Oh how tempting it was to write “Inspired by a true story.” I couldn’t say why. No, I could, but then, with my luck, the boss would recognize Melissa. Volume Control is my first true attempt at participating in Twitter’s #flashfriday. This piece was written during the span of lunch. If I could do this more often, I wouldn’t eat so much junk food… at least, on Fridays.
“No one really talks that loud,” Andrew hissed.
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, I know. You know. The boss-man knows. What no one knows is how to shut her up.”
We both cringed as Melissa’s high-pitched voice rose another octave as she described her child’s first day of Pee Wee football.
“Her clients don’t care about her kid’s failure at football.”
“Does anyone?” I asked.
He stuck out his tongue at me as I dug out a set of headphones. Melissa already chased me all the way to the cafeteria and back to tell me about how mean the other players on her son’s team were to him. Me, I told her that football was a rough sport. That earned me a lecture about how if I didn’t have kids I had no right to judge. Instead of replying with, ‘By that logic, I don’t have kids, so I why would I care about yours,’ I simply gritted my teeth and ordered my egg sandwich over easy for extra runny yolks.
The headphones were a perfect distraction. I listened to random music videos on YouTube and plowed through my to-do list with impressive speed for a Friday morning. I was on a roll. I lost track of time. I didn’t hear a single word from Melissa. As loud as she was when talking to her clients, I paid extra for quality headphones to drown out the sound of her squeaky voice with her listen-to-me volume and, as today proved, they were worth every dollar.
By the time lunch rolled around, the music had permeated my step and nothing could sour my mood. It was, after all, Friday. I had hopes of dancing and drinking all night long in only a few short hours.
Those few short hours stretched out in a mocking laugh worse than the Cheshire Cat when I returned from lunch to find my headphones coiled on my desk. Melissa rushed up to me gushing apologies.
“I was looking for a calculator and when I turned around I tripped over the cord and I’m so sorry and I promise to replace them and I hope it’s okay because they look expensive I hope their not broken…”
More words may have followed but my ears pulsed with my heartbeat as her voice scratched through my mental walls. It was true, by the way, what they said about time. I watched my hands in slow motion as if outside myself and watching a cheesy B-movie. I picked up the head phones. The earpieces, usually held together by a plastic band, dangled from the ends of their wires, the band snapped in half. Wires twisted around my fingers, I held the damaged set out to her. She kept prattling on with Mickey Mouse apologies and offerings of cash but not silence.
“Shut the fuck up,” I snapped.
Her lips smacked, not into silence but in disgust.
“You can’t talk to me like that I said it was an accident and what were you thinking leaving those laying around where anyone could trip over them and maybe even break my neck and you have the nerve to tell me to shut up and with the F-word too how pretentious and I would never allow my kids to talk like that so what makes you think…”
To accompany the pulsing of blood in my ears, my vision faded is tiny throbs of darkness, inching inward, slowly dissolving the rest of the world until I knew nothing but her overly made up face and the screech of her voice down the chalkboard of my self-restraint.
I pictured myself wrapping the cord to the headphones around her neck. I pictured myself pulling the ends tight like a garrote, but much, much slower. I pictured her face turning blue and her lips still moving, trying to talk and clamoring to be the center of attention long after her last breath escaped her lungs. Then, with what little control I still held, I dropped the headphones at her feet, turned around, and walked away. It didn’t matter where I went as long as it was quiet, as long as she didn’t follow me with her yammering lecture about how she’d wash her kid’s mouth out with soap for saying “The F Word.”
I squeezed my eyes shut. It was a bad kind of good dream.
“Jess? Come on. Time to wake up.”
I opened my eyes. I had only laid my head down on my desk for a moment, but suddenly it was time for our weekly sales meeting. Oh sarcastic joy. I walked to the conference room with Andrew, half-sleeping still and half-listening to him tell me in hushed whispers that Melissa had been strangely quiet all day. If only it would last, I thought.
“Jess? Come on. Time to wake up.”
I couldn’t roll over. My arms had fallen asleep and I couldn’t move them. They were heavy and unresponsive.
“I know you’re awake,” the voice said. “It’s time to talk about what happened.”
“What happened?” I asked. I felt sleepy still as I peeled my eyes open and stared up at a woman wearing a starched white coat and a severe blonde bun.
“Don’t play coy with me,” she said. She sat in a cheap plastic tapping a pen on a clipboard that rested on her knees.
I tried to sit up. My arms weren’t asleep so much as restrained, lashed to my body by one of those nice white jackets with buckles in the back and no room for your fingers to poke out.
“Tell me,” blondie said, “why you murdered Melissa.”