Seven hours left of the day and it’s only Tuesday…I think. I check the calendar on my wall, but that hardly helps, because I can’t remember the date, either. While I try to remember, I gaze at the September photo: a Neolithic ruin somewhere in Scotland. It makes me miss being on vacation even more.

It’s Tuesday the 19th, apparently. Feels like Thursday.

You know that confusion you have when you come back from vacation and you’ve lost all sense of time? There’s probably a word for that in German, or maybe French. It seems like the kind of feeling the French would want a word for.

Anyway, I have it.

I had forty-two emails waiting for me when I returned yesterday. I spent the day deleting the irrelevant, ignoring the moderately important, and responding to the critical. Today – Tuesday, I remind myself proudly – I had seven new emails and three of the moderately important ones left to deal with.

Carol’s phone rings and I jump. “Trager Industrial Supply, how can I make your day more pleasant?”

She always answers the phone like that. It certainly makes my day more pleasant, but what makes it extra pleasant is that Carol usually starts griping about her client as soon as she hangs up, and her vocabulary is impressive.

“What did you do, Tim? Let me guess, you expect me to pull another one outta my ass for you.”

Tim. I nearly hit my keyboard with my face. Last week, Tim had emailed me about the fall protection kits for his wind turbine guys arriving minus one lifeline. In my post-vacation fog, I had classified his message as one of the moderately important ones, assuming he’d have seen my out-of-office and tried someone else.

Apparently not.

“Missing, huh?” She pauses, presumably while Tim explains his lost lifeline. His team leaves for a Texas wind farm tomorrow, so of course he waited until today to get a replacement. “Well yeah, she was in England all week! You expect her to process your order from England? Why didn’t you just call me? You’re hurtin’ my feelings, Tim.”

Another long pause, which I use to give thanks for Carol sticking up for me. I’ve only worked here for about a year, but Carol has probably been here since before they even invented fall protection, or skyscrapers, possibly even rope. She’s a living product catalog and instruction manual, with an editor who really liked to cuss.

“Nope. They’re lying,” Carol says. “Bullshit. Lies, lies, lies.”

I peek over my cubicle wall. Carol is squinting at her monitor. She taps the photo of the fall protection kit as if Tim was looking over her shoulder. Her industrial-strength fake nails make the whole monitor shake. “We don’t put these together on-site, they come fully assembled from the manufacturer. If you’re missing a piece, that’s on their end. They can’t blame us.”

I sit back down and speed through our available lifelines. The one he’s missing is sixty feet, rated for 4000 pounds – and we have something in stock. I message Carol the link and see her stick a thumbs-up over the top of her cubicle.

“Well, tell you what, if one of your guys can swing by the warehouse this afternoon, we’ll have some rope waiting for him. Sound good?” The longest pause of my life. “You bet, Timmy.”

Carol stands and tugs off her headset, gray frizz springing free. “Thanks, kiddo. Tim is a real dope sometimes.”

“Sorry I missed his email.”

She flips a hand dismissively. “If you’d answered that email from England, I woulda flown over there and slapped you. Now, I need more coffee. Sheezus, how is it only 10 AM?”

I sink back in my chair, waiting for my heart rate to return to normal, and stare up at the Neolithic ruin. Four days ago, I was circling Stonehenge with Matt. It was raining and we had to borrow an umbrella from the tour bus. It already feels like someone else’s life, or something I saw in a movie. The rain seems less dreary now, five thousand miles and a lifetime away.

Seven hours left. One email down. I peek at the November photo: Edinburgh Castle, photographed just after sunset, dramatically lit golden against the purple night sky…we’d follow the streetlights to a pub, spend the evening over good beer…

But Grace has a question about cleanroom supplies, and Mike needs more firefighting boots. Edinburgh will have to wait.


5 thoughts on “Lifelines

  1. This was delightful! You’ve captured so wonderfully that exact feeling following a vacation, when you’ve returned to life as usual, and time ticks so slowly. Also, a huge high five to Carol for her sassiness and excellent customer care.

  2. There’s some amazingly beautiful details in here – I love that! You’ve captured the post-holiday blues so very well.

  3. I liked this, it felt so real, not like fiction but like real life – and I loved that line “It seems like the kind of feeling the French would want a word for.” Cause truth. You did a good job making a boring, drudging day sound pretty.

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