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Mildred Loves Mustard

By E.K. Smith

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Recently, I've been feeling a bit dejected for a lot of different reasons. I started working for Donnie about two years ago. He is a tall, unattractively skinny red-headed man who has more freckles than sense. I am his personal assistant. When I first started, Donnie was continually impressed by the quality and speed of my work.

 "Julie," he would say, "you are a lifesaver! I still can't believe how quickly you got through that to-do list I gave you."

Being an innately ambitious person, I would enjoy these kinds of compliments. The day after receiving such praise, I’d usually reciprocate by bringing him a chicken salad croissant sandwich or a turkey and Swiss on wheat for lunch. I never warned him that I was picking up lunch for the two of us... I just did it, and while we were eating together, he would often honor me by asking my opinion on the number of mustard packets I thought might be appropriate to use on his sandwich.

Being a mustard-lover at the time, I am sure I often veered on the side of too much mustard--- like makes-my-bread-soggy amounts--- but he never complained. And when we were done eating, we’d spend two to three minutes pressing our index fingers against the crumbs on the table so that they’d stick just long enough to the fleshy parts of our fingers to be transported to the trashcan. I considered these impromptu luncheons to be a bonding experience.

My whole life I’ve been genuinely obsessed with excelling at things. It never really mattered what things. I’ve always just wanted to be the best at whatever I happened to be doing at the time. In my job as Donnie’s assistant, I had a chance to accomplish that feat. I don’t mean that I had a chance at being the best personal assistant ever known to mankind, rather that I had a promising opportunity to be perceived by Donnie as the best possible personal assistant for him; that is, until Mildred came along.

At five-foot-seven and 115 pounds, she was a dazzling actualization of good genes aligned with superior self-care practices. The only thing ugly about Mildred was her name. Her amber hair had the perfect amount of bounce and provided ideally-balanced contrast against her alabaster skin. Her almost C-cup breasts had just enough perkiness and lift for her to be able to get away with not wearing a bra, but not so much that they looked fake. Somehow, even after drinking two cups of black coffee every morning, her teeth were pearly white and her breath was strangely reminiscent of the high-grade orange blossom honey you can buy at the local organic grocer for $30 per pound.

I hated Mildred, and because she loved mustard of all kinds--- from the coarse, grainy stone-ground variety to the bright yellow hot dog companion--- I had to learn to loathe that innocent bystanding condiment too. Of course, I couldn’t share these sentiments with anyone other than my hairdresser for fear of being asked if I was ten years old.

Originally, Mildred was brought in to be my assistant--- yes, a personal assistant’s assistant. Donnie was a very busy man, which meant that I always had a lot to do. I know he thought he was doing me a favor by getting me some help, but somehow between all her chic outfits, preternatural short-term memory, and superfluous vocabulary, I ended up being the one picking up Donnie’s favorite clinical strength gum protection toothpaste at the grocery store, while “Milly” was entrusted with planning his next big luau-themed soiree.

Whenever she wasn’t with us, Donnie would spend the time regurgitating her jokes to me, barely being able to form even one complete sentence without breaking up into premature bouts of laughter. All I could do was to stand there and giggle politely, as if I had telepathically picked up on the punch line before he’d even communicated it.

The day I brought us sandwiches (having for the first time forgone the formerly prerequisite praise) when he told me that he already had lunch plans with Milly was the day I knew with absolute certainty that I’d lost the battle. While he was telling me that he’d put it in the frig and eat it tomorrow, I felt my face go completely pale and then, of course, immediately overcompensate with a wave of heat and an almost neon scarlet blush. I turned my back toward him and started rummaging through a desk drawer in an effort to hide my tattletale facial physiology, but it was too late. He’d already detected my distress. When he asked me if I’d like to join him and “Milly” for lunch, all I could do was vomit into the small trashcan sitting next to the desk. Unfortunately, it was one of those steel mesh ones. Milly had picked it out.

“I can’t go. I’m sick, see?” I mumbled pointing at the mess seeping out of the trashcan. Luckily, only the liquidy parts were dripping out, since the mesh was acting as a colander for the chunky bits.

I walked out the door and didn’t go back for three days. Whether he ever ate that sandwich, which I decided would be the last lunch I ever brought him, I’ll never know.

For the next month after the vomit incident, Mildred, Donnie, and I pretended to be oblivious to any strange interpersonal dynamics between us, but this facade is about to crumble, as I am now ready to give Donnie my two-weeks’ notice. When asked by my friends why I’m letting Mildred push me out of my job, I tell them that I don’t see it that way. I see it as an opportunity to find something else I might excel in, and a chance to rediscover my love for mustard all over again. Besides, the joke’s on Mildred. What poor, dear Milly probably hasn’t figured out yet is that Donnie’s freckles outweigh his sense.

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