At 3:00am I woke up, breathing hard, heart pounding hard enough that I could hear it through my pillows, in full flight from a nightmare.
Jane had left me alone in the office with stern warnings to close out the month, and NOT to leave the office until everything was tallied. I was trying to make sure receipts got written for every payment, and the correct copies made of everything. I kept getting interrupted with more payments coming in, and people wanting to chat about changing the insurance coverage on their businesses.
From the To Do pile I picked up a piece of mail from a woman named Rita, a complaint of sexual harassment. Her complaint had been submitted on a piece of tissue-y yellow invoice paper with a letterhead logo, a caricature of herself that was all hair and lips and long long legs. If I could draw I would reproduce it for you here. It was in the style of Tim Sheaffer's sketches in Vanity Fair's The Coaster Correspondence, except it was a female and not Ed Coaster. She was suing Small Pond (or the insurance company that employed me . . . at this point in the nightmare a few of my jobs had become intertwined) for $100,000. She came in while I was tallying up the month's receipts, saw the photocopy of her complaint and, flash-eyed and pinch-lipped, asked what that picture was on her complaint, as if someone had ridiculed her by drawing on it. She was furious with a tight, stiff, full-of-threat heat that always scares me worse than somebody screaming in my face.
I said, "It's the picture YOU sent."
Then she was gone and I was no longer in the office, but outdoors and heading back to to finish the work. It was cold and dark and I was walking on ice, crossing a four-lane highway at a traffic light. The light changed and I was still trying to get across the first two lanes. I fell and crawled. Every foot I gained was lost with the next movement.
Now I'm back at the door, fumbling with a keyring of a hundred keys. A well-dressed and sophisticated man and a woman come and stand behind me. They want to get into the building but have no key.
I don't know who they are and they hang over me impatiently while I try to find the right key.
I know that whatever I do will be wrong: if I let them in there will be trouble for me in the future; if I don't let them in, they will give me immediate trouble.
I'm back in the office, trying to keep track of the separate piles of things to do, and in comes Afternoon Boss Bill. He sees my shaking hands and tells me to calm down, it isn't worth getting so upset. I want to scream at him to get out and let me get done what I have to get done, but he's my only friend and he's trying to be a comfort, so I swallow that urge.
Then he was gone and I was almost finished. It would be allowed for me to leave neatly arranged piles of receipts and long strips of adding machine tape for Jane, and I was almost there. Then I realized that in my frenzy I had moved the furniture slightly and Jane wouldn't like that, would surely make a comment about how I must have been truly out of control and frantic to have left the office in such disarray. So I had to move all the furniture back and I couldn't get it all perfectly aligned.
It went on and on. ...and on...
Upon waking I immediately remembered Rita, a woman with whom I worked when I was twenty-five. I remember her laughing at something I wore. Every time I passed her desk, she would put her face in her hands and laugh helplessly. Thirty-five years later I'm still having nightmares about her.