Winter, 2004
24-Hour Short Story Contest
2nd Place Winner!



She looked behind her once again before she pushed open the largest door in the house. She only had a few seconds to search her employer's office or she risked detection. Her eyes were immediately drawn to a handwritten note sitting in the middle of the desk...

By Brendan Bruce, Indianapolis, IN

Mr. Taylor walked through the office door and dropped a pile of mail in Gladys' inbox. She muttered an unanswered "Good morning." No sooner had she reached for the papers than he returned. With head low, Mr. Taylor strode to her desk, snatched the papers out of her inbox and retreated to his office. "Fool," she heard him say to himself as the door closed. Inside, the familiar groan of his desk drawer announced it was late enough in the morning for a drink.

Working for Mr. Taylor had never been easy, but it had taken a turn for the worse a few days ago. For more than thirty years she'd served as his secretary, assistant, sounding board. The job wasn't difficult, but Mr. Taylor was. His perpetually mediocre sales numbers, four ex-wives and two heart attacks could testify to that.

Gladys had quietly seen to the particulars of his life. Monthly rent payments, birthday cards for whoever the current wife happened to be and doctor's appointments to assess the ailing heart he assaulted with bourbon and an appetite for all the wrong foods.

She could live with being taken advantage of, but this was different; she'd been ignored for the last several days. Flipping through her desk calendar, she circled the date from three days ago: the last time he spoke to her. He'd had an appointment with his cardiologist that afternoon, as was noted on her calendar at 2:30. She always wrote the heart-related appointments in red to be sure to remind him and would check them off when she sent him out the door to the doctor's office. Mr. Taylor said he'd not return and to lock up for him. That was it, she remembered, the last words he had spoken to her.

What had she done, she wondered. Mr. Taylor had a terrible temper with his wives and had once thrown five clubs into the water trap on the 14th hole of the local golf course. The only time she remembered his temper flaring with her was when she'd taken him flowers at the hospital after his first heart attack.

"Get those outta here, Glad. I don't need your pity or your flowers unless I'm dead," he'd fumed.

She left the flowers and returned to work. While writing the third draft of her resignation letter, the second of what would become four Mrs. Taylor's came in the office with the flowers Gladys had delivered earlier that day.

"You won't get a sorry out of him, believe me, but he wanted you to have these," she said sitting the flowers on her desk. Marriage number two died before the flowers. Mr. Taylor returned three weeks after the heart attack and Gladys never finished her resignation letter - apology accepted, she thought.

This afternoon, Gladys tried again. "Everything okay with you?" she asked as he passed by clutching a cup of coffee. Her hopes soared as he paused, turned around and looked right at her - almost through her she thought. Looking down at the neatly arranged desk, he picked up a small glass elephant she'd kept as a paperweight for the last twenty-five years. As he held it, Gladys noticed the familiar tremble in his fingers, now a bit more pronounced, something she thought only she could have perceived. Polishing the glass on his jacket lapel, he placed it where he found it. He walked away leaving Gladys in a cloud of deafening silence and despair.

Gladys couldn't concentrate on her work and rose, determined to go to Mr. Taylor's office and demand to know exactly what was going on here. She couldn't work like this each day and intended to tell him so. Unobserved, she saw him scribbling notes on a pad, a clenched fist pressed to his jaw. He dropped the pen and ran both hands through his thinning hair, never looking up.

In a well-practiced motion, he slid his lower desk drawer open with a familiar squeak and extracted a bottle and glass with one hand. Unscrewing the cap, he looked over the notes he'd been writing and shook his head. Gladys noticed, as did Mr. Taylor that the bottle was empty - only a few drops dripped into the glass.

Knowing what was coming next, Gladys slipped from the doorway and walked back to her desk. She could hear Mr. Taylor toss the bottle into the trash and leave his office.

Walking out the door and turning right, he had only half a block to go to the liquor store.

Gladys hurried to his office, certain she would find his notes detailing her firing written on the pad at his desk in his nearly illegible handwriting only she could read. She had only moments before he would return with a fresh bottle to steel his courage to send her away after all these years. She wanted to know why - what had she done?
With a final quick glance behind her, she opened the door to his office and went immediately to the notepad lying in the center of his desk. As she read, her heart fluttered:

I'm honored to speak to you today in memory of Gladys Whetstone, a woman I'll never forget. To say I'll miss her does her memory no justice. I'll grieve every day I don't see her sitting in her familiar place. She was my rock, unlike anyone I've ever met and to those of you who had the pleasure of knowing her?. I hope you told her what she meant to you, because I never could. I love you Glad, and thank you.

Gladys stumbled back from the desk, repeating, "No, it's not possible." She trembled, the room took on a hazy aura and her ears rang. The notepad fell from her hands to the floor. She reached to put it back on the desk and noticed she could see through her hand - she was fading. Gladys thought of the glass elephant on her desk and how Mr. Taylor held it in his trembling hands only minutes before when he'd seemed to look right through her.

Mr. Taylor returned to his office with a fresh bottle and sat down in his chair to open it. He froze when he saw the notepad. On top of it, the small glass elephant paperweight held down a sheet torn from Gladys' calendar from next month. In red was a reminder for his next cardiologist's appointment. He dropped the unopened bottle in the trash and began to weep.

"I love you Glad," he said to the empty office, "and thank you."

What Brendan won:

$250 Cash Prize
Publication of winning story on the WritersWeekly.com website
1 - Freelance Income Kit Includes:
-- 1-year subscription to the Write Markets Report
-- How to Write, Publish and $ell Ebooks
-- How to Publish a Profitable Emag
-- How to Be a Syndicated Newspaper Columnist Special (includes the book; database of 6000+ newspapers; and database of 100+ syndicates)


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