Holding On – Eva M. Schlesinger

Quinn shouldn’t have stood on her tippy toes. Her shoulders tensed, zooming to her ears. Her new V-neck tee sporting the colorfully frosted cakes crumpled. She shouldn’t have stared at Margo in the next cubicle. Her legs shook.

“Party?” Margo spoke into a gold earpiece that matched her silk dress and manicured fingernails. Her eyes sparkled, her grin practically leaping off her mouth. Even her eyes had tiny gold smiles. There should be a law against that kind of happiness.

She twirled in her chair, her voice hoarse as if she had been saying the same thing over and over. “I’d love to. But I have another party Saturday.”

Quinn scowled. Yoo-hoo, see me? She wanted to wave to her co-worker. But this was Margo, whose walls displayed photos of friends eating at banquets. Quinn’s mouth watered. Her stomach rumbled. Her tee clung to her stomach, as though its desserts could fill her. She yearned for a delectable feast with friends. If only Margo would include her. But it had been a year since starting her job and Margo had yet to say hello. Quinn’s palms stuck to the narrow, gray wall dividing them.

Her back faced drawings of tombstones, listing friends’ names, dates of friendship, reasons her friends were no more. A memorial to her middle school best friend who moved away; her high school bestie who went off with another girl their senior year; the college friends who faded into oblivion after graduation; and the women who had paraded into her life since then saying, We should get together when I stop being busy, though it was still possible Quinn would hear from each one of them one day soon.

Behind Quinn, the fax machine beeped.

She had to call Fabio at Just The Fax. She’d been putting up with that shrill eep all year. “Seeking deep beep,” she’d tell him. “Rich like your voice.” And he’d chuckle and say, “Quinn, you’re the best. A true friend. Without your calls, I wouldn’t get through my week.”

She believed him.

They had met over the phone when she started her job. The fax machine wasn’t working, so she’d called Tech Support. He answered her question and told her, “Call anytime.” And she did, every day, usually to chat with him about how she was doing.

Quinn’s shoulders relaxed as the phone line clicked. But it wasn’t Fabio greeting her. It was Fabio’s automated clone with a clipped tone. She felt numb. She blanked out, tuning in only at the tail end. “Due. To. The. High. Call. Volume. Your. Call. Will. Be. Answered. In. The. Order. In. Which. It. Was. Received.”

It was unlike him to go corporate.

“I don’t have a website,” he had said early on, with his trademark chuckle. “No online presence. Just me and my machines in my living room.”

“A facsimile museum.”

“You are the most original person, Quinn.”

If Margo had seen her smile shimmering that day, she would have invited Quinn for a bite, for sure. Quinn bet she glowed brighter than her work area’s fluorescent light.

Now she cringed as Margo rasped, “It’s not my fault everyone wants to invite me places.”

Click-click. “Fabio,” Quinn was about to exclaim, when the robotic voice interrupted, “This. Call. Will. Be. Monitored. For. Quality. Assurance.”

Only Fabio would understand about Margo. He’d listen, not even asking questions, affirming, “Of course, you’re annoyed. That woman needs to be taught a lesson.”

Quinn’s ankles wobbled, and her tippy toes ached. If she hung up, she’d have no one. If she confided in him during a monitored call, the news that she was a social outcast would be broadcast.

The fax machine beeped again. A lonely sound. Quinn’s lips trembled. She had been on hold too long. She had been holding on too long to people not showing up. The tombstones weren’t for her lost friends. They were for the parts of her that died each time she pursued someone unavailable.

She didn’t want to say goodbye. She was afraid she couldn’t go on without them.

But Margo had failed to notice her. Her friends had deserted her. And Fabio may have enlisted the electronic answering service to avoid her calls.

She averted her eyes from her co-worker. Goodbye Margo.

Goodbye busy women. Goodbye Fabio. A delicious warmth spread through her, nourishing her as if she had dined on the most exquisite meal.

Full, she disconnected her call.

Eva Schlesinger

Eva M. Schlesinger, author of four poetry chapbooks, has received the Literal Latte Food Verse Award and twice been a Grand SLAM contender on the Moth Stage where she made the audience of 1,400 laugh nonstop. Her flash has appeared inWomen in Clothes, Lost Balloon, Fiction Southeast, and elsewhere.

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