Francine peels the color-printed foil off of her yogurt and digs in, careful to get a liberal amount of berries in her first bite. This is her favorite part of the day: breakfast. It is ten after eight o’clock, which is technically ten minutes after the work day begins, but no one really cares until around nine.
She is at her desk and Karen is in one of the plush, blue chairs against the wall (where clients sit), playing on her cell phone, occasionally making silly faces into the camera.
“Maybe,” Francine begins. “I am just having a bad reaction to adulthood. Like, more than ever I just want to go back to working at the movie theater. That was the best job ever.”
Karen doesn’t say anything, which begs the question, “Who is she texting, exchanging photos with at ten after eight in the morning?”
Francine keeps talking anyway. “Yes, my job is relatively important. I can afford things, that’s good, I guess, but really I just have bills. It doesn’t seem worth it. Do you know what I mean?”
Her audience doesn’t seem captivated and her yogurt is depleting. Is this a depressive episode, or does her job suck? “Do you ever just get sick of this?”
“Nah,” Karen finally says, barely.
Outside the office, footsteps are progressing through the hallway and both parties lock it up, hiding phones and yogurt containers, just in case the footsteps open the door and say something managerly: “What are you doing?” “When will you have the [mindless obligation that in no way reflects actual work] for me?”
“How do you keep it from getting to you?” Francine asks as she scrapes the final film of yogurt from the edges of the cup.
“I just don’t think about it, really. I just show up and do my job. Let my boss suck. At five, I go and do whatever the hell I want. I do what I want at work most of the time, too.” She lets out an unnecessary laugh. Her laugh. It’s always unnecessary.
“At the movie theater, I just did my job and left. There was never work to follow me home, real or emotional.” As if the emotional drainage is better than the extra paperwork kind. “I just made popcorn and swept the floor. I got to see free movies, got free snacks. It was the best.”
“In high school?”
“No, the summer after college.”
Karen puts her phone in her pocket, which, as Francine has observed a number of times, countless times, means that she is bored and is about to get up and leave.
“Why did you quit?” she asks.
Francine ponders as hard as she can without showing it. It is a simple question, with a simple answer, but she is baffled (more like offended) that Karen would ask the question when she knows she is about to get up and leave and forget they ever even talked about it. Now, Francine feels only interesting enough to warrant four seconds of eye contact and it is used to ask a question that does not need to be answered, will not be remembered. Francine will leave and then the boss will come and there will be more eye contact, but it will be tired and frustrated without any known reason. It will make Francine feel that she is responsible. She will work as hard as she always does (but if she’s being honest, she won’t because she has also taken to kind of doing her own thing, using the internet to keep her mind focused on staying put and not quitting to go and apply at the movie theater), but no one will ever tell her that she is doing a good job. Instead, there will be (imaginary) tasks that didn’t get accomplished and no matter how excellently she performs at mundanity, or how effortlessly she wears mundanity on her furrowed and busy brow, someone will invariably come by to make a comment about how she could have gotten her [mindless obligation that in no way reflects actual work] a little closer to perfect.
“It didn’t pay enough,” she says.
Karen stands to leave, she laughs unnecessarily. Her laugh. It’s always unnecessary. “Yep. That’s life.”
TIMOTHY TARKELLY’s work has been featured by Cauldron Anthology, GNU, Peculiars Magazine, Work to a Calm, and others. His book, Gently in Manner, Strongly in Deed: Poems on Eisenhower was published by Spartan Press in 2019. When he’s not writing, he teaches in Southeast Kansas.
Image via Pixabay