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GRILLONS par Cynthia Atkins

I sense when people are making fun of me because of my size. Like Lisa upstairs in the Advertising Department and Doris, her friend in Sales. Trading glances, whispering. Their revulsion never seems to flag; I am a monster to them. I’ve tried not to care, but it’s hard. If I were blind or missing a limb, they’d be solicitous, perhaps even sad. But the handicap of being fat, enormously fat, is something else; something to ridicule. But not her, not this slender, attractive clerk in the Law Department. She has kind eyes. A rare quality.

            Down in the employee cafeteria, I order a full meal with some extras. They know me there and understand what I want. What I need. Three fish sandwiches, with three orders of French fries and a bowl of coleslaw. Vegetable soup. I also have a giant sized Coke and a piece of apple pie. À la mode. The willowy law clerk glances at my tray, but I can tell she isn’t looking down at me, nor does she look horrified. On the contrary, she acts as if it is the most normal thing in the world. This makes me happy.

            I take my tray and sit at my regular table. It’s not as if there is a sign saying it’s reserved, it’s just that people know where I sit and, I imagine, would rather not sit and watch me eat.  It’s understandable. I usually bring a magazine along so I can read while I eat. For me it’s a quiet time; alone with my food at the table. She sits at a table with the other law clerks.

            I don’t work on Fridays, but it’s a busy time in Finance right now and my boss asks me to come in. The attractive law clerk is on the same elevator that morning. “Friday?” she asks. “Busy time,” I say. “I guess they can’t do without you,” she says. I smile and she smiles.

            She starts dating Ron Caprille from Marketing. I see them holding hands in the hall, sharing lunch. Ron is a District Manager, a level several steps above Law Clerk. Maybe that’s some of the attraction, for both Ron and her.

            I begin examining Caprille’s expense accounts more closely, at first idly, but then with more purpose. I notice when he’s on a trip Ron tends to eat at expensive restaurants. I see a charge of $161 for lunch in Houston. No indication he was entertaining a supplier. I hold on to it for a while. When I’ve collected about fifteen such questionable expense statements, I bring them to the attention of my supervisor. He, in turn, discusses the matter with the Chief Financial Officer. The CFO talks to the vice-president of Marketing about the situation and Caprille is sanctioned.

            “Nice job,” my supervisor says. It’s what I was hired to do and sometimes it comes with an extra scoop of satisfaction. Is that bad?

            If she knows, it doesn’t show. Her eyes and her smile remain the same. She and Caprille continue as before, whispering in the halls, eating lunch together, holding hands at the end of the day as they head out toward the parking lot. I imagine myself in Caprille’s place: having the love of an attractive young woman. I unwrap one of the candy bars I keep in the top left hand drawer of my desk and devour it.

            A week later, a new stack of Caprille's expenses hits my desk. He spent three days in Southern California. I look through the items and it’s clear he hasn’t learned his lesson, continuing to live a posh life style on company money. I have a hunch he wasn’t traveling alone and I check to see if she may have taken vacation days. Bingo. The same three days. An affair on company money, but I can’t decide what, if anything, I want to do with the information.

            My boss tells me I’m going to be needed on Fridays for at least the next three months. Maybe longer. “Friday’s a regular thing?” she asks on the elevator. “For the next little while,” I say. “You look like you’ve got some sun.” She smiles, but says nothing.

            I decide not to make a big deal over Caprille’s travel expenses. I don’t want her getting in trouble, even though what a person does on their vacation time is their own business. If I go after him hard, I worry that she could be collateral damage.

            She sits down at my table at lunch. “Hi,” she says. “Hi,” I respond, somewhat surprised.

            “You all right?” she asks. “You’ve been looking kinda glum lately.”

            “Maybe it’s the weather,” I say. “This constant rain can get you down.”

            “Is that what it is, the weather?”

            I nod and down a spoonful of coleslaw.

            “I’ve got some good news,” she says. She flashes a ring. “Mr. Caprille and I are engaged.”

            Mr. Caprille. Is that what she calls him when they’re alone in a hotel room in Southern California? Oh, Mr. Caprille, don’t stop. Don’t stop.

            “That is good news,” I say, biting hard into the third fish sandwich.

            I’m not invited to the wedding—didn’t expect to be—but later she brings in a wedding album and shows me the photos. She’s wearing a flowing white dress and looks as beautiful as I imagined. “Lovely photos,” I say.

            I ask a coworker, Larry Johnson, to take over the task of reviewing Caprille’s travel and entertainment expenses. Within a year Caprille is gone. Let go.

            I’m happy to see she continues working in the Law Department. I hear from other people that Caprille has a job at a local advertising agency. She remains cordial to me. She urges me to smile more. “You have a very nice smile.”

            And now, at night, when I lift myself into bed and turn off the lights, I smile.

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Cynthia Atkins est l'auteur deLes temps de Psyché, en cas de divulgation complète(CW Livres),Nature morte avec Dieu(Saint Julian Press 2020).  Son travail a été publié dans de nombreuses revues, dont Alaska Quarterly Review, BOMB, Cleaver Magazine, Diode, Florida Review, Green Mountains Review, Rust + Moth, North American Review, Seneca Review, Thrush, Tinderbox, et Verse Quotidien. Elle était auparavant directrice adjointe de la Poetry Society of America et a enseigné l'anglais et l'écriture créative, plus récemment au Blue Ridge Community College, où elle a organisé une série de lecture trimestrielle, Lit-Salon. Elle est rédactrice en chef des interviews pour American Microreviews and Interviews.  Atkins a obtenu son MFA de l'Université de Columbia et a obtenu des bourses et des prix de la Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Writer's Voice , et Writers@Work. Atkins vit sur la rivière Maury du comté de Rockbridge, en Virginie, avec l'artiste Phillip Welch et leur famille. 

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