She saw me first. A prey and predator conflict was about to go down. I’ll stop short of saying the woman stalked or hunted me. I don’t want to believe the attack was premeditated.
I think the whole unfortunate rouse happened because I walked across her field of vision. My fluffy lemur tail was too much temptation for her animalistic instincts. The more powerful lioness pounced on me the lemur, not to eat me, not to drag me back to her young, but to play with.
The food chain in business and nature are the same.
So one morning last week I was in Des Moines. Before beginning the 99-mile trip back home to Centerville, I needed gas. I pulled over to a nondescript gas station that I had never noticed before. I filled the car, paid inside, walked back to the car and just as my hand reached out for the car door handle I heard my name!
At first, I thought I was being paged over the gas station’s loudspeakers. I released the car door handle and sniffed the air. I didn’t detect danger. Standing against my car I waited to see if I really heard my name.
A woman probably my age appeared from around an SUV. Her smile was big and her strides were long as she closed the distance between us in a hurry. I could have scurried away into the adjacent tall water-grass but an attack didn’t feel imminent.
She was wearing a bright orange and yellow sundress. Her dark tinted Ray-Bans were pushed high on her forehead. Middle-age had not been kind to the lioness. She was no longer in shape to outrun any of the grasslands four-legged mammals. She had made the trade-off, sacrificing stealthy for cunning.
Having accepted her open hand in an old school handshake, she repeated my name. My mind had already begun the Rolodex shuffle. Who was this friendly woman? Friend, family, relative? No.
Still standing between our vehicles while people around us pumped gas, I felt self-conscious about being in the way. The lady asked if I had a little time so we could move our vehicles to an unoccupied parking lot next door.
Relocating, our cars pulled up beside one another with all the space we needed to talk. Getting back out of our vehicles, I still had no clue who she was. That is always an awkward situation. When someone has remembered your name and face and yet you are unable to return the courtesy.
Thankfully, she ended the suspense. The lady began to explain who she was. She explained we both worked for the same company when I lived in South Dakota. I was the supervisor of an area of stores, one of which she managed.
Our conversation was off to a good start. South Dakota was a good experience for me. Witness this lady, remembering me, some three decades later. I felt good knowing I had made a positive impression on her.
I couldn’t recall working with this lady, but she sure remembered me. Our chat matured into a conversation. She relived some hard times she fell upon. I felt bad at different times because my recollections of living and working in Dakota were positive while her’s were not.
So far the conversation had covered general memories of the company. I was becoming eager for her to explain specifically why she remembered me. I guessed that I had probably hired her or even promoted her and she had never forgotten it.
South Dakota will always be my coming-of-age state. Moving that far from home pressed me to grow intellectually and spiritually. My wife and I were so young and so on our own.
The woman was still talking as I refocused on to what she was saying. I learned she still lived in Yankton which was a town about 30 miles from where I lived. But I still couldn’t place who she was or what her job was.
As we stood talking, she was holding a bottle of Dasani water. At various moments in our conversation, she would clench her hand tight into a fist squeezing on that empty plastic. The sound of that plastic crinkling then unwrinkling then pop, pop, popping was annoying me. And I still didn’t know who she was.
I was fixated on the squeezing sounds of that empty water bottle. Her paw was using the empty bottle like a stress-relief-toy.
I thought to myself, “If you crinkle that cheap bottle of water one more time lady...”
Mr. Heimlich, I Presume
“SO WHY DID YOU FIRE ME?“
The lady’s yellowish teeth remained barred.
Those six words, so why did you fire me, echoed and then hung in the air as purple haze.
I didn’t choke because of the growling lioness.
I was sucking on a hard-grape candy Beelzebub the lioness had offered me and now the Jolly Rancher was wedged tight in my windpipe. I felt my eyes bugging out and my face flush, I couldn’t catch a breath.
Seeing I was in distress and not breathing, I saw the lioness eyes hesitate
If she did nothing, maybe I would asphyxiate in front of her. Using both hands, I clawed at my throat.
“So why did you fire her,” asked Mr. Heimlich. How do the Heimlichs know the lioness?
Earlier it was her idea to move our cars off the main lot. Now we were parked on the side of an adjacent building that was closed and condemned. No one could hear me scream. No one could see my buggy eyes. I was condemned.
By the time the first responders would reach me I’d be code blue.
Revenge is a dish best served cold. Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned. What goes around, comes around. Karma is a ‘B’.
Would my last visual of this life be of a woman whom I didn’t remember firing 30 years ago in that God-forsaken state of South Dakota?
“YOU FIRED ME AND MY DAUGHTER,” screamed the woman from Fatal Attraction. Her yellow-orange sundress glowed hot before combusting. All I could do was look at Glenn Close as I clawed at my throat.
Finally, finally… the mint shook free and I could finally breathe.
Now I remembered the woman. Yes, I did.
The Rolodex in my mind finally clicked and stopped on March 16, 1985. Both women had a history of warnings and write-ups. Both women dared the company to terminate their employment. The company had no choice. Yes, I fired the lady and her little cub too.
Home Sweet Home
I had never been so happy to get back home. What a crazy day! Did that thing with the lioness and the gas station that appeared out of nowhere happen?
To make sure the world didn’t come inside with me, I locked the doors. I never lock my doors as I laughed at my ridiculous day.
The anesthesiologist must have added some extra ‘jo-jo-juice’ in my knockout gas before my spine-injections today. Matter of fact I still feel a little woozy.
I don’t even remember putting something in the crock-pot before I left this morning. But I can see the steam rising from around the glass lid. I can’t identify that smell. What is cooking?
One thing is for sure; once I find and feed Toby, my pet rabbit, I’ll see what’s in that crock-pot.
Who is Dann Derby?
Dann’s baptism into life at once lowered his expectations as a stuttering mother added the extra "n." As an adult, Dann enjoyed a 16-year career with Casey’s General Stores. Centerville’s wayward son, uncomfortable with success, returned home to own and operate the 88-year-old Blue Bird Family Restaurant for the following 23 years. Today Dann attempts to pith in the wind with his monthly column "Lowered Expectations."