Editor’s Note: Tales from the workplace have long been a feature of U.S. 1’s traditional Summer Fiction issues. They tend to cover relatable experiences: quirky coworkers, technology woes, mindless corporate jargon.
The new normal of the last 18 months — working from home and commuting by Zoom — have created a new category of workplace stories, with Zoom filter malfunctions, attention-seeking pets, and the like. The story below from Lawrence resident Michelle M. Volesko Brewer is an example.
And That’s When I Said…
I am in my home office library in Lawrenceville, hard at work as a medical librarian for a global publisher of professional content serving doctors and nurses. It is as I prepare for a late afternoon virtual meeting that I become aware of a sudden, strange buzzing sound nearby. It is only getting louder as I sit at my laptop and desk. As I try to join a Zoom meeting and wait for the meeting owner to let me enter, the loud buzzing persists. I suppose — it could be a printer.
But why would my printer turn on? I know my laptop and conference apps sometimes have a mind of their own, but this makes no sense. I turn and check the printer on a table behind my desk and see there is no light on. I check it twice. So, I check the little desk fan, maybe it is buzzing somehow against a piece of paper or something. No, it is not even turned on.
I stand up at my desk and check to the right and left for this buzzing, a very rhythmic, persistent noise. It is even louder, if that is possible. Maybe it is one of the monitors going bad, or the floor lamps around the desk? I have two of each and a sunlamp to prevent SAD, that seasonal affective syndrome. No, none are malfunctioning and making the sound as I tip my ear near each. In doing so I suddenly notice my clowder of three cats on the other side of my desk. I realize they are all strangely looking up at the ceiling.
I am briefly puzzled that they are together — Padme, Teddy and Gigi? For two seconds I consider this as it is rare for them to be united in anything. Feline rivalries keep them running and competing for preferred cat stands and comfy perches. But no, all three are intently staring up, and so I slowly look up as well.
There, on the white popcorn ceiling, barely three feet from my head is the largest winged creature I have ever seen — inside the house. Now of course my husband has dissuaded me from the notion that outdoors, several years ago, I saw a condor swoop across our backyard that ends at the Shabakunk Creek, and it had at least a twelve-foot wingspan. I swear I saw it and say, seeing is believing. This indoor condor must be as big as my hand I think, and its wings generate a ferocious sound.
A frantic feeling kicks in now because I don’t know what it is and I fear it will go after the poor cats! Or, will they lunge after it? Yes, I can see now that the furious buzzing comes from its large wings. It has a long tubular body. I am allergic to bee stings, have an epinephrine pen but am strangely not worried about myself. I am fascinated and horrified at the same time, as I consider the buzzing interloper.
Though it is flying so furiously, I can’t quite figure out what it is. Its body is like a caterpillar I think, mostly black with orange. Is it a cicada? What do they look like in flight? Whatever this is, it’s a really, strange huge creature.
I try to shoo our three indoor housecats into the sunroom and close the door. But they are not having any of it. Their twelve paws and claws are quite firmly attached to the library wool carpeting. “This is the best cat-TV in months Mom, we are not moving” is the message hear from the looks the furry trio give me.
Maybe I can lure it into the garage? So, I turn off all the lights in the office library and open the door to the garage that opens into my library office and put the garage light on. Oh no, the creature flies the other way. It is now under the drapery on the double glass doors to the back patio that is connected to the library. Ah, so it wants out, it sees sunlight.
Maybe the green drapes are like trees to its primitive mind. I briefly consider do insects have minds? So, I decide to do the next best thing I can think of, get the military involved! I close the garage door, dash to my desk and write a note on a scrap of paper that reads:
“Is there any way to take a break for 5 minutes… Huge creature in library… cats in danger.”
And I emphasize the size of the danger by drawing the shape and approximate size of the body of the creature, across the entire note. Satisfied it accurately reflects the direction of the unfolding emergency I move to the basement door of my husband’s office.
He is an ex-Army captain and can bring his artillery to the library and remove it! But as I start down the stairs, I hear him still talking to others and I see him at his desk teaching a class. He waves me off with a look that alone could kill. I think — if only that look was laser focused at the drapery in the library. I run back upstairs worried I left the cats alone with the strange creature.
I realize I am the lone foot soldier now with the three furry civilians close to my heels. It is up to me. The Zoom meeting never opens so I close it out and sit to consider my options.
Then I jump up and race to the kitchen and grab the blue plastic flyswatter. I run back to listen for the buzzing under the drapes. Good the creature is still there. The cats will not move, they are now all over the double glass doors, paws and bodies up and down, mesmerized. They are glued to the doors now instead of the carpet, looking up with twitching whiskers. So I stand guard with my flyswatter to protect them. It if comes out from under the jabot swag at the top of the deep green paisley drapes, maybe, just maybe, I can swat it. That’s my battle plan. And I examine my flyswatter. Is it big and strong enough for the job?
I sigh. Still, I am basically Buddhist in nature, and try to save and release all wayward insects in the house. For the most part it is live and let live here. We regularly practice catch and release. So, I start to open one of the glass doors; I could let it escape. It sees sunshine and wants to be free. I pause to consider and worry I risk losing a cat with this tactic. They look at me and the partially open door. “Oh yeah Mom open the door, open, open, open,” I hear their furry thoughts.
Closing the door, I realize I have no other choice, it’s us or the creature. It comes out from under the drapes onto the glass of the door. I ever so slowly line up my arm and flyswatter with the creature. It’s now a line from a fav movie, Dante’s Peak, flashes through my mind. “Only gonna get one chance at this! Come on Roughy, jump! Jump!”
So, I say, “We’ve only got one chance at this cats. Swat! Swat!” I bravely smash the flyswatter fast and hard. I got it I think as it falls to the floor under a draft-dodger at the bottom of the doors! The cats have beat-feet at the swatting sound. That’s good because it is still moving as I slide aside its bunker. They would pounce on it, and it could sting them and I think cat-vomit and vet bills. Very quickly I get steely-eyed determination and I swat it again, hard. Briefly I am sorry for the poor thing.
Nonetheless, I saved the cats from this huge Mothra-like creature and I am somewhat proud of myself. I should know better than to let my ego lumber out, there are always costs. Relieved and suddenly worried my husband will unnecessarily interrupt his class to finally help me, I cover the huge dead creature with an empty coffee cup I snag from my desk. Then I hurriedly run down the stairs to his basement office.
And that’s when I say it, perhaps too proudly and certainly far too loudly, “I killed him!”
My beleaguered husband looks up at me with another laser-kill face, and says in an exasperated voice, “I am recording!”
Much later, I try to explain to my husband and his students in the Data Courier class, I am really not a stone-cold killer. I look at the photo ID of the carcass in this cool app called “Picture Insect.” That’s when I realize the awful truth. I am the reluctant recruit in this insect-laden world, one that is surely getting more dangerous with climate change, lantern flies flitting along Route 1, out of control poison ivy in the many woods in Lawrenceville and other invasive species here in Mercer County. I am also not an entomologist, but the app could be telling me it was a “murder hornet.” I’m standing by that story as anything else is just too embarrassing.
Brewer writes: “I am a 66 year old medical librarian, having worked for many years on Alexander Road for a small company. For the last 11, I have been working as the medical librarian in a research group within Wolters Kluwer, a global international company, that owns Lippincott publishing for example. Before the pandemic, this great work allowed me to travel globally and visit amazing places like Sydney Australia, Athens Greece, Ibiza Spain, and Vienna Austria to name a few. I have lived in Lawrenceville since 1982, first in the Meadow Woods apartments and later as a homeowner at Eagles’ Chase, before moving to our home on Franklin Corner Road. It is a lovely town in Mercer County with great parks and history. I enjoy reading, gardening, writing and nature of all kinds.”