Current Occupation: Editor
Former Occupation: supermarket check-out girl, flea market goon, legal secretary, wannabe historian, editor
Contact Information: M.K. Breitfelder is a writer and editor living in NJ.
I sit behind the desk and wait. Deep breath, deep breath. In. Hold. Out. In. Hold. Out. Not working. I straighten the stack of papers. 2017 Performance Evaluation. Employee: Milly Cook. Core Competencies. Areas of Focus. Incentive Goals. Unsatisfactory, unsatisfactory, unsatisfactory. What would I say? I had been thinking all day yesterday. All night, too. HR had coached me, but each time is new.
A soft knock on the door.
“Come in.” The words stick in my throat. Nothing. “Come in,” I say, strongly.
Milly pokes her head in, like she always does. Trepidant, almost servile. This annoys me. I instill fear in people?
“Now? It’s good?” she asks, minion-like. Do not do that to me. Not fair.
“Hey there, come on in.”
She’s a large woman, wearing almost clown-like makeup. Dangly bracelets, pink tights, baby blue ballet flats. A walking crazy-quilt. Almost 20 years older than me, but somehow girlish. She backs into the chair, paying me some compliment. A plastic grin, a nervous head nod. My grin is plastic, too.
“So Mill, I think you know why I scheduled this time,” I begin. The outline of her lips, scarlet; the inside, almost white. Still grinning. Still nodding. Earrings bobbing in time.
“Not my best year.” A stab at humor, a forced chuckle with that harsh Queens inflection.
“Well, no. But more than that.”
I detail it all: Her repeated failures. Her inability to get it. The classes where she learned nothing. As coached, I give her time between items. To “process.” To respond. She takes it in. The grin is gone. No defense, only defeated murmurs of assent.
How could I be doing this? She’s had such a difficult life. Not difficult. Tragic. I know all the details. The abandoning mother. The cold stepmother. The philandering husband. The ingrate son.
But she had been spoken to, then warned. Many times. Her peers tried. Her supervisor tried. I tried. What more could I do?
It was sinking in. Her glasses came off. Tears were forming.
She has an inheritance. Her kid is grown up. She can get Medicare in a couple years. I can’t heal her life. She'll probably sue anyway. Big settlement and the last laugh. I hoped so.
“…so I’m left with no other option.”
Deep breath. Deep breath. I have a job to do, too. And I fire her.