Cass Francis, 11/11/2019

Current occupation: Graduate Part-Time Instructor at Texas Tech University
Former occupation: Editor Arkana Literary Magazine
Contact info: Cass Francis holds a MFA from University of Central Arkansas. She attends Texas Tech University and can be found on Twitter @WriterCFrancis.

 

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The Craftswoman

           TellCorp wanted the best for your future. The slogan appeared at the end of every news story, at the beginning of every turned-on screen, and ran on a loop around every corporate-supervised building. X knew it well, and believed it too. After all, when she’d been seventeen her mother had passed away suddenly, leaving behind no money or resources for X or her two younger siblings, and TellCorp had stepped in, given her a job at the Tomorrow’s Flight Today Factory and let the two siblings finish school and eventually get their own TellCorp jobs. X owed her very life to her generous employer, TellCorp, and to the corporation’s sharp-thinking CEO, a woman who always wore a gray suit and shook hands with everyone, no matter how low-level an employee, with a firm but friendly handshake—one hand grabbing your outstretched hand as she smiled into your smile, her other hand touching the back of your hand and then touching your shoulder with a burst of warmth that bled through the fabric of your uniform. Yes, X believed in, maybe even loved, TellCorp and the CEO. Yes, they were indeed a neighborhood corporation instead of a neglectful nation. TellCorp really did want the best for your future.

            X lived in the City’s Neighborhood G12 with many of her coworkers, all of them friendly, especially her neighbor, M. M was not particularly warm, polished, proper, caring, or intelligent, though X admitted that M had always been helpful. She was a seamstress at the Tomorrow’s Flight Today Factory, sewing together upholstery for aircrafts, a job that—in X’s opinion—didn’t require half as much skill as X’s job cutting metal pieces for the intricate machinery inside engines. X had to work with numbers, inputting into the computer every single measurement of every single piece, manipulating her RazeR to print the exact shape and metal type and size needed for the delicate engineering of each engine to work. M, on the other hand, basically just traced highlighted lines with her Thread-r like a child tracing pictures on a coloring tablet.

            “Those are… interesting,” M said one day as she stood on her porch, looking over at the flowerbed in front of X’s house.

            X was sitting on a plastic chair on her own porch. She looked down at the plants—petunias, now withered so much that their once bright purple had turned a bruised, inky sort of dark blue. They weren’t X’s anyway, though she knew that’s what M assumed. X just kept them because her last boyfriend had liked them, had suggested that they have something to nurture together—some sort of bonding thing he’d read in Tell More! Magazine—but no amount of petunias can keep two completely opposite people together. They had parted ways, still on friendly terms of course, and the flowerbed was forgotten.

            “Thank you,” X told M.

            “I wish I had a green thumb,” M said blandly, putting her hands on her hips and gazing out at the street as if surveying the expanse of the ocean from a desolate shore. Her blond hair fluttered back a little in the breeze.

            M had a husband and two kids, all of whom—by appearances at least—she took exquisite care of, though privately X sometimes wondered if M taught her children the proper respect for TellCorp, since she was known to tell slight rumors—always jokingly—undermining the corporation. Her husband worked in the office of TellCorp’s Hungry Hearts department, so he was always off delivering meals to people in need and coordinating with other TellCorp departments to make sure all their workers were well fed. Her children were some sort of whiz kids who went to the creativity school down the block, training to one day be bigwigs in the media and advertising departments. Every time X met them, they painfully said “please” and “thank you” and bowed like little aristocrats. X thought them adorable.

            “I never know what to do with myself, on days off,” said X, laughing a bit. “I know we’re encouraged to go to church or study for the elections or to do charity work, but I always find that I just sit around.”

            M laughed too, as if she were agreeing with X, and said, “Oh, I know. I usually just watch Tell More! TV or read.”

            “Work gives us purpose,” X said aimlessly, so quiet that she was a little surprised when M murmured her agreement.

***

            The Tomorrow’s Flight Today Factory was always clean and quiet. Every machine had sound-blocking devices that X, whose senses had always been easily overwhelmed, found kind and thoughtful on the part of their designers. It was corporate policy to be make every job accessible and inclusive to all. X remembered when she was a girl, her babysitter playing the TV so loud that X’s ears would ring and head would roar for the rest of the night, and when she’d tell her mother about it she’d say, “Go to bed. Stop worrying about such nonsense.” Her mother hadn’t been a part of TellCorp or any of the corporations. She had worked in a plain old public job as a waitress at a diner in a dirty old city where the roads seemed to perpetually be under construction, the overpasses were crumbling, and you had to teach your children how to hold pepper spray and how to break a man’s wrist if he tried to attack you.

            X sat down at her desk amid the quiet humming of the factory machines and turned on her computer and the RazeR in front of her. The bluish light inside the glass box of the RazeR flickered on and the metal arm came to life by snapping up like a soldier’s salute.

            “Back to it, huh, X,” said M, walking by behind X to get to the seamstress tables at the far end of the factory. X mumbled some polite reply, remembering how nice M had been to her when she first started here years ago. X had sat down at her newly assigned desk, feeling a little lost, and M had walked behind her, recognizing that they’d been assigned houses right next to one another in the Neighborhood and that they were around the same age. M had paused, stared for a moment, curling her lips together as if embarrassed. She went over and whispered into X’s ear, “I think you should maybe think about putting your hair up. Or using a straightener, maybe, before you leave in the morning? It just looks a little wild is all, and you don’t want people getting the wrong idea about you.”

            “The wrong idea?”

            “That you’re… you know…” She swirled a finger around her ear. “People are already starting to talk. But I know you’re just a little… eccentric. It’s just because you didn’t grow up with the corporation. And besides, it’s little things that are an easy fix. Like maybe brushing your hair every once in a while. Okay, X? I want to look out for you.”

            Before X could say anything, M had grinned and went on toward the seamstress tables.

            On her desk, X had two monitors. On one, she opened up the engine plans for a new plane design to be tested next month. On the other, she opened the three-dimensional images of the parts she needed to cut today. She zoomed in on the first part—a small, bolt-shaped piece of steel with a cog on one end. She studied the measurements, inputting them into the RazeR software system that would print then cut the synthetic steel for the part.

            “Here at TellCorp, we want the best for your future,” came a voice X knew well. It was the CEO, making her usual first of the week appearance live on the large screen at the back of the factory floor. X paused her work and looked up at the screen. The CEO sat behind her own desk—a humble one, not much bigger than X’s or any of the desks on the factory floor. The CEO had deep olive green eyes and black hair and smiled in a way that betrayed her shyness. She didn’t like the spotlight, yet forced herself to make personal appearances for the comfort and security of the corporation’s employees. X could spot her natural shyness, her vulnerability, when the CEO glanced down to the notes on her desk for the briefest of moments in between every sentence or so. She looked like a little girl struggling to explain her homework assignment. And yet, when she looked up into the camera, she seemed like a general about to lead a battalion into war.

            “We want you to feel comfortable at work and at home. We want you to be well provided for throughout your life because we believe that the better our employees are provided for at home, the better they’ll perform at work. This is a no-stress environment. If you have a problem or make a mistake, don’t sweat it—talk to one of your supervisors. They are not your bosses, your overseers out to punish you for work done badly. Like all your coworkers and hopefully everyone in the TellCorp family, your supervisors are here to help you.”

            X didn’t know how the CEO did it. X had always been awkward in a way she’d never been able to get past no matter how many acting lessons she took during school or how she tried to force herself to get out there and meet people. For some, it came naturally, the ability to connect to people—like for M. For others, like the CEO, they could play along long enough to get the job done. But for X, she felt it too acutely. It was like the nervousness had to flow out of her, no way to keep it contained.

            The message from the CEO ended with more of the usual TellCorp-speak, and X returned her attention to the figures on her screens.

            Her job was exacting. It wasn’t like taking care of plants or having a boyfriend or even talking to your neighbor. Instead, it was precise numbers and manipulating computer code so the software would do exactly what she wanted it to do, what the engineers and the entire corporation needed it to do. She had grown to think of it as an art. Every piece she’d ever cut for TellCorp on the RazeR was in her mind as each tiny features of a massive sculpture, a body of work that represented her personality, her passion, her very existence.

            It wasn’t like just sewing lines into upholstery.

            X paused to check back over her work, then pressed start. The RazeR machine whirred to life, cutting.

***

    “A hundred bucks the CEO cries herself to sleep every night,” said M, leaning over X’s desk during the lunch hour one day. M ate a sandwich. X picked at a salad, wishing the hour would end and she could get back to her project.

    “Gambling isn’t allowed,” X muttered.

    “Oh, I’m just joshing,” said M. “You know I don’t mean anything by it. The supervisors encourage us to joke around during lunch hour—it’s bonding. Good for the corporation.” She chewed and swallowed a bite of her sandwich, then dabbed the corners of her mouth with a napkin. “You have to admit, though, she’s one of those ladies who is going to have one hell of a mid-life crisis.” X could hear M chewing. “We’ll know when she comes in with a short haircut and some boy-toy twenty-year-old. My husband was saying the other night—”

    X did her best to follow along to M’s ramblings, but still her mind wandered. The wilted flowers in her garden. The eerie cleanness of her house, even the way she kept her coffee pot cleaned—she had so much free time, when she wasn’t working, that the hours overwhelmed her. Once, the CEO had said, “A good worker is always at work, even if only in their mind.” X had taken to this sentiment—she obsessed over her work, and lately over the pieces of the new plane engine she was currently assigned to.

            TellCorp encouraged innovation and expression from all its employees. If you found that a design could be improved, you were supposed to let your supervisor know immediately. Usually they allowed some experimentation, as long as it remained within reason. X had stared long and hard at the current piece of the new plane engine she was working on, the three-dimensional image of bolt of steel with a cog on the end. Practically, the numbers added up. She saw no reason to change it—it would work for the engine, pumping the pistons that would create combustion that would thrust the plane forward. Yet there was a nagging feeling inside of her. Something about the piece just wasn’t right. She was thinking of her fantasy sculpture, the skeleton of it she kept in her head like the negative image of all the real pieces she has made and then turned in to be put into aircrafts. And she was thinking of M and wilted flowers and curly hair that wouldn’t straighten.

    “You know,” said M, her voice dropping to a whisper. She leaned in so close that X could smell the chicken, mayonnaise, and onions from her sandwich. “My husband says the CEO had a romance with somebody who now works in the government. My husband says this guy refused her, so now that’s why she’s so… cold, you know, with the workers here, with everyone. And why she’s head of TellCorp, rather than somewhere else. The government can’t run without the stuff we make and our ideas, after all.”

    “The CEO has never been cold to me,” X said. “I think that’s just rumors.”

    M finished with her sandwich and carefully wiped her fingers with a napkin. “Oh, of course. They’re all just rumors.” The bell rang—the lunch hour was over. X sighed with relief, threw away the remainder of her salad into the trash can underneath her desk, and turned to her computer. “Well,” said M happily, “back to work.”

    It amazed X, how easily M talked, how off-the-cuff her words and sentiments were. Although admittedly her prattling annoyed X at times, she still felt comforted by it. It just went to show that TellCorp valued every opinion from every employee—TellCorp encouraged venting, understood innocent gossip.

    X did have a nagging feeling about it, though. A nagging feeling as if M’s words had been arranged, packaged to be delivered directly to X. A nagging feeling similar to the one she felt about the piece of plane engine she was working on. A vague sense that something was the slightest bit not right.

    She turned back to her computer as the rest of the Tomorrow’s Flight Today Factory fell back into the rhythm of work. She furrowed her brow at the piece, and after the initial moment of hesitation, she found she couldn’t bring herself to press start for the RazeR to start sculpting. She composed herself, her heart pounding madly but at the same time thinking of M’s nonchalant, cool words—the unconcerned way she spoke. Her freedom, her ease, the kind that X had not yet found.

            A few deletions and insertions of code, and it was done. X pressed the command to start the RazeR machine and watched as it realized her work, each twist of the metal arm and spray of steel creating more knots in her stomach—but her heart pounded with nervous exhilaration rather than fear. Yes, she had changed the original design without supervisor approval. But, the piece would still work, and now it would be more appealing to the eye. More appealing to X, and best of all only she would know that her innovation was in some plane somewhere, flying through the sky.

***

            “It’s beautiful,” the CEO said. She held up the piece X had printed the day before. The bolt shape was now more like a blade, still with a cog on the end, but sleeker. It reflected a warped shard of the CEO’s friendly face. “And it’s useless,” the CEO added sadly.

            X sat in front of the CEO’s desk, holding back tears. “I made sure it would still work in the engine, ma’am,” she said.

            Her supervisor had come to her that morning as soon as she arrived to work. Right in front of everyone, right in front of M, he had asked X to come with him and had shuttled her to the CEO’s office in the City’s main TellCorp building downtown, where she’d spotted the piece she had printed yesterday on the CEO’s desk and had felt the usual nervousness turn to terror. X had become a disappointment to TellCorp. She had betrayed her corporation, her family, her very home. All for some gut instinct, a decision she’d made in the moment, barely thinking, only feeling. She had never even heard of anyone getting disciplined for this sort of thing—but then again, who would be crazy enough to betray the people who kept you alive?

            The CEO nodded. She glanced down for a moment like she did in her weekly videos, gathering herself, and placed the X’s engine piece on the desk. Then she got up and walked around to the front of the desk and sat on the corner of it, crossing her arms and smiling. “You know, X, I like you’re hair. I think it looks cute.”

            X was so surprised, she didn’t know what to say.

            “X,” the CEO said, “do you want to know a personal story about me? I warn you—it’s very personal. I don’t tell it to many people. But you’re not some corporate kid. You know what it’s really like out there.” X said nothing, shocked into silence, doubts flooding her mind. She thought of her mother—her mother in the living room, smoking a cigarette, drinking a glass of whiskey and slurring about old boyfriends—and X hoped this wouldn’t get too personal. She liked the way the CEO was onscreen, approachable and vulnerable but at the same time professional, and she hoped any confession she made now wouldn’t ruin that precious image of her boss, her leader, her savior.

            When X said nothing the CEO continued, talking softly and slowly as if she would stop if X wanted her to. “When I was a girl,” the CEO said, “I had a bit of a speech problem. I didn’t slur so much as it was hard for me to tell one word, when spoken, apart from another. I got the usual taunts for this from the other children, as you can imagine. If you’re different in any way it’s natural—in an uncontrolled setting—for you to be treated with either cruelty or pity, and I got my fill of both.” The CEO paused, as if again waiting for X to stop her, but after a beat of silence she continued. “One day a group of kids cornered me. They shoved me against a wall and shoved a fishhook into my mouth, tugging it through my cheek.” She touched her seemingly blemish-less cheek gently and studied X’s response.

            Any tears were gone—X still didn’t know how to respond. “That’s horrible,” she said.

            “Of course it was hard enough for me to talk before, but obviously with a mouth full of fishhook and blood—though not as much as you’d imagine—I couldn’t say a word, so they proceeded to tell the teacher and my parents and whoever else that I had put the hook in my mouth myself. That I had put it in my mouth to taste it and had cut myself like an idiot.”

            X could barely breathe, now. She couldn’t even picture the scene in her mind—the CEO’s eyes were suddenly hard and cold and X wondered why she’d never heard of anyone in the corporation being punished before. “I’m sorry they did that to you,” she said.

            “The doctors did a good job though.” The CEO turned her cheek to X. “Not a mark left on the outside unless you look very, very closely.” X tried to look, but the CEO turned away. “On the inside, though, there’s a ridge.” X could see the CEO moving her tongue around against the side of her mouth, perhaps feeling the leftover scar. Or was this just some sort of corporate parable meant to teach any dissidents a lesson?

            “I’m sorry,” X said again, not knowing what else to say.

            The CEO glanced down. The vulnerability returned, the warmth and kindness. Her voice softened. “It’s okay,” she said. “It reminds me that I’m a survivor. And it reminds me to never, ever, let anyone hold me down again—or spread lies about me.” X swallowed. Wilted flowers, curly hair, M. The CEO absentmindedly ran a finger across her cheek and said, “Sometimes I can almost taste the metal.”

            There was a long pause. The office was quiet and empty, though, like the Tomorrow’s Flight Today factory, the building hummed. “Why are you telling me this, ma’am?” X asked when she couldn’t take her swelling nervousness in the silence any longer.

            “TellCorp wants the best for your future,” the CEO said, no longer looking at X or anything else in particular—instead staring off at a bookshelf on the opposite wall by the door, her olive eyes empty. “I want the best for your future. You know, nearly ten thousand people were murdered in the nation at large last year. Ten thousand people. Do you know how many people were murdered in TellCorp jurisdiction?” She smiled. “Zero. And do you know why?” Her smile broke open wide and she held up X’s engine piece. “It probably has something to do with how we don’t allow our employees to make shivs on company property.”

            X laughed a little. “Ma’am, I promise—”

            “Or make anything else.” The CEO’s eyes grew hard again. “You are a craftswoman. A professional. It’s your craft that gives you purpose. It’s not some kind of half-baked, self-expressive art. You have no idea how similar the drive to make ‘art’ is to the drive to commit truly horrible deeds. They both come from very deep hurt, very permanent scars.”

            Then, with the slightest bit of temptation in her eyes, she held out the engine piece for X to take. Hesitantly, X reached for it, feeling the smooth metal on her fingertips. “Be careful,” the CEO said, and then told X she was free to go.

***

            The CEO had said before that the best leaders created situations where it seemed no one else could lead, and the best storytellers created situations where there was no one else to tell the story. She’d said it during the TellCorp orientation video for new employees, the one X had watched as a seventeen year old with two younger siblings to take care of and nowhere else to go.

            Her siblings were grown up now, with places of their own, working for TellCorp in jobs of their own, with lives of their own. X worked at the same desk, manipulating numbers on different designs, crafting precise instruments of flight proud enough to bear the TellCorp logo. And she loved it—her job, her craft. After being caught with the engine piece she had changed and talking with the CEO, she vowed to herself on the shuttle ride back to the factory to never again stray from the design without a supervisor’s approval. After all, they easily gave approval, encouraged experimentation because it led to innovation. She didn’t know what had come over her—part of the magic in that slick piece of steel had been to do it on her own. But now she saw the harm it in. She distrusted her own selfish and nervous instincts.

            Still, she kept the engine piece close at all times, as she imagined the CEO wanted her to—it was as precious as the scar inside the CEO’s cheek. When X was alone, she developed a compulsion to take the piece out and polish it with the shirt hem of her uniform, the thick fabric going over and under the metal point until X could see her own reflection in the steel.

    The part of that day she kept replaying in her mind was M saying, A hundred bucks the CEO cries herself to sleep every night.

    It wasn’t so much the flirtation with forbidden gambling that bothered X—it was the fact that M said it as if it was a bad thing, a symptom of a diseased or otherwise twisted mind. Maybe it was just in her memory that X heard it, but now she couldn’t stop hearing it, M’s voice dripping with judgment. The way she opened her eyes wide as if telling a scandalous, delicious secret. X didn’t know what was so wrong with it—crying oneself to sleep—and if the CEO did it, that was only proof that she was human, deeply hurt but still persevering, like everybody else. But inevitably this thought made X even more guilty and confused about the whole situation. After all, when the CEO had told her terrible story about the kids and the fishhook, X had done nothing but sit there stunned, hoping it would stop, thinking of the way her mother would drink herself to sleep instead of crying, thinking of her father who—like the CEO’s possibly nonexistent man who worked in government—was so distant that he was made mostly of slurred confessions and desperate rumors.

            “What is that?” said M from her porch.

            It was a bright, sunny day in Neighborhood G12. The Tell-Swift Street Cleaners had just come by, so the streets were their usual brilliant white, every lawn on the block freshly watered to an emerald green, and the sky blue and spotted with frothy white clouds. X held the engine piece in her hand, the cog against her palm, the sharp end pointed upward toward the sky. “It’s mine,” she said.

            “Oh,” said M. Probably slightly jealous, X thought. M put her hands on her hips and stretched her back. With cold blue eyes, she glanced over at X again and then drew closer, leaned against the pole at the edge of her porch and looked over at X’s porch. “You know, X,” M began softly—but with a sneer in her voice, “I really hate to break it to you, but the CEO is, like, an actual crazy person. She’s one of those people who you kind of go along with and then years later you find out she’s actually in cahoots with cartels or something, and you’re like, well, I’m surprised but not shocked. Like, really, X. I’m trying to help you out.”

            On her porch next to M’s porch, X didn’t say anything for a moment, a tinge of anger bubbling inside her. M would never understand it, how grateful she should be for this place, for TellCorp, for the CEO. She knew nothing of the outside world, the world of dirty streets and loud noises, a place where a girl’s father is unknown and her mother dies suddenly and she, all by herself, at seventeen, has to do whatever necessary to make ends meet, to take care of her siblings. X thought of the empty flowerbed, the withered petunias she had thrown away a few days ago. She thought of M, the husband, the kids, the innocent gossiping that X was coming to see less as innocent and more as ignorant. And X thought of the piece of metal in her hand, the blade glinting in the sunshine.

            “I made it,” she said, tightening her grip the steel. “Come here, M—do you want to see it?”

***

    The CEO sat behind her desk, reading glasses perched on her nose, watching the video of the stabbing on her computer. She shook her head and glanced up at X. “In our files and internal reports, we often give workers a pseudonym, number, or initial of some kind—to protect their privacy, of course.” The CEO leaned back and smiled, taking off her glasses. “I’ve always called you X. X for… exhilarating,” she laughed, typed something briefly on the computer. “I hope you don’t feel bad about any of this. If I can be frank, the bitch had it coming. She has been needling you, hasn’t she?” She glanced up again.

    X wasn’t crying. She sat very still with her legs crossed and her arms wrapped tightly around her stomach.

    “Anyway,” the CEO continued, “she will probably survive. You missed major organs, and our doctors are very, very good.” Her eyes softened. “Which means trouble for you. If M had died, it would have been very tragic, of course, but we would have just disposed of the body, very easily came up with an understandable reason for her disappearance. It would have been particularly easy with her—her husband travels a great deal. But since she’s still alive, she’ll almost certainly have things to say, and even if she doesn’t, a explanation will be demanded… But c’est la vie. The cards have been dealt, and not in your favor, I’m afraid.”

    X squeezed her stomach tighter. “I’m going to jail, then?”

    “We don’t have jails here at TellCorp. And we do not believe in them, so we do not get the outside authorities involved under any circumstances. That’s our policy, straight from the Board.”

    X said nothing. She started down at the front of the CEO’s desk.

    The CEO got up, walked around to X, and sat on the edge of the desk like she had before—X remembered the day she got called into this very office, the sliver of metal lying on the CEO’s desk, a sense of doom coursing through her. X didn’t know why she felt nothing now. She felt nothing but numbness. She kept thinking about being the first TellCorp worker punished terribly by the corporation. Her face on the TellMore news. Her siblings watching, M watching, her supervisors watching, saying they always knew—her strange resistance to bonding, her lack of a green thumb, her wild curly hair. “I don’t know why I did it,” she muttered, almost to herself. “I don’t know what came over me. It was like there was someone else in my head. It was like…” she looked up. “I thought it was what you wanted.”

    “Oh, yes,” said the CEO, crossing her arms and shrugging. “Again, there’s nothing about this you should feel bad about, or responsible for. Except maybe not having very good aim with a blade.” She grew silent for a moment and swallowed. “I have done terrible things, and I rarely feel sorry for any of them.” Her voice became thin—maybe it was her imagination, but X even thought she even heard it shake. “But I do feel sorry for you.”

    X reached out and touched the CEO’s knee. “I’m sorry too.”

    Jarring X, there was a knock on the door, and one of the CEO’s bodyguards came in. The CEO smiled at him. “I believe X here is ready to take the deal,” she said.

    “Yes, boss,” said the bodyguard. He left, shutting the door softly.

    The CEO got up and went back behind her desk. She sat in the chair and swiveled a bit, watching X. “What deal?” said X, swallowing, her mouth dry.

    The CEO sat with her hands folded together on the top of the desk. “You have been made into a shadow of yourself,” she finally said. “A shadow, and it’s fading. It’s hard to not care for the ones like you—I have watched you grow up here at TellCorp. You know, I didn’t grow up in the corporation either. I wasn’t like M, or the others. I came here out of desperation and search for solace, a search that quickly became a quest for much more than solace. A quest for the solidness of myself that I, like you, have so quietly lost.” She tsked and shook her head. “I’ll give you a hint—now your X is going to stand for something else. Example. Exit. Exile.”

    “No,” X whimpered.

    “TellCorp is changing. The world is changing. We have always done what’s best for our workers. But what’s best for the many is not always what’s best for the few.”

    The CEO quickly explained the situation—the deal. Something in the quick, shy way she talked, no longer looking up, gave X the feeling that this plan was not Board approved. It was not official TellCorp strategy. X’s pulse quickened, not because she was frightened but because she was unsure. Was the CEO playing the TellCorp Board, or was she really trying to help X? Or was this all a lie, a performance for her benefit, Board approved after all? X couldn’t think through it. Her mind stopped weaving and unweaving the tangled threads of possible motivation, of possible gain—easier to listen to the CEO, trusting that she wouldn’t lead her astray. After all, the CEO did seem to care. She had that shy sadness in her eyes, that gleam of compassion and spark of intelligence.

After a moment or two more of convincing, X took the deal.

***

    It was fun to travel, to see the world from the inside and outside at once. X enjoyed working for the government. Some people simply weren’t made to be a part of TellCorp, and it was wonderful that even these outcasts could still somehow contribute.

    What X liked most was the wildflowers. She had forgotten about them—there was none at TellCorp, or none that she remembered, simply because they liked to keep the lawns clean and green there and anything else covered by smooth, white pavement. She still missed the cleanness. The city was dull and drab and crowded, and although she did her duties with dedication she got no sense of pleasure from the dry work—filling out paperwork, sitting in on meetings, taking notes for those of a higher rank. The government did not encourage innovation, or rather, in order to innovate you had to fill out a myriad of obscure forms in order to do so. But, however she did it, the CEO had been kind—had gotten X a job that was easy and paid well and where everyone else on staff treated her with respect.

    The best part, though, was the wildflowers. On weekends she would take long walks out down country roads, looking at them, even in the rain. Purples and blues sometimes, pinks and yellows other times, sometimes puffs of white and gray, peppered through the yellow-green. They inspired X, and after her walks she would always go home, write out her report quickly and easily, careful to get all the facts right but allowing herself to expand and describe in a way that would make the dullness of government life vivid, rife with conflict and even the tiniest amount of human hope. She would imagine that one of the higher ranking men she saw each week—either the man with the slicked back brown hair or the cropped black hair, both with a wounded streak—were the CEO’s long-lost love. So X would write about him, spending pages on his smallest movements, though in reality these men related little to the facts she was supposed to report.

She imagined, among the wildflowers, that if she was getting letters from a world she had left behind, she would read with the silent hope of being reminded of something she had forgotten, something broken and beautiful and just out of reach.

 

 

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