Funny stories in under 500 words.

The Perfect Storm

“It was the perfect storm,” Marge was saying. “Two of their clerks already had vacation plans made. One was going on a cruise, the other had a family time share in a cottage on Lake Huron or someplace, and then another’s mother suddenly died, and another quit, just when the students were going to start coming back for the fall semester and needed all that hand-holding.”

“Why’d the clerk quit?” I didn’t really care, but I thought I should say something. But then Marge didn’t say anything for such a long pause, and I thought maybe the connection had been cut. “Marge? You still there?”

“I don’t know. Who knows?” It was the kind of denial of knowledge that sounded like concealment but I let it pass.

“So about a week, you think?”

“It could even lead to something full time.”

It was Marge’s constant refrain. Did she get some kind of placement fee? A kickback, a percentage? Did she just assume this was what everybody wanted, a salary, benefits, health care coverage, vacation and sick time, a pension? A 401K?

“OK, I haven’t got any plans, and it’ll be air-conditioned, so I’m in. Dog Days of August be damned. When do I start?”

**********

Susan Wallace, the office manager from hell. A sexy dark-haired girl in a loose summer dress and flip-flops, but for all the appearance of being “laid back,” a real martinet.

“We’re understaffed as I’m sure Marjorie told you, and it’s new student week,” Susan began, ignoring the hand I’d extended. “So you won’t be getting a lunch break, I’m afraid, and you’ll have to request a replacement at the desk for any bathroom breaks. And only one of those in the morning and one in the afternoon.” I’d been assigned to a little desk at the entry to the Student Registration Building. Students would come in in a kind of panic and I’d take down their vitals, notify the secretaries to the counsellors, who would meet further with the students and then assign the students times to meet with the counsellors themselves. Many levels of bureaucracy at work. Then the students would come back to me so that I could tell them when the secretaries called me to tell them to meet with the counsellors.

“Peter’s pretty stressed right now,” Susan confided. Susan ran this whole show, the temps, the secretaries, the counsellors, the dean, and incidentally the students. Peter was Peter Graham, Dean of Something or Other. Chances are he was not the one who was “stressed.”

“I’ll take that book, too,” she said, indicating the novel I had brought along with the superfluous sack lunch, Saul Bellow’s Dangling Man. “No time for reading on this job. I thought you’d have known that already.”

I could stick it out for a week, I figured, but I suddenly understood Marge’s mysterious reluctance to speak on the phone and kicked myself for not picking up on the signals about why the clerk had quit. The perfect storm, indeed.  

This story was written by Charles Rammelkamp, editor of the the online literary journal, The Potomac, and is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore where he lives. His latest books are MIXED SIGNALS, a poetry chapbook from Finishing Line Press and MATA HARI: EYE OF THE DAY, a collection of poems published by Apprentice House (Loyola University).




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