Diana hit the delete button for the hundredth time in the last hour. She hated deleting her emails, but this situation was much more difficult than she’d imagined it would be. Five years working in the mailroom, she’d finally reached the desk of the president of the company, and on her first day she couldn’t compose an email with the right words. Perhaps it was the situation, or maybe the fact that she was shaking, trying to type on an empty stomach. Having never been told “show me a draft” before, Diana wasn’t used to this kind of oversight, this level of watchfulness — from a boss or anyone else.
On her own time, on her own webpage, Diana was the ruler, the king. She wrote and spout off phrases without a care. She threw caution to the wind when starting a new paragraph. Her sentences were constructions worthy of the finest spices from across the seas. The only time she tapped backspace was to make sure the key still worked, or to insert an absent comma — a rarity — or a hyphen that was one dash too long. In her excitement as she approached the end of each blog, Diana would always be overcome with a wave of relief, and anyone watching her would marvel as she leaned back in her seat, continuing to type with her eyes closed, down to the very last period. She would click “post” without hesitation — and then, she was a hit. Six thousand views within ten minutes, under the moniker “AngelEyes”.
Sure, she had her critics, but they were usually folks who disagreed with her point, never her writing. That would hurt most of all, if the people reading her words would take apart the grammar, the punctuation. Her inspiration throughout life was Strunk/White. She never thought of them as two separate authors, but simply as one and the same, a double-headed genius who set forth the proper rules for writers throughout the world.
“Hey, where is that letter? What’s your name again?” Mr. Royles, the President, Diana’s boss for the day. He was staring at her hands. Diana became self conscious, and tried to smile up at him but her face turned into this false grimace, the type that anyone with half a brain would realize she wanted to be anywhere but here.
After a moment of agonizing silence, Diana realized that Mr. Royles was still staring at her hands. She looked down and watched them fly across the keys, fingers typing, blurred against the white keys, barely pounding each of them as necessary. She tapped the backspace key and inserted a comma before finishing the final sentence. She leaned back, eyes closed. “There’s your draft.”
Smiling up at Mr. Royles, Diana pushed back from her desk and allowed Mr. Royles to lean down, place his glasses on, and start reading the draft. He looked at her and cleared his throat before reading to himself. Diana took the time to notice his lips moving as he read to himself. She looked at his ironed collar, his tie and jacket in mint condition. Well, there were a few wrinkles evident around the edges, but still, nothing a quick trip to a laundromat or even a personal iron couldn’t fix in a jiff. She brushed at her skirt and adjusted the pleats, but there was nothing to adjust. Her clothes were perfect, pristine, just like her words. She smiled as Mr. Royles stood up.
Then watched in fright as he leaned close again, took the mouse, and dragged the cursor to the middle of the paragraph. She cringed, like a student watching a teacher draw a dirty red mark across the answer she’d written on the sheet, only to write in a word that made even less sense.
“Just add this comma here, and it’ll make more sense.”
“No it won’t!” She was loud, much louder than she intended. Her hands shot to her mouth, held it shut as her eyes floated up to Mr. Royles’ face. He did not appear amused.
“You’re going to lecture me on comma usage?” He asked, eyebrows raised. Diana sensed there was a smile at the edge of his mouth, but didn’t want to risk which kind. He may be in a joking mood, or pleased as punch to have someone talk back to him. Or, he could be smirking because he was about to fire her, something that would make his day worth living. For whatever reason, in Diana’s world the higher-ups were never as happy as when they were yelling at someone below them. Not enough hot sauce for my tacos — you’re fired. Fridge isn’t stocked enough — you’re fired. Clean up my dog’s piss, or your fired.
Diana lowered her hands, realizing Mr. Royles was actually waiting for an answer. “No.” She whispered. Then, before she could stop herself, “not lecture, sir, but just point out that the comma there would change the intention of the sentence.”
“From what to what?”
“Well, without the comma it sounds like you’re simply stating the fact that he’s not only done working for you but that he owes you a full week yet. Whereas, with the comma, the implication is that he’s finished his work completely.”
Mr. Royles leaned in, read the letter again. He stepped back suddenly, checking to make sure the coast was clear. Removing his glasses, he leaned close to Diana again. “Between you and me, take out that comma and pretend we never spoke.”
Diana quickly deleted the comma. Mr. Royles stood, placed his glasses atop his head and walked back to his office. He pivoted in the doorway and crossed his arms, looking sternly down at Diana. “Where’s that damn letter?!” he yelled. He winked.
Diana printed the letter and handed off to Mr. Royles, and she was suddenly calm as her fingers went to work on the next letter to be written, one of two dozen for the day.