: Niche :

an excerpt by Edith Pearlman

Cathy's job-Assistant Human Resources Officer-had been lopped from the personnel tree of a once sturdy and now trembling insurance company; and Cathy had fallen right down with it. This procedure had the dressmakerly name of downsizing, but Cathy felt as if she'd been rolled like a log out of the windowed office she'd occupied for years. Still, the buyout was generous. She was fifty; if she were careful with her money she might take a long vacation. Careful? It could be her middle name, though Corpulent would do, too.

She'd been the middle of the five Donnelly sisters. In her pram she was already plump and agreeable, and under the nuns an industrious schoolgirl with a hearty appetite. Then a strapping young woman who put herself through the local college and afterwards earned an accounting certificate. She stayed at home until her parents passed on. She remained at home, still strapping, no longer very young. She'd gratefully accepted the promotions that kept coming, and she had expected this life filled with friends and family and obligations and affection to go on until it came to its necessary end. She suited the job and it suited her-helping employees adjust to their boring days, smoothing argument, listening without comment to tales of family messes. She'd miss the work.

She'd miss her co-workers, too. She liked most of them and loved one of them-Grady. He was a flabby white-skinned bachelor of sixty with no facial hair and pudgy, poorly articulated hands, though with those flippers he played a mean jazz piano. He was talented in mathematics and highly skilled in statistics and an actuary of the first water-he hadn't been downsized. They'd lunched together on most days, on a bench in the park if possible. She made the sandwiches and he brought beer for both and cigarettes for himself. Both cried on parting, and they promised to keep in touch.