“This is delicious. You have to give me the recipe,” Bess Wilkins from reception said. She shoveled another forkful into her mouth. A speck of tomato sauce caught in one of the folds of her sagging jaws. “I need to make this for my grandchildren.”
“Sure, but they might balk at some of the ingredients though,” I said. I replaced the glass lid on my Corningware casserole dish to keep heat from escaping. I wish I had brought some Sterno to keep it hot. I hated the thought that anyone would get sick from my dish. It was my first potluck since I started working at Erickson and Associates. I wanted to impress, not give my new co-workers ptomaine.
“Save some for me,” Steve Chalmers said. Steve was Erikson’s best salesman. That meant that, except for the occasional office meeting and potlucks, his total responsibilities was driving around in his Sebring and making sales calls. I could always smell him before I saw him. He swam in a constant churning cloud of Chaps by Ralph Lauren.
“There is plenty for everyone. So please, help yourself.” I always made sure to make more than anyone could possibly eat. It was a calculated risk. A lesser cook would end up walking glumly to their car, arms filled with uneaten food. That never happened to me. Usually, a few people would ask if they could take some home with them, a request that I was always happy to oblige.
I have worked in five offices in the last five years. Some potential employers balk at my work history during the initial interview. I make sure to flash my winning smile and tell them the truth. A good company is like a good recipe. If the initial ingredients are all wrong, there is nothing to save the meal. I like to think of myself as a zesty sprinkle of aged cheese or a smooth ladleful of the perfect pottage on top of perfectly broiled steak. It usually works, if it doesn’t, there a tons of companies looking for help. Regardless of what they tell you during orientation, they are all the same.
“I swear. If I wasn’t a vegetarian, I would be inhaling that,” Gabe Polk, the computer guy said. I guess he became a vegetarian after I saw him eating a chicken teriyaki last week. “Come on, Gabe. There is nothing in there that would hurt you, if you had a little.”
I wasn’t going to press the point. I knew that I didn’t need to. I lifted the lid to let a puff of fragrant steam in to the air of the break room.
Gabe grabbed a paper plate and scooped a spoonful onto the plate. He wandered off to his desk. It worked every time.
“I wish Mr. Erikson was here to try this. He is quite the gourmand.” Brin Sheridan, Mr. Erikson’s personal secretary, said. “Has anyone heard from him yet?”
“He’s probably out hunting Wild Turkey,” Steve Chalmers said.
Brin Sheridan shot Steve Chalmers a glance that should have cut him right in half. Steve Chalmers shrugged and waddled off to his office.
It was no secret that Mr. Erikson was a drinker. I smelled on him the first time we met. He tried to hide the smell under a stick of Big Red gum. Even without the scent, his bloated, red face and dull eyes let me know that he was practically marinated. Steve Chalmers gleefully told me on my second day, that Mr. Erickson usually disappeared a few times a year in order to, “to catch up on his drinking.”
“Does he usually check-in, when he is on a trip?” I asked. I hoped that careful word choice would diffuse the tension that was palpable in the air.
“He does call – sometimes,” Brin Sheridan said, “If anyone hears from him, you’d let me know?”
Brin Sheridan left the room. I saw her dab the corner of her eye with a napkin.
“What a bunch of horseshit, pardon my language. That Erickson does this all the time. He’ll show up in a day or two and everybody will act like nothing happened. As long as I get my check every other week, I could care less.” Jack Hanratty said. Jack Hanratty drove the delivery truck. “Man, this stuff is delicious. Is this pork?”
“Nope,” I said, putting another scoop on his plate. “It’s Mr. Erickson.”
The room turned silent.
I felt a pit in my stomach. “You’re right, Jack. It is Pork. It’s Jimmy Dean, with some spices that I added. I can get you the recipe.”
Jack Hanratty put his plate on the corner of the table. “No that’s alright. I’m not feeling hungry.”
The other people in the lunchroom looked down at their plates and then looked at me.
“It’s okay – really. I was just making a joke.” I left the room so they could throw away their plates without having to face me.
The rest of the day passed at a crawl. When five o’clock rolled by, I packed my things into a bag and left. I was at my car when I realized that I left my casserole dish in the lunchroom. I thought about going back for it, but I decided to let it go. I needed to get home.
I stopped by the Safeway on the way home to pick up a bag of salad and some French bread. I saw one of my co- workers, Julie Welch, in the bakery, but she pretended not to see me.
I got back to my house and flipped channels until my stomach began to rumble. I was starving. I went to the freezer and grabbed an enormous steak. I cooked it on my outdoor grill. I love the taste of meat, but I hate the way the smell of the smoke sticks to everything in the house. When I cooked the steak to perfection, I made a salad and sat at the kitchen table with my laptop. I searched the job listing for a while, but I got bored. I didn’t need to find a new job tonight. I had some savings and I had enough of Mr. Erickson in my freezer to last until the summer. I was glad that I would never have to go back to that job. What a bunch of humorless assholes. I would never have put Mr. Erickson in a casserole. They ate my neighbor’s dog. Ingrates.