Robert’s Rules

In the fresh morning light as she doodled on the hotel notepad, drawing and re-drawing the Chairman’s small, ferret like teeth, Kate still felt change was possible. If she could keep her cool and follow her carefully calculated strategy, her colleagues would rally and insist the problems be addressed.

As the day progressed, her optimism waned. Her opportunity to make her point was outmanoeuvred by a rule she hadn’t even known existed. She had to swallow hard to keep from groaning aloud.

By afternoon, her bones ached and her body was contorted from being impaled for too many hours on a stiff metal chair. Every few minutes Kate crossed her legs, and then when the calves ached, uncrossed them. She was reminded of her mother’s warning that crossing your legs caused varicose veins; future health concerns were the least of her worries.

As the anger grew inside her, Kate struggled to keep her face serene. She despaired that she would ever learn to control her rages. She was over 35 and still her veneer was paper-thin. At times like this her insides felt volcanic, as if she would erupt at the next ludicrous statement or snide remark.

What annoyed her most was that she still cared, still hoped for something different, still rose like some ancient sea serpent to the challenge. Colleagues had warned her not to expect the Board to respond to minority concerns. ‘It’s dysfunctional,’ Nanda had insisted. ‘You can’t beat these old guys.’ Still mad with hope and buoyed by considerable wine, Kate had replied, ‘They fixed Humpty Dumpty.’

‘Sure,’ her friend had laughed, ‘But he needed Botox afterwards to hide the cracks.’

Joking aside, Kate knew that history was rife with examples of good causes finally succeeding and once again she had ventured forth like Don Quixote. But her optimism faded, as did the day.

‘He’s going to get away with it again,’ she hissed to Nanda who was leisurely checking her e-mails. Her friend shrugged, ‘What did I tell you?’

As usual, she had been naïve enough to expect something; after all they had been gathering data and support for six months. But one read of the agenda should have warned even a Pollyanna, which she was not, that the Chairman had no intention of allowing their issues to be discussed.

Robert’s Rules were swished across the table like a sabre. A few new members in the second row had looked confused and wondered when it would be their turn to speak. The older woman at the back who had argued that there should be an election and later insisted that there wasn’t a quorum, had been easily impaled with a sharp witticism: TS Eliot to the rescue.

Kate raised her hand again. After attempts to ignore her failed, the Chairman sighed and entered her name on the list. ‘A lot of people want to speak,’ he complained as if each comment was eroding his retirement savings.

By then it was too late; the audience was confused. The consultants were frightened to jeopardize their job security in a wrangle they couldn’t win. The cynics and old timers were thinking of their speech the next day or the mites on their roses or their upcoming holidays. The shit disturbers had moved to another battleground and were now drinking heartily at the Wither Be Pub having resigned themselves to another year of ‘the iron rule’.

Damn, she thought, he’s done it again and they wouldn’t have another chance to raise the issue for twelve months. And every time it was done hurriedly, always marching to Robert’s Rules, always fumbling for the right words, with her lips burning as she spat injustices like hot sparks from her moist mouth.

‘Kate,’ the chairman said, indulgently. ‘Keep it short. Some of us prefer to eat than to argue.’ He smiled benignly at the crowd, awaiting their approval. Several people warmed to his comment, enjoying the fire, the light in the circle; they were honored to be attending such a prestigious meeting.

When Kate rose, she felt the floor tremble; the room spun. It was all wrong. She wanted to shout, ‘Stop, let me start again.’ The notes she had thought so clever the day before were ashes today. Her ideas were tangled in her mind like roots in a too small pot, circling one another until they choked. She stumbled, repeated her concerns and called for action.

‘There is a motion on the floor,’ the Chairman explained indulgently.

And like a balloon with an imperceptible slow leak, Kate felt herself gradually deflate and sink until finally with her last sputtered argument she realized that she had lost both her air and her audience.

Later, hunkered down in her hotel room when her heart had stopped thumping, Kate’s attention was caught by the disjointed music drifting across the hotel lawn. There was no possibility of sleep now; she needed a good stiff drink or a long sweaty run: something to pop the boil of indignation growing inside her.

It would take some courage to join the festivities. Stupidly after the meeting she had blurted out her frustrations to those standing about in the hall — colleagues who she thought were sympathetic to the cause. When in full sail, she had suddenly read on their faces that they were not sympathetic to the issues but to her ineptitude, her ignorance. They had long since accepted that the Society, supposedly focused on the mission statement it proudly touted, was self-serving and dysfunctional.

Years earlier she too had been honoured to be included. She had felt so heady to be a member in the select circle that the irregularities had amused her. She had been certain it would change as she laughed with friends and joked about the old fogies with their inane protocols and rules. After all, they chuckled, it was the twenty-first century. Things were changing. Someone must care. They couldn’t all be playing Follow the Funding or Crunch a Toe.

Despondently, Kate rose and pulled on her sweater. She headed to the back of the hotel where the party was erupting: a wide full lawn opened unto a garden awash with summer night fragrances. She moved towards the group clustered near the pool.

Her friend, Nanda, sitting in the shadows with a shawl around her shoulders, patted the ground by her side. Kate sank down, leaning her back against the brick wall. An older man leaned over and passed her a bottle — some kind of whisky — she smiled and took a swig. Sharp. Something she wasn’t used to. It burnt her throat right down to her lungs.

‘This too will pass,’ Nanda whispered. ‘Enjoy the evening.’

Kate glanced at the sky; the night was clear, the stars were sharp pricks through the black unknown. If she had seen herself here ten years ago, she would have been impressed. It was a top-notch hotel, five stars. Why couldn’t she just enjoy it? Close her eyes and think of the England, wasn’t that what the Victorian ladies did when they were being screwed? Maybe someday she’d learn to do that. Or maybe not.

~ Melodie Corrigall

Published in Earthen Lamp Journal (India), 2014.