Without explanation, Niles moved out. The next morning Alison arrived at her cubicle early and Jill the secretary listened sympathetically. “Just don’t tell the boss.”
Their squat, jowly boss trod the office in constant anxiety that his all-female staff might detonate into mass hysteria at any moment.
Alison swiveled away from her computer when he said good morning, blotting her silent tears.
“Are you—” he cringed, “crying?”
“Not audibly.” Alison’s voice sounded calm despite the tears, remedied by many tissues.
Later, her boss tsk-tsked. “Still weeping, Alison.”
“My eyes water before the computer screen, which doesn’t seem to mind.”
“I mind!” he said. “How can I work surrounded by caterwauling women? Jill thinks you’ve suffered a romantic setback.”
“She shouldn’t think that,” Alison said.
“Our healthcare policy provides for trauma suffered off-site. Jill has arranged appointments for you after lunch with a therapist on the tenth floor. Emphasis on therapist, Alison—nobody here thinks you’re psychotic.”
That afternoon Alison waited opposite a table bearing a small bronze sculpture trickling water. Vivaldi resounded from above.
A door opened: A plump man in a green turtleneck, and huge brown hangdog eyes. Sitting behind his large desk, he leaned forward, full of concern. Through her tears, Alison said that after she and Niles had lived together for eight years, he had dumped her without preliminaries.
Watkins the therapist pushed a box of tissues toward her. “Coping with unexpected loss, many people spend their first few sessions weeping. The walls are soundproof.”
During the next session, Alison wept but managed to explain that Niles had always been unfaithful, relied on her for money, and had poor hygiene. “A keyboard player.”
Watkins nodded. “A keyboard player.”
Alison’s boss kept asking, “Cured yet?” This only opened Alison’s tear ducts, which sent him scurrying inside his office.
Soon, however, she no longer cried when telling Watkins she still missed Niles; her sadness being followed quickly by relief.
Her next visit, the waiting-room Vivaldi as baroque as ever, Alison heard Watkins through the supposedly soundproof walls. “Why so hostile, Lenore? I work hard; our life is comfortable. I love you; I love the children.”
After awhile, he welcomed her inside—trick of light?—it looked as if his huge brown eyes were brimming. He listened to the ongoing litany of Niles’ idiocies and suggested she take up something fun. He hadn’t tried it himself but by all reports salsa dancing was very enjoyable.
It was fun, Alison discovered, and the men tended to be in good shape.
Weeks later, planning to thank him, Alison distinctly heard him weeping through the closed door. “That’s unfair, Lenore. I love you. I love the children. And I’m begging you: do not do this.”
When he welcomed her in, mopping his eyes, his voice choked. “Please, excuse the delay.”
Collapsing behind his desk, he dropped his head and sobbed. Alison circled behind him and patted his heaving back. “Don’t hold back. These walls are soundproof.”