NORTH TEXAS REVIEW

A LITERARY & ARTS JOURNAL

Ten Minute Disruption

Sterling M.Z.

Repetition is the key to success.

Wake up stretch brush teeth wash face comb hair style hair put on clothes spray perfume eat breakfast take keys get in car drive to work.

Work…

Work…

Work…

Come home get mail read mail make dinner eat dinner walk dog feed dog and cat and goldfish read watch tv go upstairs stretch again shower shave dry off lotion face mask put on pajamas lie in bed and think.

Think…

Think…

Think…

Fall asleep.

Repeat.

 

Carla woke up that morning of November eighteenth with a keen smile on her face. Her grapefruit scrub worked its way into her skin as she fussed with her tangled, dense auburn hair. She pulled it back into a low ponytail like she does every day. She cupped her hands and splashed hot water on her face. The beads in her face soap trickled from her cheeks and down the drain. Pat dry with a towel, apply mascara and a tinge of “Delicate Flower” lipstick, wrap a french ribbon around her ponytail to hide the band, and she was done in the bathroom.

Her routine, makeup, ribbon, down to the method of washing her face, had been the same for five years.

Routine was her stability. It was easy to do since she lived alone. After all, no one would come and help her if anything happened, she relied on herself, and her neighbors were nothing but ghosts on either side of her ranch style house.

Stirring a fresh batch of oatmeal, Carla’s nostrils flared up at the smell of something warm and acidic. Her wooden spoon and muscle ingrained pattern of stirring remained the same as she reached for the brown sugar in the jar, dumping a fourth cup into it, and watching it blend in like a fresh coat of white paint on white paint.

The intense smell wafted around her, growing stronger. Her glasses grew foggy, and as she wiped them off on her baby blue Wednesday sweater, Carla noticed the smoke drifting above her head, the smoke alarms beeping in her ears, her dog barking and howling at the noise. Startled at the uninvited commotion, Carla left the stove, grabbing the fire extinguisher from the closet and ran into her room. Her plugged in straightener, still plugged into the wall in her bathroom, rolled onto her bedroom carpet, setting it on fire.

She clamped down on the handle, white foam spewing out and onto her beige rug, some flying onto her bedspread and red oak bed frame until the red, orange and yellow flames ceased existence. The fire extinguisher fell out of her grasp and clanked onto the floor.

For the first time in years, Carla didn’t know what to do.

Do I tell the insurance company? Will they raise my rate? I mean it was just the carpet so it’s not even the house structure but it’s in my house. What about the carpet? Replace or redo? Just get enough to cover up the burnt area? Will they even have the same color and texture and quality after all it’s been like ten years since this carpet was put in when I bought the house with it back in ‘12 and they had the carpet done four years before the previous owners moved. Why was my straightener plugged in to begin with?

For a moment, she couldn’t understand why until she retraced her steps from the morning.

Wake up stretch go to the bathroom brush teeth wash face comb hair style hair put on-

Go to the bathroom brush teeth wash face comb hair style hair-

Brush teeth wash face comb hair-

Comb hair…

She bent over her sink, the porcelain marked by the end of the iron before it fell off her countertop, then looked underneath, finding her comb right where she put it the night before.

She took out her straightener, not her comb.

No wonder my hair was such a mess today.

Carla’s black and white cat rubbed her way into her room, her steps silent. She rolled around in the foamy, burnt rug, the warmth pleasing her pet. Her blue eyes shined in the morning light as she proceeded to bat the fluff, startled when it blew back into her whiskers. She scurried under the bed, then, as if to get the best of the fluff, crept out from under the bed, crouched low and pounced. It floated up around her like tiny clouds, crash landing back onto the floor.

Her watch beeped at her. Five minutes until work.

It was Wednesday, the day at her office where they had a weekly team meeting, but Carla never went to them. They were during lunch break, and, most often, her boss would ask her to answer emails during that time. She would get the rundown later.

Customer service is a drag.

The dial tone rang in her ear one, two, three times until it clicked, her boss’ coarse, hearty voice bellowing through. “Carla?”

“I won’t be coming to work today.”

“‘Bout time.”

“There was an accident and I- what do you mean about time?”

She heard his seat recline back, the squeaking a harsh tone for her eardrum. “Not once since I hired you have you taken a personal day. Those don’t roll over. Everyone starts using them at some point, and you never did.I told myself, Henry, the day Carla calls into work is the day that you give her the promotion.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It was really holding me back for a while.”

Carla threw herself on her bed, her cat pouncing up onto the quilt with her, its soapy paws digging into its comfortable fabric. “What does me calling into work-”

“You’re our best employee, you handle one problem after the next, never complain. Why do you think I give you emails to handle during our Wednesday meetings?”

“Umm…”

“Every Wednesday, our routine is to update our other customer sites across the globe. They send inquiries, we answer them. Do you even look at the people you email back?”

“I try to get them done as fast as possible.”

He chuckled. “Well, the only thing I needed to know was if you took care of yourself every once and awhile. Can’t have you burn out on me all the time.”

“I do. I’ve got a routine.”

“You’re what,” he asked, “27?”

“28.”

“You need to live your life. Have some fun, do something different.”

“I like what I do.”

“Bottom line, Carla, is that I like you as a friend and an employee. If you’d like, I want you to be the manager of our new branch in Italy.”

Italy?

“I’ll send you the details so you can look them over. Take another personal day if you have to.” Carla’s fingers were cold as she gripped her phone. “I look forward to hearing back from you.”

The phone clicked and that was it.

She stroked her cats fur lightly, realizing her stomach was empty, clenching in hunger, but her spinning head. It felt cluttered like her coworkers’ filing cabinets. This is why she liked repetition, to keep the clutter out. So that’s exactly what she did.

Wake up done stretch done go to the bathroom done brush teeth done wash face done comb hair done style hair done put on clothes done spray perfume done.

Now all there was left to do was eat breakfast... eat breakfast...

And think about Italy.