by Sonya N. Groves
“Erin,” Mr. Winchell yelled, “you little bitch!”
I walked away, weaving through the call center cubicles. I kept my eyes on the door, raised my left hand near my head in salute, and flipped Mr. Winchell the middle finger. I yanked open the door, walked down the hall towards the exit, and then, I was out.
Out meant standing in the South Texas heat on a late August morning; out meant unemployment—again. Sighing, I walked to my car and opened the driver’s door. I got in and turned on the engine to get the air conditioning started.
I reclined the seat all the way back, lying almost prone. I took the envelope that Winchell had given me out of my purse and opened it. Inside was a check for $229.31 and a pink slip, my formal notice. The check was all I had earned for the week, not enough for rent.
I crumpled the pink paper, and threw it toward the floor board. It fell amid some empty Tito’s vodka bottles. The pink wad looked like a giant piece of confetti amongst a wino’s trash heap. I flung my left arm over my eyes. I’d been fighting a headache all day, and the sunlight made my eyes ache like they’d been dilated. Think, I needed to think. Instead, I gave a small wake for my ego.
Earlier that day, I had tried to sneak in through the side door and slouch walk to my terminal. But Anita, my cubicle-mate, in a voice at least two decibels over her normal register, had addressed me with, “Hello, Erin, nice of you to join us.”
I plopped into my wheelie chair and scowled at her, who promptly raised her shoulder and dipped her head, acknowledging that she had been a shit. “You should get here on time. I can’t be expected to man the phones all morning after you’ve been out celebrating your divorce,” she said, turning to work.
I waved her comments away and began adjusting my headset. I knew last night’s binge hadn’t been a celebration, but a pity party. Twenty years wasted on a cheating ass and nothing to show for it. No 3,000 square foot home. No new car every two years. Nothing.
About ten seconds later, Mr. Winchell, wearing a citron tie that looked like a lime had exploded on it, walked up. He stood taller than the cubicle partition by a foot and hung his arms over it like creeping vines. “This is the sixth time you’ve been late to work in thirty days. You need to get your things and leave. You’re fired.” Winchell took a long white envelope and handed it to me. Inside of it were my termination papers and last paycheck.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Winchell. I know you told me if I was late again I would get fired, but…”
“Don’t give me the pathetic cow eyes. Begging won’t work, Erin. You’re late all the time.” He snapped his skinny Slim Jim fingers together. “Take this envelope and go. Besides if it wasn’t the tardiness, you’d have been fired for the drinking.” He turned to Anita. “Hey Anita, you’re right; she does smell like a liquor store.”
Anita never turned from her computer screen, but slightly canted her head in Mr. Winchell’s direction and said, “Told you. It’s like a God damn bar every day.”
My mouth gaped open like one of those clown heads on top of a helium canister. “Mr. Winchell, you and Anita can’t talk to me like this. I have rights.”
“You got no rights, girly-girl. This ain’t one of them union states; this is Texas. It’s called ‘at will.’ You work at my will, and I will no longer require you. Consider yourself lucky…”
“Lucky? This job lucky? I don’t need this…this…this kind of…” I looked down trying to think of some damning rejoinder and stopped. I snatched the envelope from his fingers and shoved it into my purse. When I looked up, I saw Winchell’s lips squeezed together as though he’d been sucking on his sour tie. I faced him and calmly said, “Fuck you, Winchell. I’ll leave, but fuck you.” I started to move towards the cubicle entry but hesitated, and grabbed Anita’s chair by the back. I jostled it. “And you can choke on your headset. Enjoy your job and try not to gag too much next time you kiss Winchell’s ass.”
So I left as I had come, through a throng of stainless steel partitions, a field filled with prairie dog heads popping up and down to catch a glimpse of the new fired girl.
And now I found myself lying in my car in the middle of the day. I had hated the job, but needed it. I had no money, and I’d have no place to live in two weeks. I had visions of myself as a homeless person living under an overpass, and Winchell’s words “at will” kept coming back to me. My life had no will unless drinking vodka counted.
Moving the seat up, I thought, I’ll work with what I’ve got. I drove to the bank and cashed my check. I drove to Big Jakes Liquor and picked up a fifth of Tito’s vodka. I moved the car to a far corner of the parking lot and backed into a tree shaded spot. Sipping vodka from the bottle, I sat in the heat listening to cicada and traffic. I watched cars and people come and go. When no cars were in the lot, I watched the heat waves undulate off the blacktop until I was drunk enough to realize that the all the waves had flatlined.
I started my car and drove out of Big Jake’s lot. I drove onto an overpass that looked about six stories high. I redlined the tachometer, pushing the car to eighty miles an hour. It took less than sixty seconds to reach the curved apex of the ramp when I grabbed hold of will. I would never live under an overpass.
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Sonya N. Groves
Sonya Groves is an English teacher in San Antonio, Texas. She has poetry publications in over 20 journals, the latest including La Noria, The Voices Project, Aries, Carbon Culture Review, and FLARE: The Flagler Review. Currently she is pursuing her Master’s degree in English at Our Lady of the Lake University.