I wore my secondhand Ann Taylor dress for the occasion, a clean navy A-line with a futuristic geometric collar. That morning, underneath a colorful illustration of Dolly Parton, my cat inhaled food from his bowl and I didn’t think of you then because I was trying to get out the door.
You weren’t on my mind during my commute or when I was busy crunching numbers for my new boss. You weren’t there when I walked from 5th Avenue to Madison on my break, forgoing all the overpriced lunch places and instead deciding to enter a bank. When I shook the hand of a banker and told her I was there to open my first business account, you weren’t around. But when I spotted the “private client” sign on her desk, that’s when you entered my head.
You in your office with that unreasonably large computer screen and that framed letter J Edgar Hoover wrote to your mom’s dad. Hoover died almost fifteen years before you were a single cell ready to divide but even before you had a pulse, you had contacts.
You in your daily uniform of custom Brooks Brother suit, polished wingtip shoes, and a haircut that ages you by decades. You’re a young move maker motivated by a corporate spirit. While people your age are running companies that celebrate jeans, you prefer your female employees teetering in heels.
You come from people who know people so pictures of you shaking impressive hands are your favorite kind of art. The office’s only décor is framed pictures of you wearing the same smile and holding the same grip. There you are with the leader who is known for sexual assault and that other leader who filled that mass grave and there is that pin loving secretary of state. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen your office but I’m sure there are new frames of you shaking an Oscar-winning lady, a certain Vice President, and that daughter who grew up in the Senate.
As my smiling banker asked me questions, I remembered how on my last day you could barely shake my hand. At the elevator you looked like a kid playing grown-up, trying to look me in the eyes as you offered to help me in the future, considering yourself extraordinarily generous for giving me one week’s pay for severance.
As I transferred most of my small savings into my business account, I thought how luxurious it must have been for you to start a company that only presented a risk to your reputation. As my banker asked me to sign some papers I thought of your family Rolodex, Union Club membership, personal trainer wake up calls, and the thrill of starting my own business began to feel a lot like regret. My plans started to cracked, my mission and vision blurred, and I was about to tell my banker to stop when I really remembered.
I have that letter you signed, the one you asked me to help you print. The letter that says your company didn’t need me anymore because after two years of running matters of compliance, I was suddenly too qualified. I remembered that out of all the smart people you hired to hold you up, I was the only one to have her position dissolved. And that’s when you left my head and I went on with my business.
Angela Santillo is a playwright based in New York City. Her plays have been produced and developed in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. Her first nonfiction story, “Everything I Could Dump Into a Prologue” was published by Exposition Review and has been nominated for a 2020 Pushcart Prize. She is producer and host of the podcast And Then Suddenly. She has her BA in English and Theater from Saint Mary’s College of California and an MFA in Theater from Sarah Lawrence College. www.angelasantillo.com
The cleaning lady must have shredded your order. My truck jack-knifed on the pass. Thursday I’m getting my differential oil changed, then I’ll be delivering backorders all weekend. Monday’s my helper’s day off. Tuesday it’s supposed to rain and I lost my rain tarp on a run last week. Definitely next Wednesday before noon, if my helper doesn’t have to go to the doctor. Thursday provided that I can find someone to watch my kids and get the hitch on my trailer adjusted otherwise I’ll have to find a U-Haul. Definitely today if you can you pay me in cash. Just as soon as I make a detour to pick up my elevator. Rush hour might slow things down a few minutes. I’ve only got twenty-eight dollars to get home on, where’s your bank? Sure, you could get there before closing. I’ve got to get back to my kids; my wife took off to look for a job. What if I come to your house, unhitch my trailer with your containers on it, and beeline your check to the bank before six? It doesn’t look like rain on this side of the mountains. I thought we already talked about price; what’d I charge you last time? Your cancelled check is proof of purchase; I don’t carry a receipt book. The calculator app on my phone isn’t working. How about if I give you a per cubic foot price and we tally it up as I unload. Can you pay me at least partly in cash? Whatever you have on hand would be perfect. You’ll have to find me a screwdriver; I keep my change stashed inside the driver-side door of my truck. The kids swipe everything smaller than a fifty. If your bank closes and I have to wait until morning to cash your check; who will take care of my kids? Tomorrow before noon for sure, provided that I can get the hitch on my trailer adjusted otherwise I’ll have to find a U-Haul. The day after if my helper doesn’t have to go to the doctor. Definitely today if you can you pay me in cash.
from Blowing Smoke; a Compendium of Everyday Excuses
“Whoever wants to be a judge of human nature should study people’s excuses.” Christian Friedrich Hebbel (1813-1863), German poet and dramatist
Jana Harris teaches creative writing at the University of Washington and at the Writer’s Workshop in Seattle. She is editor and founder of Switched-on Gutenberg. Her most recent publications are You Haven’t Asked About My Wedding or What I Wore; Poems of Courtship on the American Frontier (University of Alaska Press) and the memoir, Horses Never Lie About Love (Simon & Schuster). Other poetry books include Oh How Can I Keep on Singing, Voices of Pioneer Women (Ontario); The Dust of Everyday Life, An Epic Poem of the Northwest (Sasquatch); and We Never Speak of It, Idaho-Wyoming Poems 1889-90 (Ontario ) all are available online from Open Road Press as are her two novels, Alaska (Harper & Row) and The Pearl of Ruby City (St. Martin’s). She lives with her husband on a farm in the Cascades.
Up shit creek (and assuming you stick with the
traditional story line) without a paddle. An ineffable
disaster, you surmise. Yet, it could be worse.
Suppose you no longer even have a canoe
and your only apparent option is to swim back
down this dystopian stream of sludge? Or worse
still, what if you’ve never managed to master the
art of swimming? But, not to worry. According to
the teachings of the dharma, all things in life are
impermanent, invariably subject to change. And
with the law of gravity in play, wouldn’t the
effluvium eventually begin to flow downstream?
Thus, if you stay right where you are, the upper end
of the creek might well begin to clear and those at the
low end of the runnel would be the ones with a problem.
So, keep the faith, friend. Between the wisdom of the
Buddha and Sir Isaac Newton, it just might be that your
luck is about to change.
Howard Brown is a poet and writer who lives in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. His poetry has appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, Tuck Magazine, Blue Collar Review, The Beautiful Space, Pure Slush Magazine, Poetry Super Highway, Old Hickory Review, Lone Stars Magazine, Printed Words and Devils Party Press. In 2012, he published a collection of poems entitled The Gossamer Nature of Random Things. His poem “Pariah” placed first in the poetry division of the 2015 William Faulkner Literary Competition sponsored by the Union County Mississippi Heritage Museum and Tallahatchie Riverfest. He has published short fiction in Louisiana Literature, F**k Fiction, Crack the Spine, Pulpwood Fiction, Extract(s) and Gloom Cupboard.