Kansas

I work in an HR call center where the phones don’t ring. There are four of us, and the only person who works is the supervisor’s son. That’s not to say that the rest of us are lazy and don’t want to do our jobs, but everything we could be doing automatically gets routed to him, even the new job they just posted. Kerry didn’t even apply.

“The minimum salary is $63,000. That’s unheard of for someone two years out of college in this economy,” I told her.

“We all know who’s going to get that job. Why even bother?” Kerry said rolling her eyes.

“Blake is one of the privileged. He’s had everything spoon-fed to him ever since he was a baby,” Amanda chimed in. She folded her arms across her chest and clicked her tongue in her mouth. “Thirty-years-old, and he still needs daddy to get him a job.”

Kerry and I exchanged glances and smirked. We had heard the soft moans and heavy grunts of Amanda and Blake behind the locked doors of the file room the Monday after Thanksgiving break while most of the fulltime employees were on extended vacation. The file room was hotter than usual that afternoon when we went to move boxes. The air was moist. Kerry found Blake’s used condom behind one of the filing cabinets. We kicked it closer to the door, hoping that Mitch would discover it and want to know who it belonged to. Process of elimination would point directly to his only son. The other three men in our department were all above the age of sixty. They probably couldn’t keep it up, more less know how to put a condom on. The plan backfired in our faces, however. The cute security guard with the hazel eyes who had only been with us for two weeks was fired. Blake’s work doubled, while the rest of us sat by the phones twiddling our thumbs and watching Netflix on our iPads under our desks.

Amanda was the most hurt when we learned that temps weren’t invited to the office Christmas party. Of course, Blake was able to go, and Amanda was devastated when she found out that he chose to take Chelsea from Global Communications instead of her.

“One rendezvous in the file room does not make you a girlfriend. How old are we? Fifteen?” Kerry whispered to me. We both chuckled. Sure, it was insensitive to laugh at Amanda, and we felt awful when we learned that she’d spent her entire lunch break crying in the bathroom, but she was a traitor. She had slept with the enemy in an attempt to secure her job. Kerry and I understood her concern. We were all in that conference room at Jeff’s retirement party when Mitch whispered a little too loudly, “So I’m paying them to do nothing.”

“Then why don’t you give us something to do, asshole!” Kerry had yelled, but no one seemed to have heard her.

If Amanda really wanted to keep her job, she needed to go higher. Mitch’s wife was dying of cancer. It was only matter of months. With the right persuasion, maybe Amanda could lure him into that same file room after work hours. She was cute enough. Blond. Big boobs. Tiny waist. Kerry often said Amanda dressed too sexy for work. It was possible that she had been seducing Mitch without even knowing it. Kerry could possibly save her job too if Mitch liked the curvy brunette type. I knew I’d never have a shot the moment Mitch told me to apply for the administrative assistant role in finance. Shame on me for assuming that an almost seventy-year-old white man in corporate American would see a black girl for more than just a secretary. At least he didn’t tell me to clean up something. I probably would’ve quit right on the spot. My sister warned me that the leadership was bad. She had worked here as a temp when she graduated, and the moment HondaJet offered her a position as a recruiter, she was gone. Didn’t think twice.

A part of me wanted to prove Mitch wrong. Even with a Master’s degree in Poetry Writing, I could have been the best damn HR Analyst there was. Another part wondered if it was even worth it. I didn’t want to wear pants suits for a living. My dream was to live in some small town in Kansas, or further west. Work in a greasy diner where I knew every regular by name. Have an affair with the morning-shift cook and not care that he was banging my roommate too. Come home after a long day of serving pancakes, fried over hard eggs, cheesesteak sandwiches and non-vegetarian veggie burgers to write timeless poetry like my idols, Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson. Not one would sell until long after I had died. My death would be a tragic one too. Accidental overdose. Car crash from drunk driving. Syphilis that I got from my burger-flipping lover. Or maybe I’d drown in my own tears like Sylvia.

“How was your New Year’s?” Kerry asked when I walked into the office.

“It was good until I got here.”

Kerry waved me over to her cubicle. “Blake got the email for an interview next week.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“Didn’t you apply for it too?”

“I haven’t checked my email. I don’t even think I want the job anymore.”

“You won’t report to Mitch. Regina is actually the hiring manager.”

Regina was the head of recruitment. Most of her team had been outsourced to India, and if she wasn’t in her office with the door shut on conference calls with them to fix various issues they were having, she was in all-day meetings. We hardly ever saw her.

“The interview is gonna be for two hours. You’ll talk to her for an hour, and then you’ll talk to the other HR Analyst, Janine. Janine is nice. She talks loud, but she’s nice,” Kerry continued.

“You’re saying this like you already know I got the interview.”

“Well you’re the only other person that applied.”

“Didn’t Amanda—”

Kerry quickly shushed me as Amanda walked around the corner. Her eyes red. She winced as she eased herself into her chair as if her body from the waist down was in immense pain.

“She didn’t get it,” Kerry whispered.

“Excuse me if I’m a little emotional today, you guys. I, um, had surgery over the holiday,” Amanda said. Her voice cracked on the word surgery.

“Everything alright?” I asked.

“Yes and no.” She put her hand over her mouth. “I don’t want to talk about it, ok?” she squeaked.

I turned to Kerry. She shrugged her shoulders.

“Mornin’, ladies,” Blake said with a big grin as he came around the corner. Amanda looked up and burst into tears. She wrapped her arms around her stomach and ran towards the bathroom.

“What the hell is wrong with her?” Kerry asked.

“Must be that time of the month,” Blake said.

Kerry and I rolled our eyes. That was a man’s answer to everything.

“Check your email,” Kerry mouthed to me.

I nodded and took a seat at my desk. Sure enough, I had an invite for an interview next Monday. I was surprised at my disappointment. I hadn’t expected to make it so far, especially with my lack in experience. I was an interview away from my first fulltime job, and it was almost depressing. However, I still had Blake to compete against. Regina was the manager, but she still reported to Mitch. I’d be a fool to think that Mitch wouldn’t influence her final decision.

I spent the rest of the week preparing for my interview. Although I had no experience in HR other than my temp work, which amounted to absolutely nothing, I had to formulate the best bullshit answer to fool them into believing that I was the most qualified candidate. I was Editor In Chief for my university’s poetry magazine while I was studying for my Master’s. I interviewed and hired all of my staff. Granted, there were only ten, and most of them were freshmen getting paid $50 a month, but that had to count for something. What more could Blake have had over me other than the fact that he was the offspring of the head of the entire department. Before this job, he was delivering pizzas. A guy his age still delivering pizzas did not have ambition. I did. Who else would willingly move to a state that was literally flatter than a pancake (seriously, I knew a guy who received a grant to research Kansas’ topography) if given the opportunity?

Kansas seemed like a sad, distant memory when I walked into the office Monday morning. Amanda wasn’t at her cubicle. She had gotten fired on Friday for allegedly asking Mitch for money for an abortion. Based on the way she had been acting the week before, Kerry and I figured she’d already gotten one, and was seeking damage control. Apparently the file room wasn’t the first time she and Blake had had sex. I felt bad for her. She was stupid but she didn’t deserve having her heart broken, nor did she deserve the subsequent humiliation of getting fired because of it. Job interview or no job interview, I had hoped that Blake would get fired too. Amanda shouldn’t have been the only one punished. Even if she was trying to blackmail the head of HR.

Unfortunately, Blake skipped into the office wearing Khaki pants, Sperry’s, and a striped Polo shirt as if the job he was about to interview for was a shooing and that no one had just lost her source of income because of him. Meanwhile, I had on a black pants suit, my sister’s hand-me-down pumps, and a fuchsia blouse. I had even straightened my hair, which took up most of my Sunday afternoon and evening,

Blake was first to be interviewed. It went fast too. He was back at his desk in forty-five minutes. However, judging from the crooked grin on his face, his quick interview might have hindered my chances rather than helped them. The first round of the interview was with Regina. I walked into her office with what I assumed was a confident stride, though my mind was on Amanda. She had only turned 22 last month, and already her life had been ruined twice over by father and son. I wanted to whisk her away to my imaginary diner in Kansas. Introduce her to chef Luscious. He had big lips and a long tongue, and was all about pleasing his women before he let himself get any.

“Sit,” Regina said from her desk without looking up from my resume.

I ignored being commanded as if I were a dog and made myself comfortable in the chair across from her.

“Are you aware of what we require of our HR analysts?” She still hadn’t made eye contact with me. What was the purpose of all those job interview trainings I took as an undergrad if the interviewer was going to be so rude? I singed my hair bone-straight for her. The least she could do was look at me.

“Yes,” I lied. I waited awkwardly for her next question. She was studying my resume, as if searching for something. The page was half empty. She didn’t have much to look at.

“And you believe you’re qualified?”

I’m qualified to run away to Kansas with Amanda and have a threesome with chef Luscious, I thought to myself. Afterwards, we could right confessional poetry about our encounter and laugh at how disgusting we were.

I nodded and crossed my legs.

Finally she looked up from my resume to my person. “What can you tell me about yourself? Your experience?”

I could see Amanda in her kitchen. She had blocked all the cracks between the doors and windows with damp towels. The oven door was open, and the gas was turned the highest it could go. She was on her knees pulling her hair back to lay her head on the racks. Not yet, I told her, it’s not time. I had been putting a quarter of each pay check into my savings since I first started working in the call center three months ago. I was living off of my sister and her six figure salary, so it was pretty easy to save. I knew I had enough money for a one-way ticket to Kansas on the cheapest airline. Maybe even enough for two.

“Does Southwest fly to Kansas?” I asked.

“Excuse me?” Regina said.

I didn’t bother to explain. I rose from my seat, strode out of her office, passed Blake and Mitch talking in the hallway and Kerry’s puzzled expression, and out of the front door. I would beat the sunset to Kansas and I would take my pitiful Amanda with me.

Nortina

Featured photo: “A True Kansas Sunset” courtesy of Matt Katzenberger Photoblog

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