The Public’s Opinion

By Aubrie Arnold

desk and chairs

The husband and wife stood outside the multi-storied glass and steel building staring at the revolving front door. The weather was chilly and wet, and they huddled inside their long winter coats—navy blue for her and heather grey for him that matched a small portion of his thinning hair. Her choppy brunette locks were tucked into a black knitted cap. She was biting her thumbnails to the quick and he kept popping his knuckles. People on the street cut around them while spewing huffs of impatience or giving head shakes of irritation at this couple who was inconsiderate enough to stand in the middle of a busy sidewalk.

The wife had her arm linked around her husband’s elbow and clung to him not only for the strength to stand but to also deal with what they had to do inside. The husband inhaled deeply and released the breath slowly before looking at his wife. 

“Ready?” he asked her. 

She shuddered and slightly shook her head, “No.  I’m not.”

He nodded, “Me either. Let’s go.”

They were in their early fifties. He was a principle of a high school and she was a special education teacher. They had two grown, responsible, and academically successful daughters in college—well, actually, only one now. 

The couple was standing outside The Offices of Personal Public Relations, otherwise known as the PPR, and had an appointment with one of the representatives, a LeeAnn Stubnovitch, or Stubovich, or Sunnofabitch—something like that. The couple had to schedule a press conference. And make a statement. And distance themselves. Save their own stupid necks; that’s what LeeAnn said when she called them yesterday. 

They walked up to the revolving door and waited for an opening. As they stepped in, the wife began to quietly cry again. Her husband brushed a hand up and down her back as they shuffled through the rotating entrance and into the lobby. 

The place was busier than expected. At least forty people waited in short, stubby lines to board one of the eight elevators. To the right of the entrance, a large half-circle, smoked glass, and brushed aluminum reception desk contained five representatives who each had a line of people in front of them.

There was a waiting area to the left that had multiple rows of leather and chrome chairs and each chair was occupied. Several people stood against the walls as though they would never have anywhere else to go. Every person was rehearsing. Those seated seemed to be working together while those standing were practicing facial expressions and hand gestures.  Everyone striving for that middle ground that keeps them from seeming robotic but also not too comfortable. Because they were behind schedule, LeeAnn had told the couple to go straight to the elevators.

On the 13th floor, they stepped out with four other people who were immediately greeted by PPR representatives and shown to offices down a long hallway. The couple was left behind and watched as the others disappeared behind closed doors. They scanned the open cubicle area directly in front of them. Several workers were participating in video chats using subdued voices and wearing solemn expressions. A few others were carrying tablets while they wove around the cubicles toward more offices with closed doors. 

“Hey! In here!” The startled couple jerked toward the brash voice.  A tall woman with lots of curves and lots of dark curly hair stood in the doorway of an office just to the left of the cubicles. “Let’s go.  Time’s a-wastin’!” She turned her back on them and disappeared through the doorway.

The couple stared for a moment before realizing who had just shouted at them; that they were meant to follow her. Then the husband cleared his throat and patted his wife’s back. She nodded at him and they made their way into LeeAnn Stubnovitch’s inner sanctum.

She sat behind an expansive metal and glass desk. Her black leather office chair didn’t squeak when she swiveled it toward her computer. She waved the couple into a pair of cold, metal folding chairs in front of her desk. 

After taping her keyboard, LeeAnn leaned toward her monitor and stared for a few moments. Then she faced the couple and attempted a friendly smile, “So! You’re the Simmons, right?” She leaned her elbows on her desktop and interlaced her fingers.

The husband cleared his throat again and said, “Um…no, we’re the Simons.  Like Simon Says but plural.”

LeeAnn arched an eyebrow, “Simons? You sure?”

Mr. Simons shot a look at his wife before answering, “Yes, I’m sure.” 

“Okay. Simons. Whatever.” LeeAnn looked the pair of them up and down and asked, “First names are Marcus and Sheila?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Great. So, when’s the press conference? I looked in the system, but I didn’t see it.  Sometimes that happens.” LeeAnn turned back toward her computer and poised her hands over the keyboard. “We have so many damn interns around here.” 

Mrs. Simons sat up straighter and said, “I’m sorry. We thought that was why we were here. To write our statement and schedule the conference.”

LeeAnn froze. Then she dropped her chin toward her chest and exhaled loudly, “Jesus.” She pushed away from her desk and leaned back in her padded chair. She swiveled toward the Simons. “So, you’ve done nothing? Is that what you’re saying? Seriously?”

The couple looked to each other for help. Then Mr. Simons said, “You told us yesterday that we would go over all of this. You—”

LeeAnn leaned forward suddenly, “Do not tell me what I said.” She scooted her chair right up to the edge of her desk and jabbed a finger at the couple.   “I said that I needed to go over the statement for your conference.  I said I would try to help you survive this mess. I said we would talk about what to do after. That’s what I said.”

Mr. Simons glared and imagined jumping over the desk, but leaned back and folded his arms across his chest instead. “We never had to do this before. We didn’t know we were supposed to just schedule it.”

LeeAnn hardly seemed appeased as she leaned back in her chair once more. “You’ve seen these things before, right? You know what they are?”

Mrs. Simons lowered her head and pulled a tissue out of her coat pocket.  She held it against her nose and tried to compose herself. Mr. Simons bobbed his knee and popped his knuckles. His wife exhaled, sat up and said, “Yes, we’ve seen them before. But no one talks about what actually goes on…when to start…things.”

“Okay. Okay. We don’t have time for this.” LeeAnn pushed herself up in her chair, brushed her hair behind her shoulders and folded her hands on her desk.  “As soon as you heard about the accident, you should’ve had a conference. That’s standard.  And here we are two days into it, and you look sloppy. Like you’re condoning your daughter’s actions. You realize your livelihoods are at stake, right? Your reputations? Have you checked the socials since it happened?

The couple shook their heads and caved in on themselves. They hadn’t slept since the police informed them of their daughter’s death; never mind checking Facebook.

“People are pissed off. No word from you tells the world that you, at best, don’t care. At worst, you don’t think your daughter was wrong. A press conference would’ve stopped that. Your first call should have been to these offices.”

Mr. Simons squeezed his eyes shut and choked back several curses. Mrs. Simons balled her fists into her thighs. “Called you?!” Mr. Simons said. “We just lost our daughter! And we were supposed to call you guys first?!” He shook his head and buried his face in his hands. “This is such bullshit!” he yelled through his fingers.

LeeAnn drummed her fingers on her desk and sighed, “Yes. Yes, I know.  Your daughter died and it sucks. But she also killed a family of five because she was texting instead of paying attention to the road.”  Mrs. Simons stared open-mouthed at LeeAnn’s callous description of the accident. “Public perception is everything.  Employers have to worry about the public opinion. No one can afford to have an employee with negativities.” Mrs. Simons folded over, dropped her head to her knees and wailed.

Mr. Simons stared daggers at LeeAnn but before he could speak, the PPR representative held up a hand. “You both work in the school system. You cannot afford to have the world thinking that you are okay with this. You have to condemn her. Publicly.”

His mouth opened and closed a few times. His fists clenched and shaking.  LeeAnn cupped her chin in her hand and watched Mrs. Simons who was no longer making any sounds; just shaking and rocking.

“If you want things to go back to normal, we need to get this done,” LeeAnn eyed the couple. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Category: Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing