sheila eats a packet of peanuts m&ms at work, counting them slowly into her palms like jewel-bright tablets of prescription medication.
she stops after six, ruefully wrapping the crinkly yellow bag closed with the origami dexterity of a practiced dieter. she tells me she wants to lose fifteen pounds and i nod and smile and point at my headset to indicate i am on a call, but the hold music has been playing for half an hour and its tinny vibrato is still preferable to sheila's liturgy about her thighs. and i think she might have once been pretty or could still be pretty, but she sits in that ergonomic office chair with the posture of the perpetually defeated, picking her nails nervously and telling dana about another blind date that never called back. dana is 54 years old and her husband died two years ago of a heart attack during a secret trip with their daughter's french teacher, but she encourages sheila with parables about true love with this weird unhinged smile plastered across her face and i think her mind must be touching the void.
sheila recounts body language and unspoken signals, fiddling with the elastic waistband of her straining pencil skirt, and the dark red threads are worn shiny by the stress of being forced into an unintended shape. dana, greying and sagging gracelessly around her lacquered salmon lipstick, tells sheila vaguely that it's almost lunchtime and thank god it's friday and the two of them swap sad stories about weekend plans that i know will easily become arbor mist and seinfeld reruns. sheila unwraps a pale turkey sandwich so cold and insubstantial that it doesn't smell like anything, and i watch her eyes dart toward the m&ms bag winking merrily at the corner of her desk.
and i think i will go home today and this might finally be the day i break up with ethan. i think i could pack up his stray socks and boxers and put them in that reusable grocery bag and take off this engagement ring that doesn't fit and was never sized. and i will tell him that i am sick of his lies and my bruises. and i will finally use my pto and take a vacation by myself, get away from these fluorescent lights and conversations about celebrity bikini bodies. and i will be happy alone, without a boyfriend for the first time in ten years.
and then sheila finally dives back into the m&m's, ripping the bag apart with a frenzied urgency as she laughs and tells no one in particular, guess my diet starts tomorrow. and dana reassures her that chocolate is good for the soul. and ethan texts me again to ask me when i am coming home. and i type back soon with stiff, hesitant fingers.
and i think that i will wait until tomorrow.