This writing prompt, The Cruelest Month, is courtesy of Julie at Story a Day.
The Cruelest Month
Eugene loved the new year. It was a time of reflection, a time of planning. The cold January weather kept people in a bit more, including him. He used his quiet time to gather his thoughts as to how his life was going. He presented his own State of the Union Address to himself and made changes accordingly. He focused on things he could control and acknowledged those he could not control.
It was a good start, he thought.
A lot of what happened at work fell into the “what he could not control” arena. Nevertheless, Eugene always started off the year with a bright outlook. Things started to settle down at the office after people finished their holiday travels and their kids went back to school. Meetings filled up their calendars; emails demanded attention; deadlines loomed.
Monday mornings rolled around, oblivious to the emotional state of the humans arriving, some still in a foggy haze of an emotional and financial holiday hangover.
“Good morning,” Eugene greeted his boss as she passed his cubicle.
“Grrrrr,” was all she managed as she shut the door to her office.
Eugene decided to stay out of her way for as long as possible. He had plenty to do to prepare for the morning’s first meeting.
“Happy New Year,” Eugene said to Larry as they passed each other in the hall.
“I don’t have to take that from you,” Larry said, glaring back.
Eugene picked up his pace to put a bit more distance between Larry and him.
Bleary-eyed, with coffee cups in hand, people filed into the meeting room, one by one. Some of them looked as if they hadn’t slept in quite some time. Eugene decided to help ease them back into the work world.
“So, Nancy, what did you get for Christmas?”
“The flu. First one kid got it, then the other. I was next on the hit list. The entire holiday was one big pajama party because we didn’t have the energy to get dressed. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner consisted of mostly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Ah-choo!” Nancy sat down with a big box of Kleenex, pulling her sweater closed. She sat there hunched over, shivering.
Next in the door was Andy. “Andy!” Eugene was happy for someone else to talk to. “What did Santa bring you this year?”
Andy sat down and sighed. “Broken water pipes. Those couple of nights with temperatures in the teens just about did me in. Do you know what it’s like not to have running water? I couldn’t get a plumber to come out for a week. I even thought about calling a port-a-potty company and having one set out in the front yard and to hell with the home owner’s association. If time travel is invented anytime soon, I will not – I repeat not – being going back to a time before the invention of modern conveniences. It’s a wonder the human race survived without them. I know I couldn’t.”
Eugene didn’t know what to say to that, so he said nothing. He studied the papers in his folder until the next attendee arrived.
He just knew that the holidays couldn’t have been all bad for everyone, so he kept at it. “Amy, anything new with you?”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Eugene wished he could take them back. He hadn’t seen the cast on her right arm. He sort of knew what was coming.
“What’s new? I’ll tell you what’s new, in case you have vision issues. A broken arm is what’s new. New, painful, and expensive. Let’s go out west for a holiday vacation my husband said. The weather will be so much nicer. Do you know where we went? A dude ranch. A dude ranch in Arizona! Let’s go on a trail ride, he said. It’ll be fun.”
Amy sat down, wincing. “Well, my husband got one thing right. The weather was nicer. Still warm some days. Warm enough, in fact, for rattlesnakes to be active. And guess what?” Eugene wanted to look away, but thought Amy might construe that as unfriendly. He sat there like the proverbial deer in headlights.
He whispered, “What?”
“There are 365 days of the year, 24 hours in a day, and 113,998 square miles in Arizona and in all that time and space my horse and a rattlesnake crossed paths on that day at that time on that trail. The rattlesnake didn’t like that; my horse didn’t like that. The snake coiled to strike and my horse reared up. Do I look like a bronc rider to you? Do I?”
Amy paused for effect, tapping the cast on her arm. “Well, let me tell you something: I am not a bronc rider. I fell off the horse and broke my arm. In the middle of the Arizona nowhere, thank you very much. I had to ride double on a horse to return to the dude ranch. It took hours to drive to the nearest medical facility. And to top it off, they weren’t in my insurance network. I was lucky, they said, that it wasn’t any worse. Lucky, you call this lucky? Next Christmas, I’m not going anywhere. If my husband wants to go to a dude ranch, he can go by himself. In fact, I’d prefer that he did.”
Everyone in the room was praying for a distraction from Amy’s misery. Their prayers were answered as Marvin rushed in, just a little late.
“Hey look, everyone,” he said, holding up a bag, “the Valentine’s candy is already on the store shelves. Isn’t it great?”
At the end of the table, Tom covered his face with his hands, sobbing. It was an open secret that his wife had filed for divorce. The had married on Valentine’s Day.
Eugene didn’t know what had happened to T.S. Eliot for him to pronounce April as the cruelest month, but it seemed that it it were put to a vote by the people in the room, April could lose that title.