Photography © Glenn Bowie
It’s mid-month and the office is down in the doldrums. Or, should I say what is left of the office. Three of our employees quit to work from home saying it makes them feel safer. All have long black hair, pillow lips and perfect manicures. And, too many aliases on too many dating sites. Frankly I was glad to see them go. Especially Tanya. That one looked dangerous. An office mate, Quinn, this older guy from Ireland who grew up seeing it all, or at least hearing about the bad ole days— he says the office occupancy rate here in midtown is only at roughly 30 per cent.
“We should buy some space and turn it into Air BNB,” he says.
“This is New York City. Buildings are designated for certain usage,” I tell him. “You can’t just plunk a mattress down and sell tourists a place to sleep.”
Quinn doesn’t look deterred.
Later, after coming back from his favorite lunch joint, one of the Irish bars with the hot plate buffet, one that lets you in without a vaccine card— when I popped my head over his plexi-glass (too low to do any real good) I saw him checking out the BNB stuff on his computer.”
“It’s crazy,” I tell him.
“Here’s what’s crazy,” Quinn says. “The babes are home while we’re here. The night janitor is here. And a few of those interns hoping to ladder-hop while everyone else is huddling from the virus. I plan on making hay.”
He means money, of course. Everywhere Quinn looks he sees potential. It’s why my country was able to pull up and out he’s fond of saying. He also frequently speaks of his love for America. I definitely don’t get involved on that score. When people start to love this country, or their mother country, is their choice. At least he won’t come in here some day with a high powered rifle.
“We need to spruce up this place,” I say, trying to turn his attention away from the BNB business.
“OK,” he says. “I’ll bring in some Christmas stuff tomorrow. We’ll put a shine on this office.”
When I arrive at 9, there’s a big wreath. Then I almost crash into a card table draped in green felt and set too close to the door of the suite. In the center is the biggest crystal punch bowl I’ve ever laid eyes on. Hooked around the rim are at least a dozen matching crystal cups.
Quinn is grinning ear to ear. For the first time I notice he has little points on his ear tops, like devil ears. “I’m going to brew up the best punch you’ll ever pour down your gullet,” he says.
“Does this table have to be so close to the door. People are going to bump into it. The mailman for instance. I almost knocked it myself just now.”
“Okey doke. Take an end and we’ll slide it a bit,” he says.
We do that, then both of us step back.
“Better?” he says.
I nod and move toward my cubicle.
“I invited the girls,” he says. “For Christmas cheer. This afternoon.”
I stop dead in my tracks. “Tanya?”
“Mate, she is one of the girls.”
This is true. If the pandemic ever ends, she’ll be back here, I suppose. Life is a trade-off.
“What will you put in your punch bowl?”
“A secret recipe from my Mam. Can’t tell you or she’ll come down and haunt me from heaven.”
“She must have been a good person to land in heaven.”
Quinn says, “That’s a point of debate.”
“What time is this big holiday bash?”
“Three o’clock. This way we have the light and the dark.”
He seems overjoyed that his party should take place during daylight and nighttime. I don’t get the significance of that but I don’t ask either.
Later, when he invites me to join him at the pub for lunch, I hold up my ham sandwich wrapped in Saran. “Have a nice lunch,” I say. Thinking Have a safe lunch.
At 3 o’clock, more or less, the girls wander in. They all carry on over the punch bowl as if it were an asteroid fallen to earth. Like they never saw a punch bowl in their lifetime? Quinn is bowing and preening, saying it’s Waterford Crystal and would cost thousands if bought here in New York City.
Tanya says, “You mean to say you carted that punch bowl and all the little cups here from Ireland?”
Quinn is so proud he’s rocking on his heels. “You should see all the Waterford the family had shipped over.”
“It must have cost a fortune if they charged you by weight,” I say.
Quinn, dipping a glass into the rose colored punch, continues to smile. “Here you go, Allie,” he says. She’s the tallest of the three. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen all three standing up together. They look like a sister act. Tanya and Stella are almost the same height. You could put Allie in the middle and the others flanking her. It suddenly dawns on me that this makes no sense at all. If I said that out loud it would put a big damper on Quinn’s Christmas gathering. Actually, they all seem in better spirits now that they don’t have to come here every day. They seem to love the whole punch thing. I am pretty much being ignored.
By around six everyone is well sloshed. Each of the three girls have taken a turn sitting on Quinn’s lap. Even the interns get in on the fun. Nobody has asked to sit on my lap. The beat up old janitor comes in to empty the trash bins. Quinn hands him a cup of punch.
“Good grog,” he says. The laughing girls gather ‘round him their cheeks bright. He holds out his glass for another fill. I slip out the door, unnoticed.
Susan Tepper is a twenty year writer and the author of nine published books of fiction and poetry. Her most recent are Confess (poetry from Cervena Barva Press, 2020) and a zany road novel What Drives Men (Wilderness House Press, 2019). Right now she’s in pre-production of an Off-Broadway play titled The Crooked Heart, re-written and adapted from an earlier novel, which focuses on artist Jackson Pollock in his later years.
Glenn Bowie is a published poet, lyricist and photographer from the Boston area. He also owns and operates an elevator company that supplies custom-built elevators for clients from New England to Hollywood. Author of two poetry and photograph collections (Under the Weight of Whispers and Into the Thorns and Honey) on Big Table Publishing, he donates all profits from his books to various charities for the homeless and local animal shelters.