Spreading the rumor

852 words

This was like pulling teeth. Had no idea where this was going. Still don’t.  ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Taylor drummed her hands on the desk in front of her. Alex couldn’t tell if she was doing it on purpose, for effect, maybe. It certainly drew attention to her short, blood-red nails. “Talons after a successful struggle with prey,” Alex thought, then realized Taylor was waiting for a response.

“I’m really not sure what you want me to say,” he shrugged. “I’ve pretty much told you everything I know.”

Taylor silenced her nails and flattened her palm on the desk. “You sure about that?” she said. Her eyes, blue and empty, gave Alex no clues. He knew more. A lot more. But from her body language to her blank stare, he couldn’t determine how much she already gathered from his coworkers. He’d love to have her as a poker partner.

He shifted in his chair, uncrossed his legs, and put his feet firmly on the floor. He leaned forward, hands steady in his lap. This was, he thought, a power stance. If she could do it, so could he. She didn’t flinch. “Look,” he continued, showing her his palms in a, “I have nothing to hide” gesture. “I’m guessing I know the same as you do.” There was no response from the other side of the desk. He cleared his throat, and immediately wished he hadn’t. It was an obvious sign of nervousness.

She noticed. Her lips twitched upward almost imperceptibly. “Well then, why don’t you tell me? We could compare notes.”

“I mean,” he continued, “I’ve heard things. But I have no idea if those things are true.”

“What have you heard?” she asked.

“Taylor.” His voice had gone dry. “Don’t make me repeat things I have no business repeating. That would just be spreading the rumor further, don’t you think? Is that fair, when he’s not here to defend himself? It’s not fair,” he said, answering his own question.

“What I have a hard time believing,” Taylor said, sliding one red-tipped hand across the desk toward a manilla folder, “is that you know as little as you say you do.” She slid the folder in front of herself, but didn’t open it. Her nails started their seductive movement again, tapping on the folder in a seemingly absent-minded manner. Alex watched the nails. He was supposed to, he realized. His attention was unwillingly drawn to the folder and its contents.

The folder itself was innocuous. A plain, manilla folder like one would find in any office. He remembered when he was younger—seven, maybe?—he called it “vanilla.” His father, an accountant, worked from his home office back in the early days of the internet, and Alex had helped him by running small errands. He took pride in being his dad’s “go-fer,” and his dad had rewarded him by making him a t-shirt with a little picture of a gopher on it. When called upon to retrieve fresh folders from his supply cabinet, Alex would say, “Here you go! Five vanilla folders.” It was his older brother who finally corrected him with much disdain. “Not VANilla, idiot. MANilla. It’s not ice cream.” Alex’s father didn’t condone such language in their household, and took Alex for ice cream, leaving the older brother at home to think about how he spoke to family members. But Alex never called the folders vanilla again.

“What’s that?” Alex finally asked, nodding at the desk.

“You tell me.” Taylor was giving nothing away.

Alex took another look at the folder. It was about an inch thick with papers. “Old-school,” he thought. Why go through the trouble of printing things out? Whatever she had, it probably came from a digital source. Emails, maybe. He thought quickly. He had been cc’d on a lot of the emails, but he couldn’t remember how he’d received them. Had Brian been fantastically stupid and sent emails through the company server? Even worse, had Alex been equally idiotic and responded to them without noticing? His email program was set up to handle several different accounts, including personal. It was entirely possible he’d been distracted and hit “reply” before scrutinizing an email’s origin.

“Gosh, Taylor. I don’t know,” Alex said, giving her an exaggerated expression of innocence. “Love letters? Fifth-grade valentines? Shopping lists. Your fantasy football picks. Blueprints for your retirement home. How the hell am I supposed to know? What do you want from me?”

“There’s some pretty damning stuff in here,” she said, ignoring Alex’s comments. “Information that, should it get out, could mean investigations. I already know you’re involved. Please don’t deny it. What I don’t know is how deep this goes, and who else is involved. That’s what I need from you, Alex. I can’t promise you’ll come out of this clean. But I can promise I won’t intentionally make this worse for you. And you know I can do it.” She opened the folder and scanned the top page. From where Alex was sitting, it indeed looked like a printout of an email. The pit that had been growing in his stomach deepened.

“So,” she said, closing the folder. “What would you like to tell me, Alex?”


Out of practice

820 words

Not too difficult today. Don’t necessarily know where this is going, but I like Tracy.

The eggshells were piling up on the counter. She knew she should contain them in some way; raw eggs, after all, were a bad case of Salmonella waiting to happen. But she continued to toss the eggshells straight onto the tiled counter anyway, their viscous insides oozing into the grout between the tiles. It would be hard to clean when it dried. She didn’t care.

The water was as it should be. It bubbled ever so slightly at the edges of the pot, tentatively, as if whispering in burbles. A shy fish perhaps professing its love. The water was also vinegared. This, supposedly, would make the egg whites solidify more quickly. That was what she was taught many years ago, anyway. But according to the internet—the Grand High Poobah of All Things Known—this “fact” was now up for debate. This held true for the water whirlpool.

“What are you making there?” the instructor said, watching Tracy whisk the water vigorously into a steaming vortex. “You making soup?”

“No, I’m creating the whirlpool bath,” Tracy said.

The instructor hissed a long breath out between her teeth. “You don’t really have to do that,” she said. “Why do people think they need to do that?”

“…Because that’s what we’ve been taught all of our lives?” Tracy said, with not a small amount of annoyance.

“Sure, but then there’s the story about the woman who cut off the ends of her meatloaf her entire life. Because that’s what she’d always been taught,” the instructor said. Tracy blinked at her. “It turns out her grandmother’s meatloaf pan was too small,” the instructor waited for a laugh. She received silence. “Okay,” the instructor continued, “my point being. What we’ve been taught our entire lives isn’t necessarily the best way to do things. Stop trying to make a black hole with the water. Just simmer, gently crack the egg into the water, and wait. That’s what’s needed for a good poached egg.”

The instructor turned on her heel and began to accost the student at the next station. Tracy stood over her pot, examining her water. There were fragments of her previous failed egg experiments. “Eggsperiments,” she thought to herself, then cringed. It was a horrible pun. Thin tendrils of overcooked egg whites danced and intertwined; they looked to Tracy like ectoplasm. “Who you gonna call?” she said into the water.


Tracy’s head snapped up. She’d forgotten there was another student to her right. She was supposed to partner with him, but she’d simply pretended he wasn’t there. Clearly, he was there to make friends. Even set up a date. Tracy wasn’t interested in making friends. She just wanted to reacquaint herself with the art of cooking.

“Sorry,” she said. “I was just talking to myself. I used to know how to do this. I guess I’m just out of practice.”

He nodded, then pushed his glasses into place. They were a little fogged from his own poaching work. “You’d think this would be easy,” he said. “I think of all the times I’ve ordered poached eggs at a restaurant. Never gave it a second thought. Now I wonder if the chef gets angry every time an order for a poached egg comes in.” He looked at Tracy. “It’s a big, fat pain in the ass, if you ask me.”

Tracy could tell he was trying to relate. To connect. Over eggs. She did not wish to connect over eggs. “I suppose you could look at it that way,” she said. “Eggs, in general, seem like they’re the simplest things in the world. Look at it,” she took an egg out of the container, sleek and brown, and held it up in front of his eyes. The orb reflected in his glasses. “What could be simpler? You crack it, and it’s composed of two things: albumen and yolk. Protein and fat. I mean, there’s some membrane in there as well, but mostly, just that white and yellow. And yet, we humans have decided there are specific ways it should be prepared. Fried—over-easy; sunny-side-up; over-hard.”

Tracy took a breath. The other student was watching her, but not unkindly. He seemed to be smiling at her. She ignored him. “And then there’s hard-boiled and soft-boiled. Have you ever tried soft boiling an egg?” She didn’t wait for him to answer. “But poaching.” She paused and made a face. “We decided that poaching an egg was something that needed to exist. So here we are. Me and…” Tracy looked into his face and gestured in his direction, “you.”

“Matt,” he said. She noticed he’d stopped his work and had focused his attention on her.

“And you,” she said. “Here, on a Saturday night, with pots of boiling water, and cartons filled with the result of some hen’s strenuous butt efforts. That’s what we’ve got.”