Message from the Management
Katelyn hadn’t meant to become a permanent bitch. She started acting like one in college, back when she was young and hot enough to get away with it, and now she couldn’t turn it off. The mechanics of her personality had become jammed, as if a switch somewhere needed repairing.
Her mother had warned her about such things. When Katelyn was little, she’d use her fingers to make a scary face at her brother: lips stretched out on both sides, nose upturned like a pig, lower lids pulled down to show the thin red meat beneath the eyeballs. “You’re going to get stuck that way,” her mother scolded, “and then you’ll be sorry.”
In the nursing home where Katelyn worked, there lived an old man who had spent the last twenty-five years impersonating Benjamin Franklin, leading tourists around Philadelphia in breeches and buckled shoes. Now he rolled down the halls in his wheelchair muttering about kites, the Stamp Act, and Poor Richard’s Almanack.
You practice something long enough, you become it.
The first time she yelled at one of the residents in the nursing home, Katelyn felt bad afterward and said she was sorry. The second time, she still felt bad but didn’t bother to apologize. The third time, she went to the break room and ate a Kit Kat. She didn’t feel anything.
“You’re kind of mean,” one of the nurse’s aides once said to Katelyn. The aide was a plump girl just out of high school. Katelyn could never remember her name.
“At least I’m not fat,” Katelyn replied.
For Katelyn’s thirtieth birthday, her sister bought her a subscription to an online dating service. Katelyn went on twelve and a half dates, each with a different man. There was something terribly wrong with all of them. One was allergic to strawberries. One had a tattoo. One was color blind. Two were divorced. One was going bald. Another had too much hair. Two made less money than she did. One had a child. Another had a silly last name. One kept a pet ferret.
The only man she found remotely suitable was Zach, but his was the half date. Zach had the right proportion of muscle to fat, and he didn’t bore her by talking about his career, his hobbies, or his goals for the future. Actually, he didn’t talk much at all, mostly because Katelyn was venting about how the new head nurse was a back-stabbing fake, and the aides were lazy and incompetent, and the residents were like spoiled children, and the custodians were illiterate immigrants.
As soon as they finished dinner, Zach glanced at his cell phone and said he needed to check a voice message. Then he said he was sorry, but he wouldn’t be able to go to the movie after all. His mother had a dead battery in her car and he needed to go jump it. After Zach left, Katelyn though it was probably just as well. She didn’t want to date a mama’s boy.
The night Katelyn was fired for slapping an elderly woman at work, she went to the restaurant down the street from her apartment. It was an offbeat little place with snarky signs posted around the dining room, such as “We reserve the right to pour beer on your cell phone,” “If you’re smoking you better be on fire,” and “Unattended children will be sold as slaves.” Katelyn was sitting at the bar drinking her second Long Island iced tea when Zach walked in the door. She waved.
For a moment Zach didn’t seem to recognize her. He walked up to the bar and ordered a martini. When he looked over at her again, Katelyn smiled.
“Oh,” he said, “I remember you.”
And that was all he said, but Katelyn grabbed his arm.
“Hey,” she said, “You never called me back. Everyone else called me back.” She had drunk the first Long Island too quickly and on an empty stomach. It had gone straight to her head. “Everyone else called me back,” she repeated. “I’m the one who’s supposed to reject you. Because I could do way better.”
Zach didn’t say anything. He sipped his martini.
A woman entered the restaurant. She wore a red sleeveless dress and dangling earrings. Katelyn saw Zack eying her.
Katelyn snorted. “That girl shouldn’t wear anything sleeveless. She needs to tone her flabby arms.”
The woman walked up to the bar. She looked distraught. “Are you Zach?”
“Yeah, I am. You must be Cindy. It’s great to meet you in person.”
Katelyn turned away. He had met another woman on the dating website—so what? As Zach ordered Cindy a drink, Katelyn heard her say, “I’m sorry; I’m a little upset right now. I just came from the nursing home where my grandma lives. One of the nurses slapped her. Can you believe that? What kind of bitch would hit a helpless old woman?”
Katelyn sprang up from the bar and hurried into the bathroom. For a long while she stood in front of the mirror, staring at her reflection. She felt she didn’t know the woman who gazed back.
A sign above the mirror read, “LADIES: Please use your powers for good, not evil. Thank you—The Management.”
Christy Effinger teaches college English in Indianapolis. Her work has appeared in Southern Indiana Review, All Things Girl, elimae, Word Riot, Cezanne's Carrot, Dark Sky Magazine, and elsewhere.