All eyes turned up from their work as Clayton strolled into the office. They were waiting, mentally laughing in advance at the reaction they anticipated from him.
Before entering his cubicle, of course, Clayton made a small detour into the lunchroom. There, as he did every day, he placed the well-worn brown paper bag with his name on it in the refrigerator. The contents of the bag were always, five days a week, a baloney sandwich, three carrot sticks, and an apple.
They guessed he had to be saving for something, most likely a down payment on a home; surely he would marry one day. He had, they’d determined, a rotation of seven aloha shirts, thinning and fraying around the edges. His shoes, a single black pair of sneakers, were wearing thin in the soles.
Clayton exited the breakroom and proceeded to his desk. Pulling out his chair he sat, nodding to the others as he did so. Then, in the moment of truth, he rolled open his top desk drawer.
They held their breath. If he noticed it, he said nothing. He’d told Molly once that he was afraid of spiders. This had prompted them to discuss an April Fools’ Day prank.
“He needs to loosen up, poor guy,” said Leighton.
“Yeah,” agreed Molly, “I don’t think he’s ever laughed in his whole life.”
Ann said, “How about this? I’ll find a large plastic or rubber spider, then we put it in his drawer on April Fools’ day.”
They agreed this would be a top-drawer prank. Betty had called labeled it as such, and she’d added the comment “no pun intended,” which made them all laugh hysterically.
That morning, Ann brought in the rubber spider she’d bought from the Party Central store. Laying it on the table, she invited everyone to take a look.
“Wow, that’s creepy,” said Leighton. “It looks so real.”
“I’d never be able to tell,” said Doris. “I think I’d scream if I saw that in my shower.”
Ann took the spider – they dubbed it Harry for the fine rubber hairs on its legs – to Clayton’s desk, opened the top drawer, and plopped the fat little guy in place.
Then they took their seats at their desks and waited. Finally Clayton arrived and went through his minor morning ritual, culminating with sitting down at his desk and opening that top drawer.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing happened. The pranksters all looked around the office at each other.
“Maybe he hasn’t actually seen it yet,” said Molly when they were eating in the lunchroom. She was the one in whom he confided his fear of spiders.
“Quiet,” hissed Leighton. “He’s coming.”
Clayton walked in, retrieved the aged brown paper bag from the refrigerator, and went to the table.
“Friends,” he said, “may I join you?”
“Of course” and “Yes” said several of them at once.
Clayton sat down, carefully unrolled the bag, and removed the sandwich, the carrot sticks, and the apple, laying each one down with the deliberate and precise motion of a heart surgeon operating on the President of the United States.
“Did you all have a good weekend?” he asked, unfolding the plastic wrap from his sandwich.
“Oh yes” and “Sure” came from around the large table.
“How was yours?” asked Betty.
“Actually not good at all,” said Clayton. “I got a call early Saturday morning that my mom had had a heart attack at the nursing home. I told you folks she’s in Hale Nani, right?”
The others nodded. Maybe he had; no one was sure.
“Well, they sent her to Queen’s Hospital. She’s there in the ICU right now.”
“Oh my God, brah,” said Leighton, “I’m so sorry to hear that.”
“Oh geez, Clayton,” said Ann, “that’s terrible.”
Doris said, “Oh my, Clayton, please let us know if you need anything.”
Molly reached over. “There, there,” she said, stroking his shoulder.
“Oh well,” said Clayton, “she’s had a good life, a nice long life. I don’t think she’ll die believing she didn’t experience everything she wanted to. Her condition is critical. I’m expecting a call any time now to let me know that she’s passed.”
Ann and Molly began to sniffle. Tears rolled down Betty’s cheeks. Leighton choked back his own. Doris excused herself from the table and ran to the washroom.
The rest of the lunch break passed in silence. Around 3:00, Clayton answered his cell phone. Everyone leaned in slightly toward him.
Clayton let out a loud sob and burst into tears. He stood, slid his phone into his pocket and announced, “I’m sorry, it’s happened. She’s passed. I have to go.”
All of them sent him off with a shower of encouraging words and sympathetic faces. When he was gone, they were all tears and tissues. Even Leighton couldn’t hold back some soft sobs.
Abruptly, Ann stood up and walked quickly over to Clayton’s desk. “I have to get the spider out of there before he actually sees it,” she said.
Pulling open the drawer, she saw the spider sitting on top a handwritten note. She read it.
“Hey, listen to this!” said Ann, holding up the spider and the note.
“Friends, I guess I may have mentioned to someone that I have a fear of spiders. Actually, because of this, I’ve studied them extensively in order to try to overcome my fear. I have studied them enough, certainly, to know a rubber one when I see it. I do know what today is, guys. Oh, and my mom is in Vegas right now, probably shooting craps. You all may want to watch out. This could become a thing. Who knows what’ll happen next April Fools’ Day?”