Thank God It's Summer

Submitted into Contest #166 in response to: Set your story at a retirement or leaving party. ... view prompt

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Inspirational Sad Happy

“Happy retirement!” POP! Suddenly it was raining confetti on my desk. My otherwise sparkly clean cubicle had been puked on, but my OCD decided to take a pleasantly timed vacation. My smile grew wider than I knew it could. I look up to see Penn, my boss, holding the empty confetti canon, and wearing a rainbow party hat. Ken, my cubey-neighbor, wore the same triangle hat, but upside down so it looked like he had grown a skittles-beard. His bald face made my shoulders dance with my cheeks. I spun myself around in my chair and landed face-to-face with Len, who had appeared behind me holding another confetti canon. POP! I stood, taking off my glasses and shaking out the colorful glitter trapped between my eyebrows. I thanked them up and down as a cake appeared. This couldn’t be better. Champagne was bursting like New Year’s Day, and I was stuffing my face with cheap supermarket cookies. They had lain a trail of streamers and balloons down the office floor. It looked like a lazy river made of candy that led right to the lounge, where games and more snacks had been prepared. I followed the river straight to the window where a waterfall of twinkles hung down the outside of the building right onto the pavement below where the surprises ceased.

“You’re fired.” Her office couldn’t be more grey. Where was the flare? The personality? Does she own even one piece of personal memorabilia? I thought she had kids. “Did you hear what I said?” Even her hair is grey. Her clothes make her look dead. Look at her, sitting in that chair. Do I look like that? Do I lack color? Maybe I keep my pencils too sharp. Or I should try laying my stapler diagonally instead of parallel. No, I can’t do that. I’d lose surface space. How does she arrange it? Hers are parallel, too. But she has a crooked mousepad. That’s odd, I think. Maybe she hasn’t noticed it yet. “What are you staring at?” I wish she was dead.

“Wake up!” I was on my feet before I could open my eyes, and a bag was shoved in my hands. I was on my own before I could utter a word. You swear it’ll never happen to you until it does. And no matter how many times they ask you, you’ll never have a good answer because- you don’t have one. That bag was gone within a week. My shoes were stolen soon afterward. You say to yourself: I didn’t start here, so I don’t have to stay here. I’ve spoken to thousands of people in the past three weeks, but none of them have spoken to me. My socks died today. Thank god it’s summer.

“Hello?” Her voice was a sweet siren. I hadn’t heard it in, what, thirteen years? Maybe it was twenty. I had put all my money into this call, but I could hardly think of a single thing to say. What could I say? I need money. Best not. How are you? Can I visit? The car horns were so loud I almost couldn’t hear her response. She lived upstate, off Coldspring. Thanksgiving was tomorrow, so I had to come tonight or not at all. I can’t blame her. Showing up besmirched of all cleanliness and dignity was bad enough.

“What else was I supposed to do?” It was the best shower I had ever taken in my entire life. A year is a long time. I had nearly forgotten what hot water felt like. But it was ruined. I was eavesdropping from the top of the stairs. It was like I was a kid again. They were arguing about me. My being here made her upset, which makes me even more grateful. I should never have come.

“Can he stay for dinner, mommy? Please?” I had bathed, slept, and had a full breakfast for the first time since February. But I was already packed and ready to go. I stood at the door with an old backpack stuffed with a change of clothes and snacks. Goodbyes are always strange between us. They aren’t so much goodbyes as they are farewells. She began showing me out the door, but I felt a hand grab mine; a small, soft hand with a firm grip. Her eyes were like mine, like my mother’s eyes. But her hair and nose were like my sister’s. Before last night I didn’t know she existed. So tiny and sweet. When she smiled her growing teeth shined bright despite being misshapen. She’d need braces. But most of all she radiated with love, and it was enough to convince her mother. Thanksgiving with the family, for the first time in seventeen years, I was told.

“What do you do for work?” What a terrible question to ask a stranger. Who was this guy, anyway? His suit must’ve been dry-cleaned that same day it was so clean. He’s in banking, probably. Or some CEO of a start-up that lets him afford a Tesla. I’m unhoused. Jobless. Homeless. Penniless. I beg for scraps off the street and share my nibbles with the rats. He would’ve loved that. A fearful look from across the table convinced me to hold my tongue. But I didn’t lie. I told half-truths all night. I used to be an accountant, but now I volunteer at shelters. That one’s easy. I can describe shelters all day long. I spend my days cleaning trash up off the streets. Scavenging disguised as community service. Not bad. But the hiding became tiresome. These mashed potatoes are so creamy. Everyone laughed except the suit.

“Take it. I don’t use it anymore.” I never wanted to be an accountant. I’m logical by nature, but I’ve hated every second of it. In college, I had taken photography. Digital cameras hadn’t quite hit the scene, so I studied on film. It’s more therapeutic that way. I had seen this camera sitting atop the mantle in the living room. It was collecting dust. A perfectly good Yashica just sitting around. Man, I hadn’t held one since I was twenty-two years old. They gave me some money, and even some extra to buy a strap. None of us expected I’d stay for this long. It was nearly Christmas Eve.

“Oh, um, yes. I suppose.” She blushed. I guess it’s not common for strangers to take your photograph anymore. I explained it was for my column; interviewing locals along my travels. She inquired about my camera, and how she used to have one as well. She told me about her family in Germany, and that she had emigrated west nearly sixty years ago. She had settled as a refugee. It was quite a story. She asked how I became a journalist.

“That?” I said. “You wouldn’t want to hear about that.”

October 07, 2022 17:49

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