Joanne stood idly by the water cooler in the break room, staring blankly at the opposite wall as she held a small plastic cup filled with water in her right hand while using her left to lean against the counter. She sighed as she brought the cup to her lips, her thoughts drifting off into the same disheartening flashback of her life story that they always found at this hour. How exactly had she ended up here? She’d had such high hopes in her youth. A 20-year-old Joanne had dreamed of becoming a successful businesswoman, of traveling across Europe, of marrying a decent man with whom she could someday spend a golden anniversary. Now twice that idealistic age, she found herself divorced, lonely, and answering phones for a living. What had become of her life?
The middle-aged receptionist checked her watch. Her break was almost over. She might as well return to her desk; Heaven forbid the temp should screw something up and she would have to take the heat for it. After all, what else did she have left to hold on to but her menial job?
Just as she threw her empty cup in the wastebasket, however, there came a knock at the open door.
Joanne looked up to see a handsome man stepping into the break room. He was tall and well built, probably in his mid-to-late thirties. He sported a plain brown uniform, and in his arms he carried a large box, no doubt containing the office supplies the staff had ordered a week ago.
The man asked to whom exactly he had been sent to deliver the box. Joanne smiled awkwardly, suddenly flustered. What nice eyes this man had. She had never noticed how attractive hazel eyes could be, almost like little topaz stones. After a few quiet seconds, the deliveryman repeated his question, and Joanne snapped out of her trance to answer that she was the receptionist and she could sign for the package.
The man nodded once with a smile and entered the room. Joanne asked if he would like some water, and turned around to face the water cooler after he accepted her offer. Unfortunately, she didn’t notice how quickly he made it to the table to unload the box; the moment she turned around, the two collided, and the gentleman’s outfit was splashed with water spilt from the cup.
The woman apologized profusely for her clumsiness and quickly reached for the paper towels on the countertop as the man insisted it was quite all right. Joanne helped him to wipe most of the excess water off the box and his shirt, and as she dabbed at the brown fabric covering his shoulder, she caught sight of the name tag sown into the clothing over his chest. Henry. What a perfectly nice name, well suited for such a nice man.
Henry grabbed another paper towel, pulling his sleeves up a little as he wiped his hands. That was when Joanne caught sight of a pair of tattoos, one on each of his arms. The left arm had a plain evangelical cross over the wrist, while the right arm bore a Latin phrase: “Carpe diem”.
The man smiled at the sight of the woman looking curiously at his tattoos. Seize the day, that’s what it meant. He had been trying to live his life by those words ever since he found out an ex-girlfriend he once loved was marrying another man. Maybe he should have proposed to her when he had the chance. As for the cross, it had been there for 15 years, since he was 21, as a constant reminder of his unfaltering faith in Jesus. After all, what was life without faith? The receptionist smiled, fascinated.
Joanne offered Henry some more water. He accepted, on the condition that this time it come inside the cup. She chuckled. A handsome face and a good sense of humor. How charming! The woman handed the refilled plastic cup to the man, who gladly took it from her in exchange for the clipboard holding the paper she needed to sign to receive the package.
The deliveryman handed the receptionist a pen, catching a glimpse of her hand as she reached for it. No ring? Not possible; she was an attractive woman. A closer look, however, revealed a faint tan line where a wedding band must have been for some years.
Henry inquired about his discovery. Joanne blushed. Yes, she was recently divorced, having only just signed the final papers last month. Her ex-husband didn’t respect her enough, so she explained. Turned out he wasn’t the man she thought he was. He put her down, made her feel like her dreams were hopeless fantasies, so one day she left him. Moved to a new city, got a simple job as a receptionist, and that was that.
Suddenly realizing she was rambling to a complete stranger, the receptionist hastily apologized, but the deliveryman smiled brightly. It must have taken a lot of courage for her to turn her life around like that in the hopes of finding something better. Carpe diem.
Joanne handed the pen back to Henry. He paused as his fingers closed around the pen and touched hers. Carpe diem… He might not see this woman again, but he was certain he wanted to. Maybe she’d like to get coffee sometime? Joanne laughed, a cheery melodious sound she hadn’t heard herself make in a long time. Yes, that would be lovely. She eagerly took the pen back to write her phone number at the bottom of the clipboard, then handed everything back to the deliveryman.
Henry tossed out the empty cup and smiled as he took the clipboard and pen, looking down at the former to read the name scribbled in neat cursive handwriting. Joanne, a pretty name to match a pretty face. With a polite nod and farewell, he was out the door. Still blushing profusely, Joanne picked up the package and carried it back to her desk with a broad grin on her face, somehow feeling that a lot more than a box full of office supplies had been brought into her life that day.
This short story is the first half of a two-part writing exercise I gave myself a few years ago. The exercise is to write the same story twice: once as a narrative with no direct dialogue, and once as a script for a stage play. The idea is to explore the differences between narrative and pure dialogue, in order to get a feel of how writing in one format differs from writing in the other. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!
Be sure to check in next week to read this story again as a scene in a play!