by Madeline Cash
Madeline Cash is a writer living in Los Angeles. She runs the Forever reading series. You can find her work in The Baffler, Expat Press, The Literary Review, Maudlin House, and Always Crashing, among others. Her debut story collection, Earth Angel, is forthcoing from CLASH BOOKS in April 2023.
Steph lines the walls of her office with Tibetan prayer flags that look like swastikas. She has Kanji tattoos saying 悪因悪果 that she’s never bothered to translate. Steph is a citizen of the world. She buys makeup that hasn’t been tested on animals. Her gel nails fly over the keyboard as she makes meeting after meeting. She’s the best assistant they’ve ever had.
I’m the worst assistant they’ve ever had. I type zero words per minute. My Gmail never empties. It’s a renewable resource, a digital hot spring. My inbox runneth over. I don’t care if my makeup is tested on animals. I imagine lab rats with up to 36% lash volume.
Rachel from accounting has 6,000 unused vacation days and she’ll never use them. She vacations to the break room. An app teaches her French. She has a tiny Eiffel Tower paperweight. It’s Paris on the expense reports, on the loan forms, on the parking permits.
Bradford from marketing is falling in love with an ISIS recruiter online. They met in a singles chatroom. Sometimes she tells Bradford that to update the Koran is to deny its initial perfection. He’s started calling us infidels. It’s an HR nightmare. I feel happy for Bradford when I catch him gazing into the monitor as though into the eyes of a lover. I hope to meet that special someone someday.
Shara nurses in the lobby and the men go the long way to the kitchen to catch a glimpse, not of Shara’s breasts, but of the child hanging off them who is twelve. He’s in varsity water polo. The breast milk gives him strength to play Fortnite.
I think about the black and white photo of the construction workers having lunch on the scaffolding. Those men aren’t up there anymore. They’re backend coders. They buy bitcoin and pitch up their voices on Ableton. They’re on my for you page because they’re for me. We’re the American workforce and our scaffolding is on Zoom.
The office is purgatory and I’m doing limbo in limbo. How low can I go? I wait for Bradford to start a caliphate and burn it all down. I clean the Mr. Coffee and watch the aquarium fish float through their fish castle.
Rachel says TGIF and we go out for drinks. Bradford thanks Allah it’s Friday. We cheers to our 401ks, our health insurance, our dental. We’re a family: me, Steph, Rachel, Bradford, Shara, and the Mr. Coffee. It’s happy hour and for that hour we’re happy.