This story is by Desiree Hunter and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Amanda’s heart was threatening to break the walls of her chest and she was most definitely breathing, still, this paradoxical fact remained: she was a dead woman. She took one last look down at the words she’d written, words that all but placed a bulls eye on her back and walked out of the office. It would be hours until the next person would enter the building, an architectural marvel with its countless glass panels that captured rays of the sun, transformed them into colorful prisms and sprinkled them onto the courtyard below. The majestic building quickly became the town’s most recognizable landmark and on warm days mothers and nannies took their children and charges there to bask and play. The founders’ offices were on the very top floor; a lavish penthouse of a headquarters and it was indeed by design that two founders’ desks were on platforms 2 feet high. Everyone literally looked up to Williams & Sims.
At around 6 o’clock, maybe 6:15 depending on how forgiving the morning traffic, the cleaning crew would shuffle in, carrying vacuum cleaners and pushing mop buckets, eager to complete their first assignment because it meant they were that much closer to their last. The floor where she placed the book – a ledger, really – would likely be handled by Frank, an older man with a limp and a face that seemed permanently pinched whenever he spied someone who’d arrived early and was there as they cleaned, like he was more disgusted by the people he cleaned up after than the trash he carried out. He’d hardly touch the book as he carelessly ran his cleaning rag over the table, which meant it would sit there for most of the day, innocent and innocuous, until those more meticulous than Frank flooded the building and opened it in search of answers. Then the secrets would come flying out like angry wasps intent for revenge on whomever dared disturb their nest.
She sill wasn’t sure exactly what occurred but this time when Martin Williams leaned in, his breath that foul, familiar pungency of cigarettes and coffee, it was as if a steel wall sprung up around her heart piece by piece and each pump filled her veins with metal, making her body stiff and cold and…strong.
It surprised her as much as it did Martin. His brow flickered for split second at the unfamiliar utterance but it was immediately dismissed; that word was seldom used toward him and certainly not from women like Amanda. Again he leaned forward and again:
Only this time the word was accompanied by movement. She of course hadn’t meant for it to happen but it was like someone, something, pulled her arm back like an archer stretching their bow and when the tension was released, her palm struck Martin’s chin so hard she felt her elbow pop. He made a small sound, a startled yelp and his eyes widened in disbelief as he started falling down, down in slow motion all the while looking at her with that stunned expression. When his head struck the edge of the heavy teak desk her only thought was how surprising the resulting sound was, hollow, almost an echo.
There had been dozens, even hundreds of times when she’d imagined going out and never coming back. Leaving the good-paying job in the glass building where transparency was scarce. The building where supervisors touted open door policies but so many transactions were locked away and hidden from view. When she casually mentioned her concerns, she was suddenly promoted and offered a hefty raise, which she took without hesitation. Maybe it was her speed, the quick willingness to look away when thrown money that clued Martin Williams in on how much Amanda thought she needed this job. That desperation tipped him off to her plight, made him sniff out that if he asked her to stay late to get some “extra work done” perhaps she might put up with overtime that included tasks which went far beyond her job description.
So she accepted the new parameters, ignored her instincts, resigned herself to her pushy boss with the bad breath whose sense of privileged entitlement extended to her body. After he’d fallen, she should have felt burdened, guilty, but instead she was light, akin to a gazelle that had escaped a lion’s jaws. That was when she picked up the ledger and began to write: about the missing money, the shady investments, the forced “overtime,” and how something mistook her arm for a catapult and Martin Williams wound up where he lay still. It probably went without saying but she said it anyway; the words “I respectfully resign” were ones she’d wanted to write for so long that she couldn’t resist the opportunity to include them now.
Then, she walked. For now she was alive and there would be plenty of time for running.