All Exit Interviews Shall Remain Confidential by Shelli Cornelison


Audrina’s brother will insist what happened to her was an accident. He knew his sister too well. In quiet moments, their mother will worry Audrina’s divorce may have taken a bigger toll than they’d realized. Her best friend will waver between suspicion and certainty, eventually making peace with the doubt that haunts her memories. All any of them will know for sure is Audrina Donaldson abruptly resigned from her accounting job shortly after arriving at work that morning. Her exit interview with human resources had concluded less than ten minutes before the impact that left her lifeless body splayed in the intersection. The bus driver will find recurring comfort in the paramedic’s assurance she died instantly, didn’t suffer. It’s a small mercy but he will lean into it. The HR representative who conducted her exit interview will wonder from time to time if she should’ve done anything differently, but the worry will pass. She didn’t make the rules.

*** HR: You understand you’re being offered the option to voluntarily resign with no further repercussions, correct? AD: But what if I agree to wage garnishment until the amount is repaid in full? I don’t even know why I did it. I’ll go to counseling. I’ve been here so long. Please. I can’t lose my job. HR: Ms. Donaldson, if I may offer a bit of advice at this juncture, tendering your immediate resignation will allow you to move on with a clean record. AD: You don’t have to threaten me. HR: There have been no threats toward you, neither explicit nor implied. But the facts of the situation are clear. AD: I’ll go back to my desk and write the letter. HR: No need. I have one here. All you have to do is sign it and security will escort you back to your cubicle to inventory your personal effects. AD: Security? HR: Per company policy. Your access cards for the building, the office doors, and the gym must be surrendered before you board the elevator. If you have them on you, I can take them now. Your final paycheck will not be deposited electronically. You will receive a paper check via registered mail. It will include any payments due for unused vacation and sick days. You will receive a separate package regarding your retirement account directly from the investment firm that manages it. Do you have any further questions or comments for me? AD: No. HR: If any questions arise after your departure, they will have to be directed to corporate. The branch will no longer have access to your personnel file. Do you understand? AD: Yes. *** Out on the sidewalk, Audrina jostled the oversized box in her arms, sending its contents off balance. A metro bus barreled toward the intersection. She managed to steady the box on her hip while she reached for the crosswalk button, but her center of gravity faltered and her foot slipped off the curb. Her elbow clipped a bicycle courier. “Lookout!” He clocked her with a perfectly executed forearm shiver, spun her entirely out of his path. Muscle memory from his Friday night glory days. Instinct. Coach would’ve been proud. Still got those reflexes, baby. The cheering of the crowd echoed in the courier’s head for blocks. His dopamine surge ebbed in the instant replay. Screams differentiated now from cheers. Horror distinct from celebration. Don’t look back. Eyes to the future. Witness statements sprung from unique vantage points. “She lost her balance. Tripped.” “It looked like she may have been pushed.” “Suicide by bus, man. No question.” *** The coroner will explain to his intern that even with a seventy percent chance of immediate death, internal decapitation is an injury he rarely sees. Over dinner, he will tell his wife it was nice to finally get to show the kid something interesting. Later, lying next to her in the dark, he will apologize, say nice wasn’t the right word. When his hand slides over her hip she will try not to recoil, try not to think about the body of the last woman he touched. Audrina’s ashes will be divided between those who loved her. Her mother will keep her daughter on the mantel, always home for the holidays. Her brother will take his sister on a farewell cruise; he will plan to scatter her at sea but won’t be able to do it so he’ll get drunk with her in every bar on the ship and at every port of call. He will get drunk with her at home on far too many nights, until he meets someone who helps him move beyond his grief. Her best friend will carry grains of Audrina in a pendant, but whenever someone asks what’s in the tiny jar, she will say it’s sand from a beach in Aruba. They always said they’d go there together someday. Her former coworkers will almost forget Audrina until someone brings her up in the break room one day. “Remember how she just quit out of the blue? I still think maybe she won the lottery.” There will be one person in the room who harbors the truth but she won’t speak up. She will close her eyes and hope that in an alternate timeline, a luckier version of Audrina spontaneously retired because she won the lottery. Years after the bike courier’s knees and hips have forsaken him, he will sit at a bar and clutch a cold beer, watch a busy intersection blurred beyond a neon glow. The last sip will go down bitter before he stands and arches his back to stretch, the cracking of his bones interminable.


 

Shelli Cornelison lives in Austin, Texas and can confirm it is not a dry heat. Her short fiction has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, The Forge Literary Magazine, The Daily Drunk, and New World Writing, among others.



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