HUMAN RESOURCES by Douglas Silver
JUDGEMENT DAY. QUARTERLY EVALUATIONS at Wincorp and I feel layoffs in my bones. This is one of the four days a year you’d do well to know my name: Robin Samuels, Human Resources Director. Everyone in the office calls me the Terminator. Not that I kill people, like in the movie, but usually you don’t want to be alone with me in a room. Granted, I’m not the most popular person at work. What I say to that: Jesus wasn’t always on everyone’s It list, either.
I share an office with Black Barbra. Sometimes things go missing from my desk and I know she took them.
Barbra, I’ll say. Have you seen my pen?
Sorry, Robin. I haven’t.
What about my stapler?
Nope. Just use mine.
She’ll offer me one suspiciously similar (also black, I might add). Smart, because now I owe her. These are her games and she plays them well. I let it go because my people owned her people, and I think she’s rebelling on their behalf. However, I do take the bigger chair. Tolerance comes in baby steps. Martin Luther King said that. Maybe it was Jesse Helms. Regardless, you never saw either of them sitting in something with lumbar support. I’ll tell you this much, if Black Barbra ever gets a national holiday, I’ll give her a big chair (not mine, another one). Baby steps.
Still, she does a good job, Black Barbra. Punctual and hardworking, she’ll do fine on her evaluation. She brought me a cupcake when her daughter made communion. She brought them in for everyone, but she made sure mine was slopped with icing. You notice these things when you’re a people person like I am.
Last hired, first fired, that’s the name of the game. Last hired, first fired, add it up and it comes out the same. I hum my little ditty on my way into the break room. Most of Business Development—Bad-credit-Caucasian Marty, Sexual-Harassment-Filer Kimmy, Lesbian-Recovering-Alcoholic Elena—is sitting around the table. Divorced-Underpaid Lisa slices her pound cake. I granted her permission last week to bring in the cake. That cake is HR A-Okay, because I said so. Divorced-Underpaid Lisa’s youngest son just made Eagle Scout. He doesn’t work at the company, but she doesn’t have that much to live for, so I let it go. Her oldest son sells eight balls of cocaine under the freeway. She’s never brought in cake for that. I wonder what flavor it would be. Vanilla’s the easy guess. If that’s what you’re thinking, shame on you. This isn’t that type of story.
How is everyone this morning? I ask.
They’re all smiles and silence. Fear is a stone in the throat. Affirmative Action Enrique avoids eye contact. Smart. Not smart enough to be qualified for his job, but smart enough to keep it. If I could fire him for speaking all of those computer abbreviations, his ass would be on the next bus back to Tijuana. He’s always BRBing and LOLing and it’s VFA (very fucking annoying; he hasn’t said that one. That one’s mine. VFA™). But he’s Mexican and a midget, and believe you me, that complicates things. I call him MM Enrique, though not to his face—because I’d have to bend down too far. Get it? LOL you little Napoleon cocksucker.
MM Enrique. Sounds like candy if you say it a few times. Not that I want to eat him. Not really. Maybe just those calloused fingers, all that salty, blue-collar goodness passed down from his parents. Landscaping…hmmm. His newest game is making LOL a prefix. Prefix means unoriginal. Lol-camotive. Lol-lita. Lol Estados Unidos. I don’t know why he does it, but it cracks everyone up. Mine are funnier, but I don’t share them. I don’t give them away. Lol-an cancer. Lol-acoust. Lol-bortion.
It’s only funny when it hurts.
How’s your morning been, Robin? PhD Eric asks me.
Great. Keeping things afloat.
Interviews going well?
Very well. We have some great candidates.
Fantastic. We need some new programmers STAT.
PhD Eric smiles, as if it’s just the two of us, and I’m basking in the fluoride glow of his reverence. I bet his penis is fluent in Latin. I bet it can rattle off state capitals. Maybe even converse on world affairs. Montpellier. Global warming.
I hear you, I say. Because I can.
I second that, Lesbian-Recovering-Alcoholic Elena interrupts. If we don’t have someone by relaunch, we’ll be in quite a pickle.
I smile, but inside I’m laughing. Doubled over in hysterics. Pickle, ha. Because it’s phallic and Lesbian-Recovering-Alcoholic Elena can’t do anything with that. Ha. LOL.
Divorced-Underpaid Lisa offers me a slice of cake, but I decline. Ex-Con Keith takes it off her hands and motors it down like it’s his last meal. Not that he ever had to worry about that. He was locked up for fraud or check forgery—something fluffy and adorably white. We get a tax break for paying him minimum wage to push around the breakfast cart and hand out Danish.
No one invites me to sit down. Keith is talking with his mouthful, his cheeks playing ping-pong with the soft, battery dough. When I fantasize about firing Ex-con Keith, I imagine having the exit interview with his asshole. Get it, exit-interview. Asshole. He was in prison. Ha Ha Ha (I’m not waiting for you).
I’d make him drop his pants and bend over, and I’d yell, “You’re fired! You’re fired! The sky is falling, you’re fired! How do you like me now!?” I bet he’d offer me cigarettes or oral sex, maybe even try to shank me with a ballpoint pen. No, I’d say. Sorry. I can’t be bribed. Not even for the boysenberry Danish.
Molly is my fourth interview of the day. The first two candidates were overqualified, and the third interview I cut short on grounds of halitosis.
Where do you hope to see yourself in ten years? I ask
Achieving success in a job I love.
If you were writing your autobiography, what would the title be?
She takes a deep breath. I have her on the ropes, and take a moment to scan her resume. Suma Cum Laude from Brown. I wonder what I’d call her. Brown Molly? That could be confusing, especially if she’s ever around Black Barbara.
Well, I feel like I’m only now hitting my stride, really discovering my potential. I guess it would be called The Best is yet to Come.
I laugh and laugh and laugh, until finally she joins in. I hear that one a lot. That book wouldn’t be a biography. That book would be a fat tub of fiction. Anyway, I’m not hiring anyone who chose to live in Rhode Island for four years.
The nursery is on the tenth floor. I go there at lunchtime when the rest of my office is splitting soup and salad combos or squeezing in a yoga class. Your downward dog doesn’t impress me. The aide knows me well (I hired her) and she thinks it’s sweet that I take time out to play with the children. Plus, it lets her take a smoke break. Finger-paintings and macaroni art clog up the cubby holes, each child’s name written in marker on a strip of masking tape pressed over the slot. Kind of like their parents’ door plaques. They’ve just woken up from naptime. Eyes at half-mast, their tiny thumbs sparkling with drool. Little Jack Barnes runs up and hugs my leg, his hand grazing the underside of my ass. Like father like son.
Hi sweetheart, I say. Did you have a good nap?
He nods, and hands me a book, Santa’s Big Night. We shouldn’t have religious books here, but I let it go. The kids gather around me. Billy Smythe has a fist full of Play Dough and Lanny Mistead is crying beside him. Billy’s father is the CFO. They have the same cherubic face and inability to play nice. Lanny’s mother, Underperforming-Asian Sandra, was born into this company as middle-management. Will die middle-management. RIP hopes and dreams. Lanny has a lot more to cry about than Play Dough. Wait until she wants braces (oh, that day will come). A few of them are the spitting image of their parents. I wish I had a spitting image.
They cuddle up beside me and I read aloud, slowly showcasing the illustrations before turning the page. By the last page, Santa has put a gift in the hands and a smile on the face of every child in the world. Beautiful bullshit that I amend. Instead I say, Santa Clause brought toys to many boys and girls, but not everyone got what they wanted because he was keeping it real. This is kind of me. At least three of their parents are on my chopping block, and Santa doesn’t take IOUs. Trust me, I’ve offered. He also refuses to transport live goods. Jolly pear-shaped bastard.
A few boys go back to their action figures. Lanny grabs an Etch-a-Sketch and plops herself on my lap. Draw me something, I say, and she does. She’s a go-getter, her hands working those dials like she was cracking a safe. Her curls are spiral staircases. Her hair has beautiful architecture.
I hold her closer, wishing my body was an Etch-a-Sketch. Every morning I’d stand in front of my hall mirror and draw on my appeal, the grains of sand scrambling into velvety curves behind the Plexiglas. I would sketch over my sexiness with low-cut designer blouses and skirts. Something classy, but that sings a few chords of bow chicka wawa. Wawa. On Friday’s I’d give myself bigger breasts, nipples like canons, and go to a club to fire them at the most virile man I saw. Men would flock to me. One would get cute and reach for my dials, trying to sketch something phallic (There’s always one. If you don’t think so, it’s probably you. Hands off, asshole. I could be someone’s mother). Obviously, I wouldn’t go home with him. But his friend—the one who tears him off me and helps the douche bag into a cab, who comes back to buy me a drink, apologizing for his friend like he’s been doing it for years, insisting that he’s a good guy—him I’d take home. I’d shake a little in the cab uptown, sand dispersing to reveal a slip of cleavage. In my apartment I’d go all the way. Shake and shake and shake until he sowed his seed and promised to dress me in the morning.
Lanny tugs on my collar. I look down. That’s beautiful, sweetheart, I say. I have no idea what the fuck I’m looking at, but I know that doesn’t matter.
I meet with President Rhinehart at the end of the day to review the evaluations. That he’s fascist and German is, I think, just a coincidence. At the Fourth of July party, after his wife went off to play grab ass with the summer interns, his hand found its way up my skirt. Usually, you’d think that be a good time to compliment me. Say things like, Firm buns or Where will this lead or just Mmmhh. A girl likes to hear “Mmmhh”.” It means you don’t know the words for how good it feels to be with her, the more m’s the better. But he didn’t say that. I never hear it. Not from anyone. My cat, purrs, but that’s different. Purrr isn’t Mmmhh.
I wondered what turned him on. I pictured him masturbating in front of a mirror while fantasizing of himself masturbating in front of a mirror, the whole time shouting out his own name. That’s meta. Meta means you went to an expensive college. I am not meta. He came on my face, then reached down to hand me a monogrammed handkerchief to wipe off his goo. Monogrammed. That’s why he’s El Presidente.
He reads over the evaluations, referencing production numbers from another file. He nods and shakes his head, nods and shakes his head. He never looks up. I’ve been here before. Hhmmm, he says. Hhmmm is Mmmhh spelled backward. It makes sense because it means the opposite thing. It means I have nothing to say to you. It means your ass makes a good stress ball and you live with a cat and you will die with a cat and someone will take in that cat after finding your decaying body, someone who would never have taken you in.
Hhmm, he says, and puts down the evaluations. I’ll get into this sometime next week.
At night my mother calls to ask about my day. Anything fun after work? she’ll say.
Maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow is a brand new day.
That is true, I say. Tomorrow is a brand new day.
She doesn’t understand that people aren’t supposed to like the Director of HR. I’m the one who low-balled their job offers and drew frowny faces in the margins of weekly status reports. I’m the one who fired that busty receptionist because she, in fact, could not type 125 words per minute and, no, I don’t care that she was a nationally-ranked cheerleader. I’m not in the human pyramid building business. If that changes, I have her resume on file. In the meantime, if you’re out there Gina: We’ve got spirit, yes we do, we’ve got spirit without you. Go Unemployment!
This is why they hate me. No one holds the door for the gatekeeper. The executioner sleeps alone.
My mother says I’m wrong. That is not why they hate you, she says. There are other reasons. Better reasons. She reminds me that I attended the breast cancer walk with a t-shirt that read Save Second Base and suggested we do body shots off of all the women in remission. She reminds me that I steal bagels from the conference room when I, in fact, do not pay dues to the bagel club (I feel my status exempts me).
They hate you, she says, because despite their best efforts, they can’t get you fired.
You’ve wheedled your way into the pants of every Vice President in the company. They hate you because you think you own them. Because you expect them to feel indebted to you.
It’s never just one thing, I tell her. They do call me the Terminator.
No, Robin, my mother says. You call yourself that. No one else calls you the Terminator.
When my mother says she loves me, what she means is she loves me anyway. Despite a frozen womb and bare fingers. I make myself a cup of chamomile tea and get naked and into bed. My cat Lucy is curled up on the window ledge, watching as I take the first resume from the pile. White Tony, the janitor. The page only has a few lines on it (several typos) but still I like the feel of it against my body. His desperation and poverty all over my skin, the whitespace of his miseducation riding across my birthmarks. I will protect you, Tony. Your malnourished children may suckle me.
I don’t get much out of that though, because he’s only the janitor. I move on to Associates-Degree-Nepotism Carly in customer service and Hispanic-Widowed Alice in sales, working my up to middle and then senior management. Their histories and GPAs and skills and hobbies lost in my folds. They shouldn’t like me. I am the Chaplin reciting Last Rites as they walk the Green Mile. I am Saint Peter of the 27th floor. I am the executioner and this is my song, LOL LOL BRB LOL.
My phone rings, but I don’t answer it. Some nights I’d rather just lay in bed with my thoughts.
DOUGLAS SILVER's fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Beloit Fiction Journal, Berkeley Fiction Review, The Briar Cliff Review, BLIP, Our Stories, and elsewhere. He has been a finalist in competitions by Narrative Magazine and Glimmer Train.