Sunday, September 10, 2017

Fiction #74: Steve Passey

Exit Interview

     “The laborer deserves his wages.” - 1 Timothy 5:18

With the new ownership in place the layoffs began. The misery of working where the shareholder is the only acknowledged stakeholder and their margins come solely from your compensation (because no one has any ideas as to how to actually sell this shit) is a peculiar motivator, and so the carrot became severance; the stick became the creeping fear of what to do when severance runs out. No one thinks of remaining. No one aspires.

There was a group of us that would meet at an “Authentic Naples Pizza” Friday after work. It was owned by Syrian emigrants, or possibly Lebanese. I am not sure. After four months – which would have been the completion of my training module, had it ever happened – I was the only one still with the company who attended these “meetings.” Everyone else was a “former employee.” We speculated as to the quantity of the next round of severances. We surmised that those who stayed on in any position of authority only did so because of their accidental and wholly fortunate possession of grainy cell phone video of the CEO fellating a donkey.  We spoke semi-seriously of crossing the street to other companies run by the same dictums, more seriously of going back to school, or even reluctantly of reenlistment. I discovered that the others had created a betting pool as to when I would be told that I was redundant, and as to when I’d sit in the group as one of them and not a living reminder alternately envied or derided as still being employed by “the company.”

One veteran – the first to quit the new regime – made it every time. He had crossed the street to a competitor. He was doing alright. He’d buy the new people – the ones who had just quit or just been let go - a drink. He was our eminence grise. I think he gets there Fridays about noon, because a lot of people quit at noon on Friday and need someplace to go and celebrate. People got fired Wednesdays first thing in the morning, but they’d have some severance and be there Friday to be with those who had emancipated themselves. These are the good times. They are a lot like the old times, with the alcohol and friends but without salary and benefits.

The exception to this was the former Vice-President of Human Resources. Apparently she was from some place called “Saskatchewan”. She had worked for the old company in the same position before the buyout. She had always been “Kathy” until the new company took over and she began referring to herself as “Kate” and demanding that everyone else do so. Only the new hires would do it. They didn’t know any better. Our guy, our eminence grise, and the other more experienced people called her “Kathy.” She’d always correct them, always have the last word, but the next time they saw her it’d be “Hi Kathy.” When newly-statused former employees were divested by the company and done their last ever meeting with “Kate” they’d come to our meetings. We taught them to refer to her as “The Kunt from Saskatchewan,” making sure that you knew it was “Kunt” with a “K.”

When she was let go she came to the pizzeria on the Friday. No one acknowledged her presence or responded when she asked how things were. After all, she’d let them all go; she’d been there while they put their children’s drawings and their boxes of Kleenex in a box. Look around our table and you’ll see the ghostly image of what used to work there, a couple of young guys in their twenties and a lot of middle-aged ladies working for “benefits”. It was a pink ghetto for the most part, and she’d walked them all out. If they quit she’d sat there and blacked out all of the comments they put in their exit interviews, condescending to tell them that “You don’t want negative comments about one employer to follow you to your next one.” She seeded employer review websites with positive reviews – these are written by freelance copy writers for modest fees and their signatures on standard non-disclosure agreements. She did all that and they’d made her a Vice-President for it. She fired us for them and then they fired her. The world goes round and round, summer, spring, winter and fall. But she wasn’t one of us – was never one of us - and now she was here trying to be one of us, just like she’d tried to be one of them. No one would even look at her.

Finally our grey eminence asked her “So, Kathy: Is it true your grandfather had been a capo in the camps in World War Two?”

Everyone had heard about this. Someone in her family had written a book. Apparently the old man had been a trusty of some sort in one of the camps, a dutiful and efficient servant of the Nazis. When the Russians had liberated the camp the prisoners he’d overseen strung him up with barbed wire and beat him to death while he hung there. The inmates beat him with planks torn from the buildings, beat him with stones, beat him with their bare, bony fists and even - for those too weak to beat him with anything - the weight of the hate in their eyes. The Russians watched and cheered. After all, you can understand the master being the master, but it is the servant who betrays his own.

“Fuck you,” she said. “Fuck all of you. So what if my Geed was a capo in the camps. He lived better than the rest of them in there, and longer than most. And my severance was bigger than all of yours combined.”

She got up and walked out. She forgot her coat. No one said a thing until our eminence held up his glass in a toast and said: “So passes the Kunt from Saskatchewan,” and we were just us again.

“Who had me lasting longer than her in the pool?”

I asked this and the other’s laughter rang out of the building and into the street and we returned to our particular stasis, like any other group of weary drones fallen from their wrecked and drying hive. No one touched her coat. It was still there when the last of us left; hanging by one shoulder on the chair she had sat in when she tried to join us.


Steve Passey is originally from Southern Alberta. He is the author of the short-story collection "Forty-Five Minutes of Unstoppable Rock" (Tortoise Books, October 2017) and chapbook "The Coachella Madrigals" (Luminous Press, August 2017) . His fiction and poetry have appeared in more than forty publication worldwide, both print and electronic.

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