I'm Fired, You Quit (Crone 1)

Written in response to: Start your story with a character quitting their job, or getting fired.... view prompt

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Crone 1 was very perceptive as a rule, but in this case it took her a while to see clearly what was happening. That lack of perception, involving people she thought she knew very well, was a real mystery, because she was exceptionally alert and brilliant. Crone 1 must obviously have been distracted. Distracted, but also defiant. She knew that about herself and never forgot it.

For the record, Crone 1 was not her true name and wasn’t even a nickname; her name was Serena. For a good part of her life, the name suited her, but then she started a job that changed everything. Nothing was peaceful any more.

Serena had not been able to fit in at her place of employment, which was in a World Cultures Department at a very small university. She had taken the job offer with misgivings, and with time had realized her intuition had been right: the name of the department was extremely broad and hard to define. The faculty members themselves had trouble understanding the focus of their teaching and research. Perhaps this was why they were not very good at either teaching or research. 

As a new faculty member, Serena had worked hard, not yet aware that it was a bad thing to do. Ultimately she did catch on, though, and that was how she figured out that her future at the university was dim. There was like a wall separating her from the ones with whom she worked most closely. Walls are rarely a good thing.

Serena finally realized they wanted her to leave. Examples of how she knew this would be too many to list here, but they included: failing to notify her of meetings; not inviting her to go to the faculty club for lunch; giving her too many committee assignments; putting anonymous threats in her mailbox in the main office, one from a student unhappy about a grade and another from a colleague protesting about her idea to create a student club. They didn't like to deal with students; it always meant more work. Working with students? The less, the better. It was like herding the proverbial cats. Useless.

Poor students. Seriously.

They wanted her to leave and the really bad things they did to make that happen can’t be described here. Nobody would believe educated people thought or acted that way. They were like a nest of vipers. Still, Serena had gotten tenure. (It had been over a few dead bodies, which had seemed to revive afterward and had vowed to make her sorry for having done it.) 

The only way to remove somebody from his or her job would be if some illegal or immoral act had been committed (use your imagination) in relation to their employment description. Even then it was hard to dismiss a person who had tenure. A temporary leave with pay would be granted, and all would be forgiven.

Serena had tenure, as has been noted, and admittedly she had a few friends in good places, outside the department. She didn’t want conflict, but she still continued to aggravate them just by her presence. When she went to faculty meetings, one roundish, hairless blob made a big show of looking out the window, and he even looked like he was whistling, although no sound came out. He was the worst, but he wasn't the only one that got to her. She knew what they were capable of thinking and doing. It wasn't pretty. There were rumors about how that gang worked.

Serena was actually quite good at blocking out the hostility, the opposition, but what they were doing was cruel. It hurt despite Serena’s resilience. Clearly she hadn’t blocked out everything, but she was paying a huge price. Their inner demons were threatening her and twisting her thoughts. She didn't want to become like them.

That resolve was not entirely successful. At some point Serena decided that if her presence aggravated them so much, she would create a reason for their aggravation. She thought long and hard before embarking on that campaign, but sooner or later she was going to have no choice but to react.

There are a few examples of aggravations she carried out. As the chair of two important committees, during the whole fall semester she deliberately did not call a meeting for one of these. For the other committee, she set up meetings, then cancelled them two hours before they were to be held. She would attend the meeting alone, then submit the report of what the committee had decided. What she had decided. Another things she did was to give her colleagues (a term she hated to apply to them) incorrect information on university politics from her faculty senate meetings. She knew they never read the senate minutes which were sent to everyone’s mailbox, so misinforming them wasn't going to get her into trouble.

Other examples of how Serena got under her colleagues' skin are much more entertaining, but shouldn't be mentioned here, because they could create serious problems. She was only trying to survive, and was trying not to become contaminated, but feared that it was too late. 

These small aggravations, plus several others she managed to carry out in very subtle ways, didn’t have the desired effect of getting them to show their cards, their mean plan of getting her dismissed. It was going to require that she act like she was guilty of one of the forbidden behaviors alluded to earlier (illegal or immoral conduct while fulfilling teaching duties). 

She herself decided to let bits of information leak out. It was excruciating, because they were all things she had made up, knowing others in the department had actually done them. The colleague who went to live with his student Tommy and who was a serious drinker. The colleague who never got paid for teaching overloads because the chair kept the money for the department's use. 

Serena knew if she let it slip that she'd had an illicit relationship or threatened a student, or misused funds allocated for a specific use, that the chair would call her in. Knowing he was always gunning for her, she gently laid out her little stories. Once she had caught him, she would prove they weren't true.

The chair did call her in, and she listened distractedly, unable to stop watching his ridiculous little mustache and button nose moving about his face. He was prodding her, aiming for a blow-up that would require disciplining her. They knew how to press each other's buttons, and it was not pretty.

Their voices rose, but did not explode. his office walls trembled, however. Simultaneous loud statements emerged: 

"You’re fired!" he barked at last.

"You don't have the authority to do that, plus I'm tenured. I can't be pushed out! I’m quitting!" she retorted.

That went on for half an hour and within the hour everybody knew of the blow-up. Serena had defended herself well, and there had been a solution, thanks to some administrator whose method of stopping feuds was to separate the persons involved. Serena was awarded a leave of absence for a year. She was pleased, but did miss teaching.

When she returned, she was told she had been put in charge of the Ancient Studies Program again. It was a program she was fond of, but it was demanding. Students were required to study at least one classical language as well as archaeology. They also had to do travel experiences in at least one authorized area. Many students were unwilling to follow the requirements and complained the program was too hard.

Serena was willing to pull Ancient Studies back into shape again, but she was lost. Too much had changed while she was on leave, although she couldn't quite put her finger on what. The silence was really loud. She was uneasy, but she was committed.

They had once again dedicated a space to Ancient Studies, after a year of hiatus. That was not a good thing, because Serena walked in the door and after about an hour of feeling disoriented, she saw that the space was all wrong. It was both shrinking and separated by a considerable distance from the department. Crosby basement was a horrible place with no natural light. Just outside the door were the dregs of the Engineering Department. It looked like the space you walk through between the cars oon a train. Not the trains today; the old ones from thirty years ago she rode on in Spain and Portugal.

It was an utterly depressing place to be, let alone have to work there and see students on a daily basis.


She knew what had happened. They had known what they were doing when they assigned her and Ancient Studies to that space. They had deliberately exiled her, thinking she wouldn’t notice. Serena wasn't stupid. She also thought maybe she could change things, make a difference.

People began leaving the splace where Ancient Studies had been set up again. At first quite a few had been in the rooms, dull and sunless as they were, but gradually the rooms emptied out and grew smaller. Serena had to ask where things were at every step. 

"Where are the old student rosters?"

"Where are the program descriptions?"

"Where is the information about study in the Far East?"

"Where are the course schedules? The application forms for the program?"

Perhaps these were all online now, but since Serena didn't see a computer in the area, she had to ask. She was supposedly in charge here, after all.

People looked at her like she was dumb for having to ask. She hoped those weren't smirks on the faces of people who were supposed to be under her jurisdiction, but she figured they were.


Nobody answered her questions, even though she needed to know where certain files were or if new rules had been put in place. They - the ones now quite far away - certainly weren't concerned about whether she could do her work or not. She wasn't even certain they would provide her with a computer and some shelving for books. Except the space was shrinking anyway, so maybe shelves were moot. Some things seem to have been removed from spots nearby. Some were just cultural artifacts from the Ancient World, art reproductions, or weaponry. 

She didn't even know how she had been directed to come to this place on campus, the communication had been so nebulous. She hadn't set foot in the department.


Things were fading, almost. When she'd first stepped through the door, there seemed to be some life in the place. Now she doubted she would ever survive this gulag. 

Serena looked at the few things remaining and knew at last what she had to do.

She carefully reached into a pocket with her right hand and clutched the item she had brought with her onto campus. She had thought of it as essential, insurance against possible sabotage. She had hoped it wouldn't come to this, but it had. 

Serena also spotted something on the little shelf above an old dark green filing cabinet. She would undoubtedly need it too now. Then she reached up, clasped it with almost-trembling fingers, and placed it in the same pocket as the utensil she had brought from home.

She had truly hoped it wouldn't come to this. She had fought long and hard to avoid this. She had even sold her soul a bit while trying to play the game. 

She checked her pocket, her eyes watering with tears she refused to shed, and started toward the door. She didn't know if she should lock it, but then realized nobody had given her a key. She knew she had to find them. She was not going to quit, not now, not ever.

Two things comforted Serena now. 

First, she had tenure.

Second, she had good aim.

September 04, 2021 03:20

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1 comment

Keya Jadav
07:15 Sep 05, 2021

Hey Kathleen! Sorry, it took me quite a time to comment. This is an amazing story driving through one's experiences at work. It's really appreciable how you explained the situation with the help of examples. You impressed me at the point when you described Serena's feelings after she quitted her work, a sense of emptiness that is hard to explain. I loved the ending!! Great JOb


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