Posts

Moving Forward by Megan Fuentes

A decade after the fact, Mitch Johnson could not remember why he fired Jimmy. He had already ruled out insubordination and taking too much time off and poor performance. And he couldn’t conjure any images of horror at Jimmy’s hands—honestly, Mitch could hardly conjure his face.

He read the name again: James Moore, emblazoned on the wall in silver script. The same lettering was on his freshly-stolen pen, which he took out now to reread, as if to double-check the spelling. God knows why James Moore chose to go by Jimmy while they worked together. Jimmy was no name for a grown-ass man, and in truth Mitch believed it colored the way he’d been treated: gently, with kid gloves raised to the elbows. That much Mitch remembered. He was soft-spoken, too, right? But did he have glasses? Were his ties and sleeves just a little too long, like he was playing dress-up with his father’s suit? The more Mitch searched for details, the fewer details revealed themselves. This realization halted all other thought processes. He tried to recall another, unrelated detail: was his father showing signs of Alzheimer’s around this age?

Maybe that was why I got canned, Mitch mused. Maybe someone else saw the warning signs and thought it’d be smart to sack me early. He wasn’t listening as closely as he should have when Walters handed him the pink slip. Mitch knew, of course, that there had been whispers circling for some time containing language like “budget cuts” and “downsizing.” He had just expected to survive this quarter’s round of terminations.

Did I give the same spiel to Jimmy?

“Mr. Johnson?” a skirt asked the room, poking her head through a door. Mitch stood up, switching his resumé from one sweaty hand to another as he did so. The woman flashed a Colgate commercial smile, then turned on her kitten heels to lead him down the hallway.

“I hope you brought your walking shoes today,” she called out brightly over her shoulder.

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s a long walk to his office.”

“Oh.”

The woman turned a corner, sashayed past a few more rooms, then turned another corner. She asked if Mitch wanted water or coffee or anything, which he declined. He’d let her know if he changed his mind. He had changed his mind, actually, about being there, but it was too late to turn back now.

The woman knocked twice with one knuckle before entering. She didn’t introduce Mitch because there was no need. Jimmy looked up from the documents in front of him, said, “Thank you, Lisa,” and then she ducked out as quickly as she’d come in.

A greeting died in Mitch’s mouth. His feet were anchored to the floor by intimidation, envy, and self-loathing. His body turned cold. His face turned warm and, to his embarrassment, probably red. Jimmy did not have these same afflictions.

“Michael Johnson,” Jimmy said in reverence as he came out from behind his mammoth desk. His grin was wide and dopey, and this melted some of Mitch’s trepidation—just enough to convince his hand to catch Jimmy’s. Jimmy’s handshake was different, Mitch noticed.

“Good to see you, Mister—”

“Don’t you dare call me Mr. Moore,” Jimmy said, still grinning. “No one does. My wife insisted that the name on the letterhead be James, but you know I’m a Jimmy through and through.”

Mitch nodded, baring his teeth back at Jimmy. “I didn’t know you got married.”

“It surprises me, too, every damn day. We’ve been married for going on seven years now, I think. You met her little sister, Lisa? They run this place like the Navy. I’m just the pretty face.”

Again, Mitch nodded, and made a mental note to not ask Lisa to dinner on the way out.

“Anyway,” Jimmy sucked his teeth and dismissed this topic with a wave of his hand, “we’re not here to talk about me. We’re here to talk about you. Have a seat, have a seat.” When both men were situated, Mitch wordlessly passed his resumé to Jimmy, who gave it a glance before looking back up at Mitch. “So why are you here?”

Mitch uncrossed his legs. “I was, ah—”

“I don’t mean what the catalyst for visiting me was. Frankly, that means shit. What matters is what you want to do next. Gotta keep moving forward. No one sees a life coach unless they’re unsure about what to do next”—Jimmy chuckled and leaned back in his ergonomic swivel chair—“or they need a little nudging off the ledge.”

Mitch crossed his legs again. “I haven’t thought about it.”

“Sure you have,” Jimmy said, so certain that Mitch doubted himself. “We all think about what’s next. Human beings get compared to a lot of things, Mitch, but y’know what we really are? Sharks. We have to keep moving forward to survive, or at least believe we’re moving forward, or going to be moving forward any minute now. Stagnation is death. Now, let’s take a
look at your resumé, shall we? That can give us more clues than you might think.”

Stagnation is death. Mitch paled. He watched Jimmy’s eyes rake across every Times New Roman glyph. They were bigger than the standard 12-point to make up for the fact that there weren’t terribly many items on there. Mitch tried to envision himself at his home computer, at the print screen—which version of his resumé did he print? Did he leave anything out that had happened in the past thirty or so years, the last time he’d had to give anyone his resumé? He couldn’t have, though. He’d stayed in the same office with the same title for thirteen years.

“Well,” Jimmy sighed, “that was, uh. How familiar are you with computers?”

“Why do you ask?”

Jimmy balked at answering, but swallowed and continued, “Computers are the workhorses nowadays, Mitch, you know that. They make the world go ‘round. I know you’re familiar with the basics of word processors and spreadsheet programs, but what else do you have up your sleeve that didn’t manage to get on this paper?”

Silence followed as Mitch combed through his memories with increasing desperation. After a few minutes of Jimmy smiling patiently at him, Mitch admitted, “I don’t know.” 

Jimmy nodded, lips pursed.

“But I have decades of experience,” Mitch said, perking up some. “And my letters of recommendation paint me as second to none in what I do.”

“Do you know what that translates to?” Jimmy replied, not unkindly. “It says, ‘I’m good, but I come at a pretty penny.’ I’m not saying you’re looking for a fat paycheck alone—of course, there’s nothing wrong with that if you are—but that’s how it’s going to come across. And on top of having to pay you more, someone will have to take time out of their day to teach you the ropes of whatever programs they use, and time is money.”

Jimmy handed back the resumé and from a drawer pulled out his own, sliding it across the desk for Mitch to study. Some differences were plain: there was color, for one, and contrasting fonts—one of them Mitch recognized from the pen he’d stolen. The resumé seemed too busy at first glance, but the more Mitch scrutinized it, the more genius he found in every detail, every choice: everything complimented; your eye was drawn to the most recent, relevant work experience after Jimmy’s full name; and a column on the left hand side helpfully highlighted Jimmy’s “stats”—proficiencies in new programs with names that looked misspelled. It was hip.

“I can’t…” Mitch’s voice petered out as this very real possibility hit him full force.

“Can’t what?”

“I can’t just retire.”—Mitch suddenly felt cramped in his seat, and stood up to pace around the room, a lion in a cage—“And I won’t, not while I’m still able to be a productive member of society. That’s what you’re going to tell me to do, right?Retire?”

“Don’t—”

“No, you were, weren’t you? Jesus. It’s not like I’m a cripple or anything. I could still be valuable. I’m not proud—I’ll take some data entry job. I’ll even work part-time.”

Jimmy winced at the word cripple. Anxiety wrapped its hand around Mitch’s heart as he realized how he sounded: like an old bastard who’d become obsolete and didn’t know it yet. 

Jimmy continued in a honeyed tone. “Again, you run into the same problem. For a job like that, companies are going to be looking for young, cheap people at the keyboards who won’t cramp their style or try to climb the ladder.” Mitch thought something in his face must’ve caused Jimmy to switch tactics because Jimmy continued hurriedly, “But you don’t even need to waste your time with gigs like those, Mitch. Have you ever considered looking into freelancing? Or starting a blog?”

Mitch shook his head, his eyes trained on the spot two steps ahead of him.

“Workshops are very popular—”

“I don’t want to teach or write.” Mitch stopped in the middle of a lap and looked at Jimmy. “I want to work. Wear a suit, eat lunch out of a paper bag, go to meetings, commute, for Christ’s sake. Just find me a job in an office, any office. That’s your job, isn’t it?”

“Hey, first of all,” Jimmy spat, leaning on his hands to rise out of his seat, “your voice is getting a little too loud. I love you, man, but you need to chill out right now.” Jimmy, apparently taking his own advice, lowered himself down again. “Second, that is not my job. My job is to help you set goals and make a plan to achieve those goals. If your goal is to work in an office, fine. I’m just saying—”

“Yes, that’s my goal.”

Jimmy’s teeth made a snapping sound as his mouth shut. After a deep breath, he finished his thought. “I’m just saying it’s not going to be easy. But okay, I hear you loud and clear. You really want an office job.”

“Yes. ”

“Okay,” Jimmy sighed, sliding Mitch’s resumé back on his side of the desk as Mitch reclaimed his own chair. “Hm. Okay. You want to sell yourself as an expert in your field, then. Have you considered getting your MBA, or doctorate?”

“Back to school?”

“If you want to market yourself successfully, I think it’s a smart move.”

Mitch shook his head again, pinching the bridge of his nose with a thumb and a finger.

“I’m sorry, it’s just—I was doing so well where I was. It’s hard to wrap my head around this. I mean, you don’t understand. I was perfectly adapted to my surroundings. Efficient, well-liked, a boss when I had to be, obedient when I had to be. And now to just be tossed out like this? I mean, no offense, but I wasn’t just an intern. I had a history with—”

“I beg your pardon?” Jimmy said, head tilted. “You didn’t want to offend me by pointing out that I was an intern when I quit?”

Jimmy was chuckling, but Mitch found no humor in what he’d said. He stared, waiting for an explanation.

Jimmy raised an eyebrow. “You don’t remember? I came into your office, told you I was sorry, but I was giving my two weeks’ notice, and you joked and said, ‘Good, this means they won’t make me fire you next quarter.’”

That conversation did not ring even the tiniest of bells, but Mitch thought that did sound like something he’d say.

Jimmy’s eyes widened. But then he composed himself, arranging his features to form an inoffensive, neutral expression. “So. Moving forward. Mitch, let’s talk about your hobbies.”

At publication, Megan Fuentes was 35 days away from being able to legally celebrate the occasion with a glass of wine in her apartment in Orlando, FL. She attends the University of Central Florida, at which she majors in elementary education. Her work has appeared online and in two anthologies. Megan can be found on her very new Facebook page.

Boxes by Michaël Wertenberg

Boxes: metal boxes, wood boxes, cardboard boxes, plastic boxes; long boxes, tall boxes, narrow boxes, wide boxes; from inside a cramped metal box, surrounded by levers and buttons, I drive a long series of boxes, loaded with people: short people, fat people; young people, old people; pretty people, ugly people—mostly ugly people. Sometimes they can’t all fit. But they’ll push and scrap and elbow and squeeze their way in.
I’m one of the good subway conductors; I wait for them to bustle and bump and cram and claw into my box–not like Sanchez, who won’t even wait a half-minute. I’ll wait. I know how badly people need their box.

At the end of my shift, I pick up trash left from the filthy box crammers, and put it in a can. I have a drink at Joe’s, just to unwind. Then, I get in another box— the 117 Bus to Astoria. Tonight, as usual, I stop off at the corner take-out for two boxes of food before I go home.

There’s no smoking in my home. (The box doesn’t ventilate well). So, I go to the rooftop of my five-story box to have a cigarette, just to unwind.

There are always six tasks I need to finish at home. When I smoke, I itemize, imagine, and visualize each task—I don’t like surprises. Tonight, I will shower (1); I will eat (2); I will finish the remaining twenty-six boxes of my crossword (3); I will watch the news on the idiot box (4); I will shave my moustache (5); and I will clean Cynthia’s box (6). It’s important to have a plan.

I am not a man without a plan. I am not just a thing in a box.

Tonight the sky is clear, black with a touch of blue. I see Manhattan from the rooftop, and a bit of Queens—lots of boxes. I pretend to pinch the boxes with my thumb and index finger. I’m a grown man, but I still make squishy sounds as I fake pinch, as if I were a kid playing in a bubble bath.

I smoke a second cigarette—so many rooftops to squish. I don’t usually smoke a second cigarette. But as long as I finish the six tasks, I am allowed to deviate.

Tonight, I plan to finish the first task in fifteen minutes—it’s important that I finish each task by midnight. I won’t turn into a pumpkin or anything silly like that, but if I don’t finish by midnight, I find I am visited by strange and often horrific images in my dreams. I don’t like that. I get plenty of strange and horrific images at work.

The first thing I see when I enter my box is a surprise–a strange and horrific surprise—Cynthia is not in her box. The window is open, and a draft seems to have blown my crossword to the floor. This is not good. This is very Not-good.

Before I can accomplish the first of my six tasks, I have to shut the window, pick up the crossword from the floor, and naturally, pace and worry about Cynthia. I wrack my brain remembering, visualizing, and re-visualizing the morning tasks. I did, unquestionably, tie her hands, lock the box, and double check that I’d locked the box. Those were tasks four, five and six! They are always tasks four, five, and six, and I always complete them.

Pacing and wracking my brain are not on my list of tasks. But as long as I finish the six tasks, I am allowed to deviate.

I shower, but I can’t stop worrying about Cynthia. It’s always difficult not to worry before the tasks are completed, but tonight it’s especially difficult. I sit at my table next to the window, and I eat my box of food. I eat fast and finish my crossword at the same time.

I turn on the idiot box. They are talking about Cynthia on the news. This is not really a surprise; but, this is not good. This is very not-good. I turn off the box after the newscasters wish me a pleasant evening.

Despite Cynthia being on the news, I worry slightly less now that I’ve accomplished most of the tasks. I step into the small box that serves as a bathroom, and I work on my moustache.

I’ve shaved nearly half of it off when I nick myself with the blade. The sting is disproportionate to the tiny cut, and blood seeps out at an obscene speed.

Before I can apply a piece of toilet paper to the cut, the police bang on my door.

“NYPD! Open up!”

This is not really a surprise; but, this is not good. This is very not-good.

I shave the other half of my moustache much faster than I would like.

The police break down my door.

I nick myself again, and finish the last three swipes with a bloody razor— but I finish.

I look terrible without a moustache, especially with two cuts under my nose trickling blood.

A policeman grabs me, handcuffs me, and pulls me out of the bathroom. He reads me my rights as he pushes me toward the busted-down front door.

“The box,” I say. “I need to clean the box.”

“Don’t worry about the box,” says the other officer. “We’ve got a nice, clean box for you downtown.”

My new box is smaller than my old box, and I share it with a criminal named Boris. Tonight I have six things to do: eat (1); clean the toilet (2); give Boris a blow job (3); smoke a cigarette (4); write in my diary (5); and give Boris his second blow job (6). Tonight, I don’t imagine and visualize the tasks before doing them. But as long as I finish the six tasks, I am allowed to deviate.

Michaël Wertenberg is a French-American writer of dark fiction, rumoured to be living in Budapest with his cat, Zvyezda.He is a self-proclaimed sane citizen, though his blog, My Disease-Ridden Mind, offers evidence to the contrary: https://michaelwertenberg.wixsite.com/mysite.

Le cinéaste by Lee Nash

My number’s in an iPhone
next to a straw pillow
on a massively hard bed
next to a bedside table
that holds an inch of vodka
in a bottle bought from Helsinki Airport lounge,
beside a packet of Chinese herbs
and a ridiculously thick paperback;
in a hotel in a province
the name of which I can’t pronounce
where the food is nitrate hot
and its morsels unidentifiable;
behind the table, a window;
outside the light has faded
and if the crew hadn’t all clocked off
they could create their own,
and there on that phone is logged
the duration of our dialogue
which went something like,
Do you want to fall in love?
and that Cage is not an asshole
and that in the morning
you’ll have to fire the producer
despite your jetlagged head,
and here it is on my phone too,
just a basic device
in an unpretentious living space
in a totally undramatic life
despite the fact that
I’m a cast of thousands.

Lee Nash lives in France and freelances as an editor and proofreader. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in print and online journals in the UK, the US and France, including Ambit, Angle, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Mezzo Cammin, Orbis, Poetry Salzburg Review, Presence, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, The Interpreter’s House, The Lake and The World Haiku Review. You can find a selection of Lee’s poems on her website: leenashpoetry.com.