on an Apple Two Plus in the 1980s and then–”
“You’ll do fine.” He hands me two reams of COBOL computer code printed on letter-sized paper. “Have this converted to machine language by tomorrow morning.”
The paper is heavier than I assume. My heart races and left arm sags as I shift my burden to free my right hand. Palm tacky with sweat, I wipe my hand on my pants and shake Mr. Zimzing’s hand. “I’ll do my best.”
He removes a white handkerchief from his breast pocket and wipes his hand. “I’m sure you will.” He spins on his heel and leaves the room.
Scene Three – DECISION – Zimzing Technologies Company – Edina, Minnesota, Tuesday, the next day.
“Mr. Johnson, Mr. Johnson.” She walks briskly toward me, a Styrofoam container in her left hand, her starched white gown flows behind her. “I must speak with you on a matter of most importance.”
She grabs the lever handle of a darkened conference room and pushes the door open. “Please follow me.”
I enter the void, push the door closed, and flick on fluorescent ceiling lights. “Who are you?”
“Betty Larson, Nurse Betty Larson, that is–”
“I don’t know you.” I step closer to her. “Why did you–”
“Hush…” She places her index finger to her lips. “No time. Just listen.” She walks toward the window and opens the blinds. Morning sun streams in. Her Styrofoam box sits on the table. “Open this and I’ll explain.”
I reach into the box, my eyes locked on hers. “What the–” I jerk my hand back as I touch rough canvass, wet and warm.
“Remove the bag and place it on the table.” She walks to me and touches my arm. “Here, I’ll do it.” Lifting a plastic container from the bag, she removes the lid. “Bonny had an abortion. One of the members of Zimzing’s board of directors is the father. In this container–”
“I don’t want to see it or hear any more.” I walk to the window, turn, and face Betty. “I can’t believe this. Why me?”
Betty moves beside me. “You have to tell Zimzing. No one else will. You’re new. Zimzing doesn’t have his fingers into you like he does with everyone else.”
I shake my head and rub my neck. “Who’s the father?”
“I told you. Someone on the board. That’s all Bonny would say.” Betty walks back to the table and waves toward a chair. “Please sit down. You’re not handling this very well.”
“Very well?” I join her at the table. “How would you expect me to handle this? It’s the second day on my job. Yesterday wasn’t all that great either. Zimzing gave me an assignment I couldn’t complete. Today, I’m on my way to tell him that I’m not qualified to do the work and I meet a stranger in the hall–you–who tells me a wild story and asks me to repeat her tale to Zimzing.”
“Are you finished?” She pours me a cup of coffee.
“Finished with what?” I sip the coffee.
“Ranting.” She smiles.
“I wasn’t ranting.” I lean back in my chair. “Look, Betty, or whoever you are. I couldn’t tell your story to Zimzing, even if I knew the story was true. I’d get fired.”
“You’ll be fired anyway. As soon you explain to Zimzing that you couldn’t finish his job, he’ll can you. You might as well expose the board and get your walking papers for something important.”
I push my empty cup to the center of the table. “Zimzing is chairman of the board. Could he be the father?”
She refills my coffee.
If this post is meaningful, please like or tweet below or leave a comment. Thank you for your interest and possible action you may take.
Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Creativity Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
I write personal essays, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, and self-development articles from my home in Madison, Wisconsin.