Pet Peeve Punishment

It wasn’t her place to judge. She knew that, and she tried her best. But still, it grated on her nerves when people would complain about the things they brought on themselves. Her coworkers were especially good at this. And the first few times they came to her with their complaints she’d listen, nodding sympathetically, never saying anything, waiting it out. But after a time it became a habit. One stopping by to complain about the overtime they’d accepted because they “needed the money but still.” One stopping by to complain about the OT the other was getting because they’d declined the OT themselves because they had “family in town but still.”

Every time they stopped to complain she played violin music in her head, “oh, poor you,” her thoughts went, “you made a decision you don’t want to live with because it’s slightly inconvenient compared to the other decision you could have made that would also be slightly inconvenient,” all the while a Bach piece playing gently in the background of her mind. “I wish I could just play this piece anytime they stopped by to complain,” she caught herself thinking at one point. And then she couldn’t stop thinking it.

She caught herself downloading the Bach piece on her phones music app. Listening to it on the way home and smiling, laughing out loud even. But she knew she’d never have the ovaries to actually play the piece aloud when a coworker was present. That’d be taking it too far…wouldn’t it? Or would they even notice? She always had music playing softly at her desk as it was, never anything raucous unless she was the last person in the building. Maybe…?

And then one day after a company meeting in which she’d heard the debate amongst coworkers of who was going to take on the latest emergency project that would require an immediate input of overtime beginning that very day, she knew. She just knew that the complaints were coming.

Sure enough not an hour after the meeting she could here the heavy stride of Raquel, a woman who thought that all women needed to take up more space and made every effort to get the office to participate in Take Back the Night events. Raquel, a normally lovely woman, extremely supportive and with a smile that made you feel seen, but who occasionally agreed to an OT project despite having two children and a wife at home, and then she’d walk as though the floor were a good foot or more lower than it actually was, her feet slamming into the ground as though she’d just jumped off her desk.

“I can’t believe they talked me into it,” she began.

And before she’d even registered she was doing it, Kay pressed play on the Bach piece.

It was a subtle enough change that Raquel kept talking. She took no notice whatsoever of the violin’s grief over her situation, at the sweet sympathy it cooed at her. Kay continued to smile and nod and “mmhmm” but inside she was laughing. Laughing hysterically. No longer taking any notice whatsoever of the words coming out of Raquel’s mouth, although she did notice as Raquel’s shoulders relaxed, as the tension left her arms and she took a deep breath. She did notice when Raquel finished up her wha-whaing with a deep sigh and for the first time ever said, “thank you, Kay. Thank you for listening,” before walking away smoothly.

“Perhaps the violin music helped,” Kay thought, “it certainly helped me…but that’s the first time she’s ever thanked me. Huh.”

Over the following days and weeks Kay continued to employ the violin music, and she realized that not only did it help her feel a sense of righteousness over holding her tongue at all the complaining, it also gave the complainers a feeling of having been heard. It was a balm for them all, rather than a hilarious punishment, and Kay thought at first that perhaps that would ruin the fun of it, but it didn’t. No one seemed to notice that the music was played mockingly and Kay forgot, over time, that it was ever meant to be such.

In whatever bizarre twist of fate life dealt her, the complaints became fewer. At first Kay thought it must be that the projects has slowed but that wasn’t the case. There were still the monthly or more clients who decided they simply had to have whatever they needed immediately and hang the expense. Somewhere along the way though her coworkers had stopped feeling harassed by their own obligations, or more aptly, by their own choices.

Kay began to miss all the complaints although she didn’t recognize it as that for some time. She simply felt a hollowness that wasn’t there, an emptiness, as people no longer stopped by her desk every week or more with a scowl and a grump. She realized that now she was the one walking about with a scowl, that she was now stopping by Raquel’s desk with nothing specific to say but rather a general malaise about her, that Raquel no longer looked up when she heard Kay approaching, or that if she did accidentally look up that she’d smile quickly and duck her head again determined to look very busy.

One day Kay realized she no longer played music at her desk, couldn’t remember the last time she played anything, even the Bach piece.

This #writethirtyminutes session was prompted very loosely from “A Year of Writing Prompts” by Writer’s Digest, available here

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