Victoria

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Charles didn’t seem to know what Victoria meant when she said “the church is just here to lie about eschatological matters.” His face always behaved awkwardly whenever Victoria used a word he didn’t know. And right now it showed a very indistinct mixture of shame and disgust. They were in t­­he lunch room and she was explaining what the Ens Realissimum was and how Kant invalidated the Ontological and Teleogical arguments given as proofs of its existence – it wasn’t even lunch time as yet. Charles seemed fidgety, but Victoria didn’t share his jitteriness. She only stood and held her cup with the words, “L’enfer, c’est les autres,” on it with both hands. Charles had once asked her why she brought the cup everywhere; she told him it was because of those words. And when he asked what they meant, she stared him in the eye and said “hell is other people.”

Today, the cup was filled with apple juice and her grasp on it was firm as it usually was when she was talking about the Ens Realissimum or anything like it. Susan was in the room too, she was rummaging through the fridge. She was unusually quiet, which was the norm whenever she was around Victoria.

“Metaphysics is dead,” Victoria eventually said to Charles. “Every notion about another world is based on an error of reason.”

“Mine sure aren’t,” said Charles, adjusting his position in his chair.

“Charles, we’ve talked about this many times. Your beliefs are those of an intellectual coward. They’re a sin against both history and the future – a hindrance to progress.”

Charles’ face stiffened.

“Just because I don’t believe what you believe doesn’t make me a coward.”

Victoria smiled and pulled out a chair from under the table slowly. It was the one that allowed her to position her back to the door and face Charles squarely. When the screech that came with giving that old, rusty, black,  half-backed chair a new orientation died, she looked at Charles with an almost reptilian stare and said, “Charles, my dear, I must confess, your innocence and brazen denial both fill me with a certain joie de verve and disgust me simultaneously. See, dear, it’s not about believing what I believe, it’s about believing something that makes sense.”

“You always treat me like an idiot!” said Charles with a touch more red on those rosy cheeks. “You always act like you’re smarter than everyone else. They’re smarter people than you who believe what I believe!”

“Well,” said Victoria “I’m pretty sure I’m smarter than you when it comes to these subjects. And I have no trouble believing that greater intellects than  mine believe the nonsense that you do. It doesn’t make you right. It just makes them cowards too.”

“You seem to think I’m an idiot, though.”

“No silly. Haven’t you been listening? I think you’re a coward.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Well in your case, you have the sense but refuse to use it.”

A slight smile came over Victoria’s face, the kind sadists get when they’re pleased with the pain they’ve caused. Charles noticed, and seemed to be forming a reply – one he couldn’t find the correct words for no matter how hard he searched.

Victoria was about to say something again when their supervisor walked in. The blue clock in the lunch room showed 10:53; Susan had left 10 minutes ago. Charles saw him and grew a little pale. Victoria seemed indifferent.

“Shouldn’t you guys be at your desks?” asked the supervisor.

“Yes sir, we’re going back now,” said Charles.

“All our work is done,” said Victoria turning around slowly.

Charles groaned.

“It seems that you need more work then,” said the supervisor. “Go to the filing room and tell Hensel to allow you to do some filing.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t clear earlier. What I should have said was all the work we get paid to do, is done.”

Charles looked like a deer caught in headlights.

“So what you mean to tell me is that you’re not doing any filing.”

“More or less,” said Victoria.

The supervisor’s jaw line bulged. He was tall, well-built and overbearing for a man of 45. He once fought a young man for telling him that his contacts made him look like a flamer. He damaged the young man quite a bit, leaving him with an eye a few shades lighter than black and some bruised ribs. Perhaps the only reason he didn’t injure him more severely was because the young man was his step-son.

His jaw still bulged when he told Victoria that she was working hard for a suspension.

“No,” Victoria responded, “I’m working hard for my pay, which is rather less than satisfactory.”

Charles wiped his face, got up and said he was going to the filing room. The supervisor who was still standing at the door moved to make way for him.  Charles passed him with his eyes firmly fixed on the floor which had some cracked tiles. As he walked out, Victoria shouted after him, “we’ll still meet up for drinks later, right?” Her voice cracked a little but her pitch was rather well maintained.

Charles kept his eyes fixed on the ground, said “we’ll talk” then disappeared. Victoria watched him leave and chuckled.

“Shouldn’t you be leaving too?” asked the supervisor.

“No,” said the young woman, “I’m going to go use the bathroom and then go sit at my desk and wait for Bertha to give me the final list of names to e-mail to the head office. She’s out now and says she’ll be back in the next two hours.”

“So you don’t plan to do anything for the next two hours?”

Victoria sat up in her chair.

“I plan to wait.”

“As I said before, you’re really making it very hard not to send you home.”

“Ah, but you can’t suspend me because I haven’t broken a single rule. The bureaucratic understanding that this institution and I have is that I send all the emails to all the clients, employees, lawyers and shareholders; manage your web presence; and post notices on the company’s online notice board.”

“It seems like that’s too easy for you.”

“Well, I’ve toiled without ceasing this week so I wouldn’t have much to do today. I always try to trim the work load on Fridays. Charles does too, he’s just too afraid to say so.”

“I don’t care. Head to the filing room now or don’t come back until Tuesday,” said the supervisor taking a step towards the young woman.

“Well unfortunately for you, that’s not how things work. There’s precedence in these matters. You have to get two out of three managers or all five supervisors to agree that I should be sent home after I’ve explained my side of the story in front of them. It says so on page 36 of the worker’s manual, Hank – the one you told me to read from cover to cover.”

After a moment of extended silence, Hank seemed to struggle to say “you’ll be hearing from the managers soon.”

“I’m charmed by that prospect,” said the young woman, “And if there’s nothing more that you wish to expostulate, I’d like to go take care of my womanly duties and head back to my beloved workstation. So sir, is there anything else?”

“No.”

Victoria got up from her squeaking chair, glided passed Hank and went to the bathroom. She could hardly manage to open the bathroom door because her hands were shaking. Those same shaking hands could hardly run her comb through her rich, dark hair. The person looking back at her in the mirror was smiling, however – smiling and shaking. It took her 8 minutes to set her hair right; on days when she didn’t have an encounter with Hank, it took her between 3 and 4.

When she went back to her desk, there was a sentiment of approval on the faces of her co-workers. They had overheard the conversation between her and Hank. Although they should have expected it of Victoria, they were still seemingly surprised.

“You’re the man, Vic,” said one of them.

“Thanks for the sexist compliment, and it’s Victoria,” said the one who was being praised.

“I was just joking.”

“I don’t care.”

At that, the smiles drained from their faces. And they all went back to feigning that they had something to do. Victoria only sat and read her book, The Emperor’s New Clothes.

She didn’t seem to notice the clock struck 1. She only lifted her head from her book because two of her five co-workers were stepping out for lunch. Bertha still hadn’t been back yet. When Victoria checked her Fendi Diamond & Ceramic round faced watch and saw the time, she got up, grabbed her genuine leather Louis Vuitton bag and headed for lunch. While she was on her way out, she purposely knocked some paper off Charles’ desk, smiled and continued walking.

She must have had a craving for sushi, because she stopped at The House of Japan Restaurant. It was unlike the other sushi restaurants she once told Charles. She said the chefs were intelligent and conversational. It was one of those restaurants where you could watch the chefs prepare the food. The kind where the table and the kitchen were joined; the kind where the chefs would put on a show.  Most people cheered whenever they did, but Victoria never so much as paid attention whenever she was there with family or Charles. She always told them it was entertainment for lesser minds.

Today, she found the most isolated corner in the restaurant and settled there. When she put down her Louis Vuitton bag on the floor with shoe prints on it, she turned to survey the room. She saw that Charles was there too. He was sitting with some people in the dead centre of the restaurant. They were talking and laughing, even giving each other high fives.

Her casual observation was interrupted by the waiter. He asked her what she wanted; she said “the usual,” which was the lobster roll with extra butter and garlic sauce – the most expensive thing on the menu. There was a certain strangeness to how she ate her sushi with those chopsticks. Every movement was sharp, precise, crisp, expressive of Victorian manners. Upon finishing her meal, she took the towel off her lap (the restaurant didn’t usually provide towels, but Victoria always requested one) and folded it neatly, and sat for about 5 minutes. Then she got up as gracefully as her 6 inch heels allowed, pushed under her chair and headed for the door. She was just about to open it when Charles shouted after her. He was waving while trying to get up from his chair as quickly as his derby shoes allowed. In his rush, his foot caught the leg of the chair and he tripped and would’ve fallen if he didn’t clutch the edge of the table. His friends laughed, a waiter smiled, Victoria seemed unmoved.

When he eventually made it up Victoria his breathing was a bit laboured.

“Didn’t you see me?” He said.

“Yes,” said Victoria.

“Why didn’t you say hello?”

“You appeared to be in the company of friends.”

“So?”

Victoria leaned against the wall next to the door; she always leaned on something when she was being challenged by Charles.

“So I didn’t want to intrude on your discourse.”

“Saying “hi” isn’t intruding.”

“You’re making a relative matter absolute.”

“Huh?”

“What you should have said was “personally I don’t consider someone breaking up my conversation just to ‘hi’ rude.’”

“So you’re trying to tell me that some people do indeed find it rude and you’re one of those people.”

“See you’re not an idiot, only a coward.”

“You don’t have do me like that, you know.”

“I know.”

“Come meet the homies.”

“I was going to the park…”

“Please!”

“Okay.”

Charles led the way to his buddies. When they reached the dark, mahogany table, Charles took a seat, but Victoria remained standing. The smell of the pepper on somebody’s uneaten fried rice made her sneeze. They all looked up and said “bless you.” She hated sneezing. She scowled slightly as Charles introduced her as “Victoria, a god among men and goddess among women.”

“Charles, you flatter me. I’m merely a queen. Hello gentlemen,” Victoria said.

“Hi queen,” said two of Charles’ friends.

The third one said nothing and kept on eating as if Victoria wasn’t there.

“Um, is that good?” Victoria asked looking in his direction.

“Yes,” he managed to squeeze out of a full mouth.

“So good food makes you reluctant to recognize the presence of a lady?”

“A certain type of lady.”

“Which type?”

“Your type.”

“My type?” Victoria head jerked backwards. “What’s my type?”

“Young women who wear a lot of makeup and call themselves queens.”

“I see style and humor is lost on you.”

The young man didn’t answer. He just kept on putting the fried rice with extra pepper in his mouth. The other two and Charles looked on seemly silenced by the gravity of the encounter.

“Charles, you need to keep better company,” said Victoria when she realized that the one she had a problem with wasn’t giving her the attention she’s used to.

Charles said “okay.”

“Hey Charles, where are the pretty young women?” said Charles’ rude friend.

The other two wore a slight smile, which they covered with their hands.

Victoria was once described as one of those young women who knows she’s “bad” and enjoyed shutting up men who gave her attention just because of her looks. She went a far way in order not to let go of herself, however. The owner of her local gym said he’d never seen anybody that dedicated. He saw her every day from 5 – 7 except on Sundays. He had once asked her what she was training for and she told him that she was just there to keep her energy levels up. He thought high energy levels meant keeping her waist thin and vanity high.

Now here she was being called ugly by someone she’d done nothing to. And he did it in too subtle of a way for her to get completely mad. She was silent for a while. Perhaps without realizing it, she had taken a moment to process what was going on.

It was the first Charles saw her at a loss for words in a while. He watched her struggle with a smile. She saw him. She saw how much he was getting a kick out of the entire scene and changed her slouch to an upright posture, then said, “Well, I can see that my company would be better appreciated elsewhere” and left.

She walked along the city streets a little less composed than usual. She hissed, muttered to herself and scowled as she walked. She hadn’t done that since she left high school 6 years ago.

She continued that way until she came up to Bell’s park, a cosy little place that was between the restaurant area and work. She always stopped there and read whenever she had finished eating before her lunch hour was up. But today was different. There was no book, only hissing and sighing. “It’s the same way father used to treat me,” she whispered at one point.

When she started walking back to work, there were 10 minutes left in her lunch hour. She walked quickly on her way to 25 McCarthy Lane where her work place was. It was approximately 8 minutes away from the park by foot. About 6 minutes in, someone brushed against her rather harshly and caused her to fall. When she tried to get back up, she found out that the heel of her right shoe was broken. The person who pushed her didn’t stop. He walked right on as if nothing had happened. Victoria didn’t seem bothered by it all, however; she got right up, turned around and started walking towards a shoes store that was across the road from the park. She purchased a new pair of Tabitha Simmons pumps from the little, upscale, shoes store. They were $750 plus tax. God only knows what she did with the pair that she was wearing.

The whole escapade had set her back 8 minutes and when she pushed the work door, Hank who was going through some papers called her over to him. She seemed to be getting her groove back with each step as she glided across the carpeted floor.

“You’re late,” said Hank when she came.

“And with good reason,” Victoria said.

“I don’t want to hear it.”

“I see.”

“You’ve been working hard for a suspension from this morning and I don’t want any more excuses.”

Victoria leaned on his desk.

“Firstly, I’m late because my heel snapped when some uncouth person pushed me over. Secondly, I never gave you any excuses, I gave you facts.”

“Forget it. Just go to your desk.”

“Don’t order me around as if I’m your child.”

“You’re working SO hard!”

“You keep repeating that as if my employment is in your control. You’re just this company’s zoo-keeper. You’re only here to watch and report. You’d do well not to forget that.”

“Okay, since I’m only here to watch and report, leave and don’t come back until Tuesday.”

“Those cute eyes can be quite scary, Hank but I think I’ll leave at five.”

Hank knew what she was referring to by “cute eyes,” he knew she’d heard the stories. His jawline started as it did this morning, and he squeezed the papers in his right hand so tightly that they crumpled. They were important papers too because they had been taken out of one of those special blue folders. So either they were going to the head office or to the lawyers.

“Get out,” he shouted.

“I’ll leave when I’m good and ready,” said Victoria staring him in the eye, but her voice cracked even more than this morning. And her whole demeanour was that of person who wanted to run but bring couldn’t themselves to.

“I’m trying very, very hard not to get up and remove you. Just go now little girl before …”

He was interrupted by another voice which said “you won’t do a damn thing!”

It was Charles’ friend from the restaurant, the rude one. He was standing behind Victoria with closed fists and staring at Hank as if he were the worst thing he’d ever seen. “Men like you are what’s wrong with the world,” he said when the two gave him their attention.

“You brought your boyfriend here to fight for you, Victoria?” asked Hank.

“I don’t even know his name,” said Victoria.

“You’re who?” Hank asked the young man.

“I’m Richard and I’m not a waste of space like you,”

“Okay Richard, I strongly suggest you and Victoria leave before my patience runs out.”

“To be honest, I’d like to see what happens when your patience runs out. By the way you have lovely eyes for a tough guy.”

Hank couldn’t take it anymore. He flew from around his table and grabbed Richard by the collar. Richard didn’t wait for a second invitation to retaliate; he threw his right fist straight into Hank’s jaw. It made Hank stagger but Hank was used to that sort of thing, the scars on his knuckles proved it. He soon steadied himself and sent his right foot into Richard’s solar plexus. The young man was forced to take a bow, after which Hank followed up with a right hand to the temple. Richard fell and stayed down. Hank was going in for what seemed like the kill but three of his co-workers caught him and wrestled him to the ground.

Victoria who was standing there crying “stop it” the whole time rushed to the side of Richard and helped him to his feet. He said he was okay, but as soon as she removed herself from under him he staggered violently and she had to catch him. Someone rushed up to them with a cup of water. It was Charles who had been standing 25 meters off by the stairs. Richard struggled to drink it. Then he just sat for a while on a crooked chair.

Hank was still throwing a tantrum. They had pulled him as far as possible away from the scene. That was by the kitchen on the other side of the building. He could still be heard shouting “I swear I’m going to kill him.”

After about 10 minutes of sitting still, Richard finally stood up. Victoria and Charles helped him to the door. Richard and Victoria went through the door but Charles didn’t follow. When Victoria saw that Charles didn’t intend to come, she looked at him and shook her head. Charles watched her until she was finished then turned around and headed in the direction of his desk.

The young woman and the dazed young man hampered along until they reached some benches. They were about 2 blocks away from Lead’s consulting, where she had just been relieved from her duties as hub controller. She had been there for 2 months and 7 days.

Victoria sat with Richard’s head in her lap. He was still dazed but he was improving. The movement of his head caused her red skirt to lift.

“Why didn’t you guys call the police?” asked Richard.

“I was too scared to do anything,” said Victoria.

“I understand. I’m glad you didn’t.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s possible that I’d have gone to jail.”

“True. By the way, why did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Stand up for me. I thought you didn’t like me.”

“Am I that good of an actor?”

“Yes.”

“You see beautiful women are always a source of terror and I tend to act tough when I’m afraid.”

She adjusted his head and pulled her skirt down.

“You’re quoting Jung,” she said.

“Yeah, he was a decent psychologist.”

“Some of his theories were rather unscientific though.”

“Very much so, especially his nonsense about alchemy.”

“Wow somebody who actually knows something that’s not on E tv.”

Their conversation was interrupted an hour later when Victoria’s phone rang. It was Charles calling. When she saw who it was, she hit the ignore button. A few seconds later, Richard’s phone rang; the melody was “cool birds” which was the ringtone he assigned to Charles and only Charles.  Richard didn’t even take his phone from out his pocket.

by Mark Hutchinson

Featuring photography from Dan Bartholomew

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