He raised his eyebrows, nodded and went back to his shelves. Once she was no longer in sight he pulled out his phone and dialled Kara.
“She did it again. I’m done with this place.”
“You’ve said this before, Carl, you need a plan before you can leave.”
“I’ve got one.”
“Really… what’s it this time? Win the lottery? Sell your body to science?
“Alright alight, I know I’m impulsive, but I found it, Kara.”
“Found what, Carl?”
“The clue. It was there all along.”
2 weeks earlier
Staring at his barely touched lunch, he pulled out the letter again hoping this time he’d see it, that something would jump out at him.
“I’m so sorry, I know it hurts now, but I promise it’ll get easier, just give it time. Please don’t hate me. It’s for the best; I did it for us. You’re loving wife, Jen.”
I have to stop. I can’t keep doing this to myself, it’s been three years; I need to throw it away. She’s gone and she’s not coming back; I have to let her go.
The buzzer sounded, end of break. He looked up and felt the yellow walls closing in on him, stained with years of stale cigarette smoke even though smoking had been banned indoors 10 years earlier. He had barely touched his lunch. He got up, walked to the trash cans and began to scrape it into the garbage.
“Hold up there, buddy! There’s good food on that plate! You know you’re not meant to throw the baby out with the bath water!”
He looked up and gave his colleague a nod. He didn’t have the head space for jokes right now. He left the canteen and headed back to the main floor. He pushed open the door, but stopped in his tracks.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. That’s it! I’ve been looking in the wrong place all along! What about the envelope!
2 years earlier, New York City.
“I’m sorry, Carl. Everything is different now. I know you’ve been through a lot, but we have to think of the business. Your department is losing money left, right and centre. We’ve tried to support you. We cut your targets, got you an assistant, gave you time to work from home when you needed it, but we can’t do it anymore. It’s over Carl. I’m sorry; we’re done.”
He had no more fight left in him. He walked back to his desk and started emptying his drawers. There was an empty box on his desk, waiting. He could feel his colleague’s eyes burning holes in the back of his head. None of them came to help and he knew this would be the last time he saw them. Time seemed to stop as he placed each of his belongings into the box. He’d sensed this day was coming so there was very little left to pack. He picked up his stuff and walked to the elevator. He didn’t turn around; he knew he’d used up all of his sympathy cards.
He reached the ground floor and stepped out into fresh, cool air. He couldn’t go home; it would only make things worse. It was early, but at least he knew he’d be welcome there. He headed to the support group.
The meeting wouldn’t start for another two hours, but the chairs were already set out, so he sat in his usual spot. He pulled out her letter and stared at the flimsy white paper. It reminded him of her pale, soft skin. He tried to imagine her, her smell, her warmth.
“Mind if I join you?”
The voice broke his thoughts and startled him.
“Em, yeah, sure.”
She caught his eye and held his gaze for just a moment.
“Hi, I’m Kara, I saw you here last week.”