by Michael Webb
I am staving off homelessness, bankruptcy and boredom by driving my ancient Accord to anonymous suburban office parks and answering phones and sorting mail for companies who have lost employees to maternity leave or other offenses against the great yawning maw of capitalism. My real job, I keep saying, is poetry, but wearing a pretty dress, smiling a lot, doing what I’m told, and staying in the background is what is keeping me in food and shelter at the moment.
The day is fading, and I can feel the ennui as I watch the clock, waiting for freedom. I am busying myself with an open email window, typing a word, then erasing it, then typing another. It is both a way to look busy and a sort of writing exercise, seeing what my brain will produce. I watch the dust motes settle in the hallway, letting my eyes lose focus for a second. Someone laughs a few rooms away from me, making a hollow sound.
I feel a headache coming on, and I decide I will drink a final Diet Pepsi to ward it off until I get home. I stand and walk down to what they call the break room, a small area with a tile floor, a sink and a microwave, a refrigerator, and two bright vending machines. I step to the red and blue one, slide in my coins, and bend carefully at the waist to retrieve my beverage.
As I turn to go back to my desk, I see an open box from a bakery, with the clear residue of a decent sized cake inside. There are awkward cylinders of discarded frosting inside the box, and a few soiled napkins, and a single paper plate with a plastic knife on it. The door behind me opens and I hear Sonia’s voice, a prim Indian woman with gorgeous black hair.
“Oh. No one told you? It was Jimmy’s birthday. I’m sorry.”
“No,” I say quickly. “No problem.” I pat my belly, then immediately feel ridiculous for doing so. “It’s not like I need it.”
“Oh, neither do I,” Sonia says quickly, and then moves past me towards the soda machine.
I walk back towards my station, a small ball of nausea in my gut. I guess wishing to be invisible really worked.
published 22 September 2016