Office at Night by Michael Klein
Zelja rested her arm on the open file cabinet drawer and watched over Mr. Garridan’s shoulder as he read the letter for what must have been the tenth time.
She adjusted her tight turquoise dress. She wanted to puncture the long silence and she was comfortable offering him her thoughts. He welcomed her opinion. In work. This was not work.
As if finally accepting that no matter how many times he re-read the letter, the contents would not change, he set it down and traced his finger along its edge.
He leaned back in his chair and let out a breath. Outside the open window an elevated train blasted by, rattling the frosted windows on the far wall of the small office.
“Well, that’s it then,” he said.
“What should we do, Mr. Garridan?”
He glanced out the window.
“We? Nothing we can do. You should probably look for a new position.”
“Mr. Garridan, don’t be dramatic.”
“I’ll write you a fine reference. Of course, you’ll need to use it quickly, before, well—” he gestured to the letter.
“Nonsense. We’ll think of something,” she said.
“Not this time, Zel. Not this time. Give me the bottle, will you?”
He yanked open the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out two short stemmed glasses. He loosened his necktie as she eased one of the file cabinet drawers open, lifting it slightly so it wouldn’t screech. She reached to the back, wrapped her fingers around the neck of the bottle. Passing it to him, she saw the contents were below the tiny nail polish mark she had placed on the label a few days before.
Garridan took the bottle, made a show of dropping the cap in the waste basket by the window.
“We won’t need that,” he said as he filled each glass to one of the gold stripes near the lip.
He held one out to her.
She stared at his hands, his thin delicate fingers that almost met around the glass.
“Zel, I’ll drink alone, but I don’t want to.” He thrust the glass at her.
She took it and dropped into the banker’s chair beside the file cabinet.
He stood, took a small step towards her and clinked her glass with his.
“Noroc,” he muttered.
“Ziveli,” she whispered.
She brought the glass to her brightly painted lips, the smell of the liquor tickling her nostrils.
Garridan drained his glass in one motion and was back at his desk sloshing more alcohol into it. He didn’t notice her lower her glass without taking a sip.
He walked to the window, leaned against the jamb and looked at the street below.
A stifling silence settled on the office.
Zelja stared at her own fingers, plumper than his, tracing the slight imperfections of the hand blown glass.
“Could we call Judge Bartholomew?” she asked.
“Why would he help me? And what could he do anyway?”
“I suspect he’d be sympathetic,” she answered.
He cocked his head and looked at her.
“His son,” she said quietly, staring at a piece of paper that had fallen to the floor.
He made a small noise of acknowledgment and took a long pull on his drink. He turned back to the window.
“You and the judge could have lunch at his club,” she continued. “A public show of support.”
Garridan didn’t say anything. His silence pulled her to the edge of her seat.
“He’s up for re-election next year,” Garridan finally said. “He won’t even want to see me in his courtroom let alone his club. Sympathetic to the circumstances or not.”
Another train barreled past in the opposite direction of the first.
She wanted to pour her drink out, but the potted plant she had used for the purpose in the past, having withered the week before, had been replaced with an umbrella stand.
He gulped down his drink and turned to pour another, but her expression stopped him.
“Come on, Zel, it’s just the way things are.”
“Well, I hate it. They’ve no right.”
“Take a sip, Zel. You have to, we toasted. I’ll finish it, just take a sip. For me.”
She did. The tiny bit of alcohol burning her throat and reminding her of her father, long gone.
Garridan held out his empty glass by the base. She took it, placed hers in his fingers. He drained it in a single swallow and poured another.
“Why don’t we just deny it all,” she asked.
“Zelja, you keep saying ‘we.’ This is my problem, not ours. Anyway, whoever this is says there’s proof,” Garridan said, pulling his tie the rest of the way off.
“Misunderstandings,” she offered.
“Depends on the proof,” he said with a laugh.
Her cheeks flushed. “Oh bullshit, Mr. Garridan.”
“Miss Zastitnik, I am shocked,” he said smiling.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Garridan, it just makes me so mad.”
“You see, I am a bad influence on you. They’re right,” he said.
“I had a father and two brothers. I learned to swear long before I came to work for you, sir. ”
He raised his glass in her direction and swallowed again.
“What if we had our own proof?” she asked.
“Proof that it can’t be true.”
“Zelja, one of the first things you learn in law school is that trying to prove a negative is a dangerous strategy,” he said, refilling his glass.
“I know how we can prove it,” she said softly.
He paused, the full glass mid-way to his lips.
“I know someone. A girl. We were in the same boarding house when I first arrived. She would be very understanding.” Zelja stressed the very.
He lowered the glass to the desk.
“Why would she help me?”
Zelja shifted in her seat.
“She comes from money. But her family doesn’t approve of her…choices. At some point, they’ll have had enough and no more money.”
They sat silent for a moment.
“You know how to reach her?”
She nodded slowly. “I do. I do.”
Garridan exhaled, looked at his glass.
Another el train rocketed past the window.
“Zelja, I don’t pay you enough.”
“I agree, Mr. Garridan,” she said, standing and smoothing her dress.
She took a half step to his desk, snatched up the bottle and drank from it, draining it. She put it back on his desk with a bang.
“My brothers taught me more than swearing. Put your tie back on. Let’s find your bride.”
Michael Klein is originally from New York and has lived in Northern Virginia since 1999. A great fan of bourbon, his tastes are unapologetically simple. He has run a local writers group since 2006 that has produced wonderful talents. Michael has work forthcoming in "After Dinner Conversation."
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