Lou Gallo, 10/28/2013

Current Occupation: professor, Radford University
Former Occupation: professor LSU (New Orleans)
Contact Information:  I was born and raised in New Orleans.  I now teach at Radford University in Virginia where I live with my wife and daughters.  My work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Berkeley Fiction Review, Missouri Review, Southern Quarterly, New Orleans Review, Mississippi Review, Portland Review, storySouth, Bellingham Review, Greensboro Review, Tampa Review, The Ledge, New Oregon Review, Pennsylvania Literary Review, Rattle, Baltimore Review, Texas Review, WIDE AWAKE IN THE PELICAN STATE (LSU fiction anthology), American Literary Review and many others.  Chapbooks include THE ABOMINATION OF FASCINATION and THE TRUTH CHANGES.  Poetry volumes include HALLOWEEN and OMENS.  I am founding editor of the now inoperative Barataria Review and Books:  A New Orleans Review.  I have been a contributing editor of The Pushcart Press.   

#

SATURDAY AT THE SHOP

I liked Saturdays because that’s when the old man,
my grandfather, sharpened chisels on the whetstone.
Dad and I would saw plywood sheets into little squares,
for hours we ripped that wood, and the caustic sawdust
laced with formaldehyde  blasted our faces.
It’s a smell we could never wash off.  And our eyes
sometimes bled.  But when the old man stood behind
that stone, pumping the lever with his foot,
and sparks from metal against rock zigzagged
out in a fiery cloud of silent, ephemeral sparks
so primitive time stopped,
we sometimes relaxed and just watched
the show.
Grandpa might look over at us and smile.
It seemed like anything but work.
And he always left early,
that sly rascal.

 

Ellen Wade Beals, 10/28/2013

Current Occupation: Writer and publisher
Former Occupation: Editor, freelance writer
Contact Information: I heard about cowboy poetry and thought there should be garbagemen poetry too. Here's one from the series I created, written by and about fictional trash haulers.  

#

Aaron Render died of a heart attack
in the middle of his route, July 11, 1989

Shortly after two, I’d just come back from lunch,
almost wasn’t at the board,
when Tom radioed in, asked me to call  Emergency,
relaying they were in the northwest alley,
three quarters down, behind 1634.

Tom found him slumped over
in the cab of the rig, between Forest and Francisco,
just behind the garage of an English-looking house.

Their routes on Mondays shadowed each other
but if not Tom, someone else would have found him.
Already a concerned customer had called
to report one of ours “loafing” on the job.  

Aaron Render died of a heart attack
in the middle of his route.

On either side of the alley,
the garages are kept up, it’s nice–
one gray, one brick, no graffiti
and the wild plants grow:
Tree of heaven, Queen Ann’s lace,
prairie blues, and  thistle.
 
But it was the inside of the cab he saw–
steering wheel black and scuffed as a bowling ball,
the garish pink of a Dunkin Donuts bag;
the red poppy from Veterans of Foreign Wars
still wrapped around the rearview mirror.

Aaron Render died of a heart attack
in the middle of his route.

He took the garbage up until the end.
Each can empty had its lid restored.
I called the boss and he tells me
to telephone the family.
Wouldn’t you know I got their damn machine?
The tape was worn and their message
sounded sad and wavering, like a mermaid’s voice.
I had to think of what to say;
it was me who felt underwater.

Aaron Render died of a heart attack
in the middle of his route.

Meredith Minister, 10/21/2013

Current Occupation: Teacher
Former Occupation: Student
Contact Information: Meredith Minister grew up on a dairy farm in Western Kentucky and recently returned to the area when she was hired as the Assistant Professor of Religion at Kentucky Wesleyan College. She received graduate degrees in Theology and Religious Studies from Boston University and Southern Methodist University.

 

#

Trickle-Down Economics

I would welcome hands caked with dirt
And mud as alternative
To manicured typing fingers
But the hands before my eyes now

Are not dirt covered. They smell of
Money – capital exchanges –
Labor equals pay equals purchase of
A good made by someone else’s

Labor. Incessant flow but no trickle
Down. My hands take from hands below
Me while the hands above mine take
More from me. Accumulation

Means I have more to give. Pundits
Say my kind are dying. Middle
Disappearing like I wish my
Middle would disappear. I wish

For hands free from the smell of old
Bills but lather from France’s most
Luxuriant soap cannot clean
My blood-stained hands.

 

Spey Rod, 10/14/2013

Current Occupation: Steelhead and Salmon Angler
Former Occupation: Composition-grading Robot for Large Urban Community Colleges
Contact Information: After 20 years of teaching college-level composition, Spey Rod uses the few brain cells he has left trying to trick big steelhead on Oregon’s Sandy River. You’ll have to find him on the river, but if you ask him if he wrote this poem, he will deny it. Check out Spey’s “Post Tenure Fish in the Machine," "Satori on I-84 ," and "Key" in back issues of WORK.

#

Tall Stack

Grading college compositions was like eating sawdust
but the salary, tenure, and pension were maple syrup.
Still, what sane person would eat sawdust with maple syrup?

Some of us found refuge in illegal or prescription drugs,
cigarettes, alcohol, far-away trips to foreign lands,
immersion in painting, poetry, or Eastern mystical religions.

Years of pain, and thousands in student loan debt
rewarded us with decorative meals at long tables of
song, celebration, and later vomit from overwork.

Honestly, some students tried very hard
but what could they or we do when English
wasn’t their first language

and survival wasn’t ours?

 

David S. Pointer, 10/7/2013

Current Occupation: Unemployed
Former Occupation: Part-Time Sociology Instructor
Contact Information: David S. Pointer was the son of a piano playing bank robber. David later served in the Marine military police. David’s first paying job was summer hay hauling at age 12. He later earned a master’s degree in sociology. David’s still searching for a job with a living wage, socially just pay, a capitalistic wage or something similar. He can be reached at dspointer@hotmail.com.

#

Blood Bank Refugee

Homeless shelter meatloaf
looked like school cafeteria
crumb cake, so Ronnie hit
the two blood banks often as
allowed for grocery money
until he drops at a day labor
job site where the employer
sends him back to temp zone
while the pay clerk calculates
lower weekly total wages, and
severs it all into breadlessness

#

Money Movers

I asked myself
was it Tacitus
who said dei
fortioribus
adsunt (the gods
aid the stronger)
as my little pay
checks morphed
into smaller plastic
pay cards before
disappearing with
each dismantled
factory and pension
retirement fund, and
the pallet guards of
the warehouse area
are pushing another
generation of employee
off leased lands like
rickshaw men from
a family farm

 

Christina Brandon, 9/30/2013

Current Occupation: Editor

Former Occupation: English Teacher (in China)

Contact Information: Christina Brandon lives in Chicago, where she writes about food and drink for Chicago-based gapersblock.com. She's finishing a memoir about those two years she taught English to a bunch of curious, if taciturn, university students in China.

#

Key Skills

The image of my nemesis grows sharper in my mind with each form-email rejection. I can’t quite make out her face, but I see her tall frame in a stylish pencil skirt, a designer bag slung over her shoulder. She’s age about 30, has a degree in business, communications, or marketing, probably from a Big Ten school, and an MBA from the University of Chicago. She has superb Excel skills and lots of experience on the phone, including cold calling, a task I’m too shy and nervous to do. She interned at some business firm in college and found a job right after graduating, doing marketing or sales for some third-rate company. But she kept at it, taking on more assignments, working more, checking emails at home after dinner, paying her dues.

She could be at that same company she started with or maybe she’s moved on to a new one, but her salary and status have steadily increased while I’ve bounced between three completely different jobs. She’s on the managerial track. She takes long vacations to warm, sandy beaches. She’s currently looking to buy a condo, and goes out to Alinea and other upscale restaurants I read about but can’t afford.

Sometimes I wonder where our paths diverged—our majors in college, our first jobs, our high school activities—or is it more fundamental than that? Are we just different people?

 

I thought the interview went well. For a combined hour and a half I kept up a conversation with the two women who were separately interviewing me for an open position in recruiting at the same company I had clawed my way into after returning from two years teaching in China. I listened attentively; I explained, using examples from my professional history, why I’d be a good fit, how I have great communication skills, am highly organized, capable of balancing multiple projects with varying deadlines with ease. I asked smart questions. I thought for sure I’d get a second interview and had high expectations for getting the position. Instead, three days after the interview, I got the rejection email.

The department head I interviewed with was kind enough to call and offer feedback, which I eagerly accepted. In seven months of job rejection, no one had done this. “You were very personable,” she told me, “but we decided to go with a candidate who had more client-facing experience. Who had more experience on the phone.”

My nemesis won again. She had all the right “key skills.” She spent a couple years in a position where she often called clients; I spent a couple years in front of classes of Chinese students. Maybe I’m just too weird for business, my experience not perfectly meshing to that world. I studied history, I haven’t done any internships and I’m uninterested in a higher business degree. Instead of steadily working up the corporate ladder, I held a nice, dull, office job for two years doing research where I could wear jeans to work before ditching to teach in China for another couple years. I thought international experience would look good on a resume, but for a teacher, it’s really just a good ice breaker.

 

My resume has been ignored plenty of times so rejection should be in my bones by now. But this one hurt. Hurt because I thought my chances were so good. Hurt because I’m stuck at an entry level position, stuck at the professional level I was at five years ago. Hurt because I’m sure I’ve earned more, proven I’m more capable than this repetitive, data entry job, haven’t I?

I’m ashamed to say the rejection email made me cry. Ashamed because I didn’t think this new job meant so much to me. I had told myself it was just new job, a much needed change of pace with better pay.

Taking the bus home from the office on the day of that email, I read an essay about a woman grieving over the loss of her mother. My grief and her grief were not the same but it still tapped into some kernel of sadness and frustration that’s been lodged inside me. Not about this job specifically, but about the months and months of searching, the self-doubt, the fear that my current entry-level existence is the best I can do. Am I doing something wrong? For the umpteenth time that day, I nearly cried in public.

 

My nemesis. I hate her. I’m jealous of her. I want to be her. I want to kick her and punch her and yell at her to help me, please help me. How did she get to be where she is? Should I have taken that sales job I applied for right out of college even if I would have hated it, skipped China and found a job where I had to wear pencil skirts to the office every day? Yes, she tells me, because on paper, I am too weird for business. I don’t look like a person who could work in recruiting or advertising or event planning or, or, or. Skills don’t transfer, because every industry is so highly specialized you can’t learn new things, and even if you could, no one would bother to train you, even though your resume shows you’re very trainable. How do people switch? Who do you have to know; how can I get to know them?

Maybe I should have listened to—was it my father?—who encouraged me to study business. If I could have known how important laying the groundwork was, even before I understood what I wanted to do or what my own abilities were, would my decisions have been different? Yes, I want to say, they would have. But I struggle to imagine myself investing time and energy studying for four years a subject I’m just not interested in, in the hopes of getting the right job.

How could I have convinced my 20 year-old self to make a different decision when it’s impossible to make a truly informed one when you don’t know what’s going to happen in ten years. My 20-year old self didn’t know what she wanted to do. She knew it wasn’t teaching, which was the obvious thing with a History degree. She knew she liked to write and read, so maybe studying English or Journalism would have directed her down a better path, though maybe not considering the volume of newspapers and magazines that have closed or let go of staff.

Maybe taking that more applicable Business degree would have been best after all since that seems to be what the world wants. I could be making more money now and have a higher professional status. Would I be satisfied with my job if I was my nemesis, if I wore uncomfortable clothes all day and worked from home at night? I have to remind myself that no, probably not, before I slip into a spiral of regret.

I don’t know where I’ll be in the next ten years, but I do know that I can’t keep chasing my nemesis, can’t keep trying to find where our paths diverged. It’s like chasing a ghost. It’s time to focus on a different path.

 

 

John McCaffrey, 9/23/2013

Current Occupation: Writer
Former Occupation: Writer
Your Short Biographical Statement: John McCaffrey graduated from the City College of New York's Creative Writing Program.  His stories, reviews and essays have appeared in nearly 30 literary journals and anthologies.  His debut novel will be released in October 2013. http://johnamccaffrey.wordpress.org

#

Building A

It was late morning when Bill, the crew’s foreman, collapsed.  He was a heavy man with a ruddy face and fingers as thick as blood sausages.  He fell headfirst into a stack of metal piping.  Blood trickled from his forehead.  

    Henry, who was hauling cement for the foundation that would become Building A, dropped the wheelbarrow and sped over with several others to check on Bill.

    “Is he okay?” Henry asked Chuck, who ran the mixer and was kneeling over Bill.  

     “He’s breathing,” Chuck said. “Call 911.”

Willie, the union guy, who had earlier told the men about a new dental plan, eased a cell phone from his belt.  He dialed swiftly and ordered the ambulance.

“It’ll be right here,” he said in a raspy, cigarette-choked voice.  “Don’t move him.”

“I know not to move him,” Chuck said back.  “Everyone knows that.”

“Well, it looked like you wanted to.”

“I wasn’t.”

    They waited in silence until the ambulance came. Two paramedics spilled out carrying a stretcher.

    “How long has he been unconscious?” the taller of the two asked.

    Willie checked his wristwatch.

    “I’d say five minutes.”

    “More like 10,” Chuck corrected.

    The paramedics examined Bill.  After, they placed him on a stretcher and carried him back to the ambulance and left.  Never once did they turn on the siren.

    “Those boys know what they’re doing,” Willie wheezed, fingering a cigarette from a pack in his shirt pocket and placing it between his lips.  

    “I’m sure they get a lot of practice,” Chuck added.  

    Willie lit the cigarette, took a long drag, and blew the smoke lazily out his nose.     “Anyone know if Bill had a bad heart?” he asked.  

    Chuck kicked at a rock the size of a baseball.  

“I think he told me he had gout.”

“That wouldn’t knock him out.”

“It hurts just the same.”       

Willie nodded.  He tossed his cigarette and ground it out with his shoe, twisting the foot as if he was dancing to Chubby Checker.

“I’ll guess I go check on him and see about his family getting called.”

    One by one the men returned to their work, finishing up Building A’s footprint.  Henry was exhausted by the end of the day, but he felt good about his contribution, his hauling of the cement, which had been spread out by the others in a neat, even gray, covering any imperfection in the dusty ground, including the indent made by Bill’s fall.

Saligrama K. Aithal, 9/16/2013

Current Occupation: teacher of English language and literature
Former Occupation: teacher of English language and literature
Contact Information: Saligrama Krishnamoorthy Aithal’s short stories have appeared in Critical Quarterly, Short Story International, Unlikely Stories, Long Story Short (where his “Enter, Search, Select, Click” appeared as the STORY OF THE MONTH for February 2012),  Journal of Postcolonial Societies and cultures, Outside in Literary and Travel Magazine, Indian Literature, New Quest, and Contemporary Literary Review. His stories attempt to give life and substance to the metaphor of journey of life across countries and cultures. He has published one volume of short stories Many in One (AuthorHouse). A sequel One in Many is forthcoming. Besides creative writing, he has published articles on a wide range of authors and books–Indian, American, and British– in scholarly international journals. He lives in a suburb of Washington, D.C., and works sporadically as an adjunct professor in local colleges and universities. Currently, he teaches ESL at American National University. The below story story will be published in his forthcoming volume One in Many.
 

 

#

Work and Play

I was in my cradle-and-swing, excitedly swinging side-to-side and head-to-toe, watching the butterflies above spin likewise, and enjoying my own reflection in the mirror overhead.

After a while, I called out, “Gran’pa, are you there?”

I spoke in a mix of English, Hindi, and Kannada only my Grandparents could understand, and, with their help, my mom and dad and close relatives. To the outside world, my speech was a string of meaningless guttural sounds, albeit sweet and sounded like birdsong, as everyone who heard me said.

Sitting next to me a few feet away in his recliner and watching me play, Grandpa said, “You are enjoying yourself, aren’t you, in that little snugabunny cradle?”

“I just wanted to ask you if life is all play like this?”

 

Grandpa was thrown off balance by the question. Of course, he had gotten used to getting such provocative questions from her unlike those his students raised in the classroom: Can we get grade A by simply showing up in class? Are homework and assignments mandatory? Are you serious that we have to switch off our cell phones in class?

To answer his granddaughter’s question, Grandpa began to narrate the story of Jack of the famous proverb. The story went on and on. The narrator himself did not know where it would all end. Somewhere along the way, the story took a serious turn to another meaning of the word “play.” He fell back on his favorite author Shakespeare, and recited the playwright’s words:

All the world's a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.

Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like a snail

Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,

Sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,

In fair round belly with good capon lined,

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;

And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;

His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide

For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Grandpa checked and found I was carefully listening, (not yawning or sleeping like his students in class), but he realized that he probably overshot the mark. He returned to the original question and the story of Jack. He concluded his lecture by saying that life is an equal combo of work and play, 50% work and 50% play.

“Got it,” I said. “But you could make work, play, and play, work, can’t you, like my mom, for example?”

“You may, perhaps. But I would keep them separate,” Grandpa said.

“Then answer me, if feeding me, changing my diaper, washing me, making me go to sleep, etc. are play or work?”

Grandpa was cornered. He could never consider any of the activities work, though they became trying at times. Not knowing what to say, he said, “Shall we please change the topic of discussion, if you don’t mind?”

I gladly agreed. The talk turned to Deepavali.

Grandpa wanted to know if I sent Deepavali greetings to everyone in the family round the globe, especially to my cousins.

I reminded, “Gran’pa, you know I haven’t yet learned to write!”

“You can do it without writing, just as you can communicate without the help of language,” Grandpa spoke comfortingly. “All that you need to do is to form your thoughts in your mind. Then, smile. Your e-mail account opens, and click one button in the air with your forefinger, –the address of your recipient appears; click another button with your big toe,– the subject appears in the box; click again with your middle finger while pressing your….. “

“Pinky toe,” I supplied the information.

“Yes, your little toe, pinky toe,” Grandpa continued. “– you convert your thoughts into words which are copied into the space for text; and with one last click with fingers and toes from initial to medial to lateral, your text message goes out to your recipients across the globe. Only the older folks like us have to communicate in writing.”

I smiled. Surely, I knew all that. What else have I been doing you think, Grandpa, constantly opening and closing my fingers?

Then the conversation turned to goals of life on the holy day of Deepavali, the New Year for Indians at home and abroad.

“I understand that the first writing assignment they give in school is,” I said, “my New Year resolutions. What should be my goals in life, my New Year resolutions, Gran’pa?”

Grandpa was glad to discuss the topic because he had been thinking about it since the day of my birth three months ago. He wanted to see me grow as a loving and lovable member of the family; have a great education with interest in science, technology, social sciences, and the humanities, and degrees from Harvard, Cornell, and Princeton; a career in medicine—holistic medicine—with emphasis on mind-body connection, or a position in the state department as a diplomat, or a membership in the US Congress, or a creative writer; a happy marriage, if the institution still survives in spite of the Republican party, and two children. A fulfilling life, from whatever angle you examine.

Grandpa became breathless talking about his own buried dreams, and ended his list of hopes for me with the words, “Riyana, this is something you have to decide.”

I said,”That’s a lot of work, Gran’pa!”

“Make it all play, Riyana!” Grandpa said, reversing his earlier stand on the separation of work and play.

Dileep Jhaveri, 9/9/2013

Current Occupation:  general physician
Former Occupation:  student
Contact Information:  Dileep Jhaveri is a practicing general physician based in Thane, near Mumbai, and a well-known Gujarati poet and playwright. Many of his poems have been anthologized, and his poetry has been translated into English, Hindi, Marathi, Malayalam, Bengali, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Irish. He has published one collection of poetry in Gujarati entitled Pandukavyo ane Itar (1989) and a play Vyaasochchhvas (2003), which has subsequently been translated into English as A Breath of Vyas by Ms. Kamal Sanyal. He has received the Critic Award (1989), Jayant Pathak Award for Poetry (1989), and the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad Award (1990).  Inside India, he has been invited to read his works by the Central and State Sahitya Akademis, Universities, and literary groups. He also has been invited to read widely abroad including at the Asian Poets' Conference in Korea in 1986, Taiwan in 1995, and such other countries as Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Most recently, he was invited to read his poetry in the U.S. by Georgetown University and South Asian Language Association for the organization's 2009 convention. Dileep Jhaveri serves on the editorial boards of Museindia.com and the Kobita Review. Recently, he was a featured poet at The Hyderabad Literary Festival.

#

The Poetry Reading

    She was sixteen or seventeen, her respiratory rate was thirty, pulse was one hundred twenty, and temperature was one hundred three. She was coughed relentlessly, and her handkerchief was speckled with blood. For a long time she had been treated by a chest specialist with costly medicines that her tailor-father could barely afford. I had a reputation as a successful tuberculosis doctor among the poor, so she came to me for treatment.
    Because of the daunting number of drugs she had been prescribed, she could hardly eat. The previous doctor was a vegetarian Hindu and had advised a non spicy vegetarian diet with lots of fruits. The young girl’s name was Nargis, she was Muslim, and her father was an impoverished tailor. She needed protein, calories, and iron, which these costly fruits could not provide. Beef was cheaper and more nourishing. So my first task required changing her diet and stopping hemoptysis. Also, it was imperative to start her treatment with basic first line drugs in the proper order and dosage.
    Her breathlessness had to be improved, and pills alone would not be sufficient. So I decided to teach her some rudimentary breathing exercises. The muezzin’s call to prayer at the mosque ends in a beautifully sounding line of sixteen syllables. It would take about six seconds to utter this line. All she needed to do was whisper the name of her great and kind God while inhaling and repeat it while exhaling. This would bring down the respiratory rate to five or six in a minute while allowing the lungs to expand their capacity, strengthen the intercostal muscles, and stabilise her pulse. She was an exemplary pupil. Within a month, her fever came down, her coughing decreased, her appetite improved, and her bleeding stopped.
    By the next month, she became playful with me. She also began regretting her extended absence from school. Yearning to learn was an irrefutable sign of improvement, and now the little Narcissus bud was beginning to bloom. The pallor on her lips changed to pink. Her greetings and smile were open and enigmatic at the same time. She was a child and a woman simultaneously. Her words revealed her faith in me as her physician, while her heart throbbed with indefinable desire associated with the Electra complex.
    Her father, of course, became less anxious since he was spending a smaller amount on her treatment and had more time to concentrate on his sewing machine. Once or twice her sputum was stained with blood, but that was not alarming. Six months passed and a fresh x-ray of the lungs revealed some improvement. I was scheduled to give a poetry reading at a literary festival for two or three days. Because of this, I had explained exactly what to do in case of an emergency, provided her with the name and address of a reliable doctor, and told her when I would be back.
    She did not return for her monthly check up for nearly two months. One day her father arrived with a glum face and told me what had happened. While I was gone, she had a slight fever and some bleeding. Forgetting that I was away, she had rushed to my clinic by auto rickshaw, but seeing the closed shutters of my office returned home. She refused to see the doctor I had recommended and died within two days. Thanatos had entered the space between her heartbeats in my absence. Her ineffable adolescent romanticism had blindfolded her and enticed her to the grave. The intensity of faith and extension of love may help healing, but being Janus-faced also dooms one to darkness.  I used to scoff at romantic sentimentality in poetry, but Nargis made me regret my cynicism.

 

Yong Takahashi, 9/2/2013

Current Occupation: Compliance Coordinator for an insurance company
Former Occupation: Accountant and Real Estate Manager
Contact Information: Yong Takahashi lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is working on a novel and a collection of short stories. She placed first in the 6th Annual Chattahoochee Valley Writers Conference’s National Short Story contest and in the Writer's Digest's Write It Your Way contest. Her works appear in Emerge Literary Journal and Rusty Nail Magazine An upcoming piece will be featured in Cactus Heart.

 

#

Please Explain

 

    The project supervisor darted over to the back row of cubicles. She strained a smile and scanned the empty faces. Her jaw, not used to holding such happiness for more than a few seconds, locked up. Shaking it off, she tried to divert attention away from her strange contortion.
    “Hello, my name is Lucy James. I’m overseeing this project. As the temp agency may have told you, we have one week to complete 200 files. I will email your password and instructions to you. Your goal is to finish five files a day. Before you leave each day, email me how many you’ve completed. If you didn’t meet your quota, please explain why.”
    Before anyone could say a word, she turned and ran back to her office as quickly as her bird-like legs could propel her. She fingered her ever-growing pile of personal bills. Her bonus depended on timely delivery of the project.
Periodically, she peered over the cubicles to keep the workers from talking to each other. “Shhh…” leaked from her lips like a deflating tire.
    When someone noticed her bleached hair and huge eyes looming over them, she retreated back to her office. Her heart pounded. Her lungs could not get enough air. She laid her head on the unopened mountain of mail.
“One more week until I get my paycheck,” she whispered.
She banged out a message that popped open on the ten rented computer screens, “PLEASE EXPLAIN WHY I DON’T SEE ANY FILES BEING MOVED FROM THE DIRECTORY TO THE COMPLETED BIN.”
    Ten emails opened in rapid succession on her screen.
    “I can’t read the PDFs.”
    “My password doesn’t work for the dropbox.”
    “I keep getting kicked out of the system.”
    “I don’t understand your instructions.”
    “The letter between S and F oesn’t work on my keyboar.”
    “Why can’t we talk to you?”
    “Pages 10 to 29 are missing in this document.”
    “The air conditioner stopped working over here. It’s ninety degrees and I feel like I’m going to pass out.”
    “There is no way we can do five a day.”
    “I’m calling the temp agency.”
    Lucy’s shoulders turned inwards. Her six-foot frame seemed to collapse on itself. Fluttering away tears, she glanced at the screen again. A new message from the company’s Managing Director glowed on Lucy’s screen.
    “PLEASE EXPLAIN WHY ALL YOUR WORKERS ARE GONE.”

David Spiering, 8/26/2013

Current Occupation: looking for another university teaching job/teaching/writing fellowship.
Former Occupation: third cook, a co-op baker and natural foods and produce clerk, and food service worker, and line cook.
Contact Information: My last book is called My Father's Gloves from Sol Books of Minneapolis. Last year I was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I work in flash fiction, micro fiction, prose poems and poems.

 

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Hackshaws

Jim Worthington, a college freshman, stood close to the punch clock at Hackshaws Department Store, holding his badge as if it were a tentative train ticket to a destination he’s not sure he wants to go. Dana, the human resources team lead, told him to wear dress pants, a long sleeve dress shirt and comfortable dress shoes. He wore his brown Rockport oxfords with black laces that he bought at a local thrift store. He was a loss prevention team member. Erik was his team leader. After Jim punched in he saw Erik rubbing thick white lotion on his feet that looked like shortening. His feet were callused to the point they resembled avocado rinds. He pulled on heavy white socks and dark trainers with thick soles. Dana wore pink stiletto heels. She said Erik and Jim’s shoes were too close to being causal. Erik told him to always wear comfortable shoes, no matter what. Carl Brandies, the store’s chief team lead wore all black Chuck Taylors. Dana looked down at Jim’s shoes and Carl said to him, wear dress shoes next time, and he walked off. Erik told him again his shoes were just great.

The next day he wore his roommate’s casual penny style loafers—they had the classic penny loafer appearance, but were casual on a closer look. Dana wore lavender iridescent knee high spike heeled boots. She told Jim he didn’t know what dress shoes were, and she gave him an official warning and next time it is a write up. Erik took him down to the floor, showed him how to look like a shopper, and just go over here and have a look and go over there and have a look, maybe put something in his basket all the while watching for shoplifters. He told Jim his code name was Mr. Green, the department clerks would call him, and he was to call them back from a floor phone and they would tell him who the thief was, what they looked like and what they had taken. He told him just learn to ignore Dana. If she calls you to the office, he said, you have my permission not to go. Just keep doing your job.

The third day he wore his Rockport shoes, but only he shined them up nice and put new black laces in them. Dana came in late. At the end of his shift, he stood by the punch clock, hoping to escape unseen. Erik told him how wonderful he was doing. Dana stepped out her office; she wore sky blue platform pumps with extra long stiletto heels. It’s a write up, she said, as she looked down at his shoes. Punch out and go home, Erik told him, you’re great, you’re just fine. Erik wore bright white Nikes with a long black swoosh on them. Get in my office now, she said, it’s a write up. Erik waved his hands at Jim, remember what I said yesterday, just punch out go home. Dana yelled at Jim as he skipped down the stairs. She said, I’m going high this time, real, real high.

He was suppose to work in morning, and he thought about how his alarm clock could malfunction, especially if he had dread dreams about shoes, and in the throes of them, he switched off the alarm and slept through his shift. He had a pair of black vintage air Jordan’s—what if he showed up wearing them?

He stopped by the university student employment office and glanced through the postings. There was one opening for fifteen to twenty hours as a grounds crew student helper. He filled out the application and returned to the receptionist. She told him to hold on, while she made a call. A few minutes later, he was standing before the grounds keeper’s secretary. She told him to dress for the weather—blue or black jeans are fine. Be in this office at six tomorrow morning, and she swung around on her chair and pointed, enter through those doors.

He bought himself a pizza slice, and as it cooled, he placed a call to Hackshaws. The receptionist told him Erik was in an urgent meeting with Dana and Carl. After he gave his name, he said to tell Erik that he quit, effective as of right now. Okay, I’ll let him know, the voice said, and the receiver dropped with a loud thud.

In the morning he showed up in the right place in his old basketball shoes. His boss, Mike, wore oil-black high top work boots. He told Jim, we’ll take care of the paper work later, but first, you have to do something about your shoes. Do you have work boots or winter walkers or hiking boots? Jim said, yes. Go get ‘em on right now, and be back here in fifteen minutes. Yes sir, Jim said.