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In Praise of Victoria Howard

May 23, 2010 By: Category: stories

A few days ago, I posted a mysterious email I received from the Cultural Affairs desk about Victoria Howards’ retirement. At first I thought this might have something to do with my application for the U.S. Special Teams (Price Fixing and Water Slides Division), but after talking to my sponsor, P. Howard (head of the U.S. Commission on Sauce-Related Injuries), I discovered that no one named Victoria Howard has ever worked for the Special Teams, and the Cultural Affairs desk is nothing but a telephone in a houseless closet buried in an unmarked grave somewhere on Culpepper Island.

But then, to my surprise, a story arrived courtesy of uber-talented F.o.A. (Friend of Awkward) and Awkward Two author Heather Clitheroe that clears the whole mess up. I particularly like the image of Ms. Howard “oozing herself between bar stools.” And so we begin.

Victoria Howard’s Retirement Card

by Heather Clitheroe

The email arrives in your inbox around nine thirty, give or take, sent from the Cultural Affairs account. Nancy wrote it; she typed it out, clicked send, and went back to work. Hello! Most of you have probably heard that Victoria Howard will be retiring from the city soon. We invite you to sign her “retirement card”. It’s located under the front counter in the main office and will be available through June 3. Thanks! Nancy. Several hours later, Nancy will send out the invitation to a small reception in the office for Victoria Howard, to take place at 2:30 on June 2, two days before Victoria Howard will be gone.

You wish Victoria’s retirement card was filled with the things people have wanted to say to her but never have. Wish you hadn’t screwed up the coffee machine. Thanks for ratting me out to the boss. I hope people treat you the way you’ve treated them. Victoria Howard has not been a favourite of yours. She is a favourite of nobody’s, or perhaps only of a few. Several months ago, close to retirement and entering peri-menopause, she began to experiment with weight loss, leather jackets, tattoos, and alcohol. You were horrified — and fascinated — to discover her at a bar one Saturday evening, oozing herself between bar stools to begin a sloppy flirtation with the bartender. You tried to act as though you hadn’t seen her, but she recognized you and shrieked hello over the band, and you left soon after that. On Monday morning, however, she said nothing, and you suspect she had forgotten her confession that she needed a man between her legs in the worst way.

You fervently hope you were not the man she to whom she referred. You suspect you might have been.

Do you write best wishes for a happy retirement or never darken our doorstep again? Or take your 401K and put it into a good rehab facility, you’ll need it, maybe, because more and more her eyes are bloodshot and her breath smells suspiciously of mouthwash by mid-afternoon. Yesterday she came to ask you about her computer — it’s stopped working, for some reason, and perhaps it’s because she’s something of a fool when it comes to opening attachments and replying to Nigerian email scams. But you felt sorry for her, the way her sky blue eyeshadow had begun to drive down her cheeks in a slow, powdery cascade, and when you were clearing out her browsing history, you found that she had been reading about breast cancer on her lunch break. But you see that she has also been reading about nasty hot chicks who love to be spanked, and also nipple clamps, and you suspect that it is, once again, possible that you are overthinking the situation.

Her retirement is in three weeks. The day before she leaves, you and the others will assemble in the lunchroom to listen to the vice-president read a speech that his assistant has written for him. It will highlight Victoria’s career with the Cultural Affairs division, but it will leave out such cultural faux pas as referring to the Ivory Coast trade mission as ‘those darkies’ that landed her in a week of sensitivity training seminars. You were there, too, for a joke about cougars that did not go over well. Victoria will simper and blush, but she will enjoy the faint praise, rather than be damned by it.

There will be a slab cake, with white frosting and gel words that will say something like we’ll miss you or good luck, Victoria Howard!!!! The cake underneath the frosting will be yellow and of an indeterminate flavour, but you will take a piece, eating the icing and dumping the rest in the garbage. If you go for drinks after work — and Nancy will be arranging this, at the local Kilkenny’s Good Time Pub, so you will go — you will have a beer, and then three more in rapid succession, and by the end of the night you will be trying to remember if you did body shots off of Victoria Howard’s fleshy belly. You will not be able to recall, for you will go home in the cab that Nancy has called for you, with the buzzing silence in your ears that you always get when you have had too much to drink.

You will not call in sick on Friday, because Nancy is your supervisor. When you wake in the morning, with a pounding headache and an urgent feeling of nausea, you will assume that it was Nancy that called the cab, even though you don’t really remember, and you will come to the sick realization that whatever happened to you happened in front of everybody you work with. There will be no calling in sick. You will vomit in the toilet, and when you are done, you will continue to vomit thin bile in the shower, and you will curse Victoria Howard and her eyeshadow, and her suggestion — which you suddenly recall — that you meet her in the bathroom, and you will find yourself wide-eyed and staring at your hands in the shower, trying desperately to remember what happened. What happened?

When you finally arrive at work — and you will arrive, because you owe too much on student loans and credit cards to risk being fired, especially in this economy — you will be close to twenty minutes late, and Nancy will see you creeping by her office door and shake her head. You will try very hard to have a normal day, despite the jokes that people tell you and tell around you, and the knowing glances from the cute girl in the cubicle by the photocopier, and the slightly disgusted way Nancy speaks to you. You will drink coffee by mid-morning, when you can trust yourself not to boot it in the recycling bin under your desk, and then the girl in the cubicle by the photocopier — her name is Dipti, and she’s new — will smirk at you and ask you if you remembered to sign Victoria Howard’s “retirement card.” Dipti will not make air quotes, but she will sound as though she had.

You will drag yourself to the front counter, where the receptionist asks you, with great concern, if you are feeling okay. You will mumble something and ask for the card, and when she gives it to you and hands you a pen, you will be suddenly paralyzed because you do not know what to write . . . not only that, but you have a sudden recollection of a women’s bathroom and somebody who looked a lot like Victoria Howard.

And you will wish that you deleted the emails from Nancy. You will wish that you never finished your BComm degree, and that you’d gone on the road with the band you and your buddies started in college, because you are sure the women you would have met would never have been anything like Victoria Howard. You will wish all of these things, but, as Victoria Howard often says, if wishes were horses we’d all ride cowboys.

Update: (This is Jeffrey again.) I just realized yesterday that I’m a complete asshole. I know exactly who Victoria Howard is, because I took an art class from her. And she was really a lovely woman. So, apologies, Victoria! You are nothing like the woman described in this story! I really hope the U.S. Special Teams do not count this slip-up against me.

2 Comments to “In Praise of Victoria Howard”

  1. If you make it into the US Special Teams, I hope there’s an official FoA badge in it for me.

  2. Joyce Plunkett says:

    Oh my goodness. The musings on unintended consequences, gone nuclear ;-) I loved this story!


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