Serious Fun

Lucy watched Maddy try to take it all in, pretending she wasn't just as overwhelmed. She couldn't believe they were at Alhambra, the biggest, most expensive resort in the mid-West. It was all thanks to the company's new HR rep, Alicia. Mr. Meyer had never sprung for anything fancier than the town park for their company picnics before she came.

"Look at that pool, Maddy. Have you ever seen one so big?"

"I wanna go in the lake like him." Maddy pointed to a boy flying over the lake on a rope swing. He let go, dropping with a hard splash into the dark blue water.

"You're too young for that, honey."

"Let her try the swing," Alicia said, coming up behind them. "We have life guards everywhere. We're here to make sure everyone has all the fun they can. We take our fun seriously at EJM Enterprises!" She pinned a name tag onto Lucy, then another onto Maddy. "Each name tag has a color. What color are you, Maddy?"

"Blue."

"And your Mom is blue, too. I like to keep families on the same team. We're going to have a contest to see which team has the most fun, so get cracking!"

Everything changed at EJM Enterprises when Alicia joined the company. The plant was cleaner, the supervisors nicer, and every Friday they had a barbecue in the parking lot. It was true that some people had been let go, but Alicia explained that they were dead wood and companies, like trees, needed their dead wood trimmed so they could thrive. At first people had been nervous, but when the layoffs were over, everyone agreed that the right people were let go, and there they were: still employed and getting more regular hours. And now they were at Alhambra and no one was complaining anymore.

Lucy watched Maddy run off towards the lake, then joined her friend Beth at one of the buffet tables that ringed the pool.

"This is how the other half lives," Beth said, heaping shrimp onto her plate.

The afternoon passed in a whir of activities: horseback riding, canoeing, volleyball-the resort had it all. As daylight faded, the contents of the never-ending buffet table were swapped out for heartier fare and a bar opened. Under the pavilion, lights glimmered. A DJ pumped music out to the partying masses.

"Can we turn down the music?" Alicia asked from the bandstand. "It's time to find out who had the most fun today. Isn't this exciting?"

A half-hearted cheer went up from the crowd dancing to the lowered music.

"Let's hear it from the blue team!"

An even smaller cheer.

"If everyone could stop talking, please. I know you're having fun, and we'll get back to the fun in a minute, but right now I need the blue team to show me exactly how much fun they had. Blue team!"

Lucy yelped thinly, feeling foolish. Almost no one was paying attention.

"People? People, please. People! SHUT! UP!"

Feedback squealed. The DJ stopped the music. The noise level faded to zero as startled faces turned towards the bandstand.

"I don't think you understand," Alicia said. "We had a contest today to see who could have the most fun. Contests have winners, but contests also have losers. At EJM, we take our fun seriously. We also take our jobs seriously, and we don't like losers. That's why today's losing team . . . will be laid off! Isn't that fun?"

Lucy exchanged glances with Beth. Was Alicia kidding? She didn't seem to be kidding.

"Try again, blue team. Let me hear how much fun you had today."

Lucy faked a whoop. Around her, her team members shouted and clapped with stilted enthusiasm. The noise rang tinny and empty in the silent hall. The swirling lights from the disco ball picked out their anxious faces.

"That was very poor, blue team. I'll bet red can do better than that. Red team!"

Beth pulled Lucy down and whispered in her ear: "Half of my team left. The Donnellys were all orange, like me. They had a graduation party to go to."

Lucy gave Beth a sympathetic frown, but her heart lifted. The blue team still had a chance.

"We've got a tie," Alicia said after the orange team's weak response. "We'll have to do a run-off for Least Fun Team. When you think of fun, who do you think of? Kids, right? So let's bring the youngest member from each team up to tell us about their day. Orange team first." Alicia consulted a clipboard. "Jerome Watkins?"

Lucy didn't bother listening to Jerome's mumbling account of his day. She knew who the youngest member of the blue team was: Maddy.

"Think, Maddy. Think how much fun you had today. What did you do? You went on the rope swing."

Maddy nodded.

"You have to say it, Maddy. Say 'I went on the rope swing.' Say it like it was the most fun thing ever."

"I went on the rope swing."

"And the horse. Remember riding the horse? And you had cotton candy. And what else?"

"I played Marco Polo."

"Right, and-"

"Maddy Lawton!" Alicia squealed.

"Go on, Maddy. Remember how fun it was. For Mommy, honey. It's important. Remember how fun it was."

On the dance floor, Maddy clutched the microphone, reciting into it: "And I rode a horse and I went on the slide and I saw a frog . . . " Her voice was small despite the amplification. Under the lights flashing blue and purple and green, wetness glistened at the corners of her tightly shut eyes.

"Remember how fun it was," Lucy whispered. "Remember."


© Dawn Alguard, 2015