~This story was originally published in CALYX, A Journal of Art and Literature by Women (2006), under the name Mandy Farrington.
~Selected by Assistant Editor Kenneth A. Fleming
My first morning on the job, I’m melting. The cafeteria floats in my tears. White-aproned reflections swim across the stainless surfaces—counters, sinks, cabinets, doors. Vegetables I’m fixing to slice sweat odors that seem a bit personal.
The woman at the station next to mine—Frances—must be seven feet tall and four hundred pounds. A hair net clutches her skull. If it had leg openings, I could wear it as a tutu. She speaks with determination about killing her daughter. “I’ll slit her throat,” she says. “Wash her blood down that drain.” She tilts her massive head toward the hole beneath my heel. “Norbert can put out her carcass with the rest of the pigses.”
Norbert, with his mane of white hair, looks like God dealing judgment. His pink eyes flicker at Frances, then refocus on the meat slicer.
“Frances, you’ll do no such thing. All teenagers talk back.” That lady’s name is Elsie, at the station opposite mine. Her voice pipes up and down a scale.
“I’m the one brought her into this world. I’ma be the one takes her out.” Frances peels boiled eggs with a single motion per shell. She’d peel her daughter’s limbs the same way. Where I come from, a crime is toilet papering somebody’s trees. Maybe I am overreacting. Sweat makes it hard to grip the knife. When I melt, they can rinse me down the drain as well.
“Shhh,” Elsie hisses and lowers her eyes. Her skin is the color of weak chocolate milk, peppered with dark freckles. She smiled when I was introduced.
“Pick up the pace,” I hear behind me. It’s Kitty, the manager and only white person here besides me. Perhaps she heard Frances and will call the police or something. Steadying my hand, I chop carrots.
I have a scholarship. This job is for fun money. Ridiculous not only because the job is plain deadly, but also because I don’t have any friends here to have fun with. They all went to different schools.
Breathe through the mouth so you won’t cry. You have made a serious mistake.