The Workforce

Drama / A corporate conference room / A baby rattle / 978w

The day that Ruby attended her first meeting as board member was also the day that she opened her briefcase, in view of the other executives, and found Thomas’ rattle there, lying atop her notes. The men burst into rich laughter.

“Bringing work to work?” Atkins said, grinning into his coffee.

“Mommy’s on the board now,” one man joked to a colleague.

Flushed, angry, Ruby closed her briefcase with as much dignity as she could. Composure, Agatha had said. Maintain your composure. Take the high road always. She had kissed Ruby’s forehead and looked at the younger woman with an expression of mingled apprehension and jealousy. Mostly apprehension. As the first female executive of Roberts & Yates, Co., Ruby would not find any road easy, let alone the high one. She knew she would sorely miss this tenderness of women, the sympathy that came so easily because it was allowed them. In her new position, she could have tolerated hostility. Composure maintained, no problem. But the laughter, Ruby was finding impossible to swallow. She spoke but wasn’t heard. Asked but was ignored. Suggested, but was nodded and mhm’d into silence.

“For Christ’s sake, it’s 1975!” she had complained to Ed as she spooned mushy peas into Thomas’s reluctant mouth. “Haven’t we moved past this? They voted me on!”

“Language,” he said. Ruby shot him a glare that he didn’t see. “Just be patient. They’ll adjust.”

Ed himself had adjusted by beginning an affair with their daytime nanny.

 

“I apologize,” Ruby said to Mark Roberts, who was watching his employees guffaw from the head of the conference room table. “My son and husband both have a sense of humor, apparently.”

Roberts gave a shallow shrug and gestured for all to sit. They sat. With Yates vacationing in Greece, the quieter of the two partners had led the weekly meetings for the past four weeks. He was, Ruby had decided, a mild-tempered man, unassuming in the charcoal suit and blue striped tie that he wore every day. His wife packed him tuna sandwiches cut into neat triangles, which he ate while staring out of his office window at the gingko tree that grew in the courtyard. She knew this because her office was kitty-corner to his. Every day she could see him at it through the glass, while she did the same over her thermos of canned spaghetti.

The meeting progressed as usual. Ruby gave her report as regional accounts manager. Somebody, a faceless nitwit in the back, gestured like a baby shaking his rattle as she spoke. Then Nielsen, whom Agatha called “the blonde,” put it to the room that shouldn’t someone double-check her figures?

“These are critical calculations, after all,” he said. Reasonable hmms and nods all around.

“That seems like a waste of company resources,” Ruby heard herself saying. Nobody else’s work was ever questioned.

“Not your job to allocate company resources,” Clyde, the office manager, said.

“I’m not saying it is, but –”

“We have that new intern. What’s his name? Stephens? Stefans? Get him to do it,” someone said.

“No way. He’s writing my report right now.” Everyone except Ruby and Roberts laughed.

“Look, we have better things to do than her job,” Will Williams said.

They agreed. He made a good point: it would be a waste of company resources.

When the meeting finally came to a laborious end, Ruby was on the verge of tears. She hadn’t cried since her last year of graduate school, when Ike Peters had dumped over the common room phone. She could feel it: it would be an angry cry, a squelchy sobbing into Thomas’s extra bib, one hand pressed hard into the edge of the washing machine. Her nose would run, the linoleum would creak pitifully underfoot. It would not be pretty.

“Hey, Ruby.” Atkins and two smirking men approached her as the others began to file out the door. “We were wondering. Are you still…feeding your baby?”

Ruby raised both eyebrows. “Excuse me?”

“Just because, we noticed they were…you know…” He held his hands out in front of him, as if cupping two melons. His eyes dropped to her chest.

“I wonder about your need to know about such a private matter,” Roberts said. He stepped up from behind the three other men. “Especially when you are on the clock.”

Atkins dropped his hands. The grin flickered from his face. “Just asking.”

“Well, I’m not just asking you to never speak to her like that again.”

After a round of muttered “sorry”s, the three left. Ruby and Roberts were left standing next to the conference room window, sharing a silence that was not quite comfortable. Ruby did not know how she felt about a rescue. She might have preferred to simply sink just then.

The two of them squinted into the glare of the late morning sun. In the courtyard, the gingko fluttered.

“You know, at first, I wasn’t sure why you would ever want to be here,” Roberts said softly to the glass.

Ruby knew he did not mean the meeting, or even the executive board. He spoke then as the man who ate his sandwiches solemnly and had pictures of two crooked-toothed children on his desk. He meant the world he, and the others, occupied; the one they had occupied for decades before Ruby had arrived.

She could see his point.

“But I think I see, now. You –”

“You don’t,” she said, cutting him off.

His glasses flashed as he turned to look at her. He pulled gently at the end of his tie. An expectant look on his face.

She almost apologized. But then she went on. “You don’t see. You can’t.”

Another beat passed. Then, he shrugged. “You’re right, I guess.”

Ruby pivoted to look out of the window again. She knew that.

Roberts shrugged again. Then he left.

Writer’s Note

I’ve been fortunate to have experienced only a little of this firsthand. I have enormous respect for the women who forged ahead and dealt with it all when this kind of thing was still considered radical.

I feel like I did a good job of avoiding some small blunders in this story. I was able to notice when lines, actions, descriptions weren’t necessary. That’s good. I feel like not being picky enough about what I choose to let into my writing has sometimes led to it sounding a bit juvenile.

Photo by wu yi on Unsplash

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