Darrell Petska, 5/20/2019

Current Occupation: Family Guy/Writer/Traveler
Former Occupation: University communications editor
Contact Information:  Darrell Petska has worked as a psychiatric technician, social worker, and communications editor for a university engineering college. His published poetry and fiction can be viewed at conservancies.wordpress.com.

 

#

In the Haze

 

Our hospital repurposed, its psych wards,

"patients" and "staff"—that line between us thin—long gone:

Jim K, whose inner voices nagged and quarreled,

Leo S, playing Carnegie Hall on the day room piano,

Rich H, inviting drugged stupors by screaming and fighting,

Billy J, who cut his wrists repeatedly but could not die.

 

Specters pacing yesterday's hallways, falling into queue

for meds and meals, looking inward, privy to worlds of mind

and sense the mainstream shoves aside:

Jerry R, self-proclaimed monster who never hurt anyone,

Mary C, standing for hours like a mime in the square,

Carmella R, begging visits from family who didn't want her,

Ralph K, no stranger to DTs, hallucinating snakes and bugs.

 

Bodies hunching on the edges of beds,

before the day room TV, in therapy with "professionals"

whose lives diverged from their charges but a little:

Pat W, avoiding her husband's blows by working evening shift,

Bob L, who battled anxiety by smoking weed daily,

Jim B, equating his gayness with sinfulness,

Doctor Carl, addicted to the pills he prescribed,

Nurse Linda, trapped and disillusioned in the wrong profession.

 

Names and faces recurring like tides, asserting the right

simply to be human—belying scrawled charts,

locked doors, restraints or key rings that once defined us—

by doing one's best to sort through life's muddle:

that quintessential trait defining "normal"

better than heaps of sterile textbooks burdening a shelf.

Ernesto Reyes, 5/13/2019

Current Occupation: Instructional Student Aide
Former Occupation: Cashier
Contact Information: Ernesto Reyes is currently an undergraduate at Fresno State where he is studying English and creative writing. His short stories has appeared in the San Joaquin Review, Flies Cockroaches & Poets, Subtle Fiction, the Acentos Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, the Big Windows Review, and Better Than Starbucks. He lives in Fresno, CA, with his family.
 

#

Sorry, everyone, but there’s no such thing as the American Dream
When I was a freshman in college, I told my mother that one of my professors argued that the American Dream was nothing more than a myth. They said that the idea of escaping one’s social conditions by working hard and having integrity was “an outdated doctrine,” a “fallacious” way of thinking. To this, she nods intently but doesn’t bother telling me what she thinks. Instead, she tells me that when she came to this country, she worked in the fields 12 hours a day, six days a week. She tells me that she and her brothers would leave their house at four o’clock in the morning to pick grapes, onions, tomatoes, oranges, peaches, plums, boysenberries, and chilis. She tells me that she and her six other siblings lived in a two-bedroom house that had only one window and warm water on certain days. She tells me that when she got a job as a cashier, she cried because “Ya no tenía que salir y ensuciarse,” and that, out of nine years working as a cashier, she only missed one day, and that was to attend my grandfather’s funeral. She tells me that her employer, a down-to-earth man with “always a glimmer of hope and sadness in his eyes,” said she was the best worker he had ever seen and asked if she would like to be promoted. Manager? No. Co-owner of another store he owned: Country Corner Market. She did not hesitate on the opportunity. She tells me that customers and salespeople weren’t used to seeing a woman, especially a Mexican woman, as a “boss,” and that some tried to walk all over her; but although she was scared and nervous and shy at first, she never allowed herself to be disrespected or degraded. My mother, scared? Shy? She then tells me that she opened at eight o’clock every morning and closed at six-thirty every evening and worked every day for almost 20 years; I even took my first steps behind the counter and spoke my first words in her office. A tear runs down her face as she recalls this memory. Now, 26 years later, she finally tells me that she’s “tired” of having to work so hard. Now, she has days off and can finally relax and hear my stories about how my college professors say there’s no such thing as the American Dream.

 

Therese Miller, 5/6/2019

Current Occupation: Human Resources Assistant
Former Occupation: Full-time student, part-time writing tutor
Contact Information: While pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Management, I needed something to make me feel free. I found the freedom I craved in writing, and ever since discovering this freedom I haven't been able to stop writing, especially fiction.

 

#

Moving Up

Being 5’2” made Jessa feel invisible.

At her new job with ZoCo, it was like she put on an invisibility cloak when she walked through the door every day. People bumped into her like they expected to walk through her. People on the finance team, her own teammates, didn’t look her in the eye when they talked to her. The work itself was fine, but she needed more than just work. She needed coworkers.

She needed coworkers who weren’t like Nicole.

Nicole was tall, at least 5’8” by Jessa’s guess. She was old enough to be Jessa’s mom, and in fact actually had seven kids, the oldest of whom was only about five years younger than Jessa. Nicole and Jessa’s cubicles were right next to each other, so Jessa got to hear from Nicole all day about how annoying her kids were. The worst part was her 15-year-old daughter. The only girl among six boys. Poor thing. To make things worse for the girl, here’s what Nicole said about her:

“I’d rather have six more boys than have to raise another teenage girl.”

Being short and young-looking, Jessa knew there was no way Nicole didn’t project some of that hatred onto her, even though she was 22 – not a teenager at all. Nonetheless, Jessa tried to be pleasant to all her coworkers, especially Nicole, and when she couldn’t handle her anymore she just put in her headphones and focused on her Excel spreadsheets.

After 7 months of dealing with Nicole’s passive-aggressive comments, Jessa applied for a promotion – from “Business Analyst” to “Senior Business Analyst.” It came with a handful of new responsibilities, a pay raise and, the best part, relocation to a new office. Bill, the supervisor for the other finance team in the office, approached Jessa about it the day after she applied.  

“Hey, did you apply for that Senior Business Analyst position?” he asked, standing over her ever so slightly. Bill may very well have been six feet tall, and he dressed just a little nicer than everyone else around him. He also had a strange habit of looking a little bit over Jessa’s head instead of at her face.

“Yes, I did,” she replied. “I know I’m a little underqualified, but I thought I’d give it a shot. I’d regret it if I didn’t at least try.” She smiled nervously.

“Well,” he said, seemingly fixated on the part in her hair, “I want to let you know this so you won’t be disappointed. We kind of wrote this position for Rick.” He scratched his bald head. “He applied for the position too, and since he’s got 4 more years of experience than you, we’ll probably give him the job. But we do still want to interview you. Does first thing Monday work?”

On Monday, Jessa made sure to get up early, so she wouldn’t be late for work. She tried on five different professional-looking outfits before deciding on one. She even put on high heels. When she entered the building that day, she felt slightly less invisible than usual. People didn’t bump into her on her way to the meeting room where she was interviewed. A couple of her coworkers even said good morning to her.

With every step, she felt her heart speeding up. She didn’t think she would be this nervous. I’ll regret this if I don’t try, Jessa told herself. When she opened the door to the meeting room, two men in suits were waiting for her. One of them was Bill. She didn’t recognize the other one.

They both stood up. The strange man was about as tall as Bill.

“Hey Jessa, it’s good to see you,” said Bill. He reached over the table to shake her hand, then gestured toward the other man. “This is Mark Harrison, the Human Resources Director for this office.”

Mr. Harrison, looking at her shoulder, reached over the table to shake her hand as well. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said.

“Thanks,” said Jessa. “Likewise,” she added.

“Please, have a seat.”

The two men sat down, and Jessa sat in a chair across the table from them. Mr. Harrison started. “So this position requires a minimum of 3-5 years of experience,” he said, looking down at a copy of her resume that he had on the table, “and it says here you’ve only been a Business Analyst for a few months.” He narrowed his eyes, looking up from the resume but still not looking at her face. “So are you even qualified for this position?”

Jessa wasn’t prepared for such a straightforward and downright rude question. “Oh, well, I may not have all the qualifications that were listed on the job description, but… I assure you that I had a great education and I’ve learned a lot over the past few months at ZoCo. I’m also a natural leader –”

“Okay, okay,” Mr. Harrison interrupted. “Next question…”

The rest of the interview went on like that until Jessa was near tears. Jessa left the interview knowing there was no way she got the job. It was one of the few times in her life that she wished she was smaller, because all she wanted to do was hide. After taking a few minutes in the bathroom to calm herself down, she headed back towards her cubicle. As she passed Nicole’s desk, Nicole turned her chair around and stood up so that she was right next to Jessa, towering over her.

“Hey,” said Nicole. “How’d the interview go?”

Jessa didn’t even look up. She stared at her own shoes, the ones she’d worked so hard to pick out. “Bad,” she said.

“Oh, what happened?” There was genuine concern in Nicole’s voice.

Jessa looked up and saw that Nicole was looking her in the eyes.

***

    If you’re not happy with this ending, consider the alternative.

“I assure you that I had a great education and I’ve learned a lot over the past few months at ZoCo,” Jessa told her interviewers. “I’m also a natural leader and feel as though I could make a big difference in the organization as a Senior Business Analyst.”

“Is that so?” said Mr. Harrison. “Tell me more.”

The rest of the interview went on like that and at the end, they offered her the promotion. They asked her to immediately pack up her cubicle, say goodbye to her old finance team, and head to the new office. This new office was state-of-the-art, and it was closer to her apartment, so her commute time was shorter. She got her own office on the top floor, where the finance team for that building was.

Jessa knew now that she would finally get the attention, and hopefully the comradery, that she craved in a workplace. As she went around and introduced herself to her new team of four, however, something started to feel off.   

“Hi, I’m Jessa,” she would say. “I’m the new Senior Business Analyst. What’s your name?”

You’re the new Senior Business Analyst? What happened to Rick?” the teammates responded.

She remembered that the position wasn’t originally written for her. “Well, I was the other candidate,” was her best response. She also realized that all four of them were probably about Nicole’s age, if not maybe a few years older. They all went back to work like Jessa wasn’t even there.

On her way back to her office, people kept bumping into her.

***

    If you were hoping that the second ending would be happier, I’m sorry to say that’s not how this works. The point is, no matter which ending you choose, Jessa either got what she wanted or what she needed. To have both would simply be impossible.

 

Robert Bak, 4/29/2019

Current occupation: Agent/Manager for BAK Editions.
Former occupation: DynaTheater & Planetarium Manager for the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.
Contact Information: Robert has published stories and essays.  He has been involved with the entertainment business for many years.  First starting as a stage manager Off-Off Broadway in NYC, and then working in Los Angeles and Albuquerque.  He has been a director and producer of plays with national award-winning playwright William Derringer.  In addition to his involvement in theater, Robert has written a number of short stories, essays, and plays.  Door Is A Jar magazine will be publishing his essay, “Robin’s Tea Leafs” in their Issue #10 Spring 2019 issue.  SERIAL Magazine thought that Robert’s story, “One Wicked Ride” was a real “slice of life.”  Fiction Southeast selected his story “I Became A Writer” a finalist for their publication.  Work Literary Magazine Issue 8.38 published Robert’s story, “Move To Make Move.”   Diverse Voices Quarterly published Robert’s “Why Is There A Queue?” story in their Volume 8 – Issue 30.  Robert’s short story, “The Magic Room” was a finalist with Fiction Week Literary Review.  Work Literary Magazine issue 7.9 published his short story “The Flying Vase” in their 2015 magazine.  Agave Magazine (Volume 2 – Issue 4) published his short story, “The Monthly Bill Is What” in their fall issue.  Work Magazine at WordPress.com published his story, “Dark All Over.”  He would like to thank William for the training and insight of what the writing process is. 

#

Nimble Fingers
A short essay
The year is 1944, and the world has been at war for years.  In America, the war effort has been growing bigger and bigger.  Everyone is doing their best to support all of the soldiers and sailors by building as many planes, ships, and other needed military equipment.  There has been a large influx of women into the labor force, as the men had gone off to war.  They will be called “Rosie the Riveters” for all of their hard work and dedication to the national war effort.
Sadie had been living in Peterborough, Ontario for some years after her family had moved from Portage-la-Prairie.  She had been working at The Western Clock Company, a local electronic industry as well.  Her work there consisted of an assembly, with many small parts requiring a good degree of skill.  She was living with her parents, John, and Robin, helping with the monthly bills and supporting them.  Her mother’s sister Wilhelmina had moved to Paterson, New Jersey, and had been working at the Curtiss-Wright Corp for ten years, and told Sadie that there were so many jobs available with her training and expertise.
Sadie and her mother Robin decided to move to Paterson, NJ.  They took the train to Niagara Falls and on Feb 29th, 1944, crossed the border to America.  They then took another long train ride to Paterson to be with her Aunt.  Within weeks of arriving, Sadie had found a position with the Bendix Aviation Company at the local Teterboro Airport.
She had been working with electronics before and was hired to work on the Nordon Bombsight.  The piece of equipment was used by the Navy and Army Air Force to help the bombardier deliver the bombs to a very high level of accuracy.  The bombsight was a very complicated electronic device.  You had to have complete control as you were assembling the many intricate parts.  But Sadie had very nimble fingers and was within a short period an expert in making the unit.
Sadie would take the trolley from downtown Paterson to the airport and would join the many other workers, numerous of them women, making these important parts of the war effort.  The days were long and hard for these workers, but they knew it was making a difference in the war effort. 
These women may not have been wearing a uniform, but their efforts brought a major contribution to the Allied war machine.  Sadie was very pleased with her work and assemble the expertise that she had acquired.  She and her fellow workers were a much-needed supplement to ending the war.
After the war ended she meet a returning sailor who had served in the Pacific and within a year they had married and started their family.  Both Sadie and her husband had served in one way or other in supporting America and the final ending of the war.  Sadie was very proud of her handiwork, and her contribution that she and so many other women had made.

 

William Metcalfe, 4/22/2019

Current Occupation: Having retired from profitable work, I am playing about with either writing or photography.
Former Occupation: There were 40 years of picture framing. My company was one of the first in Washington, DC, to push for preservation as a very important aspect of a framing job.
Contact Information: After 30 years of aimless travel, I settled down in Washington, DC. after I found I enjoyed working as a picture framer. In the years of travel and of working with customers, I have accumulated a large collection of stories, which exist as short notes. For a period, I was also, by acclamation, a interesting photographer, but a move to a near suburb, a wonderful wife and our 3 children took more and more time. I had to curtail my pursuits. Now that I am retired and my children are adults, I have returned to earlier interests. The iMac which sits on my desk offers itself as a means of rendering a legible copy of a story from the dusty corridors of my mind. It also offers itself as a instructor in converting digital snapshots into something much more meaningful, might I say art. One can only hope.

 

#

STRANGE PICTURE FRAMING




 

    After a year, I realized that I had found the perfect work for myself in this small picture frame shop. I have always been a visually oriented person, I liked working with my hands and I enjoyed solving small problems. I also got a kick out of working with the customers to find the framing ingredients, matting and framing, that would showcase their pictures. Plus, I had been enamored of art since my family, including myself at ten years of age, moved three blocks away from a free art museum. I think I still have some of their pictures embedded in my mind.

    One of the strangest framing jobs in my 30 years in this business arrived into our shop within my first month on the job. A college student from a nearby Catholic university brought in a bunch of drawings from India. There might have been over twenty. They were the same size, about 11 x 14 inches. Our job was to install two drawings, back to back, in each frame with glass for protection. The owner of the drawings wanted to be able to turn the drawings around occasionally.  Perhaps there was a limit in the amount of wall space in his apartment. Or there were other pieces filling the walls. That wasn’t our concern.

    He was having a party for his friends in two weeks and wanted us to complete the job before then. We did it quickly and gave him a call so that he would have time to hang the framed pictures.

    On the day we expected him, we were brimming with the question whose answer would tell us why we had to frame them the way he wanted. When he arrived, work stopped. My boss went out to greet him and to ask the question that would provide the answer we all wanted.

    After the student unwrapped the kraft paper covering one package, he complimented us on the job we had done with his drawings. The student wanted the pictures on his walls when his fraternity brothers came to his party. They were certain to get a big kick out of them.

    Then he continued by saying that when his mother visited, he wanted to be able to turn the pictures around.

    Half of his drawings were images that his parents would surely enjoy. Temples. Landscapes. People walking in the clothing they wore in India. These she would see and like.

    Oh! I forget to mention that the other sides were copies of the illustrations in the Kama Sutra? These she would not like nor would she see. Thanks to us.

   

 

M. F. McAuliffe, 4/15/2019

Current Occupation: Co-founder & contributing editor, Gobshite Quarterly and Reprobate/GobQ Books
Former Occupations: Co-founder & contributing editor, Gobshite Quarterly
Contact Information: Many former jobs & one good manager every ten years. The good managers didn't last long.

 

#

Untitled




 

In the lighted room

the editors

at their sleek

brown desks

surrounded by

open carpet and neon

 

sit sideways

to the windows

 

Their bookcases

murmur

with hanging gardens

green

falling

like waterfalls

 

the editors dream of

walking in old growth forest

 

In the darker room

cluttered, crowded

metal cans of computer-tape

floor to ceiling

data entry sit

with their backs to the window

 

The walls are covered

with five-foot posters of basketball stars

climbing the air

in shoes like rock, in shoes like concrete

 

Data entry can’t move in the crush

 

dream of

bursting upwards,

 

transformed.







 

Peter F. Crowley, 4/8/2019

Current Occupation: Abstracting & Indexing Workflow Coordinator
Former Occupation: Courier
Contact Information: Peter Crowley is an independent writer and scholar with a M.S. in Conflict Resolution, Global Studies from Northeastern University. He works as Content Specialist/Production Coordinator for a prominent library science company. For fun, he plays in bluesy rock band around the Boston/NYC area. His writings can be found in Boston Literary Magazine, Mint Press News, (several publications in) Wilderness House Literary Review, 34th Parallel Magazine, Counterpunch, Foreign Policy Journal, Work Literary Magazine, Opiate Magazine, Truthout, Green Fuse Press, Antiwar.com, Peace Review (forthcoming), Mondoweiss, Visitant (forthcoming), Peace Studies Journal, Ethnic Studies Review, Libertarian Institute, Middle East Monitor, Dissident Voice, Inquiries Journal and a periodical publication of the Brookline, MA Historical Society. He is currently working on finishing up his first book with the working title The American Condition: American Zeitgeist, False Dilemma, Worker Precarity, the Blitzkrieg Event and Foreign Relations in Times of Rapid Change. His website is located here: https://peterfcrowleyauthor.com/

 

#

All for the best

When jobs went to India or Vietnam,

it was never suggested we be enthused

Instead, the topic was meticulously avoided

until, down came the axe

 

But when AI emerged, threatening to discard employment

like a snotty Kleenex thrown into the gutter,

we’re to mimic the boss’s Dr. Pangloss sentiments.

As algorithms take our place,

please remember – it’s all for the best!

 

 

Colleen Wells, 4/1/2019

Current Occupation: Writer, Activities Assistant, Owner, “Putting the Funk in Junk”- Antiques, vintage, painted furniture.
Former Occupation: Adjunct Faculty Member
Contact Information: Colleen Wells’ work has appeared most recently in Gyroscope Review, The Ryder Magazine, The Voices Project, and Workzine. She is the author of Dinner with Doppelgangers – A True Story of Madness & Recovery and editor of One in Four – a collection of student narratives about mental illness. Wells is currently editing a poetry collection written by residents in a residential facility serving the geriatric population. She loves music and is a huge, life-long fan of both Prince and Queen.
www.ColleenWells.com, www.dinnerwithdoppelgangers.com.

 

#

Nap Time
 
I am new to the pool of substitute teachers for Little Buds Daycare. This morning there is an urgent need for help in a three-year-old classroom, leaving me little time to get ready. I gulp down some coffee a handful of granola.
It is a blustery, wet day in early November. When I arrive, Allison, the program director,
ushers me into her office for sign-in instructions. She is exuberant and treats me with more enthusiasm than I deserve. “Oh, thank you for helping us out. You’re a real life saver,” she quips.
No time is wasted getting me to class. I struggle to keep up with her glides down the hall past doors covered in autumnal-themed crafts. “Constance will be happy to see you,” she says over her shoulder. We pass several more doors in the maze of the building, including one bearing signage that warns, Shhh! Infants may be napping.
     “You’ll be in the Orchid Room. It’s a small group.” Preschools are cheerful, I think to myself. Besides, even if it isn’t fun, it’s only for three and a half hours.
    Inside the Orchid room are six little kids sitting at an L-shaped table mashing Play-Doh.  Alison introduces me to Constance and the children. “This is Bill, next to him, Jennifer. Then there’s Eliza, Kaitlyn, Sophie and Vladimir, who we call Vlady.” I smile with interest that is not reciprocated. Vlady, a small boy with rosy cheeks dons a checkered shirt and cobalt-blue corduroys. He is putting purple Play-Doh in his mouth. Their teacher intervenes, saying, “Not in our mouth.”
    Alison exits and Constance looks tired, so I offer the child a paper towel. He spits into it. The paper towel is thin; it’s definitely not Bounty. I feel dampness from the pool of spit and chunks of Play-Doh. Vlady shakes his dishwater blonde bowl cut, then flashes a crooked smile. Okay, so this is not going to be as much fun as I’d thought.
    Soon it’s time for clean up. Constance leads us in a round of the catchy “Clean Up” song, then abandons me so she can prepare the craft materials. Getting them to relinquish the colorful dough is a battle of wills. Kaitlyn not only won’t put her green pile of makeshift worms away, she grabs Sophie’s yellow glob from her hands. I attempt firm bribing, telling them how great the craft will be. It doesn’t register at all, so I upsell, saying, the fruits of their labors will go on their classroom door for everyone to see. Suddenly Eliza’s red Play-Doh is put away in its jar with the matching red lid. My attention turns to Vlady, who is placing dough balls in his pocket.
    “Vlady, it’s time to put the Play-Doh away. Not in our pockets,” I tell him. Unfortunately, in this moment Eliza extracts her Play-Doh from its can, a rebellion undoubtedly triggered by Vlady’s lack of cooperation. Thankfully the rest of the children have put their dough away. With a bit more coercion, and Constance rushing over to reinforce to Vlady and Eliza what needs to happen by saying, “This is not okay” like forty times, they finally give up the goods.
The craft consists of a piece of construction paper for each child and handfuls of tissue paper squares.     I follow Constance’s lead, squirting Elmer’s Glue on the children’s papers. Each child is different when it comes to glue. Bill, a wiry blonde boy with Caribbean-blue eyes, wants lots of glue and begins rubbing his fingers in it. Jennifer asks for glue disbursements in small dots instead of streaks. Kaitlyn doesn’t have a preference; she just fingers her ponytail and stares  with a glazed look in her dark eyes. I hope she’s not having a bowel movement.
Eliza doesn’t specify either, but after the craft glue is applied, she looks down with disgust, then rolls her eyes in case I did not notice her disappointment. Obviously, she had something different in mind. Is passive-aggressive behavior from a three-year-old over glue allotment really what I need this morning when I’m not properly caffeinated? Sophie wants to squeeze her own glue. I lose points with her too, because this isn’t allowed. Vlady whines. He doesn’t want any Elmer’s at all. “Noo, Glueee,” he intones several times. Then as if I can’t hear, Vladimir slams his hands down over his red construction paper.
    “That’s ok, Vlady. You don’t have to have any,” Constance croons. She looks at me stating, “Sometimes you have to pick your battles.” Her tone sounds a bit frosty.
    The kids finish their crafts in all of about three minutes, but craft time is supposed to last twenty, so I make rounds with more glue and additional tissue paper squares. I vaguely remember making a tree using this medium in Kindergarten, and do not love the abstract art these children are creating today.
    When I get to Vlady, to disperse squares without glue, I find him under the table sans shoes and socks. Constance notices the predicament.
    “Don’t you want to finish your project?” I ask, crouching down to reason with him at eye-level. Vlady scissor-kicks one of his shoes further under the table. I surmise this boy has some issues Alison, the chipper director, neglected to inform me about. It’s clear too, why she was so happy to see me earlier.
    Constance to the rescue. “I’m going to count to three, Vlady, then I’ll help you get back in your chair.  One, two.”
    Vlady climbs into his seat at the last possible second. His feet are still shoe-less; however, I’m afraid if I tell him to get his footwear, Constance will just remind me to choose my battles wisely.
Lunch follows crafts. Eliza is the lunch helper this week, so it is her job to walk with a teacher down to the refrigerator in the copy room and bring back lunches. I am designated to go with her. The Orchids’ lunches are located on the bottom shelf. I know this because it is clearly marked with a white sticker, but Eliza starts handing me the Petunias’ lunches from the top shelf. I’m pretty sure since it is Thursday, she has already done this for four days in a row, so she should remember protocol. Plus, since it is November and there are only six children in the classroom, I’m going to guess this is not her first rodeo anyways. She knows full well the Orchids’ lunches are on the lower shelf. I point out the mistake and she starts arguing with me. Everyone’s lunch totes are labeled, so I tell her if she does not get the correct lunches an Iris might take her Dora the Explorer lunch bag and she’ll never see it again.
Things progress quickly after that.
Eliza and I return to class. She places the lunches on a counter adjacent to the L-shaped table without further instruction. Constance tells me to distribute their items one at a time, starting with “a protein.” There are walnuts with raisons for Bill, A tube of Go-Gurt for Jennifer, hummus and sliced peppers for Eliza, string cheese for Kaitlyn, chicken nuggets for Sophie, and some kind of green pasta with chunks of tomato and cheese in it for Vlady.
    When I set Vlady’s pasta in front of him, he ignores it. He’s more interested in what is stuck in his left nostril. I look away before he produces anything of substance. That’s when Eliza sneezes and a trail of thick yellow snot shoots from her nose, landing precariously close to her mouth. I look desperately at Constance who is trying to get Sophie interested in her chicken nuggets. The lead teacher points to the Kleenex on the shelf.  I toss two at Eliza, but she does not take the hint. I make big eyes at her while nodding my head toward the tissue. So much for the effectiveness of nonverbal communication. Wiping the ropey mucous from her lips and chin and getting it all to stay in the tissue is a feat. In addition to dark yellow, I am horrified to also see green and orange snot. Orange? Really? I begin to dry heave. Does orange mean there’s blood? Constance stares. I do my best to channel the yakking noises into coughs. I could never be a nurse and working with little kids is not my forte either, but I need the money.
    Eliza looks at me with red-rimmed eyelids. There are dark circles under them too. Apparently those healthy snacks are not paying off. I throw away the Kleenex, wash my hands, and hope I have not contracted anything.
    Lunch proves to be a drawn out process of the children poking at their food. It’s like I’m a waitress serving multi-course meals only I will not get any tips. I try enticing them with more items from their lunches—granola bars, cut up strawberries, Craizens and additional Go-Gurt. Who knew it came in ninety-five flavors?
    Next up, nap time. Perhaps I can check my phone or, better yet, get a little shut-eye myself. Constance tells me to take Vlady down the hall for a walk while she gets the rest on the potty. I cast a puzzled look.
    “He has trouble transitioning to nap time, sometimes.”
    On the one hand, I feel like I’ve gotten away with something by not having to help with the toileting, but what does “trouble transitioning to nap” actually mean? Vlady reaches for me, curling his digits including his picking finger into my palm.  Tiny nails bite my skin.
    I tell him we should find the hermit crabs I noticed earlier, but he has something else in mind. The boy releases his clutch, tearing down the hallway yelling, “Wheeh!” I cannot catch him. When he gets to the end of the hall, Vladimir leers, then folds his hands behind his back as he waits. I draw nearer. He begins to rock back and forth on his heels. I’m in arm’s length of him when he darts past me. There are signs posted about every six feet with turtles on them reminding running is not allowed. Luckily no one is around to witness the scene. I sprint because we are about to pass by the napping infants’ room.    
Finally, I sidle up next to Vlady who is near the hermit crabs. I ask if we can count steps back to the classroom. This strategy is brilliant. I’m proud for thinking quickly on my feet. I’ve got the hang of this preschool subbing thing now. Vlady stares. A bead of sweat forms between my eyes.
    “You know, like, one, one step back to class,” I encourage. Vlady furrows his brows. “Two, two steps back to class, just like Count Dracula on Sesame Street does.”
    Vladimir shouts “Noo-oh!” striking the terrarium for emphasis.
    “But it’s time to go back to the room, Vlady.” I hear the pathetic whine in my voice and hope he doesn’t notice I’m cracking. The fate of the hermit crabs is worrisome. They will get knocked out of their shells if he doesn’t stop hitting the glass.
 “I have an idea, let’s hop back.” I demonstrate with a little jump. The glint in Vladimir’s eyes brightens. I know this can go either way. Thankfully, Vlady takes the bait. We hop back to class. Of course he hops ahead, but we are as close to simpatico as we have been since these ‘getting our pre-nap energy out’ shenanigans began.
    “Good timing,” says Constance, who is finishing setting up the cots. There’s lullaby music playing, and the teacher has pinned pillow cases over the one window that brings in outside light, but the children look more wired than tired. When everyone is positioned on their cots, Constance briefs me on who likes a back rub and who doesn’t. Back rubs? I never got any back rubs in preschool. Is this the new norm? How about when they wake up, they can get facials too.
Constance leads Vlady to his cot located behind a bookcase away from the other children. “He hasn’t napped in weeks,” she explains from behind the makeshift wall. “I figure we can trade off helping him rest.” Helping him rest? Geez, the language they use around here.   
Within two minutes of their teacher being out of view, the children take advantage of the situation. Bill pops up. Sophie kicks off her blanket. Eliza tosses her pillow off her cot, and Kaitlyn completely goes rogue and stands up. The next half hour is spent re-tucking them all in. At one point, Constance has to emerge from behind the shelf and threaten to take pillows and blankets away. I follow her cue, saying, “If you don’t lie down I’ll have to take your blanket, Eliza.” She looks at me defiantly and barks a deep cough.
“One. Two.”
    The sickly girl puts one leg back on her cot. I’ll take it.
Just as the class grows less restless, and it looks like I will soon be taking a little siesta of my own, Jennifer jolts up stating she has to go to pee. I assist her with the toileting and am unhappy to see nothing is produced but a toot. She hasn’t given me any trouble before, but now I feel not only have I been played, she’s possibly been waiting for this moment all day. For the first time in the pale light of naptime, I notice how ashen her skin is against her long, dark-brown bob. With the right dress she could double as one of the twins from The Shining.
As soon as she returns to her cot, Bill says he’s gotta go “baad.” He clutches himself. When I hesitate, he leaps into the air doing a near 360. It turns out he is being truthful and goes number one and number two. Eliza says she has to go poop. Of course she does. When Eliza and I get to the pot, I see Bill forgot to flush, and can’t help but dry heave again, as the yellow and brown contents swirl down when I press the handle. And so it goes until everyone has been to the toilet and put back down for naps.
    Before I’ve even had a chance to look at my phone to see what is happening in the real world, Constance tells me it’s my turn to monitor Vlady. Okee dokey, Connie. At least I can sit down. Vladimir holds a small, red sports car and sits cross-legged on his blue cot. When I attempt to get him more interested in his pillow than the toy, he runs the wheels across my face. When the toy car arrives at my nose, the child slows down, then squishes it in hard.
    “That is not okay,” I whisper.
    Vladimir hones in on my carotid, rolling the car across my neck. I sigh, but don’t say anything. His car continues its trek. It irritates me when he takes special interest in my ears, but I allow the road trip to continue.
     Sometimes you have to pick your battles.
    Many miles later, Vlady eases himself into resting position. This lasts for like three seconds before he becomes distracted by the only child he can see from his cot: Sophie. Sophie is in the process of losing her pillow as a consequence. She’s crying. Vladimir looks at her, smiles, and laughs a wicked little laugh. Then the Russian inches himself up and rests his head in his hands so he can watch her suffering with more ease.
    I cannot help but psychoanalyze this young boy. He is wearing a nicely pressed button up shirt. The blues coordinate with his corduroys. His hair is clean and well-kept even if it is fashioned into a bowl cut. His behavioral issues do not appear to be his parents’ fault. Someone took the time to make him a homemade lunch, the only one I saw today. He also had some sort of super healthy soup. It was dark green and twiggy. There was nothing indicating he consumed a lot of sugar or red dye. Even if his challenging behaviors did stem from nutritional deficiencies, they are being addressed. I consider his parents might be newly employed at the university and he is struggling with the adjustment of leaving the homeland. They probably even have a name for this, something like “juvenile adjustment disorder.” Maybe he misses his babushka. But Vladimir doesn’t have an accent of any sort, so I dismiss this theory.
Vlady kicks his blanket off.
Even if he was misses his babushka, I doubt she misses him.
    Regardless of the reasons, this child is suffering. I am not an expert on three-year-olds, but as my tour of duty draws to a close, I recognize this. I get Vlady to lay completely back down by rubbing his back, pressing firmly with varying circle patterns. He won’t fall asleep, but his eyes begin to droop. I slow down some, but don’t stop. The child appears pensive, and strokes his blanket before pushing the corner up his nose. My arm is getting tired. This is the longest morning of my life. I stop with the back rub and cocoon him gently into his blanket. Luckily, at this point, my relief walks in. It’s time to go home.
Whatever ends up on the corner of that blanket is not my responsibility.
Retreating down the hall toward the main office where I will sign-out, passing doors littered with smiling, glittery pumpkins and Indian corn paraphernalia, this feels like my victory lap. I stilled the tiny tyrant within little Vlady, if only for a few moments. He successfully transitioned to nap. If a song was playing in the background, yes, it would be by the Bee Gees.
      Is it possible I am leaving with something better than the promise of a paycheck? After only three hours, I came to like the boy I was hired to assist Constance with, even if it wasn’t a head-over-heels kind of liking. Something about Vlady was not quite right. I wanted to help him. Maybe for a few minutes during naptime, I did.
At home, after vigorous hand washing, I crawl under my clean, white, down comforter. This has been the type of day that can only be recalibrated by going back to bed. The comforting tap of rain against the window lulls me into sleep. In what seems like less than ten minutes, I wake to the hissing buzz of texts coming from my cell phone. I rise up, just enough to grab it from my dresser, irritated for forgetting to turn the device off. The text is from Alison. She’s asking me to sub again tomorrow. I make an excuse with regrets.
 It’s scary how easy it is to lie via technology, especially in the haze of awoken slumber.

 

Daniel S. Jones, 3/25/2019

Current Occupation: Vice President of Marketing and Outreach
Former Occupation: Vice President of Business Development, National Program Director for Workforce Development, Acquisitions Editor, and Development Editor.
Contact Information: Daniel S. Jones lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife and three children. In addition to a twenty-year career in a variety of education and technology companies, he also serves as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at Xavier University.   Mr. Jones won the 2005 AWP Intro Journals Prize for fiction with his anti-war short story, “Lysistrata, Kentucky.” He has placed fiction with Waxing Press, Controlled Burn, Bardsong, Oxford Magazine Fiction Series, Cincinnati Writers’ Project, and CityBeat Magazine. Mr. Jones holds an MA in Creative Writing from Miami University.

 

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An Accidental Profession




 

Along the edge of my office windowsill, ladybugs lay dead like popped kernels of corn, red shells split open, wings flayed in flightless tranquility.  It happens every spring.  Cardinals slap their bodies against these sheets of glass, from ceiling to floor, to jab at the prey they see through the pane. Wings spank a frantic rhythm against the building, often six or seven red-crested birds at a time.  Sharp beaks peck.  Just twenty feet behind them, the once barren bushes already give way to budding green trees and lush, emerging earth. 

Requests from the building’s cleaning service remain unanswered.

Coworkers stop by my office on their way to the instant coffee machine to witness the frustration of birds.  Now and then they ask me about myself, how long I’ve been here, what I do, but I change the subject when I can.  Like the birds, their lives are more interesting.  As a result, I know much about them, personal things that no one in their right mind would share with a complete stranger.  But we are coworkers, so I guess that makes it all right—that I have written it down to share, stories of the women and men who work for this company, their appearances and behaviors, the objects of their love and hate, their dysfunction, drunkenness, where people are having sex right now in this office building, who steals petty cash or supplies, and general gossip, of course.  

Outside my window the birds perch and eye their delicacies before attempting again to crash through the glass.  It is difficult, actually, not to compare them to the employees fluttering around the office.  It is impossible not to notice, for example, how at impact their oily wings smudge the glass, whitish stains with patterns like fingerprints, or augury.  How the ancients sliced birds’ bellies and read the future in slippery gray livers or how they watched the sky to divine holy will from the movement of birds.  Emperors once caged fleets of pigeons and released them right-bound across their palace gardens to garnish good favor from the gods, left-bound flocks making for ill omens.  From what I can tell, there was no interpretation for birds that dive head-on, only to collide with invisible blockades. 

So what am I to think when two cardinals flutter against the window, beaks clutching oak seeds, now dropped to stab at a plusher quarry?  That this office knows the most intimate details of its employees’ lives?  How as coworkers we somehow feel entitled to know such things about each other?  That these non-business-related details often find their way into an employee’s permanent, access-restricted record in Human Resources?  How at night, I dream of budget numbers in endless columns—of birds on this windowsill, of a gun that I do not own, that I pick these creatures off one by one, but more will fly from the canopy, leaves tumbling from vernal branches, each one red, suspended for a moment, then sent hurling towards me and yet I keep firing.

I don’t know.  

Wallace Stevens, the poet, worked his entire life as an executive for an insurance company and I often think of him while sitting at my desk, as I do now, birds tapping gently against my window, whether he ever fired someone or calculated a P&L (i.e. a profit and loss) analysis or attempted to squeeze margin (i.e. net sales minus the cost of goods and services sold) from tired, overworked portfolios.  I only know about Stevens because of a poetry class I took a lifetime ago and I like to think he didn’t have to do such things.  Anyway, I keep a copy of Harmonium on my office bookshelf, between The Ultimate Corporate Strategy Resource and The Fundamentals of Accounting.  What would Stevens think to see or hear the appetites at work between these walls?  That money too is a kind of poetry?  Or perhaps:

I do not know which to prefer,

The beauty of inflections

Or the beauty of innuendoes,

The blackbird whistling

Or just after.

 

Our company attracts a variety of employees from across the country.  As such, our sources, so to speak, are everywhere. If nature abhors a vacuum, then what our company hates is uncertainty when it comes to “private” lives.  We are walking down sidewalks to eliminate it, peeking through windows to root it from coffee shops.  We are picking up take-out orders and overhearing conversations and asking for more details than propriety might allow.  We are paying attention in the locker rooms at our office’s workout facility.  We are buying the drinks that make secrets spill and when that doesn’t work, we are making friends with the guys in IT to get access to email accounts, texting histories, instant messages.  

It’s not unlike the Aeneid, where Virgil describes a goddess covered in feathers, swift of foot and wing, with a thousand eyes, a thousand ears, and a thousand mouths. That goddess is Rumor, so much more enabled now than then.  But sometimes, I suppose, it’s much simpler than that.




 

Keith Landrum, 3/18/2019

Current Occupation: Design Manager
Former Occupation: Machine Operator
Contact Information:  Keith Landrum paints, writes, works, and drinks in Chattanooga, TN.

 

#

Monday
 
we put our heads together
and smelled each other's bad breath
 
and together
we said
 
in unison
 
death is so
ruthlessly efficient
 
and then
we went back
to work
 
 

Dawn Corrigan, 3/11/2019

Current Occupation: Program Manager in the Housing industry
Former Occupation(s): Editor, Tech Writer, Tech Support Manager, Administrative Assistant, Web Content Writer, Researcher, Customer Support Specialist, New Media Specialist, Operations Manager
Contact Information: Dawn Corrigan's debut novel, an environmental mystery called Mitigating Circumstances was published by Five Star/Cengage in January 2014. She recently finished, and is currently shopping, The Nose Inside the Beehive, a family saga about the economic rise and fall of an immigrant family, following the expansion and contraction of the American middle class. She lives in the Myrtle Grove neighborhood of Pensacola with her husband.

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Notable Government Employees in Fiction*

 

Charon (Classical mythology)

Works 24/7. Never discriminates on basis of race, color, disability, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Hasn’t raised ticket prices in 2,619 years.

 

Soviet Militia (The Master and Margarita)

Ask helpful questions like, “What’s the trouble, citizens?” Restore order without resorting to violence. Clean up messes created by Satan and his retinue. Portrayed as less oppressive than both secret police of Roman Empire and literary establishment of Moscow.

 

Winston Smith and Julia (Nineteen Eighty-Four)

Use love and intimacy to fight repressive regime. Know 2 + 2 = 4. Endure months of torture without breaking. Draw very reasonable line at having rats eat face.

 

Juno (Beetlejuice)

Case worker for most vulnerable of populations: the recently deceased. Wrote definitive handbook for dealing with death. Mentors a high school football team. Chain smokes at her desk.

 

Lieu (Law & Order)

Tough but fair. Cracks glass ceiling; fights discrimination in workplace. Prohibits excessive force and perjury on her team. Uncovers fraudulent practices, even at risk of own reputation.

 

Agents J and K (Men in Black)

Help migrants and refugees assimilate in new home. Never blame larger community of immigrants for bad behavior of few. Willing to be swallowed whole by bug in line of duty.

 

Bob Ogden (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)

Dismissive of pointless class distinctions. Protects young woman from abusive brother and father. Champion of ordinary folk facing those who wish to abuse power.

 

Leslie Knope (Parks and Recreation)

Loves job and community. Believes government serves the people; therefore called optimist. Fosters teamwork. Runs for office. Invented a holiday. Compliment game strong.

 

My Coworkers

*Except for my coworkers, who are hard-working, helpful, reasonable, funny, fair, brave, protective, idealistic, and very real.