by Simon bar Sinister
Maria awakes to the sound of her clock-radio. She glances over at the clock. It’s 7:30 am. She stretches, luxuriously. Surprisingly, she feels completely rested, even though she only went to sleep four hours ago. She feels as of she slept for eight hours or more.
Maria expects to see Roberto sleeping next to her, but he’s not there. “Roberto?” she calls out, but there is no reply. She gets up and looks out the window, and sees that his car is gone. She is suddenly struck be a feeling of loss—of emptiness. She never minded being alone before. Perhaps this is a sign that things were getting more serious between them.
In the past, Roberto has suggested that she move in with him— he has a huge, expensive house. But Maria has always rejected the idea, having just put a large down-payment on her townhouse. Owning her own home has always given Maria a sense of independence, but Maria suddenly finds the notion of waking up in a big luxurious bed next to Roberto very comforting.
Maria quickly pushes the thought out of her mind as she gets ready for work. Today is an important day, perhaps the most important of her career.
Maria arrives at work and walks into her new office. At thirty one years of age, she already has her own corner office. Waiting there for her is Diane, her supervisor and mentor.
Overwhelmed by her surroundings, Maria yells out, “I did it!” and hugs Diane.
“You’re earned it,” says Diane.
Maria notices that Diane has a look of concern on her face. “What’s the matter?” she asks.
“I hate to throw you into the fire like this, but the meeting with the new client has been pushed up. They’re arriving at 11:30.”
“11:30? I don’t have anything ready.”
“I know. You’ll just have to throw something together. I can’t tell you how important this client is for us, so do the best you can.”
“OK, I’ll get right on it.”
For the next hour, Maria sits in front of her computer, trying to put together a presentation. She’s making good progress, she’s almost two-thirds of the way done. Plenty of time before the meeting starts.
Her secretary walks in, carrying a large bouquet of brightly-colored orchids. “I guess these are for you,” she says.
Maria smiles warmly. “It’s my boyfriend. He likes to send me orchids.”
The secretary leaves the flowers on Maria’s desk. She has a disgusted look on her face. “They certainly are pretty,” she says, but the really stink!”
Maria sniffs the flowers. “I guess I’m used to them.” She suddenly realizes that the smell reminds her of something else. She isn’t quite sure of what, though.
“They look expensive.”
“Roberto knows that I’m a sucker for flowers.” Maria remembers that the last couple of times that they had arguments, Roberto bought her flowers—the same kind of orchids. Afterwards, she ended up apologizing to him. She knows now how stupid she was to argue with him, and that he had been right all along. Not that she didn’t enjoy making up to him...
“Maria, are you OK?”
Maria suddenly realizes that she has been staring off into space. For how long? “I’m fine,” she says. “I’ve got to get back to work.”
“Oh, OK. I won’t interrupt you any more.”
Maria goes back to her computer, but her train of thought has been broken. She finds it difficult to focus. She must have been staring at the screen for ten, maybe fifteen minutes, when the phone rings. She picks it up. “Hello?”
“Hello, Maria.” It’s Roberto.
“Hi, Roberto. Thanks for the flowers. They’re beautiful.”
“How do they smell?”
Maria sniffs the flowers again. “They smell wonderful. I can’t talk now, though. I’m really busy. I’ve got a meeting with our most important client coming up. I’ve got to make a good impression.”
“Your first day of your promotion, and you have a big meeting? Boy, talk about pressure...”
“It certainly sounds stressful. If I were you, I wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure...”
“Uh, I gotta go.”
“Of course. See you later, OK? Try to not let the stress get to you.”
“OK. Bye.” Maria hangs up the phone and tries to go back to work. Progress is slow. She’s blocked, she can’t think of anything to write. Every two minutes she glances at her watch. As it gets closer and closer to the meeting, she feels a knot begin to form in her stomach.
The time is rapidly approaching 11:30, and she still isn’t finished writing her presentation. She feels more and more nervous. She will just have to print out what she has and fake her way through the last part of the presentation. After all, she’s done dozens of presentations like this. Once she gets started, she won’t feel nervous at all, right?
At 11:30, Maria walks into the conference room, clutching a set of foils in her hand. Waiting there for her are Diane and the clients, Mr Mason and Mr DuPree.
“You all know Maria,” says Diane to the two men. “She’ll be handling your account from now on.”
More nervous than ever, Maria walks up to the overhead projector. As she turns it on, the foils slip out of her hand and spill all over the floor. “Excuse me,” she says, barely audibly, and she kneels down on the floor to pick them up. She doesn’t even have to look up, she can feel the icy stare of the two men bearing down at her. She quickly reassembles the foils, stands up and places the first one on the screen. Maria takes a couple of deep breaths, clears her throat, and begins to speak. “Good mor—”
Before she can even get her second word out, Mr DuPree, clearly an intense, type-A personality, interrupts her.
“I don’t even understand why we’re here. Give us one good reason why we should hire your company.”
Surprised by the man’s directness, Maria fumbles for something to say. “Uhm, well, uh... We here at Benson Associates have come up with an innovative process for managing inventories for companies like yours.”
“And why should we care?” he says, with a strong note of derision in his voice.
“Uhm... Inventory may seem boring to you, but our research shows that our processes can save your company over 20 million dollars over the next six years.” The knot in Maria’s stomach has gotten worse. She can feel her jaw clenching up, and she is starting to sweat.
DuPree, like an animal who can sense her weakness, moves in for the kill. “Bullshit! We’ve talked to several other companies, and they all say it’s impossible!”
Very meekly, Maria says, “That’s, uh, because they don’t know how to do it. Our process is a closely guarded trade secret. Benson Associates is the only company that can... that can...”
“That can what?”
Once again, Maria is blocked, and can’t think of anything to say. Diane stands up and takes Maria off to the side. “What’s the matter?” she asks.
“I’m fine,” says Maria, defensively. “I’m just a little nervous.” It’s obvious that Maria is more than a little nervous.
“Maria,” says Diane, “it seems that you need a little more time to get used to your new position.”
“Are you saying that I can’t handle the job?” asks Maria, oblivious to the fact that the clients can hear everything that she’s saying.
“Look, just calm down...”
“You know something, DuPree is right. Why should I care?” Maria is well aware that she should stop talking, but she can’t. “This whole business is so pointless and trivial! I can’t believe I’m wasting my life like this.”
Diane is obviously shocked and perturbed. “And I can’t believe that you’re saying this to me in front of the clients. If that’s the way you feel, then you should leave. Right now.”
“Fine!” says Maria, who storms off.
Maria drives away from the office. The knot in her stomach is gone. She feels relieved, even giddy from the experience. But then the gravity of the situation hits her. Her entire career— five years on the fast track—is suddenly gone. My God, what has she done? What about her townhouse? How is she going to make her mortgage payments now? And her car payments too. She’s really in deep shit now.
By the time she arrives at Roberto’s doorstep she is sobbing heavily.
Roberto opens the door and sees the tears streaming down Maria’s cheeks. “My God, what happened to you? “Come in,” he says, taking her by the hand.
“My job. Lost my job,” Maria manages to say between sobs. “What... What am I going to do?”
“Sshhh... It’s OK. Everything is going to be all right.” Maria finds his voice to be very soothing, and she is able to catch her breath and stop crying. Roberto sits her down on the couch. “Now I want to you sit back, take some deep breaths, and try to clear your mind. I’ll be right back.”
Roberto goes off into the kitchen. Maria sits there and breathes deeply, just as she is told. Roberto is so good to her. She’s lucky that she has someone like Roberto to rely on. How did she ever get along without him?
About a minute later, Roberto returns, carrying a glass tumbler. “Here,” he says, handing the brightly-colored beverage to Maria, “drink this. It will help you to calm down.”
“What is it?” she asks. Maria sniffs the drink. It smells like... like...
“It’s an herbal extract,” he says. “It’s sort of like camomile, only concentrated. It’s very relaxing. Go on, drink it up.”
Something’s not right. Maria has this strange feeling, an inner voice telling her not to drink it. “Uhm, I don’t think so. I’ll be OK without it.”
“Drink it,” he urges her. “You want to calm down, don’t you?”
Maria stares at the drink. “I... I’ve had one of these drinks before, haven’t I?”
For a moment, Roberto has a look of surprise on his face. He quickly regains his composure. “Don’t you want to calm down, and forget about how you blew up during your meeting today?”
Suddenly, all of the memories of the earlier meeting come flooding back into her mind. She thinks about the way she acted. How could she be so stupid? How could she throw her career away like that? She’s a fool. She’s a failure. A complete failure. Her stomach clenches up again. The glass she’s holding in her hand begins to shake visibly.
Her brain is on fire. She knows that there is one thing that can put the fire out. She takes the drink and swallows it in one big gulp.
Roberto smiles at her. “That’s much better. Now lie back on the couch, and try to relax.”
Maria does as she is told, and lies back and relaxes. She feels a fog descend over her mind.
“Roberto?” she asks. Her voice is soft and distant.
“Yes? What is it?”
“How did you know happened at the meeting today? I never told you about...” her voice fades away completely. Her mind is totally blank.
“Ssshhh...” says Roberto. “Now you just close your eyes and go to sleep. Sleep...” As Maria’s eyes flutter shut, she notices that Roberto takes out his cell phone. But that doesn’t matter, and soon Maria is in a deep, peaceful slumber.
Some time later, she hears Roberto say, “Maria, open your eyes.” She opens them, and is thrilled to see Roberto looking down at her. “How do you feel?” he asks.
“I feel wonderful!” she says, with a big grin on her face.
“Can you sit up for me?”
“I—I think so.” Maria is a little dizzy, but she manages to sit up on the couch. She finds herself sitting in front of Roberto’s fireplace, where there is a roaring fire going on.
“Maria, I want you to look deeply into the pretty fire.”
“Pretty fire...” she repeats.
“Stare deeper and deeper into the fire. Deeper and deeper.”
“Deeper and deeper...”
“You are completely transfixed by the fire. As you stare at the fire you find that you cannot look away.” Roberto is right. She tries to look away from the fire, but she can’t. She has to keep staring at the pretty fire. “Very good, Maria. Now I need to talk to you about your job.”
“My job.” The smile on Maria’s lips quickly disappears. “I lost my job.”
“Does talking about your job make you feel stressed?”
“Stressed...” repeats Maria. The muscles in Maria’s face have clenched up. Her breathing is very shallow. She never looks away from the fire, though.
“I’m afraid that you can never go back to your job. There’s no going back.” The seriousness of the situation finally hits her. Her career is over. Lost forever. A single tear rolls down her cheek.
“Do you want to stop feeling stressed?”
“Deep down inside, you know I can make you feel better. Do you remember how?”
Maria thinks about what Roberto has said to her. Then suddenly, a deeply buried memory rises to the surface. A wave of peace and contentment washes over her. She says aloud, “I love it when you make me feel submissive. More than anything, I want to do what you tell me to!”
“That’s very good, Maria. You’re such a good girl. When you feel submissive and do what I tell you, all of your stress goes away. Isn’t that right?”
Grinning ear to ear, Maria happily agrees with what Roberto says to her. It all makes such perfect sense. She’s so lucky to have Roberto to tell her what to do. The more she thinks about it, the more she realizes that she needs Roberto to tell her what to do.
“Maria, I want you to stand up for me.” Instantly, Maria obeys Roberto’s command. The moment she stands up, she feels another wave of contentment rush over her. It feels so good to do what he says. She never stops looking away from the fire. She notices how warm she feels. Is it the fire, or something else?
“Maria, it’s time for you to put your job behind you, and move on with your life. Are you ready to do that?”
“Oh, yes! Please!”
“Take off your suit, and throw it into the fire.”
Once again, without hesitation, Maria obeys. Her suit is brand new, she bought it especially for today and paid $600 for it. Maria doesn’t care. She takes off her jacket, her skirt, her blouse and throws them into the large fireplace. She takes off her pumps and throws them in too. She never takes her eyes off of the fire. She stands in the living room in her underwear and watches intensely as her clothing burns. Maria feels an incredible sense of relief. A giant weight has been lifted from her.
After a couple of minutes, Roberto says, “Maria, look at me.” Finally, Maria turns away from the fire and sees Roberto. The light from the fire dances across his dark face. She can see the reflection of the flames burning in his eyes. Maria gasps as he reaches over, grabs her, and kisses her passionately.
The sensations Maria feels are incredible. A chill runs all the way down her body, down to her toes. She feels a thrill, a burning between her legs. Roberto breaks the kiss, Maria arches her neck as she feels his hot breath across it. Roberto’s hands reach behind and grab her ass, firmly pressing her pelvis up against his. Maria realizes how perfect everything is, how exquisitely submissive she feels.
Suddenly, the doorbell rings.
Roberto manages to pull himself away from Maria. “Wait here,” he says as he goes off to answer the door.
Maria, on the verge of ecstasy, can barely contain her disappointment at being interrupted. In spite of this, she does not move from the spot she is standing. Exactly as she was told.
Moments later, Roberto returns with three other men. She recognizes two of them, they are Mason and DuPree, the men from the meeting earlier today. The third is a fat man who seems vaguely familiar to her.
“Sit down, Maria,” says Roberto. Maria sits back down on the couch. The men pull up chairs and sit in a semicircle in front of her. One of the men, Mr Mason, is holding a tape recorder in his hand.
Roberto speaks again. “Maria, there is one final thing that you must do, and then you will be free from your job, and all of its stress, forever. Are you ready to take this final step?”
“Oh, yes!” says Maria, eagerly.
“Do you remember what I told you about telling the truth?”
“It’s very important to tell the truth. It’s bad to keep the truth bottled up inside.”
“That’s very good, Maria. The people you worked for, they asked you to keep a very big secret. A secret inventory process that will save Mr Mason and Mr DuPree a lot of money. Do you remember?”
Maria nods her head.
“It’s time for you to let the truth free. You can’t keep the truth bottled up any more. Tell us the secret, Maria.”
Mason presses the record button, and Maria begins to speak. She says everything about her job. The mathematical formulas that can optimize their inventory. How to apply them in the real world. How to program them on a computer. She can’t stop talking. Mason and DuPree eat up every word.
Finally, like a toy that has wound down, she finishes talking. She feels completely at peace. It feels so good to let it all out. She is finally free from her job. She’s a good girl, she did exactly what Roberto told her to do.