The Day Maggie Combs-Wilson Lost Her Sanity (Or Came To Her Senses)

A Short Story by JannaTWrites:

Maggie Combs-Wilson stared out the windshield, over her knuckles tightly gripped on the gray leather steering wheel.  Her Camry’s headlights illuminated the dust particles, which were suspended like desert snowflakes in the inky night air.  The holiday season never stressed her–until this year.  Now, with Christmas less than one week away, she found herself headed west on the I-10.  She had just passed a sign:  289 miles to Los Angeles.

With the lights of Phoenix behind her, Maggie’s mind drifted to that morning.  After her first meeting ended at nine-thirty, Ms. Trent, her boss, had asked Maggie to come to her office.  Even though they exited the conference room at the same time, Ms. Trent kept Maggie waiting for nearly ten minutes.

“You were late, Margaret,” Ms. Trent said as she plopped into her high-backed desk chair.  “And your pantyhose look terrible.”

“I’m sorry.”  Maggie didn’t know what else to say because she was certain Ms. Trent didn’t care about spilled milk, misplaced homework or jagged edges on metal doorframes. 

“Perhaps you need to give yourself more time to get here.”

“Perhaps.”  Maggie clenched her jaw to keep from explaining how children can wrinkle a flawlessly smoothed schedule.  She sensed it would be wasted breath, as she had never heard Ms. Trent speak of a husband or children, or any family for that matter.  Her desktop was void of snapshots, figurines or any sign of love in her life.

“Well, I’m glad we’re on the same page.”

We’re not even in the same book, Maggie thought.  “Did you need me for anything else?”

“Yes.  We need to talk about the Senior Account Manager position.”

Maggie straightened her posture and leaned forward.  “Have you reached a decision?”  She tried to strip hope from her voice.

“I have.  Roslyn accepted the promotion yesterday.”

“Oh.”  Maggie’s shoulders dropped.  “Can you share why you chose Roslyn over me?”  Her voice wavered, despite her best attempt to keep it even.

“There were a number of factors to consider.  One of them is the additional hours you’d have to work.  I’ve noticed that you leave before anyone else, and have had several absences.  We just can’t have that in the senior position.  And–”

“But I get here before most people and I work at least nine hours.  I left early once, three months ago, to take Jacob to the doctor.”

Ms. Trent shrugged.

“I’m sorry I interrupted, please continue,” Maggie said, realizing her explanation was useless.  The tell-tale burning on her cheeks was a sure sign that her blush deepened.  She didn’t know if the change resulted from anger or embarrassment, but it didn’t matter anyway.

“Roslyn’s task allocation restructure to boost production was brilliant.  It stands to save the company over $100,000 in the first year, between increased productivity and a reduction in new hires.  She put a lot into the research and presentation.”

Maggie couldn’t even form words.  The knife in her back rendered her speechless.  The restructuring strategy was hers and she planned to pitch it after the holidays.  “When did she talk to you about this?”

“At lunch yesterday.  I’ve scheduled a meeting with all company officers for the first week in January.”

“Thank you,” Maggie said.  “Is there anything else you need me for?” 

“No, no.  I think that’s all.”

Maggie rushed to the door.  Before she opened it, Ms. Trent spoke.  “Margaret, you were a strong contender and have an excellent chance for the next opening.”

“Thank you,” Maggie said, forcing a smile.  With the drive of a wolf tracking prey, she opened the door and fled toward the safety of the cubicle maze–and her own desk. 

She rounded a corner and plowed into Roslyn. 

“Girl, you scared the wits out of me.  Bless your heart!”  The papers from the folder she carried fell to the floor.

“Sorry,” Maggie muttered and knelt down to help gather the mess.

“Life’s too short to run through it,” Roslyn said in that heavy Southern accent of hers.

Maggie stood and handed the papers to Roslyn.  “Yes, it is.” As soon as Roslyn took the stack, Maggie hurried to her desk.  She felt ashamed that she couldn’t bring herself to confront Roslyn about the pirated idea.  Or at least offer half-hearted congratulations for stealing her promotion. 

 —–

A double-trailer semi cut over into her lane.  Maggie swerved and slammed on the brakes.  Her blood had already been pumping hard just thinking about Roslyn’s underhanded move.  Now she felt the pulsing in her temples and behind her eyes.  Several minutes later, her breathing returned to normal.  She spotted a green sign off the right shoulder.  The reflective letters read:  256 miles to Los Angeles.

“It’s just work,” she muttered.  The hypochondriac in her suspected she had a mental illness that lurked undetected until now, but her logical side blamed life for the impromptu road trip.

At five-fifty, she had stumbled through the front door — twenty-five minutes late, thanks to a four-car accident on the freeway.  Maggie kicked her pumps off in the laundry room and followed the hallway to the kitchen.  The grit of playground sand on the tile stuck to her bare feet.

“Ethan, you need to sweep up this sand!”

“Mom!”  Ethan and Jacob rounded the corner and flung their arms around her.  A tinge of sadness crept into her because she suspected that at ages eleven and nine, their enthusiasm at seeing her might soon diminish.

Maggie hugged them.  “I love you guys,” she said and kissed them each on the head.  They had already been home for two hours.  Two hours that she missed while at a job she could barely stand.

In the family room, she found her husband, Steve, reclined and watching TV.

“Did you have the boys do their homework?”

“I didn’t know they had any.”  He didn’t look away from the TV.  “How come you’re so late?”

“Traffic was a monster.  Why didn’t you start dinner?”

“We wouldn’t eat without you.”  He gave her a smile before returning his gaze to the TV.

Maggie would have been touched, had she believed him.

“Guys, time to do homework,” Maggie called into the next room.

“No!”

“I don’t want to.”

Maggie sighed.  She looked to Steve for help, but his eyes were trained on the Monday Night Football pregame show.

“No TV after dinner if homework isn’t done.”

She heard mumbling, followed by backpacks unzipping, shuffling papers and slamming pencil cases.

Maggie washed the lettuce for salad.  Even after she turned the faucet off, bulging drops of water slapped the bottom of the stainless steel sink.  She pushed the lever harder, but the pace quickened.  When she noticed Raisin Bran flakes from the morning breakfast stuck to the bottom of the sink, she wanted to scream.  But she managed not to.

“Steve, did you remember the kitchen faucet needs fixed?”

“Yes, Naggie.  Next weekend.”

Maggie clenched her jaw and suppressed her desire to club him with the faucet.  ‘Next weekend’ had been the answer for three months.  She said nothing because she wanted to get into a relaxing lavender-scented bath–not a fight.

After their dinner of chef salad and garlic bread, the family dispersed like ants in a rainstorm:  Steve in front of the football game, Ethan and Jacob to their rooms to play Nintendo DS games. 

Maggie had just finished wiping the counters, but her mind was already immersed in lavender bubbles.  On the way to her bathroom, she tripped over Ethan in the hallway.

“Mom, I just remembered, I need cupcakes for our winter party.”

“When is it?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Okay.”  Maggie sighed.  Ethan went back to his room.  “Steve, can you please get cupcakes for Ethan’s party?  It’s tomorrow.”

“I’ve had a long day, hon.  Can’t you let me chill and watch the game?”

The last I checked, our days have the same number of hours, she wanted to say–but didn’t. 

Maggie stifled the urge to break the remote control.  Or help him “chill” with his ice-cold beer down his shirt.  For several minutes, she glared at the back of his head, but he never noticed.  She grabbed her purse and keys off the counter.  Steve didn’t flinch.  She snatched her coat off the back of the couch next to him.  He didn’t turn his head.

—– 

Maggie checked her watch, curious if the football game had ended.  Would Steve be angry?  Would he make sure the boys brushed their teeth before bed?  Would Ethan have cupcakes for his class party tomorrow?  She inhaled and released a sigh, expelling tension from her gut.  It wasn’t her problem.  Not tonight.

Her headlights illuminated a sign beside the road:  217 miles to Los Angeles.  The lights of Blythe were behind her and the California state line gave her back an hour to fill however she pleased.  Pinned between her own needs and her family duties, Maggie wondered what would free her first:  the Pacific Ocean beaches or a change of heart.

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36 thoughts on “The Day Maggie Combs-Wilson Lost Her Sanity (Or Came To Her Senses)

  1. pattyabr March 25, 2011 / 6:45 AM

    Great short story. I’d like to hop in the car with Maggie some days too.

    • jannatwrites March 25, 2011 / 2:50 PM

      You know, some days it would be nice. The idea had crossed my mind before, but I don’t think I’d ever do it! Thanks for reading/commenting on the story.

  2. Debbie March 25, 2011 / 7:36 AM

    Good job, Janna! I think this one is so appealing because we’ve ALL had days where we felt like Maggie — taken for granted. You’ve captured her feelings well and painted a story most people (especially women) can identify with. Thanks for sharing it.

    • jannatwrites March 25, 2011 / 2:52 PM

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story, Debbie. I had hoped that her frustration after a very bad day would come through.

  3. SAS Fiction Girl March 25, 2011 / 8:34 AM

    Okay, Janna, I couldn’t help but wonder – was some of this inspired by real events? 🙂

    • jannatwrites March 25, 2011 / 2:55 PM

      Well, Jen…the idea for the story came after a really bad day. The feelings were real, but the events were changed to protect the guilty 🙂

  4. dorcas March 25, 2011 / 8:50 AM

    Awesome Janna.. Simple story but the I felt I could feel Maggie’s emotions as I read. YOu have a wonderful style of writing.. Great job… 🙂

    • jannatwrites March 25, 2011 / 2:58 PM

      Yay! I’m glad her desperation came through. Thank you for reading the story and sharing your thoughts on it, Dorcas 🙂

  5. Tori Nelson March 25, 2011 / 8:55 AM

    What a powerful ending! I love the “not even in the same book”, too! I’ve felt that way more times than I’d care to admit!

    • jannatwrites March 25, 2011 / 3:00 PM

      Thanks, Tori. I’ve had dictator-type bosses before – thinking snarky responses was nearly as satisfying as saying them (only I didn’t have to worry about making them mad.)

  6. Momsomniac March 25, 2011 / 9:50 AM

    Wow. Wow wow WOW wow wow. Thank you for sharing this piece with us.

    It’s so powerful and SO real! And…it even made me grateful that 6 years as a SAHD (years I wanted but didn’t get) have turned my Mr. Coffee into a man who WOULD make dinner & go get the cupcakes. I’d still have to scrub morning cereal out of the sink though. : )

    • jannatwrites March 25, 2011 / 3:04 PM

      Momsomniac – your “wows” are much appreciated. I’m glad you liked the story.

      My husband is good about keeping the kitchen cleared of dirty dishes, but I would like him to expand his talents to vacuuming and mopping 🙂 Also, to clear up any questions, this story was not based on reality. My husband wouldn’t be that lazy, and I wouldhn’t show as much restraint as Maggie did!

      • Momsomniac March 25, 2011 / 3:17 PM

        Oh, of course this was fiction but like all good fiction, it resonated with reality. SO MUCH!

        And I don’t have Maggie’s restraint either! : )

        • jannatwrites March 27, 2011 / 7:08 PM

          Well, momsomniac, I suppose it’s a good thing that our husbands aren’t like the one in the story 🙂

  7. Aligaeta March 25, 2011 / 10:37 AM

    There is certainly an unequal distribution of domestic and parental responsibilities in homes across America, in addition to the infuriating state of entitlement, for the patriarch to be worthy of “chill” time. From a literary perspective you succeed to paint the plight of Maggie as “Every(wo)man” in modern society. The only thing you could have done different would have been to give that promotion she was seeking to a man!

    • jannatwrites March 25, 2011 / 3:11 PM

      Ouch. I wouldn’t want to pick on the guys too much 🙂

      I’ve actually encountered more problems with women in the workplace than men (but I work with more women than men). Women bosses who don’t understand the concept of family…two-faced co-workers…gossip – I’ve seen it all.

      It’s funny, because when I wrote the story, I wasn’t going for a social statement about the unequal division of chores, or inequality of men & women – it was simply a story about how a woman reacted to a horrible day. I am glad that you saw a statement in your interpretation of it, Aligaeta!

      • Aligaeta March 25, 2011 / 3:36 PM

        It comes from studying English (feminist) Literature and Sociology. I couldn’t help myself, you did a great job, worthy of the critique!

        • jannatwrites March 27, 2011 / 7:15 PM

          I do appreciate your views/cirtique, Aligaeta! Inequality could be a theme for another story down the road…

  8. Hilary Clark March 25, 2011 / 11:16 AM

    Great story! I love it! Well-written, poignant, and dead on about the feelings most (if not all) women experience at work and at home. Whether getting passed over for a promotion or coming home to find no one pulling their weight, every woman can relate. Very compelling!

    • jannatwrites March 25, 2011 / 3:14 PM

      Thanks, Hilary! I wanted Maggie to come across as a sane person taking drastic measures – not a crazy lunatic. I’m glad you could relate to her struggles.

    • jannatwrites March 25, 2011 / 3:15 PM

      Thanks for the ping back, Hilary! I do appreciate you reading and commenting on the story….and liking it enough to include in your weekly recap 🙂

  9. Carol Ann Hoel March 25, 2011 / 2:21 PM

    You kept the tension tight, Janna. Great story. I bet she turns around and goes home. Been there, done that. Ha! Blessings to you, Janna…

    • jannatwrites March 25, 2011 / 3:16 PM

      I’ve never had the courage (or energy) to take off. I think she might go home to. It make take a sunrise or two, but I think her heart will lead her home. Thanks for reading, Carol!

      • Carol Ann Hoel March 26, 2011 / 10:01 AM

        I never went far, but after driving a little, the stress deserted me leaving me with my brain in tact again, and I turned around. Many years ago.

        • jannatwrites March 27, 2011 / 7:25 PM

          I thought about it more and realized that although I haven’t gotten on the interstate and headed out of town, I have left on ridiculously long grocery shopping trips where I’d stroll the cart down each of the aisles even though I just needed a gallon of milk 😉 Same thing, just closer to home!

  10. widdershins March 25, 2011 / 3:31 PM

    I reckon she might go home to… after few days … give her boss the finger, and start her own company when hubby gets laid off … want more of the story … what happens next?

    • jannatwrites March 27, 2011 / 7:10 PM

      Your response made me chuckle, Widdershins. “Give her boss the finger…” ha!

      I don’t know what happens next, yet. I’ll have to revisit Maggie and find out 🙂

  11. nrhatch March 25, 2011 / 8:58 PM

    Excellent story.

    On Jeopardy last night, the champion from the previous game told Alex that her husband was pleased she’d won but was bummed that he would have to “babysit” the kids for another night.

    Do mothers “babysit” their own kids? No. Why should a father feel as if he’s “babysitting?”

    • jannatwrites March 27, 2011 / 7:17 PM

      I am happy you enjoyed the story, Nancy.

      I agree that it’s ridiculous for any parent to consider parenting as “babysitting.” I do hope that it was her bad choice of words rather than an accurate depiction of their situation.

  12. Desi March 26, 2011 / 6:53 AM

    I’d like to say I’m sincerely pleased with Aligaeta’s remark :”There is certainly an unequal distribution of domestic and parental responsibilities in homes” because when I got to the part when Maggie reaches home, that was what I was thinking all along. I could relate so much with Maggie and her husband. Of course I’m not married, but I do have parents, and I watched them. One of my favorites quotes is what my Mum used to say – “in marriage, love alone is not enough. you will need friendship”. Husband and wife should work hand in hand in the household. Be it housechores, errands or most importantly cooking! Once, my parents had an argument because neither of them were willing to COOK. Plus, the kids were hungry. It’s a stupid thing to quarrel about, now that as a 20-year-old I looked back and consider what sort of marriage they had over the years. If I ever get married, I want my husband to be fully commited. That is – the one who doesn’t think that only women should sweep the house, do the laundry and cook. It would have saved me a lot from what Maggie is going through there. 🙂

    • jannatwrites March 27, 2011 / 7:21 PM

      Desi, I’m so glad that you’re considering your expectations before you get married. There are certain things that my husband and I “own” because we are better at doing them (I handle our finances and do schoolwork with the kids; my husband handles yardwork, grilling and anything outside of the house) – everything else is fair game for distribution (including chores for the kids to do.)

      The fight about who had to cook is amusing to me, because we’ve had similar stand-offs. Often it’s not about the chore itself, but an underlying issue…the chore just takes the credit for being the problem 🙂

      Thanks for reading my story and sharing your thoughts – I do appreciate it!

  13. Addy March 26, 2011 / 8:36 AM

    Awesome story Janna.. as a human I have only two thumbs, nevertheless I’ll give it all fingers up!!!

    Great job and keep em coming
    Best Wishes,
    Addy 🙂

    • jannatwrites March 27, 2011 / 7:24 PM

      Oooh, Addy – thank you! So glad you liked the story enough to tell me so 😉

      I’ve already got a story picked out for my April story post. It’s a bit more depressing, but is dear to my heart (for reasons I may not explain until after the story is posted, so as not to give anything away.)

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