2 Poems

Moonsongs 

The freaks refused to leave the harbor. When business owners closed down
their shops around the block in protest, the freaks sat across the wooden
planks of the docks. Not even the night crew could convince them to away.
Business owners refused to open their doors at sunset so all the fishermen
threw the freaks into the sea. Heads bobbing across water, the freaks
searched for mermaids below. Some sailors swear by the moonsongs they hear
at night coming up from the deep, and such an oath has come to secure
certain promise.

 

Woody Allen End

so much to offer, lilacs late into the night drape their necks, wet, the
girl in her mother’s hand, from the summer drizzle, for cereal in an open
bowl, too much Italian in the blood late to arrive, a girl of many
languages in the hand of a woman, worldly, her gaze straight into the
brick, eyes violets peeling open the intermission, the temporary date of
her legs crossed under a skirt, where is this moment? Asks a sky blistered
by the moon’s eclipse, sun and night splitting, unknowing time underneath
the umbrella, fashion’s lower back curls into forward fold, stands a girl,
a woman, that long wait between poetry’s lyrics fishing for water and air.

 

————————
Heather Palmer, author of the online-serialized novella *Charlie’s Train*(the2ndhand), chapbook *Mere Tragedies* (Girls With Insurance), novella *Complements: of Us*(Spork Press), and forthcoming poetry book, *Starfish Over Oyster* (Love Symbol Press) has edited as intern at *Monkeybicycle Magazine* and Dzanc Books, and teaches at Harold Washington College of Chicago. As of this August, she will live in New York.


			

Florence Green Was 110

Florence Green Was 110 by Derick DupreWake for Florence Green. (The old babe faceplanted on the dinner table at the Briar House Care Home, splashing soup.) A number of cultural gerontologists are present, have flown in from research centers the world over, many of them looking a little dry and making little rustling sounds when they move. I note that everyone’s suits seem to be a size too large, indicating either delusions of bodily grandeur or the slow sag of bodily decomposition. There are history buffs, disaster addicts, honored servicemen and several Greens ensnarled in the equipment of affliction. I snuck in earlier, having bribed an unpaid intern, specialty embalmment, and am sitting in the last row.

A jolly man breezes his way to a sturdy lectern and starts to deliver the eulogy. It is Barry Rand, CEO of AARP, speaking: “Florence Green, who lived to be 110, was a waitress in the WRAF. She met and dated dozens of pilots but she never flew. She worked hard. She had a lot of friends and had a great deal of fun in her spare time.” Some applause, in the form of rustling tweed. “Florence Green was not only a veteran – she was a supercentenarian. How many of us here can say that about ourselves?” I note that none of us can say that about ourselves, but some of us come pretty close. “Florence always said that the Great War was the best time of her life, a splendid, lovely time. For her, Versailles signaled the end of the party. Florence never went to France. So here’s to a happy and healthy year. In the name of Ethel Percy Andrus, amen.”

I appreciate the inherent contrast of a brief eulogy with a life that bridged millenia. I appreciate contrast. We rustle amongst each other, exchange remarks, repair to the banquet hall and find our namecards (I assume the role of “Gary Filch,” who couldn’t be here today) and take our seats.

Preprandial repartee gets me going, they don’t know this but they speak playfully and compliment in code, getting me going. They insult each other’s shoes. They’re all agoraphiles. Not just once has anyone here absently removed a twig from their hair or tried to explain their grassy knees. A girl appears slowly ambling, absently removing a twig from her hair. She says, “I am at the height of existence.” She looks like a waitress on a cruise in a movie about the cruise titled Bankers Away. She might be. She walks around the hall saying things like, “Just think about all the things we won’t be, “ and “We found love in a hopeless place.” Under my table Barry Rand lies supine and has the look of a patient hiding a dose. I don’t ask what he’s doing there. When laughing, the girl throws back a hand lifting invisible plates. “I could just die,” she bursts. Rand rises from the floor and dusts his clothes. He catches the girl’s eye and she begins her come-hither slither, writhing to a number in her head.

“I am the opposite of all I have known.”

“I am Barry Rand.”

“It’s not that I find beauty in ugliness, but beauty in contrast. I can see the inviting luminance of beauty, but I look the other way, look for something yet shapeless in the dark. “

“My problem, haha, I’m usually groping for something shapely in the dark, for example.”

“In my mid-twenties I began to see what kind of person a person had to be. More helpfully, all the kinds of people she didn’t have to be.”

“I think I can offer you some money-saving discounts, if you catch my drift.”

“Get the fuck out of my sight,” he repeats.

I think I love this girl, this possible waitress, this deft beauty (Robert Payne on Chaplin: “The deft beauty of his clowning illuminates the space he dances in.”) who loves contrast as much as I do. Florence Green, who lived to be 110, most likely loved contrast. I imagine the meals she served to contrast with mortar fire, bubble and squeak and death. I imagine a squadron of DH10s dropping payloads of flour sacks. I imagine Florence at seventeen, getting nailed admirably by an officer in the larder. All of these fancies contrast beautifully with the fact that Florence Green lies cold in a coffin in the parlor next door.

We are served great bowls of Scotch broth, in honor of the early bird special at the Briar House which was Florence’s last perception before keeling over. I snap my fingers and tell a server, “Yes, another Scotch broth, hold the broth, single malt if you can. Florence Green, who lived to be 110, anecdotally loved Scotch.” I sit in silence, noting the airborne odor of hardware store peculiar to old age, until a bowl of Scotch slides under my nose.

The girl’s demeanor is soccer-maternal now, making sure everyone hydrates, making sure everyone gets a pamphlet titled How Sturdy Is Your Belief Structure? which concludes if you don’t pray or stand by your faith then your structure has already crumbled, is already as sad as a Kansas song. Believing in nothing but unintended consequence, I know that my structure is sound. Rand begins to talk, to sweat while thinking about talking, and hits the floor after thinking about a response to the question How are you? What he was thinking about saying is I can’t remember what I was thinking about this time yesterday. The memory problem. The incredulity problem. Florence Green, who lived to be 110, most likely experienced these problems.

I remember that I’ve seen the girl on TV, live local and lascivious, interviewed by a woman anchor who later suffered a nervous breakdown because she thought Sherlock Holmes was on her tail. The mere mention of a deerstalker would send her into hysterics. What does it mean to my society when beautiful anchorwomen go off their meds? This is an issue I wish the pamphlet would address.

“Excuse me, but I saw you on TV. I saw the dress they made you wear. The stately brick-colored dress. You were like an art teacher in an idiot town. It was a brilliant contrast.”

“Contrast?”

“Brilliant, if I may be so bold.”

“A bold contrast is all it takes to make me want to love,” she says.

“Gary. How do you do.” We shake hands, boldly.

“Connie. How do you do. You seem very sturdy. They tell us to say that. I’m just handing these out for cash. As a matter of fact, I used to teach pottery in Ponchatoula.”

“They?”

Rand bolts up from the floor and says, “Good – I remember. I was thinking about bringing cue cards to parties.” He rises, dusts his clothes, and strides to a table ensnarled with several Greens. A former poet laureate and current sundowner shouts to Rand, “With the language of the modern world a better world is woven.”

Rand is beaming. “Poetry is an activity many retired persons enjoy today. I’m sorry for your loss. Florence was a beautiful lady.”

“Florence?” shouts a Green.

“Is that you, Florence?” shouts another.

Connie and I fade out and then emerge in the neighboring room, a gallery of sorts, where young people are hurrying to identify each other’s personal brands, young people like us. What were we doing with people like the late great Florence Green? There are new brands to wield, to sear into the mind of a loved one. (Although I’m not sure how to sell the Gary Filch brand.) The show is called Death in Degas, it’s a popular success (“Vraiment Degas-lasse, in a good way,” writes Roberta Smith) and no one wants to take credit for its conception. Each frame contains a shocking and macabre sort of answer-portrait to The Dead Fox. The crowd talks to itself.

“I dunno, the fox, I just. Felt a connection.”

“Forced a connection. “

“’Forced a connection’.”

“It must’ve been something to force a certain idea to feel a certain way. “

“I felt great.”

“But what do you think of the re-context? Is death any deathlier today than it was a hundred plus years ago? Is there more heft to death repurposed, does it have a meatier role, am I boring you.”

“I feel great.”

“I just feel.”

“Connie,” I cry, “for god’s sake, let’s get out of here before they start to talk about Biz Stone’s rescue tortoise.”

“I love to see a man take charge. They tell us to say that, sorry.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Connie.”

“Who are they?”

“Biz Stone’s rescue tortoise?”

We fade out and repair to the banquet hall, slowly, because Connie has decided to walk like a tortoise. Nobody notices, the hall is filled with variously mobile leafeaters, what’s one more groaning hunchback?

“Connie. Okay. Get up.” She hisses at me, slowly, then collapses like a marionette with its strings cut. Rand glides over. “What,” he says, “is this the meaning of?”

“Shh. She’s moving.”

Connie assumes the tortoise pose, which outside of any ashram just looks like the insolence of a child on strike.

“What is she protesting?” Rand asks.

“Old age, maybe?” I say to Rand.

“Get her the fuck out of my sight.”

“And burn that yoga mat,” he repeats.

Children, eagles, corpses, and chairs, all source objects for today’s yogis favorite poses, coincidentally all things found at Florence Green’s wake.

A young boy with strong, load-bearing arms walks out with a tall tiered cake. This is it. Everyone’s silenced at the sight of the cake. Meandering jowls now settle. The Green table holds its breath. Paramedics are called on account of the Greens’ respiratory history. The paramedics talk over the bodies.

“Looks like we got another one.”

“Another Green.”

“They just fall in our laps.”

“I’m very distressed by my Native American heritage.”

“Albert Green is part Cherokee. Was. He just checked out.”

“I just can’t stop crying when I come home from this.”

“This is what you signed up for. Death is part of it. Just don’t feel it.”

“I can’t feel.”

“Never feel,” says the paramedic bravely. They stack the Greens departed and hurry out.

The young boy with the cake is shooed away by Rand and what’s left of the Green table begins to breathe.

Connie and I fade into the kitchen, where the young boy is duly assaulted by crock-wielding Connie. She finds a knife and slices the cake. “I knew when I saw the cake, I would do anything for a taste.” Blood starts to sneak from the boy’s head. I nudge him with a foot.

“Connie, this boy is dead. I’ve checked his vitals, and he is dead.”

She moans. “Coconut.”

“Help me get him out of here. We can put him in the coffin with Florence. Get the legs.”

“I have a pamphlet on how to get the legs of a ballerina without taking a step.”

“I don’t believe you anymore.” I think of the anchorwoman, once a babe, now an eater of hair, and how Connie must be to blame.

“I never believed you, Gary.”

“Just help me here. I’m trying to cover up a murder.”

To our great delight, the Kossoy Sisters have begun one of their famous murder ballads in the banquet hall. They’re a little shrill, causing many of the wakegoers to tune down their hearing aids. We drag the boy’s corpse unnoticed. Is this contrast, or just utter madness? I wonder.

Florence Green got her wish. She’s now in a place where everything is different, where the postage is free and there are no wars, although Florence Green loved wars. As an appraiser of contrast, I am hugely tickled when we dump the boy on top of tiny Florence. There is some struggle slamming the lid shut. Connie and I take a seat in the front row, looking in each other’s eyes.

“My name isn’t Gary Filch.”

“That’s okay. I’m not Connie either.”

“Who are you?”

She kisses me and I taste coconut.

“I’m so glad to live in a world with multipurpose spaces.”

“Yes. Let’s go back to the gallery.”

Hand in hand we stride to the gallery, where everything is quiet. The crowd is horrified at the sight of a large tortoise.

————————

Derick Dupre lives in New Orleans.

All Hail West Texas

Tahoka skies made Caroline nauseous after. At Thriftway, I get the little pink discs of bismuth for her that don’t, I don’t think, actually do anything, wish I could do better.

Before, she used to make me drive her out of town to look at the sky. The stars here some nights look like that white, yellow, and blue photo from a beat old book about space, like NASA ghosted colors over the black night, no one having seen the work.

That’s when she got sick.

It happened when she looked up and said hey, the sky is shimmering. I said that some of the stars were binary, circling each other, and she said no you don’t understand take me to the hospital and so I did.

When she could see again she said everything was dusty, blurred; she said it was something with her brain, that she didn’t want to see stars anymore. I took her to the football field after that, safer: under the field lights I held her, AstroTurf striping soft under our bodies.

Bugs flickered in the lamps, their sodium buzzing like the sound moths hear when their lovers’ wingtips beat against one another. Her voice went, choked, and then her eyes. It was something with her brain I don’t understand–

but her fingers still talk to me,

they tell me about the emptiness in her stomach when she feels the burst of heat opening the door in summer, the half moons I find in my palms are language, our dry skin powder from all of our chatter, chalky pills on her tongue she begs me forests, caves.

————————

Jess Dutschmann is a writer. She originally grew up in Bergen County, NJ, only to move into a log cabin in her teen years. She attended Ramapo College and earned a BA in Literature and a concentration in Creative Writing. She has read poems and stories to audiences across the Mid-Atlantic. She is very thankful for MegaBus.

Brian and Kyle have their first video Skype date: A transcript

Appendix A: Transcription Conventions

Comma                  ,               Indicates a continuing intonation with slight upward or downward contour that may not occur at the end of a turn constructional unit, (TCU).

Micropause            (.)          A timed pause of less than 0.2 seconds

Timed silence         (1.8)        Measured in seconds, representing intervals of silence occurring within and between speakers’ turns at talk.

Hyphen         –          An abrupt halt occurring within or at the conclusion of a TCU.

Greater than/Less than signs    > <      < >   Portions of an utterance delivered at a noticeably quicker (> <) or slower (< >) pace than surrounding talk.

Degree signs           ° °            Marks speech produced softly or at a lower volume.

Colon(s)                 : :             Indicates sustained enunciation of a syllable.

Underscored text        hey          Underscoring indicates stress on a word, syllable or sound.

Arrows         ↑ ↓            Marks a rise or fall in intonation.

Out breath             Hhh         Audible expulsion of breath as in laughter, sighing, etc.

In breath                •hh           Audible inhalation is marked with a preceding dot

Awkward in breath           Mm:.hh(2.5) Awkward inhalation followed by timed silence.

Tildes                      ~ ~          Wobbly voice

Double parentheses (( ))       Transcript annotations.

SS                           (SS Laugh)              Indicates verbal action by both speakers

S1                            (S1 laughs)              Speaker one

S2                            (S2 laughs)              Speaker two

 ***

BRIAN: Hi, (.) can you hear me?

KYLE: (.) Hi! Yeah!

BRIAN: OK, cool. Oh, (.) I see you. Hi there!

KYLE: I don’t see you yet. (0.4) Oh! There you are. (0.2) Oh! Hey now.

BRIAN: ↑Yeah, I cut my hair.

KYLE: Oh, fantastic.↑ It looks really- (0.4) it’s short for summer. That’s good. >I bet it gets really hot in Michigan.<

BRIAN: Yeah, totally. (•hh Is it hot in Philadelphia?

KYLE: Oh, it’s just AWFUL. But I’ve got this fan. Can you see it? I don’t know how to work this camera. (Ext.)

BRIAN: Oh, I see it. (Hhh) Looks like a nice one.

KYLE: Yeah. (Hhh) It’s a big ass fan.

BRIAN: Ha. (0.8)

KYLE: No, really. °That’s the name of the company°.

BRIAN: ↑ Really? Geez. ↓

KYLE: So. (0.2) Is that a dark and stormy there, you naughty boy?

(SS laugh)

BRIAN: It’s Kombucha, actually. (S1 laughs) (Ext. sound of ice cubes clinking). Remember, I told you how my next door neighbor makes it? It’s so amazing, iced. (Ext. sound of ice cubes clinking).

((10 seconds not transcribed))

BRIAN: °So°. (0.4)

KYLE: Yeah, (.) So.

(SS laugh)

(0.2)

BRIAN: It looks like you’ve got tons of books behind you. >I didn’t know you like to read<. ↑

KYLE: You think I was illiterate? ↑

BRIAN: ~No~!

(SS laugh)

BRIAN: It’s just, you haven’t mentioned books. >We’ve talked about all these TV shows<, so I just thought- (0.2)

KYLE: That I’m illiterate.

BRIAN: °It’s just a lot of books°.

KYLE: Yeah, well, they’re mostly my ex’s. (.) He thinks of them like plants.

BRIAN: (0.2) (cough) Sorry? ↑

KYLE: Like plants. (.) Like, he thinks they’re healthy. Like they clean the space.

BRIAN: Oh, right. (cough) So he just left you all his books?

KYLE: <Can you hold on a sec>, (?) I need to get some lip balm. ↓

((30 seconds not transcribed.))

KYLE: Hey, sorry about that. (Ext) My lips were super nasty.

BRIAN: It’s cool, (.) I know the feeling. It’s the worst.

KYLE: I know, right? ↑

((10 seconds not transcribed))

KYLE: Anyway, ! >Tell me what you’ve been up to<. ↑ Did you end up having that conversation with your boss?

BRIAN: Oh. (Hhh). That. Ri(  : :  )ght. You know, I’m sort of re-thinking it. I’ve got clown camp coming up and it just feels like the wrong time.

KYLE: Wait, °so that’s happening°?

BRAIN: Yeah. I got in ↑.

(0.2)

KYLE: Really! (0.4) You must be so excited.

(.)

BRIAN: (S1 laughs) I am. (0.2) It’s going to be great. ↓

KYLE: So, >what’s it like being under a big top<? (s2 laughs)

(0.8)

BRIAN: °Yeah°. (.) I’m actually—it’s not all about gags and such, (0.2) you know? Like, I’m not always walking around in plastic shoes and whatnot. <It’s more about (.) a personal journey towards a state of playfulness>. °And vulnerability°.

KYLE: (.) I’m sorry, (.). I’ve hurt your feelings.

BRIAN: No, it’s fine. (.) It’s just that everyone thinks I run around in funny glasses, but there’s such a deeper layer to it. (0.2). <If everyone clowned around for a weekend, the world would be a better place>.

((10 seconds untranscribed))

KYLE: I’m sorry, (.) I just can’t, (0.3) are you being serious

BRIAN: Yes. (.) Why?

(0.8)

KYLE: ~No~ (0.4). It sounds like a great time.

((10 seconds untranscribed))

KYLE: Wow. (•hhh? So I’m gonna have to skedattle ‘cause I have to walk my neighbor’s schnauzer. I told you about Moo Shu, right? ↑

BRIAN: ↓ You sent me a picture.

KYLE: Right, that’s right! With the eyebrows. He doesn’t even look like a dog. >It’s like, if you were here, you’d be like, is that Frida Kahlo, or is that Frida Kahlo<! ↑ (S2 laughs)

(0.4)

(Ext. sound of something dropping)

(S1 ~laughs~)

KYLE: So it’s been really cool to see each other, finally. (.) Technology, right? ↑

BRIAN: (Hhh) °Yeah°.

KYLE: We’ll have to do this again sometime.

(0.4)

BRIAN: °Yeah°. (0.4)

KYLE: >Oh, and hey, don’t be afraid to stand up to your boss! Go for it, Brian. Stick it to the man<. ↑

BRIAN: Mm:.hh (0.3) °Like I said, it’s not really the right timing°. (.) Plus, I need the health insurance, with clown camp, and all. ↓

KYLE: Or wait. Ri( :: )ght. (0.2) Health insurance, totally. (Ext. panting) OK so Frida here is about to go AWOL. (.) Do we just click off- I guess it’s this red button? (0.2)

(S1 swallows)

KYLE: If we get disconnected, I’ve had a great time! ↑

(Ext. Skype dial tone)

(S1 exhales)

(Ext. Sound of ice cubes clinking)

(End of transcript)

————————

Courtney Maum is a fiction writer based in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. A humor columnist for Electric Literature, her work has recently appeared online in Tin House, Blip, Bomb Magazine, The Rumpus, Vol.1, Anderbo and others. A frequent reader at NY-based series and a Literary Death Match champion, she’s currently working on a collection of comic fiction. Find her on Twitter at @cmaum

By Any Other Clock

Amazing Rasputin by Russ Woods

Erin, wearing her headset and tethered to her phone, put a knee on her desk and pulled herself up to the top of the flimsy cubicle wall separating her from the rest of the office. She peered over it and across the call center floor. She’d found that if she stretched her back and tilted her head just right, she could catch a glimpse of the corner of her supervisor’s office window.

It was gorgeous outside.

“This has got to be illegal,” she said.

“Only four more hours,” replied Jorge, leaning back in his chair and speaking up into the ether, assuming Erin would know he was talking to her.

“Why?” asked Jessica, the co-worker on the opposite side of the cubicle wall Erin was currently staring over. “You guys leaving early or something?”

“Isn’t it one o’clock?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t we leave at five?” asked Erin.

“No.”

“You’re going to need to explain that one.”

“Rush started,” explained Jessica. “We’re all here ‘til six. Mandatory overtime.”

“That started today?” asked Jorge.

“Yup.”

“Son of a bitch.”

“Thank you for calling Parkman Publishing,” added Erin, climbing off her desk.

“Seriously, Rush started?” continued Jorge. “You’re not just messing with us?”

“I’m not messing with you,” said Jessica. “I don’t like it any more than you do.”

“Yes, but you hate it less.”

The conversation having reached its conclusion, Jorge and Jessica drifted back into the metaphorical islands of their cubicles, each staring at their clocks and absentmindedly daydreaming about the world beyond their squishy beige half-walls.

“Because we don’t own FedEx, ma’am.”

Erin, meanwhile, was starting to get loud.

“What do you want me to do, ma’am? If you want your books they have to be shipped to you and that means they’re going to need to be packaged and sent out on a truck or on a plane and that means you’re going to have to pay the shipping comp— Look, lady, until magic becomes a viable method of transportation, that’s your only option.”

Jorge couldn’t stop himself from cackling with delight.

“Did you just cackle?” asked Jessica.

“What’s wrong with cackling?”

It was then that Erin growled. It was adorable and kind of effeminate, but it was definitely a growl.

“Oh my God,” she said, “I hate everyone.”

Erin climbed up on her desk again and craned her neck toward the window once more.

“This job sucks.”

“Thank you for calling Parkman Publishing,” said Jessica.

“There’s no sugar.”

“I’m sorry?” replied Erin.

“There’s no more sugar in the kitchen,” said Jorge. “How am I supposed to drink my coffee?”

Erin’s phone rang. She promptly and professionally ignored it.

“Uh, black?”

“What am I, some kind of savage?”

Erin’s phone rang again.

“Isn’t there that fake sugar stuff?”

“There’s the blue ones and the pink ones.”

Erin’s phone rang a third time.

“So use one of those.”

“I really only like the green ones, though.”

Erin’s phone did not ring a fourth time.

“Huh,” said Erin. “That’s weird.”

It had been fifteen solid minutes since anyone’s phone had last rung. Even the guy Jorge had been keeping on hold had hung up. The entire customer service department was beginning to get worried. But, more than that, they were bored. Fifteen minutes in a call center is an eternity by any other clock. The muffled sound of ambient, idle chatter was growing in volume.

“Holy crap,” said Jorge, standing in his cubicle, “I can hear people other than you two.”

“I know,” said Erin, “it’s spooky, right?”

Jorge and Erin listened as the sound of distant, indistinct speech slowly began to change into discrete, defined voices and words and conversations.

Erin shuddered.

“That is so creepy.”

A short while later, Sheila, the department manager, began making her rounds, filling in the panicking employees with what little information she had.

That information was this: There appeared to have been some kind of calamity at Parkman Publishing’s corporate headquarters, consequently crippling the phone and internet capabilities of all their satellite offices, the call center included. However, this complete inability to actually do his or her job notwithstanding, no employee was allowed to leave early. Employees were, though, allowed to use their cell phones freely, a flagrant reversal of standard company policy.

Of course, given that the call center was situated in a former fallout shelter composed almost entirely of concrete, and located just to the left of the middle of nowhere, and just barely eked out crap cellular reception on a good day, the employees therein took this more as a taunt from corporate than a welcomed concession. Sheila herself only received the message when she went onto the roof to smoke.

“You smoke?” asked Erin.

“We have access to the roof?” asked Jorge excitedly. The prospect of the call center being comprised of anything besides the parking lot and a sea of cubicles was mind-blowing.

“Only when I’ve been drinking, and no, only managers,” replied Sheila, standing in the aisle, between the entrances to Erin and Jorge’s respective cubes.

“Can I be a manager?” asked Jorge.

“No.”

“Is everyone OK?” asked Jessica from beyond the wall behind Erin’s desk. “Did they say what was going on over there?”

“They seem to be handling whatever it is pretty well,” answered Sheila. “There was very little screaming in the background.”

There was no audible reaction from Jessica, but everyone assumed she was staring at her beige divider in shocked disbelief.

“It was a joke,” said Sheila.

“Oh,” replied Jessica. “I don’t really think we should be joking about this.”

“Probably not.”

“I mean, people could be hurt. We don’t know what happened, what if it was an earthquake? Or” – she lowered her voice – “terrorists.”

“I don’t —”

“I’m just not comfortable with you being so callous about this is all.”

“Seriously, Sheila. I don’t think you understand the gravity of this situation,” added Jorge. “We are all getting incredibly bored.”

“That,” said Erin, hopping up on her desk and ornamented with a highlighter-yellow, copy paper tiara, “is because you’re not trying hard enough.”

An hour had passed. There was still no more information about the mysterious catastrophe that had struck Parkman Publishing’s corporate office. Sheila was doing all she could, sitting patiently on the roof with a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of emergency bourbon, and holding her phone at all kinds of crazy angles, as suggested by the manufacturer’s instructions.

Her employees had likewise found ways to remain productive.

“Why are you still sitting at your desk?” asked Erin, still in her tiara and now adorned with a matching yellow Post-it note scarf. “Come over here. I’m teaching Jorge to dance.”

“Not very well,” said Jorge, wearing a paperclip tie and a crown made out of old invoices.

“Hey, I’m teaching just fine; your feet aren’t learning properly.”

“I don’t think it’s so much my feet as my hips.”

“You are remarkably rigid, yes.”

“Well, you’re holding me pretty close.”

“Hey. I’m engaged, mister.”

“Yeah, but you never talk about him…”

“Yeah…”

“Aren’t you two the least bit concerned about what’s going on over at corporate?” asked Jessica.

“Not really, no,” said Jorge.

“Well, I am,” she replied in a huff. “I don’t know how you can just ignore what happened. It’s selfish is what it is. I mean, what if it was really bad, what if they’re not OK? What if we lose our jobs? What if we’re next?!”

“Oh my fucking Christ,” muttered Erin.

“You really need to stop watching Fox News so much, Jessica,” added Jorge.

“I’m serious! It’s a very real possibility!” replied Jessica. “How many people did you two piss off this morning, huh?”

“I don’t know, at least —”

“Just one of them needs to be crazy. Just one! And how many hundreds of orders do we take a day, huh? The odds aren’t good!”

“I’m more than willing to crawl under your desk with you if you’re afraid of being exploded, Jessica,” replied Jorge. “That goes for you too, Erin.”

“That is remarkably chivalrous of you, Jorge,” said Erin, twirling away from him, “but I highly doubt that you or that desk is going to keep me from being all exploded. I appreciate the gesture, though. The thought that counts and all that.”

Jorge pulled Erin closer again.

“I like to think I’m indestructible. And that I can set things on fire with my brain.”

“You two are retarded,” said Jessica.

“I just don’t see how my getting worried and not doing anything is any more helpful than my not getting worried and not doing anything.”

“Seriously,” added Erin. “It’s not like we’re not going to not do anything anyway, regardless of how much we do or don’t worry.”
“Hold on, I gotta… I gotta write this down,” said Jessica.

Sheila ran out of bourbon much sooner than she had anticipated. She still had cigarettes, but, since she was no longer drinking, she was no longer interested in them. She was, however, still very, very drunk. As such, when she stumbled into Jorge’s cubicle and vomited, Sheila was not caught by surprise.

Jorge, Erin, and Jessica, however, were.

“Are you OK?” asked Jorge, still in Erin’s cubicle.

“Jush peachy,” sputtered Sheila.

“How much did you drink?”

“Everything.”

“That’s… not really an amount.”

“Your mom.”

“That’s not either.”

Sheila vomited again.

“That probably is, though,” said Erin.

At that moment, a phone rang.

“What the shit is that?” said Jorge.

“It’s… my phone,” said Jessica. “Personal line.”

“They… they fished the phones,” said Sheila. “I got the tesht… from the tech guysh here when… when I was up on the… the thing.”
Jessica put on her headset and hit the call button.

“Hello?”

“Did they get everything fixed then?” said Jorge.

“Yesh,” answered Sheila.

“To the internet!” exclaimed Erin, raising her index finger into the air.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m at — What?!” said Jessica.

Erin double-clicked the Internet Explorer icon on her desktop. A new window opened, defaulting to CNN.com.

“Holy shit,” she said.

“No fucking way…” said Jorge.

“Oh my God,” said Jessica. “Oh my God!”

“Yeah, I fucking know, right?” added Sheila before vomiting again. “I guesh we can go home now.”

A commotion began swirling around the four of them as every last one of the call center’s employees began packing up their belongings and making frantic phone calls to family members. A fair number skipped the formalities and simply ran screaming for the exits.

“I don’t believe it,” said Jessica, sobbing gently as she ended the call and pulled off her headset.

“It’s just crazy,” said Erin.

“It’s fucking awesome is what it is,” said Jorge.

“What?!” shouted Jessica. “How are you possibly excited about this?”

“How are you not?”

“Can… can I get a ride? With shomeone?” asked Sheila, falling hard against the cubicle divider. “I’m not… I’m not feeling so hot.”

“It is kind of awesome,” admitted Erin.

“What is wrong with the two of you?!” asked Jessica.

“What, you’re saying your heart isn’t racing?”

“You’ve never gotten that rush,” asked Jorge, “thinking about being a part of some spectacular catastrophe?”

“No,” said Jessica, “mostly I’ve just been thankful it wasn’t me.”

“Then you must’ve been doing something wrong,” said Erin.

“Besides,” said Jorge, “this time it is you.”

“And me!” added Erin. “And you, too, Jorge.”

“And me,” said Sheila, barely audible over the din of their coworkers. “And me… Will shomebody please fucking take me home now?”

“Yes,” answered Jessica. “Let’s go.”

“You’re leaving?” asked Erin.

“Quitters,” added Jorge.

“There are hundreds of meteors falling from the God damned sky, all over the planet!”

“Yeah, I know, I can read,” replied Erin, looking at her computer screen.

“And I’m pretty sure they’re called meteorites once they break the atmosphere,” said Jorge.

“We should probably look that up,” said Erin, turning to Jorge.

“I don’t want to die here!” shouted Jessica.

“Dying at home is better?” asked Jorge.

“You must have some really nice furniture,” added Erin.

“You guys… you two are speshal,” said Sheila, staggering toward Jessica’s desk. “Can we get the fuck out of here now, Jessica?”

“Yes.”

There was a colossal thudding sound, and then the entire call center shook. Cubicle walls fell and florescent lights snapped and swung.

“Yeah, good luck with that,” said Erin.

“Fuck you!” shouted Jessica as she and Sheila ran across the call center floor towards the building’s exit.

“You’re going to regret saying that if we die!”

There was another thud. The floor felt significantly less horizontal than a floor probably should have. There was another, louder thud. The call center’s lights – the ones still connected anyway – flickered.

“And if we die,” said Jorge, “you’re going to regret saying that.”

“Yeah, probably,” replied Erin. “But she was being a bitch.”

“Wanna see what we can see from the windows?”

“Sure.”

Erin and Jorge made their way to Sheila’s office. The commotion within the call center was down to a slight murmur now, most of the employees having fled or crawled under their desks to pray to a variety of gods. Jorge slid open the window. There were shouts coming from the parking lot. An air raid siren could faintly be heard in the distance.

“Why are you still here?” asked Jorge, staring absently out the window.

“Why are you?”

“Because my apartment is a shithole. I use a cardboard box as a coffee table. Don’t you have a fiancé to get home to?”

Erin shrugged.

“That seems like an inappropriate response to that question.”

“He’s kind of a dick,” said Erin. “He gets angry a lot. I was planning on dumping his ass before the wedding.”

“That’s pretty cold-blooded.”

“You’re the one who kept telling me to do it.”

“I kept telling you you could do it,” Jorge replied with a smirk.

“We did get some really nice engagement presents out of it, at least.”

Another thud rocked the call center, shattering a number of windows farther down the building. A thick cloud of brown dust drifted past Sheila’s office.

“I think I’m gonna call my parents,” said Erin.

“Yeah, me too.”

There was another, louder thud. This time the power cut out entirely.

“Well, so much for that,” said Jorge. He slumped against the wall, pulling a leg up onto the windowsill. Erin sat down on the sill, back against the window, and turned to face Jorge.

“We’re going to die here, aren’t we?”

“Most likely.”

“I knew this job was going to kill me,” she said with a sigh.

An explosion blossomed against the horizon.

“Fucking call centers,” said Jorge.

Erin shook her head and smiled at him. A slight tremor rolled through the office.

“So what now?” she asked.

“I guess we just wait,” said Jorge, “and see what happens.”

———————–

Eirik Gumeny is the author of Exponential Apocalypse, co-author of Screw the Universe, and a folder of origami cranes. He was the founding editor of Jersey Devil Press and his work has been published online a lot, in print occasionally, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize at least once. His internet address is egumeny.blogspot.com.