Chapter 2: The Strongest Energy There Is - Not a waste of Time
“Yes, Vera, what can I do for you?” Joan said, not even looking up from the form she was signing until she realized that Vera wasn’t starting in on her usual questions or information.
It wasn’t until they made eye contact that Vera spoke, “Governor, I have something to ask you,” she began, her smile broadening even more.
Joan didn’t bat an eyelash. She didn’t even seem surprised at Vera’s grin. She simply said, “Well?” in that deep, smooth voice of hers.
Vera stalled for a moment. She knew what she wanted to say, but it suddenly became very difficult to get out.
“I…uh…I think that…Um… The document I was fixing…,” and here she ran out of words. She was mentally kicking herself. She had been so sure when she’d come to the Governor’s office that she had been right about why the Governor had wanted her to keep rewriting that one rule about personal relationships between CO’s. She had thought that Ferguson had wanted her to catch on as to why they hadn’t spent time together outside of work. Even the one social evening they’d had was in Joan’s office, hardly a place for starting anything very friendly, really, or so it seemed.
“You know, Vera,” Joan Ferguson said, “things would be much simpler if you knew what you were going to say when you came in here. It doesn’t look good to have the Deputy Governor seem uncertain of anything. Remember that for future reference.” At that, she went back to looking down at her papers.
“I did,” Vera began, only to be cut off.
“You ‘did’ what?” the authoritative voice said.
Vera suddenly felt even more awkward. She wished she hadn’t been so certain of her conclusions about the summary and Joan’s intentions. She looked down at her hands that were suddenly feeling clumsy and heavy at the ends of her arms. She fumbled a bit more, trying to find words… Any words. Words that would make her not look smart, nor capable, nor in control… just words that would try and make her look a little less stupid. Times like this made Vera feel as though her Mother were right: she was stupid and a failure. Everything she ever tried would be a failure. She heard the scratch of Joan’s pen on the paper, the click of that pen as Joan had finished her signature and put the pen aside, the sound of a folder closing. She also heard the Governor take a sharp breath in. Vera wanted to shrink until she was so small that no one could possibly see her.
“I assume,” the Governor said with some annoyance, “that you came in here with something to say to me, so spit it out.” At that Joan sat back in her chair and stared at Vera, her eyes virtually burning a hole through Vera’s forehead. At least that was how it felt at that moment.
Vera swallowed, hard, and found what she could of her voice, “I f-finished the summary of the rules … again. I thought you’d want to know. I thought I knew what…” - and her voice ran out, just has her thoughts fell apart like a brick wall hit with a wrecking ball. Everything she thought she’d known before she’d come into this office faltered. She felt her face reddening. All that confidence she’d had a few moments before had gone. All her hopes had faded. Why would Joan Ferguson want to spend time with her outside of work? Why would she have thought that this was the Governor’s wishes? Or the Governor’s reasons for having her rewrite those rules over and over?
“Then, please, let me see it,” Joan said, not seeming to see Vera’s distress, at least not the deep distress she was feeling at that moment.
Vera shuffled slightly, then mumbled, “I…uh…left it on the table…in the break room… I’ll go get it…”
Governor Ferguson pursed her lips slightly, then looked towards the windows in her office.
“Next time just bring me whatever it is that I should see rather than making an announcement about it ahead of time,” the Governor said, a touch of impatience in her tone.
After a quick “Yes, Governor,” Vera turned and left the Governor’s office as quickly as she could. She should have headed back to the break room, but instead headed for the ladies’ washroom. She couldn’t go into the break room until she pulled herself together, at least visibly.
Vera crashed through into the staff washroom, her legs feeling weak beneath her. She lurched to the first sink she could get to, grabbed a hold of it, and started concentrating on trying to breathe. Deep, slow breaths was what she tried for. She managed to gather herself a bit, stopping the spiral that would take her down to a full-on panic attack. She still struggled, but managed to begin telling herself that, though she had looked less than professional, she had done nothing wrong. She had just looked awkward in front of the Governor. Oh…God…
The water from the tap took a moment to cool down to a suitable temperature, but as soon as it did, Vera splashed her face with it. She used the cold water to help her focus, to try and keep herself out of that deadly spiral. Okay, the water helped. It was a shock on the skin, a distraction. She breathed in, taking some water up her nose, and coughed - also a distraction. She began to breathe more evenly, to feel a bit more like she could keep control. More water. More breathing. She kept herself focused until she could be seen in public again. Thank God no one had walked into the washroom at that point. She didn’t want to have to make up explanations for her behaviour to anyone else.
After drying her hands and face, Vera stepped out of the washroom. There was no one in the hallway, so walking back to the break room gave her a few more moments to manage to get herself back into the right headspace. She was the Deputy Governor after all. She had to look in control. She would have to -
Her thoughts were cut short when she opened the door to the break room and saw Governor Joan Ferguson standing over the table with the laptop and folder with the re-written rules. The Governor had opened the file and was reading it, her tall frame leaning forward, holding herself up over the folder with her arms. She lifted a hand and turned one of the pages. She didn’t look up when Vera opened the door. Instead, she simply said, “Vera, come here.”
Vera walked, somewhat stiffly and with false confidence over to the table. Her true state was obvious when she spoke because her voice actually squeaked – squeaked! – when she started talking.
“Uh…yes, Governor?” she managed to get out.
The Governor looked at her briefly, then back at the papers in the folder.
“I gather this is the new re-write?” she asked Vera.
“Yes, yes, it is. That’s the one I did again. Three times. I didn’t –“ Vera was cut short by the Governor lifting a hand to indicate that she should stop talking. She stopped.
The Governor closed the file folder, then picked it up.
“I suppose asking you to do it again is a waste of time, both yours and mine,” the tall woman said, standing to her full height and looking at Vera in what seemed to be an almost pitying way.
Vera could take anything from anyone. After all, her Mother had given her a lifetime of harsh words and reprimands, always taking Vera down from any hope or self confidence she had ever felt. Yet at this moment, she suddenly reacted to the Governor’s tone. She would not be pitied. Certainly not by her boss. Anything but pity would be fine, but not that.
“If you want me to do it again, I will,” Vera said, finding her voice at last. “But I don’t see the point. There is no other way to re-write it that will make it any clearer to Mr. Fletcher or anyone else. There is no real logical reason for you to want it worded differently.” Here Vera stopped, making full eye contact with the Governor.
Joan Ferguson’s lips turned up just a slight bit at the corners. She wasn’t finding this funny; she was pleased about something, Vera knew. There was something to the other woman’s manner that indicated that Vera was doing something right.
“I see. Well, then, I’ll take these with me and you can consider the task finished,” the Governor said. She moved towards the door, walking past Vera, then stopped and only turned her head, and said, “So there was nothing else you could find in there? No other reason for my asking for you to try and re-write it again?”
Vera turned fully around to face the Governor’s back. To be honest, she was actually only looking about mid-shoulder blade, due to her lack of height when compared to the Governor.
“No, Governor, nothing specific,” Vera said.
The woman with the tight, oddly perfect bun on the back of her head started walking again. Vera could see that only a few more of those long strides would take her out the door, only to leave Vera alone again in that room, and something seemed to push her mentally. She kept getting the feeling that she needed to speak up, that it was now or never. She wanted to recede into herself again, but that feeling was getting so strong it was almost as if she could hear words in her head, words that seemed to say, “tell her”. In fact, Vera could also feel that nothing would ever be right again unless she did say just that.
Somehow, from deep within, Vera found the courage and the words: “Except,“ she said, voice strong this time, “I think you wanted me to figure out something.”
The Governor stopped, turned fully around to look at Vera, and said, “You do?”
Vera did her best to haul herself up to her full height, which wasn’t much but it was all she had, and stood nearly at attention as she said, “Yes. I think….,” the short faulter before she was able to continue did not stop her this time, “I think you wanted me to see that the rules require that I ask you to do social things with me rather than vice versa…”
The Governor kept looking at Vera, waiting for her to finish what she was saying, the folder in one hand as she crossed her hands in front of her.
Vera knew suddenly that she could be dead wrong, but in for a penny, in for a pound. She had already said enough that she was either going to sink or swim. After all, he who hesitates is lost… She stopped the mental stream of encouraging proverbs and continued.
“I mean, we can be social, but it has to be me this time to ask you. I know we can talk in your office any time, even with drinks, but if we want to move on and…” Vera stopped.
The Governor’s hard stare almost seemed to penetrate to Vera’s soul. Oh God, had she been wrong after all? Had she just sunk her career? Had she even insulted the other woman? This woman she admired so? All the blood sank out of Vera’s face and down to her gut. She felt her head get a bit lighter, and was starting to feel a bit dizzy when the Governor spoke up.
“I’m glad you were able to understand the rules yourself, Vera. I was wondering if you were ever going to get there. I have no idea if being social might impact on our ability to work together, but since you have made the first move - I assume you have?” Vera nodded vigorously. “Then perhaps we can meet for drinks again, or some such. At least I know that were such a meeting necessary or desired, for whatever reason, you would be amenable to such. Good work, Vera.” At that, she turned and walked out the door.
Vera felt her equilibrium come back. She pulled out a chair at the table and sat down, suddenly and hard. Her smile came back. She had only felt this excited and appreciated once before, when the Governor had offered to mentor her. She shook her head a bit in disbelief at her own ability to find her voice when she needed it. This day had been a roller coaster at the emotional level: she’d gone from frustration, to elation, to humiliation, to near panic and back to elation. Her days almost never included elation.
She stood up and collected the laptop to her, intending to return it to its proper place in the office, and was startled when Linda Miles came back into the room, carrying the day’s cafeteria lunch of a bowl of soup and a limp, sad looking salad.
“Fucking bitches,” Linda snarked, “can’t even make a salad without dousing it in so much oil it’s disgusting. I guess something has to cover the black edges of this shit lettuce.”
Vera just nodded and walked for the door, laptop carefully under her arm.
“Oh, come on Vera, usually you have something to say about how I could bring my own lunch, like a kid at school, you know, like you do,“ Linda taunted, clearly trying to goad Vera into saying something.
Vera did indeed know exactly what to say.
“Fuck off, Linda,” Vera said, and laughed as she left the break room.