Welcome! Here is this week’s Flash, posted in the order received.
The theme is busy at work.
Squirm by Matt Potter
“We should start a virgins’ support group,” said Cindi one autumn afternoon. We were sitting in the bay window of the Campus Coffee Cavern, musing on ways to further international relations.
I was lukewarm about her idea.
But I was also new in Zwingle, Iowa – a political science exchange student from Australia – and first impressions are important.
“What would the criteria be for joining?” I asked. “Would there be a test?”
“You’d have to be a virgin,” said Cindi, eyes cloudy with thought. “But I can always tell, anyway.”
We sipped our steaming double super-skinny latté moccachinoes through heat-resistant plastic straws.
“I knew you were a virgin when I first met you yesterday,” she said, humming into her drink. “You have that … glow.”
I licked my straw, up and down the shaft.
“But could you still become a member if you lost it … in a riding accident?” I asked.
Cindi’s straw slipped back into her froth.
“Then there was the time I sat on a pencil,” I sighed, my head shaking.
Cindi reached across the table and placed her hand on mine. It was cold, odd considering the warmth of our double super-skinny latté moccachinoes.
She looked deep into me. “The important thing is keep trying, Bronny. If you fall off the virginity wagon, the Lord wants you to get back on straight away.”
We smiled, sipping our drinks again.
Cindi hunched over her froth, her seat squirming. “Gee, I bet that pencil felt amazing.”
at the meridian of time by Dorothee Lang
blackbirds cross into tomorrow
and circle back on minute wings
while i stand and watch the clock
this everlasting ticking
the deadline triggers
i walk the line
I’ll Get Back to You by Michael Webb
There was a timid rapping on the frame where a door would be. It wasn’t an office-but I didn’t really care, since I wouldn’t be in the olive drab prison more than another week.
She came in, a pretty redhead with an uncertain stride, visibly pregnant. Jeanne, I thought, remembering details from her file- unmarried, working her way through nursing school. She was wearing the pastel scrubs of her intended profession.
“Can I ask you something-” she began. Her voice was uncertain, her eyes already watery and red from a previous bout with tears.
“Of course,” I said, smiling neutrally.
“I was wondering if you knew anything about what’s going to happen?” Her voice was breaking already, her face red with exertion.
My job was to tell her no, I didn’t know anything.
My job was to come in to this faltering location, encourage the useful ones to transfer, drain the maximum useful work out of the ones that remain, and, at the last minute, close up the shop, cashiering the others with regret and thanks for their service.
I watched tears carve cool paths down her hot, red cheeks. I knew her name was on the list that was under my left hand, right on the desk in front of me. I could see, on her face, the pressure, like the part where the strain shows on an overstuffed garbage bag.
“I’ll let you know as soon as I do,” I said.
Busy at Work by Susan Tepper
It’s hell working here in Jersey with that pervert Twitchy who sits behind the makeshift partition in this crummy little office. I listen for sounds coming from him. He’s dead quiet back there. On the phone I whisper to my friend Jason from the New York office that I’m sure Twitchy is masturbating. Jason goes totally hysterical. Says I have a vivid imagination. You think so? I say, desperate to be back on Madison Avenue again. This job transfer was one huge fucking mistake. I tell Jason that Twitchy insists I have lunch with him in this hideous diner every day, where the hot roast beef gravy is gray. He always smiles at me over the menu. And he never stops, you know, twitching. His eyes twitch. His lips twitch. His hair, thinning, twitches. I don’t like thinking about what else might be twitching back behind that partition. Jason tells me I should knock it over like by accident. Are you nuts? I say. Jason tells me then you’ll know for sure.
First Ones In by Matthew A. Hamilton
Communist mines blocked the harbor entrance. Frogmen exploded trying to sweep them. Private Norman Mertz, 1st Marines, and his buddies played cards below deck of an LST. They were impatient but in good spirits.
“Just a matter of time before they clear the mines,” Mertz reasoned.
“I’m fucking ready for some action,” Private Kipp said. “Those goddamn gooks better not make me miss Christmas.”
“We’ll whip ‘em,” Mertz said, “long before Christmas. Don’t you worry ‘bout that. MacArthur says so.”
When the LSTs landed at Wonsan, the Marines jumped out, equipment unloaded, but no enemy fire.
“See,” said Mertz, “no one here to greet us, all ran off to their bastard daddy, Kim.”
“Don’t like it,” Kipp said. “Something’s wrong.”
“Ain’t nothin’ wrong,” Mertz said. “Let’s go. We gotta job to do.”
They entered Wonsan. South Korean children ran up to greet them, asking for candy, anything. Mertz threw them some chocolate. Everything seemed peaceful.
The center of town was filled with ROK soldiers and American advance and technical teams. They were all laughing at the Marines.
“’Bout time you boys got here,” one of them said.
“What the hell,” Mertz said.
“We’ve been here for two weeks,” another said. “Even Bob Hope and his dancing girls got here before you, put on a show for us last night.”
“Really worked their asses off,” came another voice. This produced a roar of laughter from everyone but the Marines. Hey appreciated a good joke, but were humiliated all the same.
Working From Home at the Office by Susan Gibb
He got up, had breakfast, showered and dressed, and sat down at the computer to log in at his job. Norm checked for new emails and read them one by one. He laughed out loud. That Bob was a card. Who knew where he got these things. Norm forwarded the jokes to his friends. He logged into Twitter, then Facebook. Then it was time for a break.
He rinsed out his cup and set it inside the sink. He opened the refrigerator and eyed all the shelves, waiting for something to call out to him. He finally took an apple and went back to his desk. He checked his email. And Twitter and Facebook. He clicked open a file and worked on it for almost an hour. Then he logged off for lunch.
Norm was between a nerd and a geek. He figured things out for himself surfing sites, downloading programs and playing around until he got stuck. Then he’d seek help on the forums, scrolling through posts, getting sidetracked by interesting threads.
He had a two o’clock meeting on Skype. After that, he worked more on the project files, making revisions suggested at the meeting. He was tired, it’d been a usual busy Monday and five o’clock loomed. He closed up the file, checked email (and Twitter and Facebook), and logged out.
With his jacket over his arm and car keys in hand, Norm sighed and left for the day.
COCHINOS by Linda Simoni-Wastila
The garbage bag bumps behind you through the glass-strewn median. You startle when the 18-wheeler barrels past, the cigarette spattering orange on the pavement.
“Cochinos.” You stab a soggy diaper. “Pigs. All of them.”
You check the watch you found last week shining Indy-Glo green. Two more hours, no more breaks. You keep walking. Rats stare at you, their eyes fearless pinpricks, but you reach around them for the Corona empties, the crumpled McDonald’s bags, and wait for dawn to spill, a broken yolk across the desert.
You scrape crushed rabbit from the asphalt, gagging at the smell. Dead animals still get to you, haunting your dreams. Those nights Simona soothes you, reminds you of Spring, of picking berries in the valley, then asparagus, almond, and, when the baby comes, grapes. Sometimes you curse yourself for listening to her, for leaving La Paz, but she wanted a better life for the child. It’s not her fault construction dried up. You gaze at the orange-flecked clouds. The cool breeze reminds you of the Coromuel winds, and you try to thank God for this job, but you can’t. You can only pray for this shift to end.
You hear the thrum of blowflies before you see the white-swaddled object, larger than the rabbit; a dog, perhaps, or small coyote. At one end, a thatch of black. Your heart races even as your walk slows and somehow, you know, even before you reach down to unwrap the sheet, expose the face, you will never pick trash on a highway again.
Gettin’ Busy by Angel Sharum
“Oh yeah, that’s right, baby, come to daddy!” Charles hissed through tightly clinched teeth, pounding away at the woman bent over his Chippendale desk.
He was collapsed across the woman’s back when the phone rang. Fumbling with the receiver, he picked up and gasped, “Hello, Charles Bowden.”
“Charles, darling, it’s Maureen.”
At the sound of his wife’s voice, Charles stood up straight and backed away from the woman across his desk. He straightened his tie and cleared his voice before replying. “Hello, sweetheart, how are you today?”
“I’m fine, just wanted to remind you we have dinner with John and Elise tonight.”
“I haven’t forgotten. I’ll be home by seven.”
“Ok, see you then, dear.”
Across town, Maureen assured her friend Elise that she and Charles would be there. “I’m not sure how long we’ll be staying, however,” she added. “Charles was out of breath just now when I talked with him. I keep telling him he needs to go in for his annual checkup. It’s not normal for a man of his age to get so worked up writing briefs.”
Corner by Kim Hutchinson
The sun is bouncin’ off the pavement already. Not much traffic on the street, but the stream of customers is steady.
Been here for hours, days, can’t remember. Can’t remember much. Not sure why I’d want to.
Fat Iggy’s here with his shopping cart. He calls it a silver chariot. It’s full of green plastic bags and bottles and garbage he collects, but when he’s high, it probably looks like a BMW.
We talk about nothin’. Just makin’ sounds. He passes me money. I pass him product. That’s all either of us care about.
Some business bitch in four hundred dollar shoes walks by. I bang into her shoulder, hard, just to let her know it’s my corner.
Her head doesn’t turn. She doesn’t flinch. Iggy and I don’t exist.
Her phone rings Lady Gaga.
It’s my fuckin’ corner.
Where I work you cannot see the sun by Stephen Hastings-King
Where I work you cannot see the sun.
Where I work people use words like leverage. They do not appear to denote anything.
Where I work everyone sits in a little cube in the middle of which is a little monitor on which they can look at the surveillance image of themselves sitting in a little cube in the middle of which is a little monitor on which they are looking at a surveillance image all day if they want to.
Where I work when it rains you can hear in detail water flowing through a basement amplification chamber. It is like being in the drain of a sink has become a tourist attraction.
Where I work everyone pretends they are somewhere else.
Work Ethic by Bernard Heise
Upon the horrifying discovery that the citizens’ needs were met and their appetites sated, the regime moved quickly to avert a moral crisis. Consultants were engaged to create the slogans: “If you don’t work, you don’t eat,” “Happiness is best pursued through work,” “Arbeit macht frei.” Musicians set the words to music, designers made banners and signs, and filmmakers created public service announcements. Teachers taught the work ethic in public schools; pastors proclaimed it from their pulpits. Corporations bid on contracts to move the Rocky Mountains further east. Seawater began being shipped from the Atlantic to the Pacific, first by tanker truck and then by rail. At the same time, crews started working on immense pipelines which could perform the task more quickly. In Kansas and Arizona, work brigades and prison inmates were digging holes. The dirt was shipped north to fill the lakes of Minnesota in alphabetical order. Professionals were employed to write books that nobody wanted to read; linguists translated them into every language; and critical theorists discussed their implications. Everyone sent annual reports to Washington for analysis and appraisal. Hovering above them all were the bureaucrats and experts, who set the objectives, quantified the data, measured efficiency, and evaluated performance. And when the good citizens went home at the end of the day, bone-weary and depleted, they ate microwave dinners in front of big screen TVs and listened to reports read by qualified personnel which praised their accomplishments, criticized their failures, and encouraged them to do better.
The Ark by Al McDermid
When the pounding started again on Sunday morning, I decided to look over the high fence to investigate. My neighbor I discovered was building a boat. The keel was down, about 25 to 30 feet long, and most of the ribs were in place. My neighbor pounded away non-stop, one nail after another. I watched awhile, and then spoke when he was between nails.
“Hey Fred,” I called, “building a boat, huh.” I was good at stating the obvious.
“What!?” He looked around, startled. “It’s an ark.”
“Expecting a flood?” I said, stifling a smirk.
“Yep,” was all he said, and returned to his hammering. I looked up—not a cloud anywhere.
On Monday night he strung flood lights and worked until midnight. I let it pass, but when I got home on Tuesday, I could hear that he was still at it so I took another look. Fred had been busy. It looked rough, but nearly finished. And it did look like it would float.
“Kind of small for an ark,” I called over. “Who you taking with you?”
“How many animals are you planning on then?”
“No animals,” he said as if speaking to a dim child, “bugs.”
“Yes, bugs,” he said. “I’ve been collecting them for months. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to hurry.”
I looked up again. Lightning flashed in the distance and I heard the crack of thunder.
Call Name Mary Magdalene by Matt DeVirgiliis
The bell rings, so the girls and I run to the front of the compound and line up. We’re dressed to impress and barely dressed. Tall, dark, and handsome (short, dark, and pudgy, but we make him feel otherwise) eyes us up and down.
He picks me, of course, and we stroll down the hallway, toward my office – complete with spinning bed and power tools. My call name is Mary Magdalene, I say, because who wouldn’t want to sleep with a saint. Plus, Jesus could ring that bell any day.
His hands fumble over my curves like he’s petting his golden retriever. He wears in inexperience on his face like I wear my mascara.
We make it to my door and I key it open. He’s not so bad. Not tall, dark, and handsome. Certainly not Jesus. But maybe he’s mister right, the one who’ll take me away from this.
I close the door behind us to find out.
Prescriptive by Roberta Lawson
This room is their bedroom, only larger. Somehow it is every bedroom she has ever known. Outside this room are animals and movement and life. Inside this room a spill of boxes, shiny, sporting loopy bows. She will open these boxes, these are the sum of her luckiness. So she sets to ripping through layers of wrapping. Her fingers are clumsy. In one box she finds a new camera, glinting silver. Another, a set of tickets. The tickets grant entry to places, offer journeys. She cannot quite believe that she will ever fully leave this room. In other boxes she finds pet collars, designer animal foods. Still more; baby mobiles, names on waiting lists for school places. Names that don’t yet exist. More: books of recipes for meals she will one day cook. In others, sex toys, lingerie. Oh, she thinks, setting scenes in her mind.
Clothes. Hats boots hosiery swimsuits. A kind of uniform. She supposes there is an order to these boxes, that she could lay them out and follow them like a staircase, though if doing so would lead her from this room or further into it she is not sure.
There he is in the doorway. He is in his dressing gown, which must mean this is morning or some late late night hour. I’ve been so busy working, he says. He gestures to the sea of boxes.Working to get you all these things you wanted. She can’t remember what she wanted.
Brown Paper by Maggie Sokolik
The manager complains that the closet shelves are lined with newspaper. She has instructed the front desk clerk to affix proper paper to each of the empty shelves.
Bharadwaj stands with his back to me, scraping off the yellowed pages of the Ganashakti. He then begins measuring, cutting, and gluing brown paper from a long roll. He sings in Bengali. The manager enters to inspect his work. After a short discussion, he says, “Yes, Madam,” removes the paper from the bottom shelf, remeasures, recuts, and reglues.
The telephone is a mere prop on the desk. It is not connected to a wire, the wall, or the outside world. The small hard cots are covered in graying sheets, naked of blankets. A trail of ants creeps along the grout in the shower, going from nowhere to nowhere. The little red fridge humming in the corner is empty except for one Kingfisher beer, supplied by Bharadwaj.
“Americans like beer, right?” he asks. “It’s not acceptable for a woman to buy beer.” He proffers the beer in a brown paper bag.
The window stands open in hopes of a breeze, but diesel fumes and dust drift in instead. I think I hear a monkey, but Bharadwaj says it’s just an ordinary bird. I want to hear monkeys.
The shelves are completed. I run my hands over the clean dry surface of the fresh paper. “Beautiful,” I whisper.
I have nothing to put there.
A Tale of Two Birthdays by Elizabeth Kate Switaj
Kelly typed “Thrift Store Work” and hit CTRL-P. That title was crap, but the poem was good enough to workshop.
“So happy birthday to me.” She started on the bottle of Two-Buck Chuck. No need for a glass. No need to share. No one had said a word that morning in seminar, no happy twenty-second for her. It didn’t matter that a week ago she’d mentioned her birthday while they discussed astrology in verse. It didn’t matter that she’d bought a six-pack for everyone else’s party.
Last year had been different. Jessica, the Production Supervisor at Value Village, had bought a cake from petty cash, and Kelly had blown out the candles during morning break. The other department pricers had insisted on taking her to dinner at Vic’s Pizzeria and, of course, on paying for her first legal can of Oly.
“I know you said you never do anything for your birthday,” Margo had said, shifting an armload of priced clothes from the line to a rolling rack, “but that’s exactly why we have to do something.”
When Kelly had been accepted for grad school, Jessica had bought another cake out of petty cash. The card everyone had signed now hung over Kelly’s desk.
She glanced over the printed poem—one final proofread. The buzzer rang. Could someone have remembered? When she answered the intercom, it turned out to be a pair of Mormon missionaries.
“Just leave me alone.”
Open the door, baby, daddy’s back by Ryder Collins
She said, You’re lucky you didn’t show up last night when I was drinking sake but it was too gross so I drank almost all of it & then switched to gin and tonics.
He said, I was busy.
He said, Look I came all this way, all right?
She said, Yeah, but.
He said, I crossed state lines.
He said, Many lines.
He said, You’re the only one that gets me, baby. Really. The only one.
She said, Yeah.
She said, I still wouldn’ta let you in last night.
He said, Are you still drunk?
She said, What time is it?
She looked at her wrist; it was freckled and rope-scarred and sans watch, of course.
He said, I killed my roommate’s cat.
She almost heard, I killed my roommate; she almost closed the door.
She said, That’s why you’re here.
He said, No.
He said, I fucked my roommate.
He said, I fucked some other women, too. After.
He said, The cat was an accident. Really. The only one, baby.
She opened the door all the way & let him in.
Deadlines by Derin Attwood
Twenty six little letters. Effortless, often I use fewer. The right combination? Not so easy, and often daunting. Most of it, because well, sometimes it works, but often it doesn’t. Then it’s a rewrite, an occasional ‘eureka’ moment or boring, tedious, horrifying.
That’s my work. Every day, seven days a week, and sometimes ten hours a day. In my office at nine o’clock (or ten if it’s one of those mornings). A quick check on emails, and then research and writing.
My horizon is littered with deadlines. I could miss one or two. There is no rule that says I have to make this one or that. Well, only the rule in my head. So who will know? Possibly no-one … except me. That’s the niggle in my mind … what good is a deadline if I don’t make it? So on Sunday evenings, I’ll work later, and it’s the same with the other deadlines. I’ve got to do it, and I will.
And I do.
Working in the Digital Age by Catherine Russell
The timer on Jackie’s cell phone buzzed. Billy Ray would want more money for this one. When the John finished his transaction and zipped up, Jackie pulled her skirt down and surreptiously took his photo. He refused to pay the extra cash, so she also photographed his license plate as he drove away. Once the note came in the mail, he’d pay.
After saving and emailing the photos to Billy Ray, she put his cell phone away. She paused to powder the scars of her profession before she left the alley. The corner summoned her. If she didn’t hurry…
She’d be the one to pay.
Beauty in a Blood Bath by Steven Stucko
She works at a store that sells inflatable palm trees and cat wall clocks with eyes that move back and forth.* My big (but younger) sister will rue the day she gave this girl my phone number. I now receive the most inane texts messages of mind numbing minutia such as wardrobe debacles and meal menus. I mean, if one has time to text “busy at work” they are probably lying. My sister informed me that this girl is “warm for my form.” I threw the dog at her and forbade her from ever referring to my “form” again.
I’m a nice guy so instead of telling this girl to buzz off I decided to take her to a gory movie so she would think I’m creepy and leave me alone. Little did I know that she would manage to find something chick-flicky and romantic amidst the carnage and mayhem. She assumed I was just trying to scare her so she would grab my hand for support.
Now she thinks horror films are “our thing” and wants to rent these gross slasher movies hoping to shriek and jump in my lap or something. She’s into Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails and has morphed into this goth wanna-be with black fingernails and eyeliner. Worse, she tries to smoke clove cigarettes.
I filed a restraining order.
*The store also sells neon palm trees and crepe paper palm trees and other stupid things, like beads.
Great Minds. . . by Martin Brick
You might think the hardest part would be getting the ideas. But Marshall went outside to smoke, leaving his sketch pad. Like performing a sleight-of-hand trick on a stoner.
They were half mine anyhow. We brainstormed together. His execution just elicited a more favorable response.
The real tricky part was the work. Frantic. Much harder than Marshall every worked. I had to find materials, scout locations, then dig, set, up, wait for the right light, and then get photos. And then make the prints right. That was the hardest. Up all night, dueling with Photoshop. Find a gallery to host, hoping all along that Marshall hadn’t already pitched his idea there.
At the opening reception he appears, naturally. He wears a sneer. “You stole my idea.”
“No I didn’t. We talked, together, about the idea of an installation piece that juxtaposed indoors and outdoors.”
“Right. And that’s it. Something that involved bringing dirt inside the gallery. You had some pedestrian idea about creating an indoor Garden of Eden. The square of dirt with the weeds in the center of the room. The photo behind it of a field with a square of hardwood in the middle of it, like the two squares were swapped. That’s mine and I never told you.”
“Guess we think alike.”
“I’d punch you, but that would be as cliché as your art usually is.”
You’d think the hardest part would be this insult. But it wasn’t. I’ll still say it was the busy work.
Friendly Conversation by Jen Rose
Lexi jumped at a sudden vibration at her hip and took two slow, hesitant breaths. Just her phone… and nerves. Carefully, soundlessly, she extracted it from her pocket, pulled her coat around it to block the light, and peered at the text message glowing on her screen.
< Hey! Where are you? >
She bit her lip, pressed herself closer to the dark wall, and tapped out a reply.
< Work >
It wasn’t a lie. And a little friendly conversation with her “subject” couldn’t hurt.
< Coffee shop’s open this late? >
< Other job. You? >
< Working late. As usual. >
< I can tell ;) Bet you’re sitting at your desk texting me instead of working >
< lol! If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were watching me. >
She peeked through the vent into the office below. All she could see was his back… copper hair and white shirt. Strings of code spread across his monitor. He shut it down. She watched him gather his things and walk out of the room, still typing away as the door shut behind him. Another buzz.
< So… what’s your other job? >
< It’s complicated. Gotta get back to it >
< K. Call me later. Love ya. >
< You too. Good night. >
Finally. She sighed, shoved the phone back into her pocket, removed the grate from the vent. Guilt would have to wait. This system wasn’t going to hack itself.
Deep Things by Sam Rasnake
I’ve mowed the grass again,
making the cardinal’s life
an easier settlement.
Worms groove the ground
in soft silence,
oblivious to the inevitable.
The astilbe readies itself
for a wet night.
Overhead, motors grind
through orange clouds. A rabbit
practices her own
reads the fence line
as prologue to sky.
Crickets deep the bladed green
in a clot of honeysuckle air.
We’re all shadows here.
My love for you is dark.
Numbers by Guy Yasko
– I cannot pass this on. You understand why — or don’t you? I don’t
know sometimes. I can’t spell it out for you. You know that.
Nevertheless, I still need you to understand. And if you can’t or
won’t, we’re going to have to find someone who can.
– I understand.
– I’m not convinced that you do. Let me put it this way: We survive
here so long as you and I keep our superiors happy. You know what
makes them happy. Go do it.
– Numbers are numbers. Rules are rules.
– Then make them someone else’s problem! Regulations need to be
followed — maybe — but it doesn’t need to be us who follows them.
The numbers slide from their cells, leaving hollows and balances. A
fiction renders them homeless: they leave for cells in other
spreadsheets. Instead, the wind deposits them as an invisible film over
everything outside the books.
Lunch Hour by Doug Bond
His stomach was making noises loud enough for the woman down the counter to look his way. He was eating cheese bread dipped in oil. It made his skin feel greasy. Coffee smell buzzed through his body. Friday, first light, paycheck in hand he wanted to be gone and free of the interstate ring, heading south. They said they’d mail him the last one. “Wherever,” he told them. “I’ll let you know.”
Looking out the big front window onto the avenue, he found it hard to sit still and his legs banged rhythmically against the seat pole. The sun had been shining in his eyes reflecting off a parked car across the street. Each time someone or something crossed in front it broke up the sun flare into staccato pulses. It was annoying, and distracted him from his thinking, his plans. Then the brightness stopped altogether, and he relaxed finally, but the sudden dark made him realize it was time to be getting back to the office. He refilled his cup, drank it quickly, and fumbled in his pocket until he found the correct change to drop in the cup at the register.
A few steps out the door a cabled bus sped past him trying to make the light. He turned against it and looking back saw his reflection in the window glass. His eyes were relaxed and easy, but his mouth curled slightly, the rush of air like a wind blowing from the north, full of winter.
Buzz by Randal Houle
It’s what my boss calls, “a buzz.” My work never changes from day to day, hour to hour, but apparently, at about 2:30 or whenever the spirit moves him, my boss stands at the door to his office and shouts: “Fifty bucks for the next sale!”
“I’m sorry about that shouting Mrs. Jones, there is a birthday in my office. Anyhow…” I continue with my conversation. Sometimes I tell the person on the phone what is really going on, “Well Mr. Sachs, the boss just let everyone know that there is a bonus for the next sale, but you already told me that you were fine, so don’t worry about that.”
I don’t care about bonuses. I like the job just fine. My cubicle is a corner unit on the outer end, not next to the wall, but out where the traffic is. There are lines of cubicles facing away from the center as if the business needed some sort of bulwark to defend against invaders, but no other clusters like mine exist, and no other cubicles in this cluster stick out into the pathway between the copier and a row of offices.
The footsteps fall in that familiar rhythm I’ve learned to recognize. I know the footfall of every employee here, but this rhythm matches the beating of my heart. She slows. I turn, smile — she smiles back. She picks up her pace and continues to her office.
café cubana bliss by Walter Bjorkman
Kat is Haitian and makes
the best, never produced one
without the required
head of sugar-foam
and the two headed
they take turns
in my present department
but when the going gets tough
and Kat’s on a sales visit
and our filter is broken
I descend the Juan Valdez
ladder to purgatory
down to the fourth level for
Gilda, an ex-boss
who started the tradition
if she is not around
it is down to the lowest
level of Hades
the ground floor
cross the caféteria Styx
on the way
and have to (shudder) pay
75 cents for an automated
(ever made any yourself?
stirring the sugar into a frenzy from the first few drops?
then adding a bit more and whipping it up in a froth?
then pouring the rest in with quick flicks of the spoon at the end
so you create a transition from the slightest bit of coffee at the top
to the rest, with just enough sugar to cut the bitter?)
it can be religious
I did it twice
the first was actually
café cubana bliss
the second a total disaster
I needed total concentration
they are talking business, or joking
while sub-consciously doing it
it is like when you master a song
and it becomes part of you
we all do it for work
typing, eating on the phone
but when the sub-conscious
café cubana bliss
what could be better
I got my fix
Transgression by John Wentworth Chapin
“Something’s got to give,” she croaks, slouching on the other chair in my small office. “I can’t take on any more work.” She is my boss.
I glance at my computer screen as email notifications pop up. They are too small to read before they fade.
“Yeah, it’s crazy,” I commiserate. I put my hand on the mouse, gently.
“I can see you’re busy. I’ll go,” she sighs. She looks at the mouse and then back at me, slowly.
I keep my hand on the mouse. It feels brave. “No, no, it’s fine. I’m just expecting word back from a client.”
“I’m so busy I can’t even do my work,” she moans. “What am I supposed to do?”
I look as sympathetic as I can, under the circumstance, which is entirely unsympathetic. The mouse begs me to click.
See, I actually have lots of work, much of it hers. She is master of the gambit of pre-emptive complaint, a forcefield of misery that effectively shields her from all work. If my dog breaks a leg, her daughter gets cancer. If I need to leave at 5, she needs to take off a bit early.
That finger on the mouse button, threatening to click, threatening transgression… she’d be able to hear it. She catches my eye: stalemate. I haven’t answered her question. I feel sweat on my cheeks.
“Is there anything I can do?” I ask, hating myself more than I hate her.
Morning Flash by Michelle Elvy
There’s a hush in the air. Frost glows and mist whispers. A silver sheen covers the cool earth: a hovering blanket on a slumbering world. I stand in a peaceful meadow – before me stretches an Asian painting on canvas, a China doll landscape, delicate and glassy, almost without color. It looks as if it might shatter if I move. That is how still it is.
If I open my eyes, I see a tiny snowdrop waving hello through the dew, a hint of green winking from the branch of that tall tree. If I tune my ears, I hear the chickadee’s phoebe and the titmouse’s peter peter greeting the longer days and the light spreading across the world. If inhale deeply, I smell dew and sweat and life itself, as a newborn calf shivers in the barn. I know that even on such a still morning, Nature is busy. Soon this meadow will crescendo in color and erupt in a thunder of delightful spring noise. And I will let loose and run.