Voc Rehab Vignettes
by Jessica Schantz
Edna stopped working thirty years ago when she got Word to live off the steady bounty of the government. Now, at sixty-five, she has been given the go-ahead by the Good Lord to work again. And sheíd like to pick up where she left off, as a line-order cook at a diner. Sheís had dreams of golden-flecked hairnets and spatulas so light, so inspired, they practically guide her hands. Edna hasnít showered all week and Iíve never seen her wear a bra. She doesnít take it well when I ask if sheís forgotten her medicine. She calls me little girl and tells me to listen. She doesnít take that evil medicine because it puts God in shadow. She has no references but God, she has no employer but God, and she plans to tell this to anyone who asks her. I try to write her resume but what belongs in its sturdy middle glows the blankest white and floats away. Edna follows it out the window, watches it catch in the trees. She thinks this is all well and good. Some night soon an angel will whisper the name of her future employer, and the next morning she will go there and start working.
Michael learned stamping at the Marietta Correctional Facility. On his resume, we change that to the Marietta Institute and hope employers will be impressed with his five year commitment to the job. I grill him: What do you do if a co-worker gives you trouble? He says, I donít make more trouble. I tell my supervisor. But after work, when maybe me and this guy meet in the parking lot... He lets that thought linger to its logical end: stitch its own sutures. Michael and I engage in a ten second staring contest. Do you know what an inner-censor is? He doesnít. Itís the little voice inside that wonders if itís wise to tell the truth. He says, Oh, no. Iím in AA now. Iím trying to be honest with people. Like you should know that once, after a job interview, when I didnít get hired, I robbed the place. Another ten second stare. I win when he says But I donít do that stuff anymore. Iím cleaning up, making amends. I recommend he let that one slide. Me and my buddy Brian—heís in AA, too. Three years for carrying. Weíre mentoring each other. I say, Careful now, I went to high school with a Brian.
Iíve worked a month when my boss informs me Iíve been selected to talk to our "client" Princess about why it was wrong to download porn on a company computer. Iím convinced they drew straws when I wasnít looking and all of theirs pulled up long. Princess is six feet two inches and has a fetish for patent leather stiletto boots. Iím aware of what she could do to me in a parking lot. When my door opens she practically skips into the room yelling Iíve been a baaaad girl! I explain to Princess that if she wants to view pornography in the privacy of her own home, thatís none of my business. But, if sheís not careful at work, through a series of convoluted HR policies, she could find herself charged with sexual harassment. But she wasnít out to offend anybody. She was doing a favor for a friend in prison she was sure was getting lonely. And, admittedly, thatís more than I would risk. Princess also has a fetish for dangly jewelry. She wears bangles on every available inch and tinkers with her collection of charms like a nervous teenager. Whereíd you get that necklace? She asks. Your hair looks pretty.
Victor is trying to save the internet on a floppy disc. He canít job search on the computer 24/7, he says. This way, when he gets home, he can slide that puppy in and get the latest. Victor just earned his clerical training certificate and got it laminated. Heís made friends with Clarence, who tells me every hour he has to rush home to keep thieves from stealing his social security check. Every hour I remind Clarence that his mail room is locked and video monitored. Okay he says, and counts out the minutes till he can ask again.
Victor keeps insisting he was once an accountant but canít recall where or when. I ask for any specifics and he says I just did it. He wears a suit everyday but, on more than one occasion, I catch Clarence adjusting his tie for him. Victor, arms splayed, back pressed against the chair, as Clarence measures perfect proportions of knot and stem with his pinky finger.
Clarence was a magazine photographer out of Chicago in the 1960s. He tells me something happened and I know too much now not to guess. Before this job, I had a laymanís understanding of mental illness. Now, I have nuanced categories. Clarence is a paranoid schizophrenic with obsessive compulsive tendencies. Medication skims off the prickly layer, but itís in the steady tapping of his shirt button, the subtle glances at his shoe laces. Iíve got his application in at the drug store. Someone will hire him, I hope, to work the machine that develops negatives.
But Victor has no tangibles to give: barely an address or a phone number. I must remind myself he wants to save millions of gigabytes in his pocket. He is the imaginary master of imaginary technology. His government check will keep coming, and he will not worry for it. The two of them take the same bus home. I wish theyíd hold hands against the on-lookers. I wish they always had each other.
All content in SmokeLong Quarterly copyright 2003-2013 by its authors.
Jessica Schantz lives in Cleveland Heights and is currently enrolled in the Northeast Ohio Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (NEOMFA). She has been published in angle magazine and the Penguin Review. Publication is forthcoming in Artful Dodge.
Read the interview.
|Issue Eighteen (September 15, 2007): When the Toasts Stopped Being Funny by Steve Almond «» Nailed by Robert J. Bradley «» Raymond Carver by Dan Chaon «» The Sound of Success by Terry DeHart «» Ethnic Lego Girls Carry Spears by Heidi W. Durrow «» Mole Man by Stuart Dybek «» Party by Emily Fridlund «» From Halliville To Grice's Town by Jason Jackson «» Starfish by Jeff Landon «» Insomnia of an Elderly French Designer by Sean Lovelace «» Display by Davin Malasarn «» Little Bones by Kuzhali Manickavel «» Stigmata by Susan O'Neill «» Inroads by Dominic Preziosi «» Bachon by Teri Davis Rouvelas «» Voc Rehab Vignettes by Jessica Schantz «» Neighbors by Curtis Smith «» Caging the Thing by Beth Thomas «» Interviews: Steve Almond «» Robert J. Bradley «» Randall Brown «» Dan Chaon «» Terry DeHart «» Heidi W. Durrow «» Stuart Dybek «» Emily Fridlund «» Jason Jackson «» Jeff Landon «» Sean Lovelace «» Davin Malasarn «» Kuzhali Manickavel «» Mary Miller «» Susan O'Neill «» Dominic Preziosi «» Teri Davis Rouvelas «» Jessica Schantz «» Curtis Smith «» Beth Thomas «» Cover Art "Repression of an Open Mind" by Marty D. Ison «» Letter From the Editor|