A co-worker approached my desk. “Good morning,” she said, looking at the floor.
“Good morning, Sally,” I said.
She looked at the ceiling. “How are you?”
I narrowed my eyes. “Fine.”
“That’s good,” she said, studying the wall behind me. “I wanted to touch bases with you about your report.”
She glanced at the picture hanging above my desk. “So … how’s it coming?”
I crossed my arms. “It’s coming along just fine. I’m aiming to have it on the boss’s desk by Friday.”
“Great,” Sally said, looking down at her shoes. “The reason I’m asking is that she wanted me to contribute. The boss, I mean. She suggested you and I put our heads together.”
“Uh-huh.” I leaned back in my seat, glaring.
Sally’s eyes drifted across the room. “So … if you want to schedule some time, maybe we can get together this afternoon? I mean, if you’re not busy.”
“You know, you don’t have to keep avoiding eye contact,” I said. “I’m well-aware that I have a gigantic zit on my upper lip.”
“Oh, good,” Sally said, sighing. “I was afraid to say anything.”
“I mean, it’s bright red and engorged with pus and all.”
“It’s actually rather impossible to miss.”
“You don’t say.”
“From a distance, I thought it was a blister, like you burned yourself. Then I thought it might be a wart. Up close, though, it clear it’s a zit. You can tell by the red skin and the white, building center. It looks like a volcano on the verge of eruption.”
I closed my eyes. “Yep.”
“I bet it’s painful. You should try popping it.”
“I already did. I lanced it this morning before coming to work.”
“Well, you should do it again. You don’t want people to think you have a tumor — or worse, herpes.”
“OK,” I said, pinching the bridge of my nose. “Your point’s taken.”
“I mean, it’s just disgusting, when you get a good look at it. Now, if it were me, I would have called in sick. No way I’d come to work with a cancer like that protruding from my upper lip.”
“I understand, Sally, and I appreciate your concern. My gratitude knows no bounds.”
“Oh, dear.” Sally covered her mouth. “I said too much, didn’t I?”
“You did, yes.”
“I was afraid I would. That’s why I was avoiding eye contact. I was almost too nervous to come talk to you.”
“And I tend to blather when I’m nervous. Once I get going, it’s hard to shut me up.”
“I can see that.”
“And then I say things I shouldn’t — just these awful, terrible things — and I end up insulting people when I don’t mean to.”
“To be sure, yes.”
“And then I make a total fool of myself, and I completely humiliate the person I’m talking to. They come away feeling like gutter trash — like they’re the lowest scum of the earth with no dignity whatsoever.”
“I can attest to that.”
She winced. “So … about that meeting?”
“Is 3 p.m. good for you?” I asked.
She swallowed. “3 p.m. is fine.”
“Good. Send me an appointment in Outlook, and I’ll accept.” I turned to my screen.
Sally didn’t leave. After a moment, she said, “I’m sorry.”
“I really am. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
“And I didn’t mean to draw the entire office’s attention to your zit.”
“And yet everyone’s staring.”
She took a step backward. “I’ll just, ah … I’ll send you that appointment.”
“Thank you.” I didn’t look up.
She scurried away, hanging her head.
As soon as she was out of sight, I grabbed a paperclip and tromped to the bathroom. I had another lancing procedure to perform.