by Thomas Mundt
Brenda treats her cubicle like it’s a nail salon. I can say that, even though she’s a Korean, because we have an understanding. There are rules, boundaries. I know this. Violators go straight to Dustin in HR and do not collect $200. That’s a running joke around here.
She’s supposed to be adding the new asbestos cases to the master spreadsheet. I am too, but I’ve found that my blood pressure really responds positively to me just sitting there, watching. She applies and re-applies Easter egg colors and blows on her fingertips, and I drink a Dr. Pepper Ten, the one for males. It’s our thing.
I accidentally knock over one of the little glass bottles and a shade of blue called “2 Cool + 2 B = 4 Got 10” spills out onto a deposition transcript. I apologize profusely and offer to score some rags from the maintenance guy who reminds her of Dennis Farina.
“Ain’t no thang but a chicken wang.”
I don’t follow and Brenda explains that it’s something people said in the 1990s. When you could actually earn a buck, she adds. I tell her that I don’t remember much from that decade because I was born in 1989 and my mom and I were living in and out of cars a lot after my dad ran off with Amnesty, my speech therapist.
There is a decent-sized silence before the knocking of the air conditioning starts back up again.
“That isn’t shit.”
Brenda asks if she can get real for a second, and I give her permission. She puts the little black cap brush back into the bottle and leans forward. Then she tells me that she should be dead.
I guess that when she was living in La Jolla she dated a guy who was one of the sons of the man who invented Nerf. His whole house was covered in the stuff. Spongey walls, spongey floors, you name it. Anyway, the son had a trust and was always in the papers for doing things like skydiving with an electric guitar and running over a gardener in his Audi. One night, after they got back from Cirque du Soleil, they found a dead woman in the son’s driveway. She had one of those notes, where the letters look all crazy because they were cut out of a bunch of different magazines, stuck in her forehead with a big industrial-sized staple. Something about a racehorse deal the son welched on. The creepiest part was that the note ended with R.I.P. (Something) and then Brenda tells me that her real name is something that sounds like Laundry Chute and I know it’s not that, but I can’t tell what it’s supposed to be.
“Want to know the jacked-up part? Not even Asian, this chick. Honduran.”
The son didn’t call the cops or an ambulance, just had his driver haul ass. Brenda had to call a cab from the precinct after her statement. A few days later they set her up with a Witness Protection guy named Rico who let her choose a new identity from a list of three. “Nancy, The Telemarketer From Akron” was one of the options but she couldn’t remember the other. Then they put her on a bus to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. She worked at a Payless long enough to buy a plane ticket, quit, and came here.
“Not bad, huh? Got that fucker and I was good to go.”
Brenda points at her paralegal certificate. It looks like there’s mayo on one of the corners, but it could just be the light. I tell Brenda that she is the strongest person I know. She crosses her arms and her eyes narrow to tiny black marbles as she smiles.
“I helped move a pool table once.”