Thursday, May 21, 2009

Daily Story 36: Consolation Prize

In 1994, six years before the economic and literal collapse of the corporation, the Fancy-Shine Lip Balm Company had a contest where people were encouraged to offer up their own ideas for lip balm flavors. As part of the promotion the company offered flavorless lip balm and promised that a panel of judges would test and rate any that were sent back with flavor added.

This was the second-worst idea that the Fancy-Shine Lip Balm ever made. The very first "flavor" that the judges tested turned out to be Elderberry. This sounded nice enough, however as it turned out the lib balm had been made not just with the berries themselves, but with several parts of the plant that contained calcium oxalate. The judges awarded it points for flavor and appearance, but then disqualified it due to the powerful burning sensation. The swelling it caused could have counted in its favor, as large lips were generally desirable at the time, but there didn't seem to be a way to guarantee that the swelling would stay on the lips, tending instead to move to the throat where it caused an unpleasant choking hazard.

Immediately the decision was handed down to throw out all samples they received after taking note of what flavor it was supposed to be, as actually using the samples was clearly stupid and dangerous. Hundreds of phials of lib balm were thrown away, most boring and uncreative flavors that Fancy-Shine actually already produced, such as cherry and peach. In the end, rhubarb won out over peanut butter and jelly and went on to sell abysmally, being canceled after only a month. The winner of the "make your own flavor" contest ended up with more free product as a prize than was ever actually sold.

Meanwhile, on a shelf in the basement of Fancy-Shine there were some unusual flavors, spared from the dumpster by an amused employee. When that employee was subsequently fired for having sex with a co-worker's daughter that had been pressured into working at Fancy-Shine after dropping out of college, the odd collection was left behind - forgotten like the pair of panties that remained sandwiched between two boxes of register tape for almost four years before being unceremoniously thrown out by the cleaning crew one night. The phials and jars were labeled with flavors such as 'Rhinoceros' and 'Burnt Coffee Grounds'. The panties were labeled 'Regina Hawley' which is admittedly less of a flavor and more of an embarrassment to Regina's mother, who lost out on the opportunity to be promoted to head of accounting when she accepted a position with another company in Georgia to avoid having to listen to her co-workers snicker every time they passed the supply closet.

As the years passed, the disastrous flavor-creating contest completely faded from memory and so when Janet Lewis moved her desk into the dusty little room in the basement to avoid having to share her cubicle with two other people she had no idea what, among other things, pickle-flavored lip balm would be doing down there. After wasting a few hours sorting through them and even throwing a few of the less interesting ones away, she stacked them nicely in a pyramid shape and turned out the light to leave. Had she remembered her purse, everything would have continued on in her life as it always had and she would have led a boring but reasonably good existence before dying at the age of seventy-five when a bus bound for Atlantic City would have swerved off the road, crushing her.

Instead, pausing to grope around for the purse she had left hanging on her chair rather than turning the light back on, her eyes started to adjust to the darkness. What she first thought to be a floating spot in her vision, an after-image of the ceiling light, resolved into a tiny glowing shape near the desk. She reached out, still mostly blind, and as she grabbed at the shape she knocked down all of the discarded flavors. Janet turned the light back on, and looked at her palm to find a small glass jar labeled 'Happiness'. She put it into her purse, put the purse over her shoulder, and headed upstairs just in time for the entire building to collapse behind her. As everyone would later agree, the worst idea that the Fancy-Shine Lip Balm Company had ever had, far worse than testing homemade flavors or bringing hormonal teenagers into the office, was deliberately cutting costs on building construction to an illegal degree while simultaneously ignoring the fault line that the property straddled. All things considered, the building lasted about seven years longer than it should have.

Janet Lewis was thirty years old, five and a half feet tall, and covered in dust. Her long hair, normally brown, had taken on a grayish color from the debris of her former workplace as had the jeans she had chosen to wear for casual Friday, not realizing that it was Thursday. She had a sort of nervous twitch, which she had only developed moments earlier, as well as a tendency to stare into the distance at nothing in particular while listening to the ringing in her ears. This tendency had come about at the same time as the nervous twitch, and they worked well together.

Janet was unemployed, although not yet officially - the official word would have to be passed down by someone in Human Resources which was unlikely to happen soon as the entire department was buried underneath Marketing. The actual employees were largely safe, as Janet had lost track of time looking through the rejected lip balm flavors and was one of the last people out of the building. To be more precise, she was the very last person out of the building - unless you count mangled corpses as people and a pile of rubble as a building, in which case she was fourth from last. Janet wasn't a big fan of semantics, though she rarely mentioned this because in the past it had led to someone accusing her of hating Jewish people. Janet only really knew one Jewish person and she did happen to hate her, but she wanted desperately to believe that this had nothing to do with Laura's cultural or religious background and was based entirely on Laura being an obnoxious bitch, but the fear that she was secretly and involuntarily racist tugged at her brain as she tried to fall asleep nonetheless. It seemed best just to be nice to everyone and enunciate clearly when talking about semantics or the country Niger.

More importantly, Janet had in her purse a small amount of faintly glowing happiness-flavored lip balm. It was a milky translucent green, and its label looked as if it had been made with a typewriter on regular paper which was then cut and glued to the glass, rather than the more common pre-made sticky label. Janet, to the extent that she had thought about it at all, presumed that this and the other flavors in the basement was just some leftover R&D project. After all, even lip balm needs research and development. She was intrigued by the fact that it glowed, but only enough to have put in her purse - not so much that she remembered anything about it after the excitement of having the building she was leaving nearly kill her on the way out. It settled slowly to the bottom of the purse where it waited, a ticking bomb - ready to change Janet's life but not quite willing to be misspelled for comic effect as 'ticking balm', because really that's just overdoing it.