She really did work hard for the money. And should have done so for an additional cost considering all the abuse she endured. Relegated to the corner cubicle because the proverbial mean girls of the office had banished her there. Tori didn’t understand why, even after all these years, she allowed herself to be strong-armed into anything. But it was the cowering behavior she had learned to adopt throughout junior high and high school as a flight response from her many tormentors. The ones that would apparently crop up again at her thankless job as an insurance agent.
A+ Car Insurance was, of course, anything but A+, yet all day long, Tori spent her hours telling customers otherwise. And she was quite good at it. She might have been even better if her confidence wasn’t being perpetually shaken by the likes of a girl ten years her junior named Elaine. Somewhere in her forties, Elaine had had enough cosmetic surgery to make one believe she was trying to seem perpetually in her thirties. In Tori’s estimation, she was not carrying it off, but naturally she would never say anything, nor would she try to talk shit about it to her other co-workers, who were already in league with Elaine to talk shit about Tori anyway.
Elaine had the vexing “sense of humor” that was riddled with the faux veneer of being “playful” when, in fact, it was actually quite cunty. A case in point occurred just the other day when Tori was dealing with a customer and was interrupted by Elaine feigning the nicety of bringing her a stack of papers from the printer. When Tori tried to grab all of them, Elaine snatched a part of the stack away and said, “Uh uh uh, these are mine. Can’t have ‘em, sorry.” It made Tori look foolish and incompetent in the undercutting manner she had intended—all through the guise of being “pleasant.” Tori wanted to fucking strangle her and feared that it would one day come to that if she kept suppressing her emotions. But what else could she do in this hostile environment? To feed it with more hostility would do no good, she figured. So she smiled serenely, as though she hadn’t registered Elaine’s “alpha” assertion, and continued explaining the contract to the customer, who she could feel staring at her with something like pity. Tori’s blood was coursing with the hot flames of embarrassment as she kept giving her spiel, pushing back the tears she would save for the bathroom stall.
Back in her small one-bedroom apartment (though she was sure to have a pullout bed for whenever her only son might come to visit), Tori looked around her environment and tried to understand what it was about herself that made her so unlikeable. Such an “easy target.” Yes, she was the type of woman who wore ugly sweaters and had needlepoint pillows, but what made her so odious to someone like Elaine? At that moment, her only friend in the world, a sandy-haired cocker spaniel named Darien, came bounding from the bedroom, heading straight for her mistress. Tori bent down to pet Darien and soothe her with words of assurance like, “Yes, good girl” and “It’s almost dinner time.” Tori had bought Darien almost ten years ago now, and the creature felt like the closest thing to a best friend that she had ever had. With Darien, it was no longer as lonely in her small apartment, for the dog filled the space with pure love. A bubble that Tori relished retreating to after her days spent in a chamber of hate and derision. All because she wasn’t “like them.” She had frizzy hair and oversized glasses, and her fashion sense was hopelessly out of style. But more than anything, it was her beneficence in the face of their harshness that seemed to bother them most of all. She made it too tempting for them to cut down. The evil in this world despises a pure spirit, and will do anything to taint it by showing people like Tori what “civilization” is really all about. But Tori would not budge, would not turn hateful. She refused. It would only bring her to their level.
To prepare herself mentally for her days, she would spend her nights doing breathing exercises and meditating—clearing her mind of all negative thoughts and energy so that it would not amass over time as a result of working in that godforsaken place. Thus far, it had been, she believed, her sole means of self-preservation. Some might have asked why Tori kept on staying at the same workplace, or why she didn’t try to switch professions. The answer was because Tori was aware that no matter where she went or what she did, she would never quite fit in. Never truly be accepted as one of the mean girls.
As she went about her morning ritual, cooking oatmeal while also packing her lunch, Darien hovered underfoot in the vain hope of accruing some kind of scrap. She yelped and then growled when Tori accidentally stepped on her foot. Tori quickly bent down to try and calm the now irascible canine, only for Darien to bite her hand in rote response to feeling threatened. As Tori reeled back in pain, the oatmeal proceeded to boil over the pot, spilling all over the stove and creating a chaos Tori didn’t need at this moment, when she was already on her way to being late.
Darien, suddenly looking up at her with contrition (complete with her tail between her legs), watched as Tori turned the burner off and ran her bleeding hand under some cold water (not entirely sure if maybe it should be hot water instead). She looked back at Darien and kept insisting, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” But it wasn’t.
Her hand freshly wrapped in some of the gauze she kept in her first aid kit, Tori was on her way to work in the beat-up silver Honda she had owned for years. Maybe she wasn’t exactly a walking advertisement for car insurance, but none of the customers needed to know what she drove, or how poorly she often did.
This morning was no exception, with the incident between her and Darien sending her into a stronger daze than usual. At a stoplight, a belligerent driver behind her honked. On autopilot, Tori hit the gas, not realizing the light was still red. In .5 seconds she was rammed into at full-force by another car, sending her Honda careening in circles until it wrapped around the crosswalk pole. In a state of semi-consciousness, all Tori could think to herself was, “Why the fuck did he honk at me then?” followed by, “I’ll never hear the end of this at work.”
When Elaine looked at her clock to see that Tori was thirty minutes late, she knew something wasn’t right. What’s more, she had been counting on Tori to finish assessing some of her paperwork for an important report. Where the fuck was that bitch? Elaine seethed.
By midday, when still no word from Tori had arrived, Elaine was beginning to exhibit genuine concern to the fellow mean girls. To boot, she had to turn in the report herself, knowing full well the big boss would kick it back to her and tell her it needed to be redone. Elaine’s overt concern was a source of evident comedy to the other women, who laughed at her for being so worried when Tori was probably just “stuck at a knitting convention or something.” Elaine could all at once see what she had wrought. The behavior she had encouraged. Making it acceptable for all of them to shit on Tori when she knew, deep down, she was the one who deserved to be.
The office was informed at around five that Tori had been in a bad car accident. Her present condition in the hospital was unknown but believed to be fatal. Elaine practically fainted. This was not what she had wanted. She felt it was a fate too cruel even for someone as pathetic as Tori. Sensing a mild panic attack coming on, Elaine said she needed to excuse herself and leave early. The other women, thinking it was just Elaine taking advantage the situation, said they were feeling “very emotional” as well, and also needed to leave.
Elaine avoided talking to anyone in the parking lot, quickly getting into her car and burning rubber. She didn’t know for sure where she was going until she ended up there: Tori’s apartment. Elaine knew that address because she had looked it up not long ago and actually driven there to contemplate tagging her mailbox or door with something like “Spinster” in order to fuck with Tori’s mind. Just thinking about it made her break down in sobs, the depth of her cruelty only now hitting her. It was as though, realizing that Tori would no longer be around to torment, Elaine was left entirely with her own self, forced to see its ugliness without channeling it onto Tori.
Pulling the same can of red spray paint she had been planning to use for the word “Spinster” from her glove compartment, Elaine approached the building, gaining access easily when an old man opened the door. She picked the lock to Elaine’s apartment, greeted immediately by Darien, who seemed to sense something nefarious in the woman, therefore growled at her before disappearing back into the bedroom.
Taking several moments to appraise Tori’s abode, Elaine felt even more terrible for what she had done. How she had treated her. And encouraged everyone else to do the same. To look at how sad and lonely Tori’s life was up close and personal was enough to send Elaine into a fury of self-loathing as she scrawled, “I’m Sorry, Tori” on the wall, going over the hideous floral wallpaper as she did so.
The following day, Tori was at work, walking in with crutches and her arm in a cast. The entire office regarded her as though she had risen from the dead. Camille, the second-in-command to Elaine’s bitchery scuttled up and declared, “Oh my god! We all thought you were dead.” Tori shrugged, “Nope still here. Haven’t even gone home yet. Just had a cab take me straight to work.”
Camille backed away and muttered to one of the other women, “Jesus, what a glutton for punishment.”
Pretending she hadn’t heard what Camille clearly wanted her to, Tori chirped, “I actually just came in to make sure Elaine’s report was correctly filed. Is she here?”
Camille shook her head, “Haven’t seen her… Why don’t you just go on home Tori. No one needs you here.”
Those words ricocheted off the walls and reverberated endlessly inside Tori’s ears. What a freak she had been for trying to show up as though nothing had happened. She should have just gone home and rested for as long as possible like a normal person. That way, she might have been spared the full weight of her insignificance in this office. At the same time, how would they get their sadistic jollies without her around?
Trudging up the stairs that led to her apartment, Tori could see that something was amiss by the fact that the door was ajar. Cautiously approaching, the sight of red assaulted her. First, the graffiti, then the blood oozing from Tori’s body. It was everywhere. Next to her was a kitchen knife, as well as Darien, lazily lapping up some of the blood.
Tori grabbed the dog away from Elaine and locked her inside the bedroom so she couldn’t further desecrate the scene. Reading the words, “I’m Sorry, Tori,” she put together a vague portrait of what might have happened. Racked with guilt about Tori’s presumed death, Elaine came here to achieve something like penance. That Elaine could feel anything like empathy was almost more shocking to Tori than seeing her dead body before her very eyes.
Before she could think to the call the police, Camille, who had remorsefully decided to follow her to make sure she was set up and didn’t need any help, stepped in screaming, “What did you do?! What the fuck did you do?!” She ran out of the apartment shrieking, calling for help. Tori suddenly understood what was going to happen next. She would somehow be accused of murdering Elaine despite all the evidence to the contrary. It was almost like this was Elaine’s final pièce de résistance, her grand finale form of torture. And she hadn’t even intended it: sabotaging Tori was just that innate for her. Tori knew that even though the graffiti had clearly been an apology written by Elaine, they would all try to say that was just Tori’s way of making it seem like Elaine was regretful when, in truth, she had always rather despised Tori. Would never be sorry for anything regarding her comportment toward her.
It was difficult for the police to escort Tori away with her crutches, but they managed, reading her the requisite Miranda rights before “gently” shoving her into the back of the car. Tori wanted to believe that maybe Elaine had done her a favor. Being branded as a murderess was the most street cred she had ever gotten. It might just teach other people to stop ridiculing her. To stop treating her as “other.”