Editor’s note: “The Intern” by Veronica Abrams was a finalist for the Show Us Your Short-Shorts Editors’ Prize.
In less than a second your entire head could explode and just about every thought or feeling you had would be rendered almost completely insignificant. Your skull’s circumference, just a broom sweep of ashes. All the knowledge and facts you recited, no more than one giant syntax error. You have a few good years max, but nothing can stop your impermanence here.
I’m standing in the doorway of my soon to be “ex-office” like a pathetic little school boy, the sucker my boss made me into, the tool she created. In patent leather loafers and a pinstripe tie, with even my hair styled exactly the way she wanted it, the little wispy strands falling nearly into my eyes. I’m looking sharp considering I’m dressed for my own dismissal.
“Do you need help with anything?” I ask her, frozen stupid in the doorway, as she looks into my eyes from across the room as if they were some god damn last day of camp slideshow.
“I think we’re good,” my boss tells me, nonchalantly erasing my work history from the database of a high-speed laptop computer. Adding me to the garbage like this is all no big deal, it’s just part of her job description. Her tough duty as general manager. To hire and fire. To repeal and replace me. Just a routine system upgrade or product recall. She’s so good at throwing me out and emptying the recycle bin in a way that doesn’t even chip her new French manicure.
” ….Hey, Troy, ” she says, looking up now, opening her top desk drawer, “Would you come here? I have something for you.” Suddenly her blue eyes present a glimmer of hope. And then there’s the gravitational pull, a poltergeist pushing me towards her. Like the time she asked me to join her for an e-cig on the loading dock and she let me in on some company secrets, telling me stories about how women and ‘real’ men use to work together in the office here. And as I attempted to take a deep inhale of all that nicotine, I laughed so hard I choked and told her she was ‘full of shit’, right before she put a filter on me. Or like the first time we made love in the coffee lounge, when I realized then she really owned me. And without the slightest hesitation, I of course yet again come closer, just a little crash test dummy. It comes so automatically, the way everything does when you’re controlled by her.
She whisks a soft hand over my lifeless grip, and gives me a black jewelry box with crushed velvet lining. And it’s like the casket at my own funeral. Inside there’s a small silver dog tag, a necklace, the kind they use to wear in the army, engraved with the words, ‘courage’.
“Thank you,” I tell her, as every step of the way she’s programming me and my response, in exactly the same fashion she taught me how to make those perfect 8 x 12 photo copies.
“Can I help you put it on?” she asks, already draping the silver chain across my chest, breathing down warm on my neck, her fake strawberry vanilla perfume scent with the Isopropyl alcohol takes over, just like all the other phoniness and lies she’s fed me. All this time scamming me into thinking that it would be some guy from a less industrialized country who would take my place here at the company, when really it’s the newer models, the system upgrades that would inevitably obsolete me.
Clasping the chain now, I can tell she’s loving this, because our ending, you see it’s entirely on her terms. She’s the one getting the closure she always wanted. But for me these parting gifts and kind words all just make it so much harder, just that much more painful.
“You’re a real man to me, Troy. Sorry we have to let you go, but thank you for your service.” But I can’t help and wonder, if I really was a real man, wouldn’t I be able to cry? Surely I would scream. Because I thought I really mattered here to her and at this company. Deluding myself all this time into thinking I could defy all odds, be her one and only. Even up to this very last second I’m still expecting her to have some kind of moment of clarity. A drop of humanity. She could still change her mind and reconsider this whole thing, maybe it doesn’t have to be ‘game over.’
But before I can get in another word, she’s got a death grip on a slotted flat blade screwdriver. Once equipping me with a generous healthcare package, an amazing 401K to opt into, promising to love me for eternity, now she lunges forward stabbing me in the back. How’s that for commitment, security, or tenure? And without even the slightest hesitation she begins loosening my hard drive, as if she’s making an incision deep within my internal organs, ripping my heart at the ventricles. And me, I don’t even try to fight it, somehow I just let her finish me off and bludgeon the last bit of my livelihood with the pounding of her hammer.
And soon the custodial crew will be here to clean up the remains. Discard my old equipment. Now just broken pieces and fragments of my life, shattered within and some scattered around the plush pile carpet. And if I wasn’t so beat up inside, maybe I’d be able to make my last memory a beautiful reminisce about the past three years there. The pixel perfect little moments we captured would flash behind the blue light of my glowing screen computer. Or maybe I’d wonder the fate of her new intern. But instead, it all quickly fades away. It’s almost like I never even came here.
Veronica Abrams’ debut short story was a 2016 Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Award winner, and she has been published in Arcturus (from The Chicago Review Of Books), The Petigru Review, and Fall Lines: A Literary Convergence. She holds a Master’s degree in Creative Arts in Learning and a graduate certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies.