Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Eight to Five

Again, a submission for my "Writing Fiction" class. I'm not enamored with what I wrote (procrastination...when will I learn?) but I was surprised that I got positive feedback and of course, a few things that I hope to revise when I have a chance to revisit this piece and put some more time into it, because I really like the concept.

Coolridge was a small air conditioning company in southern Nevada. There weren’t many employees, and even less that worked in the administrative offices. Joe was standing at a table near the front door, sorting the mail. Beth was getting a cup of coffee from the break room before she started calling customers about account balances. Carrie yawned as she pulled up the company website. Roger was checking his e-mail in his cubicle. The owners were behind closed doors, in their offices. Beige paint coated the walls making everything seem more sterile than it really was. The brown and gold flecked industrial carpet didn’t do much either. It could’ve been linoleum and no one would’ve felt better or worse about it. No matter how many tricks the renovators tried to employ to make the office feel warm and inviting, there was no way around the ambivalent chill that pervaded every cubicle and office.

Joe dropped off Beth’s mail in the black, plastic mail holder screwed to the outside of her cubicle wall. Beth had two young kids, was from Arizona, and her husband did something…car repair, Joe thought. She always said hello to him when he dropped off the mail, she looked the plump, pleasant, matronly sort. She drove a grey minivan that looked like it was past its expiration date. She looked worn and her dark brown hair was showing a little grey. He assumed two young kids and a hard working husband probably did that too her more than genetics or age. Her parents lived close; Joe knew they watched her kids during the day. Every day she brought her own lunch, just a sandwich, a piece of fruit, and some water. Nothing ever changed in Beth’s routine, or at least that’s what it looked like. Joe didn’t know her husband had already lost his job and that Beth worked a graveyard shift at a call center to help her family.

Beth smiled at Joe when he dropped off her mail, made some small talk about his dogs. Joe lived alone in a small apartment. He had two big yellow labs; he had pictures of them hung up in his cubicle. He was born and raised in Nevada and had probably never lived farther than fifteen miles away from his parents in his life. He was lanky, mousey, and never stood or sat up straight. He talked about video games a lot. Beth knew he had some online friends that he played something with…maybe a war, shooting type game. She wished she could think of a gentle way to tell him to get a life, separate from his parents and live to a greater potential, but for as well as she knew him, she didn’t want to come off as rude.

Every night, Joe went home to his apartment to see his dogs and eat a frozen dinner. Afterwards, he drove three miles to his parents’ house, where he could sit with his mother who couldn’t remember who he was. He wanted to be an architect but because of his mother’s long time health problems before her memory loss, all the money he and his father had went to her medical bills. Joe didn’t tell anyone. He knew they’d give pity and money and while he could really use the latter, he never wanted to hear someone tell him how sorry they were for his family.

Carrie started an instant message chat with Roger, double checking that his e-mail problem from was resolved. It was full of emoticons and Internet abbreviations, feigning politeness. They worked across the hall from each other, but the only way Carrie ever spoke to Roger was through the keyboard and computer screen. He had to be over 60, with grey hair and age spots on his hands. He also came up to about Carrie’s shoulder so he was easy enough to ignore.

Roger couldn’t stand Carrie. She came across as so artificial with her hair dyed black and her long fluorescent pink fingernails. She showed up late to work almost every day and never got back to anyone in a timely manner, even though there were only a dozen of them in the office and he worked right across the hall from her. Roger knew she ignored him because she couldn’t stand his technological handicaps but she still had to work with him, was it so hard to just be nice and helpful? He’d worked with her for three years now and it never got any better.

Roger’s wife left him a year ago but he never told anyone. He had a convenient excuse for the Christmas party so the subject never got breached. He didn’t have the heart to take down the picture of her from his grey cubicle wall. She cheated on him and he knew for a while but was too spineless to do anything about it. He’d rather have a cheating wife than no wife at all. Now he’d had both and wished everyday she’d come back. He stopped taking care of himself and ate a cheeseburger just about every day for lunch in the office. Carrie thought he was disgusting and wished she didn’t even have to talk to him via e-mail but knew that she couldn’t ignore him forever when he needed something fixed on his computer.

The office had weak fluorescent lighting that washed everyone out. Everyone thought the other looked sick and pasty but they actually looked the same way and didn’t realize it. They all judged each other and they all harbored resentment about something to do with their bosses. Vacation time denied, bonus requests ignored, health insurance premium complaints swept under the rug. No one was brave enough to do more than send one e-mail about one issue. No one was brave enough to complain about the problems while the bosses were in the same building. No one was friendly enough to share the complaining with their co-workers.

They all worked Monday through Friday, from eight in the morning to five at night. At some point in time they had rotated the lunch schedule long enough that they had all eaten lunch together at some point. Christmas was the only time they saw each other outside of work. The party was still a work party though, so if people did show up they were as tight lipped and artificial as they usually were in the office. There were stories of weekend escapades shared and funny anecdotes about children (whether their own or nieces and nephews) were always popular. If they were really questioned about it, they would claim they all knew each other, they were all friends, and they all enjoyed their coworkers.

Carrie collected her family pictures and desk toys and put them in her messenger bag. She walked to the break room and retrieved her coffee mug. Without a word to anyone else she walked out of the office and drove away in her blue, four-door sedan. No one noticed.

Shortly after the door closed from her exit, everyone in the office noticed their inboxes had a new e-mail. The vice president informed everyone that Carrie had been redirecting money from online orders into her bank account. It hadn’t taken long for the CFO to notice, it wasn’t a large sum of money, not to worry. Carrie was let go and the owners didn’t want any rumors floating around about what had happened.

One by one, heads popped up over cubicle walls to try and sneak a look at Carrie and what her reaction to the e-mail was. They all realized she wasn’t there anymore and all of her personal touches to her work space were gone.

At the end of the day, Roger, Joe, and Beth turned off their computers, picked up their keys and jackets and walked outside. For perhaps the first time in the history of their relationships, they stood around their cars and started to talk. They talked about Carrie, they talked about the bosses, they talked about their kids and nieces and nephews and pets. They talked about smoking and Roger lit a cigarette. They talked about the local sports teams and high school memories. They talked until eight in the evening, when they decided to go out for drinks instead of standing around in the parking lot. They drove to a bar around the corner and talked about shows on TV and movies in theaters and songs on the radio. At ten, Beth had to go. Roger and Joe talked for a little bit longer but parted ways shortly thereafter.

The next day they showed up to work and parked in the same spots and brought the same lunches and did the same work. They had already started the hiring process for Carrie’s replacement and employees were invited via e-mail to send any names or résumés of qualified friends or family members. Beth didn’t tell her husband about what happened to Carrie, and Joe didn’t tell his dogs or his forgetful mother. Roger didn’t tell the story to the picture of his wife on his nightstand. The only thing that really changed was that Carrie left, and that wasn’t too big of a deal.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Ice Cream Epiphany

I'm in English 318 this semester, "Writing Fiction". Our first prompt was to steal an anecdote from someone and embellish it. This is a story from my friend Bryan, he was the kid missing the thumb. The most surprising part of this story that's true? The firefighters watching "Ed, Edd, & Eddy". Thankfully this was just a "turn in and get an A" assignment, because I'm not too pleased with it, but here's to posting something rather than nothing!

I turned my face from the gusts, leaves, and debris flying into my eyes. Turning my focus and concentration away from the task at hand (holding branches for my brother to cut with the hedge clippers) was a mistake. It wasn’t so much painful as shocking, that all of the sudden, as clean as scissors cutting paper, my thumb was half gone. The gusty weather blew the clippers off course and straight into my flesh. I ran inside, yelling “ow, ow, ow!” right up to my grandmother. Her face looked pale and her footing started to falter. Since she wasn’t quick enough to give me any helpful advice, I ran to the sink and put what was left of my thumb under the tap. I was grabbing fistfuls of paper towels and any washcloths within reach and wrapping my stub as tightly as possible.

My brother was standing in the doorway, draining to the same color my grandmother was. He had forgotten to drop the clippers, and was holding the blood stained shears in his hand. In the background I could hear my grandmother faintly calling 911. By that time I was focused less on my digit and the towels and more on the “Ed, Edd, and Eddy” show playing on the TV in the living room, in plain view of the kitchen sink. It was a pretty good episode because when the fire department showed up, they didn’t seem to care much about my thumb either, and were standing around our television. About the end of the episode, my mother’s car screeched into the driveway. She whisked me into her car and the fire fighters began to leave as well. Before she shut the door completely, my brother ran to the car, chucking the shears into the lawn. Tears were running down his face as he bent down and awkwardly hugged me despite my seat belt and bulging, towel-laden thumb. He stood on the sidewalk as we drove away, and I knew I wasn't mad at him.

In the emergency room, the doctor sewed the other half of my thumb back on. I’m not sure how he got a hold of it, but there it was, back in its original resting place. Sitting in the waiting room, I finally realized what had happened. I mean, I knew what had happened, but the pain and fear and shock had only just settled on my 11 year old consciousness. Once the doctor was finished, I turned and said, “Mom, I want ice cream”. Without a moment’s hesitation she agreed. As I was slurping on my cone one the drive home, it all clicked in my mind. I wasn’t a masochist but if this was the key to ice cream on demand…I’d have to help my brother with the yard work more often.