Yesterday was one of those harrowing days where it’s extra busy. Two copy editors called in sick, and I’d already had a full day of my own work to do, so what I did was hide in the basement.
I work in an old mill, so the building is I think at least 100 years old. We call the ground floor “The Garden Level,” which, who are we kidding. For the first six years at my work I was on “The Garden Level,” and because of it’s basement-ness, occasionally one might see mice, or cockroaches, and once even a snake. Because garden. The June garden level.
Most of us work on the other two floors above now, but when I need to work uninterrupted I sneak down there and go into an empty office and shut the door.
I don’t know what it is about me, but I seem to be more chatted with than anyone else around me. Do I seem welcoming? I do not. Am I a good listener? I am not. And yet? “Hey, June! How was your weekend?” “Hey, June, did you buy a new car?” “Say, June, the fact that you have your headphones on and a job that requires absolute concentration and also you have ADD so any time you get interrupted you have to start all over again is IRRELEVANT to me! How was your trip to the bathroom?”
This is why I head to “The Garden Level” when things get tense.
And tense it was. I worked as hard as I could till about 12:30, and I knew I needed to rest my eyes, as it were. So I headed out the door and down to the greenway. We are lucky enough to work right next to a park, and all you have to do is go down this woodsy brushy nature path where I have seen snakes 47 times, and then boom, you’re out of the brush and onto a walkway in the park. Where I have also seen snakes.
I usually only walk that path at 3:00 with my other coworkers who I figure would wrestle a snake to the death if need be, but I was tense and I needed a break, so I was The Lone Outdoorswoman for a bit.
I walked for about 20 minutes through the park and headed back through the brush to The Garden Level, level of quiet and offices with doors. There are seriously about five people still working down there anymore. It’s great.
I got back to my fake desk and commenced working when moments later I heard
“zzzt! ZZZZzt zzzzt!”
“What was that,” I thought. It sounded really close.
I realize snakes don’t zzzzt, but I was still sort of nervous. I leaped out of my chair dramatically, worried I’d see behind me a cockroach convention brought to you by the letters Z and T or something, but
Instead? Something stung me on my back.
“ZZZzzzzt!” it said, and right then I knew.
“AAAACCKKKK!” I screeched screechily, and I am happy to announce this was my first work scream ever. “ACCCCCK!!” I flailed around, trying to figure out what was on me when
It stung me again! GodDAMMIT!
I know your impression is that I’m a cool cucumber and a picture of professional decorum at work, but what I did right then was
out of that office with my hair afire and a monkey on my back, biting me. I screeched into the room where the five people still work. Three of them were gathered around a computer, like the Three Indifferent Men. Except one was a woman.
“DIDN’T YOU HEAR ME SCREAM?” I screamed, and everyone indifferently looked up from whatever was so riveting on the screen, the Baby Jesus webcam or whatever.
“Yeah.” One of the men said indifferently. “We did hear a scream. Was that you?”
“Maybe it’s because you’re the boy who cried wolf,” said my mother later, when I regaled her with this harrowing tale. Mom forgets that I get to decide what kind of home she goes into.
“Is something wrong?” the woman in the crowd finally said. Let me tell you. If you’re being murdered in The Garden Level, don’t bother to scream, because everyone will just go on with their day.
“THERE’S A CREATURE ON ME AND IT’S STINGING ME,” I shrieked, and why did all my shrillness affect NO ONE?
“Oh my god!” she said, finally impressed. “Let’s go into the office and lift your shirt and see if we can find it.”
And that is how my poor coworker L saw me in the altogether from the waist up, like a centaur. Except as soon as I ripped my shirt off,
the damn thing bit me on the hand!
“OH MY GOD!” we caterwauled, and at this point, I was actually starting to panic. Because we saw NOTHING, and yet I kept getting stung, and I pictured some disgruntled reader, fmr., or boyfriend, fmr., with a voodoo doll.
I had a jaunty cardigan with me as well, so I put that on with shaky hands because I FEARED MY SHIRT like some fear the reaper. We looked for some sort of cream in the first aid box. If you need alcohol pads, you’re all set with that first aid kit. Ear piercings for everyone! Bug cream? Not so much. It’s like they didn’t anticipate some invisible stinging bug endlessly attacking a copy editor or something.
And that is why I shakily drove home in a cardigan in the middle of a June afternoon, and smeared Benedryl cream all over self, waited for anaphylactic shock, changed into a nonbuggy shirt, then returned to work because trouper and because all the other copy editors had already dropped like flies, stinging flies. I was worried Mr. Zzzzt, over there, star of The Sting, was still waiting eagerly for me, drinking a Stinger in The Garden Level, so I went back to my actual desk.
Word had already gotten out re my fate.
“You know,” said my coworker S, “my dad was cutting the grass once and felt little bites or stings like that and it turns out it was a black widow. We had to rush him to the ER.”
“Or maybe it was a brown recluse. Except yours seemed really pretty outgoing, what with stinging you three times and making all that noise,” said my annoying coworker Fewks. “It was a brown socialite.”
“Will you two shut up?” I said. “If either one of you considers volunteering at a crisis line, I won’t write you a letter of recommendation.”
Oh, they guffawed and carried on and made Sting jokes and generally loved themselves long time.
“I wonder what L will bill her time to for those 10 minutes she got to see me in the altogether?” I joked wanly, trying to be lighthearted despite my brutal attack because that’s the kind of hero I am.
I tried to return to my loads of work and put the whole biting incident behind me, particularly because two out of three of the bites WERE behind me, but Fewks, over there, was just warming up the dinner crowd.
“Hey, June, do you have a minute? I just want to put a bug in your ear,” he said, then got a ladder so he could elope with himself.
Anyway, I ended up living, if you want to call this living, and I still have no idea what attacked me so mercilessly and I hope I don’t turn into whatever kind of bug or rodent or snake or panther it was that bit me.
But if I do, the first place I’m going is Fewks’s house.