By Any Other Name
Humorous Short Fiction by Biff
I pushed the button on the intercom on my desk and summoned Rose, my secretary, into my office. She stepped in and promptly set off the smoke alarm. I stood on my chair to reach it and, after pounding on it with the stapler for a few moments, I finally managed to quiet the beast by removing its battery. Once that matter was dispensed with, I gestured for her to sit down.
“Rose,” I began, sitting behind my desk. “Let me start off by saying how happy I am with the work you’ve been doing.”
“I’m fired, aren’t I?” she said, her voice distraught.
“What?” I asked, flustered. I hate it when people break my chain of thought. I had been going through this conversation in my mind for two days and not once in those two days did she utter anything of the kind. Now she has thrown off my rhythm.
“You’re giving me the sack, aren’t you?” she said, sounding for a moment as if she might cry.
“Of course not,” I said, shocked. “Why would you think such a thing?”
“You always start your sacking speeches with ‘Let me start off by saying how happy I am with the work you’ve been doing’.”
She nodded self-assuredly.
I leaned forward and jotted on my Day-Timer, change sacking-speech opening. I then leaned back and steepled my fingers and considered her somewhat paternally.
“I assure you, Rose, you are not being sacked. I really am happy with the work you’ve been doing.” I cleared my throat nervously as I approached the delicate subject I had called her in to discuss.
She looked at me suspiciously, but did not say anything.
“No,” I continued, this is a much more delicate matter.
“Delicate?” she asked, her voice even more suspicious. She pulled her sweater closer around her throat as if she thought I were about to lunge at her and shower her with unwanted affection in direct violation of our Employee Handbook, specifically Section 7, Paragraph 7.2.1, bullet 2.
“It’s about your perfume,” I said, deciding just to jump into the matter feet first.
She softened a bit and seemed flattered. “Oh, you noticed?”, she said, seeming to momentarily forget all about Paragraph 7.2.1, bullet 2.
“Yes, I did. As did the smoke detector a few minutes ago. I’m afraid, Rose, that there have been complaints about the copiousness of your applications of it.” I slid my finger under the collar of my shirt and tried to loosen it a bit.
“I don’t wear that much,” she said defensively.
“The office pool has the over/under amount at 1.1 gallons per day,” I said, dabbing at the tears that were now forming in the corners of my eyes.
Rose gasped, obviously shocked and hurt that such a thing could happen.
“I was as shocked as you are, of course,” I said sympathetically. “And so naturally took the under.”
“Well, Allan in shipping wears too much Old Spice aftershave,” she said haughtily.
“Yes, I know. I was going to have a word with him about it yesterday, but unfortunately, he got too close to someone who was smoking a cigarette and burst into flames. He had to be rushed to the hospital.”
“Is he okay?” she asked, horrified.
“Oh, yes, he’s fine,” I said, edging towards the window. “Apparently, it was one of those low-heat chemical fires and did no more damage than a bad sunburn.”
I gave a tug at the window. It didn’t budge. Damn these modern office buildings!
“Well,” she continued, re-adopting her haughty tone, “I don’t see how anyone could possibly say I wear too much perfume. I can’t even smell it.”
I tugged a bit more determinedly at the window. The room was beginning to warp and shimmer.
“I’m sure you can’t,” I said, my throat a bit dry and hoarse. “One’s olfactory senses tend to become immune to strong smells over time.” I tugged again with a little more urgency.
“Besides,” she continued, “This is a very subtle fragrance.”
“No doubt you’re right,” I said, “I’m sure it is, in the proper measure. I say . . . do you see fireflies in here, Rose?”
“Fireflies? Of course not. What are you talking about?”
I was seeing small flashes of light in front of me where ever I looked. I knew what my course of action must be.
“Please stand back a little, please,” I said to her.
“Why? What are you going to do?”
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to throw my chair through the window.”
“What on earth for?” she asked, horrified.
I clutched at the arm and back of the chair, but could not lift it. Too weak.
“Must . . . . . get . . . . . air,” I said. The fireflies had become fire-pelicans and circled around me lazily.
* * *
When I opened my eyes, I noticed a paramedic was staring down at me.
“He’s coming to,” said the paramedic into a small microphone on the shoulder of her uniform.
I took a deep breath. Ahhh . . . fresh air. Well, fresh for the back of an ambulance, I suppose. It reeked of rubbing alcohol and disinfectant and diesel, but it was not so bad after being buried alive under an avalanche of Eau de Malodour or whatever the heck that stuff was. I tried to sit up.
The paramedic kept me down with a hand on my chest. “Ah, ah,” she warned. “It’s best for you to remain lying down for a bit.”
“What happened?” I asked, as if I didn’t know.
“You were the victim of an attack using an air-borne chemical agent of some sort. Or perhaps you have been sniffing glue?”
“Absolutely not!” I said vehemently.
“Of course not!”
“Well,” she said as if disappointed that I would not cooperate. “The haz-mat team is in your office now conducting tests on the air quality. We’ll soon get to the bottom of this.”
“I can save them the trouble,” I said, brushing aside her hand and sitting up.
“Until you admit that you have a problem,” she said in feigned concern that came across as mere condescension, “We can’t help you.”
“The only thing the haz-mat team will find in my office is the scent of my secretary’s perfume.”
The paramedic raised her eyebrows as if to say “hullo hullo hullo.”
“She wears the stuff by the bucket, you see. I was overcome by the fumes.”
The paramedic seemed disappointed. “That’s it?”
“And nothing but,” I said.
“The whole –?”
“So help me, God,” I said.
She heaved a heavy sigh, closed the plastic case of her paramedic kit, and snapped the clasps. She stood up to go.
“Well, then,” she said, sounding disappointed. “There’s nothing for me to do here.”
“I appreciate your efforts nonetheless,” I said, trying to sound appreciative in spite of her accusations earlier.
She shrugged. “Well, no crime was committed. You came out smelling like a rose.”
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