by Sally Basmajian
Bonnie massaged the stubborn kink in her neck. She was dog tired, but satisfied that her proposal was a winner. Long hours, late nights – she’d out-researched, out-thought, and just plain out-worked all of her colleagues.
And, she’d played fair, foregoing the enticement of magic. The urge had been strong, but she hadn’t wanted to cheat. She needed to prove to herself that she could win the day based on effort and brainpower alone.
It was almost her turn at the podium. Bonnie was nervous. She knew that she had to follow Jessica, the firm’s reigning corporate starlet. Jessica, who was almost as smart as she was pretty, had captivated her audience from the second she’d opened her mouth and was now reeling in the senior partners, smooth words flowing from her cherry-tinted lips.
Bonnie didn’t resent this; she knew that Jessica had worked hard on her presentation. Bonnie hoped that her own proposal was stronger, but giving credit where credit was due, she knew that Jessica was serious competition.
Unlike Charlie and Sachin. Both men, who had already made their pitches, had thrown a few PowerPoint charts together with minimal thought. At best, their presentations had been flawed, but they had carried themselves with corporate swagger. Bonnie couldn’t believe that the senior execs would be swayed by this; she believed that substance should win over style, any day.
Finally it was Bonnie’s turn. She plugged her laptop into the projector, hands shaking as adrenaline surged throughout her slender body. Barely, she suppressed the temptation to use just a touch of magic to get the equipment to cooperate.
“Good morning, Board members and colleagues,” Bonnie began. Her pianissimo voice was lost in the echoing boardroom.
“Eh? What did she say?” asked a geezer, who, judging from his state of decrepitude, was likely the guy who had founded the company back in 1901.
“I think she said, ‘You’re boring, bread. Remember collies?’” stage-whispered an equally moth-eaten codger, adding a pitying “heh, heh, heh” to reassure Bonnie that he appreciated her opening joke.
Bonnie knew she needed to speak louder. This was difficult, though. She was all of five feet tall and ninety pounds. She could barely see over the massive podium, let alone project her voice throughout the huge room.
Nevertheless, she took a breath and resolved to try. She had prepared diligently and she was ready to meet this challenge.
“I know how to increase our margins,” Bonnie said in the most authoritative voice she could muster. She paused for effect. That was a mistake.
“I do like margarine,” said the Geeze. “Just as much as butter.”
“Oh dear me, no, I disagree” said the Codge, “and why would she want to grease the margarine, anyway? It wouldn’t be at all healthy, would it?”
“Speaking of healthiness, I believe it’s lunchtime,” said the Geeze. “Thank you, my dear, for your apt reminder. Let’s break, and later today we will decide whose recommendations we will execute.”
“But I haven’t told you mine yet,” Bonnie said, desperate to make her presentation. Too late: her audience was shuffling papers and checking their cell phones. They were going to leave!
“This can’t happen,” Bonnie thought. “I’ve worked too hard. I must be heard.” With that, she summoned a mere sprinkling of the magic that was always at her fingertips.
As though commanded by a supreme being, the Board and Bonnie’s colleagues obeyed. In unison, they picked up their pens. Their heads snapped toward Bonnie, who still stood behind the podium but seemed taller than before.
Bonnie restarted her presentation. The Board members paid rapt attention. Nobody misunderstood her words or interpolated ridiculous comments. They nodded at her SWOT analyses and revenue projections and, when she summed up, thanked her for her insightful recommendations.
Bonnie was ecstatic. True, she would have preferred not to have broken out the magic, but really, she had used such a little bit. The merest touch of vocal amplification, the tiniest pinch of physical domination, just to get things back on track. Kid’s stuff, really; the magic hadn’t changed anything about the presentation itself and by the end of it she had been operating entirely as her usual altitude-challenged, lower case self.
When uniformed servers entered the room, bearing a variety of fancy-looking sandwiches and beverages for the senior partners, Bonnie and her colleagues stood up.
“We shall render our decision later today,” said the Geeze, as the younger execs left the room. He almost tripped over the Codge as the two men made beelines for the food.
Bonnie hoped that her proposal was the winner. Sachin and Charlie, in spite of their bravado, didn’t stand a chance. And Jessica – well, Jessica had given Bonnie a run for her money. Bonnie acknowledged this by giving her a congratulatory hug as they returned to their cubicles. One of them deserved the official nod, she knew, and may the best woman win.
And so, Bonnie was devastated when later that afternoon she learned that Charlie’s proposal had been green-lit by the Board. She sat at her desk, shaking her head. She couldn’t understand this decision at all.
Then, Jessica whispered in her ear, “Charlie’s granddad was a close friend of both the Geeze and the Codge, back in the glory days of the company. They were just pretending to listen to us. The fix was in before we ever opened our mouths.”
Bonnie didn’t hesitate. “Screw this place. Let’s go get a drink. We deserve one,” she said to Jessica.
The two women grabbed their handbags and took the elevator to the lobby. They walked through the heavy brass doors of the historic firm and out into the modern world. Not a cloud marred the blueness of the sky. They breathed the fresh air, untainted by Old Boy clannishness.
The ground behind them began to shake but Bonnie didn’t flinch. When Jessica stumbled and cried out, Bonnie pulled her friend forward to safety, and didn’t look back.
Sally Basmajian is a lapsed broadcast exec who sometimes used to get into corporate hot water for having an overactive imagination. As a new writer, she is trying to turn this curse into a blessing, so far with mixed results. Her tales have recently appeared in such spots as SQ Mag, the UnCommon Bodies anthology, and Canadian Stories. She lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada with her cozy husband and adventurous sheltie.