Two days from now, you’ll lose your job as a data entry temp. You’ll spend quantity time in coffee bars, Starbucks, The Depot, Magic Brew, and Cuppa Joe, nursing a brown stain at the bottom of your cup while checking out possibilities on Monster and ZipRecruiter. Discouraged daily, you’ll return to your apartment to wolf Cheez Doodles on your spring-sprung sofa while watching reruns on Nick at Nite. Eventually, in The Grind, you’ll come upon a posting for a job that doesn’t seem to demand much experience at all. The notice reads, “Just show up promptly,” so you’ll arrive with only a travel mug and a cell phone, barely enough to occupy you during your hour-long wait in a tiny anteroom. The boss will come out of her office as you’re about to leave and bark out, “Where do you think you’re going?”
She’ll block your path, a woman wide as a truck, with low-cut bangs and a scowl. Quelling an impulse to run, you’ll follow her back inside her office, where she’ll explain the job, punctuated by your nervous nods. The job will be going over product reports, the pay will be $7.50 an hour, and the working conditions a dingy white cubicle, but looking into her square-cut gaze, you won’t be able to say no.
You’ll start the next day, arriving exactly at nine, though she’ll claim you’re late. She’ll be wearing a broad skirt and a blouse that emphasizes her heft, and you’ll mumble something about missing the bus. You’ll be shown the first series of reports to correct, mind-numbing screenwork as the wall clock edges forward on crippled limbs. For lunch, she’ll order bad deli and have you pick it up. You’ll leave long after five and repeat the same routine the next day, and the next. After a few days, you’ll realize that no one else is in the office but you and her. Soon she’ll begin to figure in your dreams: the slow heave of her thighs, her breasts like wrecking balls.
The days of each week will pass like a pack of well-thumbed and vaguely soiled playing cards. Your pay will be docked for each report passed along unsatisfactorily, your lunch hour shortened to twenty minutes, even your bathroom privileges taken away. The wall clock will hum with a strange odor. You’ll get the feeling she’s dominating you even while seated at her desk through the sheer bulk of her presence, as if she were squatting over you, those longshoreman arms holding you down. Eventually the work itself will diminish, staring at a blank screen or doing nothing at all. You’ll often have the desire to depart, to flee this monstrous place, but over the months this urge will dissipate until you won’t be able to imagine a time without such subjugation. One day the clock itself will stop, and that, too, will seem to make perfect sense.
David Galef is a shameless eclectic, with over a dozen books in two dozen directions. They include the novel How to Cope with Suburban Stress, the story collection Laugh Track, a poetry book called Flaws, the children’s picture book Tracks, and a volume of Japanese proverbs. His latest is the short story collection My Date with Neanderthal Woman. He is a professor of English and the creative writing program director at Montclair State University.