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Author's Notes: Be sure to read part 1 here.
“It tastes rather dry,” Tamara muses to herself.
Taking another bite of her reheated chicken breast from last night's dinner, she notices how the texture and flavor had diminished considerably. Reheating food sometimes has this effect, as it is the same with french fries losing their richness if you don’t eat them when they’re fresh out of the deep fryer. Not that any of it mattered anyway. Roasted chicken sold at grocery stores always tastes dry and bland. It’s better to cook it at home with your own seasonings. If only she had more time, she’d cook meals for work more often.
As she took another bite of the chicken, she couldn’t help but compare herself. Once rich in flavor and succulent, with the right ingredients; so young, so pure, and full of spirit. But now, a shadow of her former self; dry, tasteless, like a Walmart reheated chicken. Only to be microwaved and used over and over, giving the same tasteless result that refuses to change. Maybe this said something about her job.
She just needed the right seasoning to spice up her life. A little barbecue sauce wouldn’t hurt. But perhaps we’re all meant to become grocery store chicken at some point in our lives. When we’ve reached our biggest low, overcooked beyond belief, where no amount of sauces could make us edible again.
I personally just think she needs a better metaphor for life. Tamara was never really good at expressing her emotions with words in general.
“C'est la vie” she muses, proceeding to down another piece. Just then, the phone rang. Her break was almost over so she guessed it wouldn’t hurt to start a little earlier.
“Good afternoon. Thank you for calling Nova Aura customer service line. Proud winners of Excellence Canada’s highest achievement award. How can I help you?”
A man in what sounded his late twenties spoke. “Hey, baby girl. What’s popping?”
“I dunno. You tell me?”
“Aight. I’m just calling to have a good time, you know what I’m saying?”
Oh dear, it sounded like it was going to be another one of those people. “I don’t think I do,” she replied.
“You sound cute. You probably know how to give a real man a good time.”
It then dawned upon her the real intent of this caller. Still, couldn’t break protocol and complied. “Oh I’m sorry, this is the wrong hotline for that service. I don’t think I have the required skills for what you need.”
“Oh, come on, baby girl. Don’t be like that. I bet I can make you squawk where you at.”
“I doubt it.”
“Mmm, I like that. Feisty. Watchu wearin?”
“Oh, nothing much. Just a plain white long sleeved shirt I got at a Winners for cheap, and some black pants. The standard.”
“Ah, office girl. Nice! You can be my naughty secretary. Trust.”
Well, clearly this pervert wouldn’t give up. But, try as he may, it was going to be next to impossible to get a response. She could’ve hung up, but part of her was curious to see how far she could humor him.
He spoke again. “So, you done anything, naughty baby girl?”
“Well, recently I’ve been playing with my pussy.”
The man could be heard snickering at the other end of the line. He continued: “Really now?! That’s hot, baby girl.”
“Would you like to hear it?”
“Mmm, yeah, gimme some of that.”
Tamara then proceeds to take out her phone and begins scrolling through her library until she finds the right video. Putting the call on speaker, she then inches her phone closer. Playing the video, loud noises of a cat in pain could be heard roaring, hissing, and wailing from the cellphone, almost as if the poor thing was crying for dear life.
“How’s that?” she replies.
The caller hangs up.
Nonchalantly, she goes back to eating her chicken.
Some time after lunch, the soundtrack resumed its course, with the never-ending clicking and phone ringing of the day, this time with a little knock. Turning around to the source of it, Tamara’s co-worker Eliza stands at the threshold of her cubicle.
“Tamara honey, everything good?” she asked.
“Couldn’t be better. Why?”
“Well, just want to let you know that some weirdo has been calling all morning trying to flirt with the girls here. Thinks we run some freaking erotic hotline,” she sighs. “I swear, we keep getting crazier people calling here every day.”
“Oh, I know.”
“You talked to him?” Eliza demanded
Tamara nods. “I don’t think he’ll be calling me back.” She places her attention back to her computer.
“What makes you so sure?”
“Just a hunch.”
“Uh-uh, don’t give no me no damn hunch excuse. We know how you can be on the phone sometimes. What did you tell him?”
“I just played him a video of Mrs. Brisby.”
Eliza stared at her in sheer disbelief. “Your cat?”
“That actually worked?”
“Am I missing some context here?”
Tamara continues typing on her desktop, while acknowledging her friend. “I suppose he wasn’t a fan of pussycats.”
Eliza sighs in defeat. “Alright, whatever. Just, if he calls again, just let me know.”
“By the way, how is that old cat of yours?”
“Oh, she’s resting fine. She’s just a little cranky after getting her shots last week.”
“I can imagine. The poor thing probably doesn’t want to be touched.”
“I know, I recorded her cries last night to see if the vet can tell me if they’re normal. So I try to give her enough space.”
“Tamara honey, you really need to get more friends.”
“I have you.”
“Yes, your only friend, and only because we see each other at work. All you have left is that damn cat.”
“I enjoy her company.”
“That’s not healthy, dear. You don’t even make friends with anyone at your book club, I assume?”
Tamara shakes her head. “I just like to discuss the works of John Irving”
“That overrated old fart? You know, I wonder if you have some sort of crush on this guy if you’re so fascinated with him this much.”
“You don’t need to be crushing on someone to appreciate good literature,” she replies matter of factly. “But he is a rather handsome man for his age.”
“Girl, you can do better than wanting to get in some pompous author’s pants. The guy’s in his seventies!”
“Am I to assume you want to fuck James Paterson then? You know? Given your love for his work?”
Eliza begins howling in laughter. “Hell no bitch! I’m not interested in that worn out prune. He ain’t packing anything I want, that’s for sure!” It takes her a while to regain her composure before resuming. “I just like the Alex Cross books alright? And Tyler Perry made me love them even more. Now that’s a man!”
“Well, there you go.”
“Alright, smartypants; any other books from some fancy authors you and your book clan love to fawn about?”
“Well, we just read The Monkeyface Chronicles. It’s by a local.”
“Yes. I found it a little depressing but relatable sometimes. It’s about a man with a facial deformity who travels to Toronto on his motorcycle for revenge on those who wronged him.”
“You know, I’m not surprised to know that’s something you’d be into. I just don’t wanna find out you’re getting revenge on anyone over some bottled up emotions.”
“It’s bittersweet. Not exactly what you’d expect,” Tamara reassures
“Alright, I’ll look it up. Who’s the author?”
“Richard Scarsbrook. Who knows? If you like it, maybe you’ll want to fuck him too?”
Eliza chuckles “Stop it! OK!?”
Tamara chuckles back. “OK, sorry.” She turns around to face her now. “But, seriously. What do you want from me?”
Eliza does a quick 360 scan around her. With nobody in the hallways and the others busy on their phone calls, she leans in and whispers. “Listen, how about you and me go out for some drinks? I know a place down at College Street called the Emmet Ray Bar. They stay open till late, and the food is delicious. They even got a DJ and-”
“I know what you’re doing,” Tamara interrupts, with a tone that left no room for negotiation. “But please, don’t.”
Eliza is visibly flustered. “Look, you can’t live your entire life alone. I don’t know what happened to you to be like this. Whether if it was a man, a family member, a-”
“Stop,” she interrupts again. A glint of hostility could be seen in her eyes. It was rather unusual to see Tamara display any sort of emotion like this.
“Alright, alright, honey. I get it. But I just wanna see you happy.”
“ I don’t need that type of company to be happy,” she reassured.
“Fine. But do it for me then? We don’t have to go out for guys. Let’s just have fun. You and me?”
Tamara sighs. “I’ll think about it.”
“Are you just gonna consider it and not do it?”
Tamara only gives her a barren stare. The previous emotion washed away. Now, Eliza couldn’t comprehend what her friend was feeling. She only felt the impression that she wanted to be left alone.
Eliza gives her a defeated smile. “OK, talk to you later, hon.” she makes her way out the cubicle and stops at the threshold. “Just, think about it, okay?”
Tamara shoots her a weak smile. They both know it is forced. With one last glance, Eliza turns around and leaves.
Facing back to her computer, Tamara lets out a heavy sigh. She’s unready to let herself be vulnerable like that. Not again. It had taken everything in her to keep herself in check, to strip away any weakness from her being. But every once in a while, the cracks would start to open and the memories would seep back inside.
Tamara peers under her desk to reach for the lower drawer. Opening it up she begins to search the contents inside. In between the stacks of folders and documents, she keeps flipping through each, looking in between the papers in search of that one precious item she needs. Finally, her efforts come through. A picture gripped between her fingers. She eyed the image attentively. Murmurs escape her mouth, triggered by the memories returning. It was happening again.
‘I let this happen. I should’ve done more. I’m such an idiot. I’m such a stupid, fucking, idi-’
The phone rings, breaking her from destructive reverie.
“Fuck.” She hastily puts the picture back into her drawer, stuffing it inside a random folder. Shutting the drawer tight, she locks it and puts the key away in her pocket.
Struggling to regain her bearings, Tamara takes a deep breath and puts on the biggest artificial smile she can muster. She replies without a falter.
"Good afternoon. Thank you for calling Nova Aura customer service line. Proud winners of Excellence Canada’s highest achievement award. How can I help you?”
The voice has a familiar tone. “Uhh, yeah, hi. It’s me.”
“Oh,” she pauses. Tamara is more at ease now to find out she was the caller. “Lindsey. What a surprise.”
(To be Continued in Part 3)