The Exit – Short Story

She had it sealed in an envelope in her bag. It had been finalized and printed weeks ago, but the time to deliver it hadn’t yet arrived. So, it stayed there, resting like a caterpillar that had crawled into its cocoon expecting to die but came out as a butterfly.

No. It came out as a moth.

In hindsight, she would wonder if it would have been easier to let the caterpillar die.

She’d been minding her own business, just trying to carry out the day as usual despite her leaden heart and her jumpy mind – did Derrick know? He’d been glancing at her more than usual. Did she look stressed? She had practiced an easy smile in her car’s rear mirror, but maybe she wore her poor sleep too blatantly in her eyes.

Yet, the jumpy mind didn’t improve her boss-radar. When she finally ran into her boss, she nearly squealed aloud.

“Amy.” She sighed, resisting the urge to place her hand over her anxious heart.

“Good morning, Emma,” Amy smiled, her hair still straight before the day’s stresses caused it to rise like static wind had stirred inside the office building. “How was your weekend?”

“Good, good,” Emma answered absently. “How about you?”

“Fine, thank you,” Amy said, in a tone that indicated that was all the chit-chat she could afford.

Emma clasped her paperwork against her chest as if to shield herself as she followed Amy the three steps she had moved on by. “Actually, Amy.” She gulped. “I have something for you.”

“Oh,” Amy said, surprise clear in her voice as she stopped her urgent parameter-check through the hallway. “What-”

“I’ll go get it from my desk.” Emma said.

“Alright,” Amy nodded once, her face instantly composed as she attempted to conceal the mental list of possible outcomes she was developing based on Emma’s tone and appearance. “Meet me in my office.”

“Okay,” Emma said and then fled from the conversation. She had started the process; her caterpillar was about to come out of its cocoon.

She bustled to the end of the hallway before the heat of her freshly printed paperwork dissolved and tried to take a controlled breath. Derrick had definitely sensed her weird energy. He was peering over the top of his cubical with unfiltered curiosity.

“Hi Emma,” Derrick said, always one for the verbal dance. “How are you?”

“Fine,” She replied, flatly. She pulled the envelope out from her bag, still crisp and untainted like her warm paperwork. She knew she couldn’t allow Derrick to ask his actual question otherwise her face would reveal the depth of her nerves, so she ended the conversation. “Sorry, I’m a bit busy at the moment.”

Before Derrick could reply Emma was already turning away, the envelope clutched in her hand and her heart pounding in her throat.

When Emma joined Amy in the office, Emma didn’t dare speak.

“Oh,” Amy said again, the list reducing in her mind as she saw an envelope – the ‘gift of appreciation’ that she had crossed her fingers for couldn’t be in that skinny piece of folded paper.

Emma just handed over the envelope and stood with her hands casually behind her back. She watched in quiet terror as Amy ripped open the envelope and exposed the contents. Yet, when Amy finally returned her eyes to Emma, the terror was replaced with relief. The event had occurred, there was nothing left to anticipate, Emma had completed her side of the exchange.

“Oh, Emma,” Amy said with a sad smile on her face. “I’ll be sad to see you go.”

“Me too,” Emma admitted. “This place has been my home for years, but it was time for a change.”

Amy nodded, and glanced back at the paperwork in her hands. “Have you told your supervisor yet?”

“No,” Emma shook her head. “I wanted to come to you first.” Emma had known she only had enough courage to prepare for one person, so she had decided it was easier – because it was more official – to start with Amy.

“Alright. Well, I will notify your supervisor and the HR team. The HR team will email you themselves. Otherwise, it is work as normal for the next two weeks.”

“Of course,” Emma said. “I’ll leave you to it.”

Amy didn’t reply, instead she just turned to her computer as Emma left. Her leaden heart had melted, and the cocoon had been delivered. She could breathe easily again. The hardest part was done. At least, that was what she had believed.

*

The first week after her resignation had drifted past normally. The word had travelled around the office, but it was as if she bore the Mark of Cain because no one approached her about her resignation.

Emma was unsure how she felt about it, but it had felt unnatural to tell people when they already knew, so she had continued as normal.

The second week was when the cocoon of her resignation began to open, and it wasn’t the pretty butterfly she had expected. It would be a dusty, ordinary moth.

The nerves of leaving and knowing that her new job was sneaking closer had plagued her erratic dreams all weekend. Even though Emma assumed the whole office building knew it was her last week, she felt that it was necessary to announce it formally for herself. In an attempt to be positive and grateful for the years she’d enjoyed working with her team, Emma wrote a polite email titled ‘farewell and thank you’.

That was when the weirdness began.

The people she had trusted to reply to her email with well-wishes performed as expected, easing some of the email-apprehension for Emma. Yet, Derrick, whom she had sat opposite for the last six months, didn’t even peer over the cubical when she sent the email.

Emma wondered: had she been distasteful?

Yet, with another positive reply she let the concern drop.

“Emma,” a voice announced itself at the edge of Emma’s cubical after lunch a few days later.

“Aisha,” Emma said, swiveling in her chair to face her co-worker.

“I saw your email the other day.” Aisha said, propping her arm on the top of Emma’s cubical, indicating she intended to talk for more than two minutes.

“Yeah.” Emma said, unsure how else to reply to Aisha’s declaration.

“Where are you going?”

“To the new department on the other side of the city.”

“Oh, so it’s like a promotion?” Aisha said, smiling.

“No.” Emma said. “It has a different parent company, so it’s run as an independent organization.”

“Oh,” Aisha said, her distaste only evident from the subtle drop in her tone. “Why are you leaving?”

“More experience.” Emma nodded. She had been proud and confident in the rightness of her decision to grow and challenge herself in her career, but Aisha tilted her head.

“You couldn’t have got that here?” Aisha asked.

“Well, yes, but-” Emma explained.

Aisha had just been the beginning. Through her last few days, Emma had been approached by numerous co-workers and bosses. Many whom she’d only interacted with on the rare occasional. They all asked the same questions, and Emma felt her self-esteem shrivel in the insecurity.

Why did she feel like she had to justify her decisions to these people?

The exit interview was worse. She hadn’t been worried, because she couldn’t mess up an exit interview – could she? Yet, when it was done, she stood in the bathroom with the door locked behind her and just stared at herself for a few minutes. Why was it so hard to just explain: she had made the decision for herself?

By the last day, Emma was dreading the final goodbyes. What she had assumed would go smoothly had become a weird confusion of pretend-normal. Whenever she acted upbeat and positive, trying to make easy jokes about leaving, she could taste the rubber of her shoes in her mouth. The colours of her butterfly had fallen off. She just wanted to be gone.

In her last hour of employment, she was called back to Amy’s office.

“It’s a bit late to fire me, isn’t it?” Emma joked.

Amy didn’t reply, she just smiled. Except, it wasn’t a proper smile. It was more like a grimace or a cringe than a smile.

Emma felt like crawling into a hole. If only she’d known how humiliating resignation could be, then she would have quit more dramatically – only to avoid resuming work post-resignation.

“I’ve just invited you in to formally say goodbye. I don’t expect you to continue working your last hour, so I’m happy for you to begin packing up your desk.”

“Okay,” Emma said, her attempts to maintain ‘normal’ banter deflated – she had finally accepted she was doing a terrible job at tasteful normality in the face of resignation.

“I wish you well in your new endeavors.” Amy nodded her head once.

“Thank you,” Emma shifted on her feet, wishing that Amy would drop eye contact so that Emma didn’t have to sustain looking into her eyes. She felt like she was a giant zit on the face that people couldn’t help but stare at.

“Feel free to say your goodbyes to others on your way out.”

“Okay, I will.” Emma said.

Amy smiled one final time. “Good luck.”

“Bye,” Emma said and left. On her way back to her desk she stopped by her co-worker’s desks, offering only the bare minimum conversation required. When she reached her desk, Derrick was the only ‘goodbye’ left.

Emma and Derrick made eye contact, but Emma decided it would be less awkward if she could say goodbye and then leave, rather than say goodbye and then awkwardly talk to Derrick until she actually left. So, she tidied up the few possessions that she hadn’t emptied from her cubical: her planner, her pencil case, and her draw tidy. She had already passed-on her work to her co-workers, so there was no paperwork to relocate.

Emma shut down her work computer for the final time. When she stood this time, Derrick feigned consumption in his work.

Emma walked around their divider until she was standing at the edge of his desk. Still, he only glanced at her.

“Hi,” Derrick said.

“I’m leaving now.” Emma said. “I just wanted to say goodbye.”

“Alright,” Derrick peeled his eyes from his screen. “It was nice working opposite you.”

“Yeah,” Emma said, jostling the box in her arms.

“Well,” Derrick scratched his face. “I guess I’ll see you around.”

Inside, Emma was thinking the contrary, but she nodded and mustered a smile. “Yeah. Well, bye ‘til then.”

Derrick returned to his screen and Emma walked away, finally. With a sigh, she was finally at the exit. Good riddance.

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