“We’ve got to clean up the garbage,” she says.
Kristy slides a stack of papers across the desk. Every family named has $250,000 or less.
“They’re dragging our revenue down,” she explains. “Bruce and Lenny left us big fucking mess.”
I don’t make revenue. I make sixteen dollars an hour. After graduation I wanted to go to Thailand to teach but I got diagnosed with rotten guts. I needed benefits and Kristy’s former assistant was on maternity leave. The job was simple: she needed me not to be a backstabbing cunt.
“She completely fucked me,” she said during the interview. Kristy has black hair with split ends, pink lipstick and blush. Sophomore girl meets stockbroker. “But you seem different.”
Bruce and Lenny walked out after Christmas. It was understood that Kristy would take the garbage because she’s the youngest broker, and because she has a vagina. She works maybe two days a week. The other three days I get cancellation texts three inches long. Kristy has a lot of ailments.
The garbage people have two choices: retail banking or online brokerage. It’s especially important that I not be a backstabbing cunt today, because it’s my job to tell them.
There’s a cluster of half-empty coffee cups on Kristy’s desk. They sit over the weekend and become scientific. They’re filmy and dancing and alive like petri dishes. When I’m on lunch, Kristy will deposit the mugs at the end of my desk.
“Do you want me to make calls? Or like, a mailout?”
“Whatever you like.” She tents her fingers over the list. “Either way, it’s gonna be a bloodbath.”
I work nine to five at the brokerage, give or take the five to nine I shave off by being chronically late. My second job is at the university gym. I distribute towels and scan membership cards. Everyone I work with is still in school. Most of them are cool but one girl is a bitch. She talks a lot about her paleo diet, how it can cure anything. In between scanning cards she squints at me.
“So you have, like, a masters degree.”
“And you’re, like, working at an investment bank?”
Her face makes this squinchy little look, like okay then, you fucking loser.
“I’m paying off my student loans,” I say.
We have some version of this conversation once a week, then I do rounds. I make sure the astroturf and weights aren’t going to trip anyone. I wheel bins of varsity uniforms into the moldy laundry room, full of soggy t-shirts and leotards and thongs. They don’t give us gloves, so I’m praying I don’t get ringworm.
The laundry room doesn’t have cameras. I dance with the stinky mascot head on. I lie on the counter and text. Sometimes I squeeze my thighs shut and wriggle around until I cum. When you forget you’re washing jockstraps, it’s not a bad job.
The garbage list gets a mailout. I don’t decide this lightly. Mailouts are my most hated administrative duty, but I can put on my headphones and listen to music. The other assistants, Work Wives 1 & 2, don’t like this. They tell Morty, the manager, that the phone could ring. That I could miss a stock order.
Morty is a kindly old dude with a nasal spray addiction. He rolls his sleeves up and takes four sugars and creams in his coffee. He calls me “kid” because he is my dad’s age. He doesn’t hit on me like other male advisors do. I appreciate this about Morty. When I walk past his office, he shouts something like:
“HEY KID—EXILE ON MAIN STREET.”
And I reply with a deep cut, just to wound him. “Ventilator Blues.”
He makes a sound like I’ve suckerpunched him and takes a deep hit off his Flonase. Then he goes back to frowning at the DOW Jones.
When Morty comes to tell me not to wear headphones, he knocks at the end of my cubicle. His eyes travel from my client breakup letters to Kristy’s filthy cups.
“What is it today?”
“Belligerent nausea,” I say. “She’s day-to-day.”
He nods, working his fist around a stress ball. Morty’s been akimbo since Bruce and Lenny left for a rival brokerage. On New Year’s Eve, they walked out with one box of files each. I wasn’t there because of my chronic lateness. Apparently it was very dramatic. Work Wives 1 & 2 said Morty looked like he was going to cry.
I can’t picture Morty crying. He’s worn the smiley off his stress ball, though.
On the weekends, I drink two bottles of riesling to forget my two jobs. My best friend only drinks one bottle. Then she drives us downtown. We blow stop signs and duet “Under Pressure.” She’s a legal assistant and always takes Freddie Mercury’s part, which is okay. She’s the only one that can carry the WHY CAN’T WE GIVE LOVEs.
We go by ourselves because other girls are backstabbing cunts. We are a gang. We wear slutty heels and buy shots of scotch at a pub with taxidermied bobcats and shitty craft beer. We let constellations of boys find us. We bring them into our orbit and buy them scotch shots because we are cool girls, career girls. We don’t flinch.
When they flinch, we scream DON’T BE A PUSSY. We open big tabs because we have a lot of mailouts to forget.
Sometimes I see a guy I know. He comes to the gym covered in drywall dust. Works out in jeans. Biceps like cantaloupes. Beard the length of Kristy’s nighttime texts. Helps us clean up the weights when we close. One time he pulled me behind a squat rack and pushed his bushy mouth against mine. Told me I had perfect teeth. I think about it when I squeeze my thighs on top of the laundry counter. My best friend says he is a motherfucking serial killer.
I don’t know how to flirt, so I buy him shots of scotch and scream DON’T BE A PUSSY.
Calls start rolling in. Nobody likes being dumped by their brokerage. It’s a roulette wheel of reaction: screaming, crying, betrayal, embarrassment, resignation. I stare into Kristy’s coffee cups and absorb their feelings. When they’ve spent their rage, they ask where Lenny or Bruce have gone. We’re not allowed to suggest they went to another firm so I say things like, “away” or “the heck outta Dodge,” or “they’re not with us any longer.” People could use a little more mystery in their lives.
I’m glad Bruce and Lenny are gone. When I was hired Bruce criticized my handshake. He grabbed my hand and pulled me close. He smelled like sour Old Spice. “That’s no way to greet a person,” he bellowed, jackhammering my hand. “You gotta get under it and pump three times.”
Lenny was worse. He wanted to fix me up with his sons. The proposition always involved motorcycle rides. Once a week he said: “I mean, I don’t even have a masters degree. Why are you only a secretary?” He meant it like a compliment but that made it worse than all the sweaty hand pumps and Harley invites combined.
The Work Wives are getting upset about the coffee cups. They used to call it my little science fair. Now there are strongly-worded emails. At first it was a matter of principle: I make trades and do filing and let the garbage people scream at me. I shouldn’t have to wash coffee cups. Lately I am more benevolent. These mugs are filmy and dancing and alive. Full of potential. Who knows what could grow in there? Maybe a cure for cancer. It is my moral obligation not to dump Nobel material down the drain. I would be a backstabbing cunt if I did.
One night my car breaks down. There’s a big snowstorm and the engine starts gargling halfway up a big hill. My best friend is hammered in the front seat and there’s a constellation of hipster boys packed into the back screaming “Drops of Jupiter.” I can’t hear the gargle, but I can feel it. I pull over at the top of the hill. The boys huck snowballs at the windows while I call for a tow.
I take the bus from the bank to the gym. There’s only a half an hour between my shifts, so the bus exacerbates my chronic lateness. I gauge my lateness by how close Paleo girl’s scowling brows come to touching when I show up. Today they strain for each other like God and Adam in the fresco.
“I know you have like, a career, or whatever,” she sneers, “but we’re low on towels. People have complained.”
“How many people?”
“That’s not the point,” she huffs. “I need to know I can count on you.”
When she does the rounds I google “car gargle repair cost.” Nothing good comes up. Bearded guy shows up an hour before close. He doesn’t have his card. He likes to forget it so he can give me his number.
“You should use that sometime,” he dares me. His jacket belches white dust when his forearms hit the counter.
“What does it mean when your car gargles?” I ask. “Is it expensive?”
“Probably. What are you up to this weekend?”
“Dunno.” I can’t afford shots of scotch if I have to fix my car. “You?”
“Catching, killing, and skinning chickens,” he says, squinting at the clock behind the desk. “Can you buzz me in? Forty minutes left to get my pump on.”
February is RRSP contribution season. Calls explode. One half are from angry garbage clients and the other are from angry regular clients. Kristy’s ailments also explode. When she does come in, she doesn’t bother pinking her face. She goes into her office and forwards her line. The regular clients say: “Can’t you just tell me what to buy for my RRSP?”
I say: “No. I’m not licensed for it.”
They scream: “You people are fucking useless. How do you sleep at night?”
The garbage clients say: “I have $250,00 dollars. Are you telling me you don’t want $250,000 dollars?”
I say: “No. Our partners will be happy to help.”
They scream: “You people are fucking ruthless. How do you sleep at night?”
I want to say: “I’m not, actually. My car broke down. It costs a whole paycheque to fix. Because I don’t have a car I’m late to my second job, so they fired me. Because of all the stress, I am shitting blood. When my contract ends in two weeks, my benefits will end, so I can’t afford medication to stop shitting blood. If it makes you feel any better, I am definitely not sleeping at night.”
I can’t say that, though.
So I say: “I’m so sorry. I understand how you must feel right now.”
But that’s a lie. Because what would it feel like to have $250,000?
Two days before the RRSP deadline my rotten guts explode. I wake up in the middle of the night shitting blood and puking, which is a new one. It feels pretty belligerent. The fluorescent bulbs screech in my bathroom and I’m dizzy on the cold tile floor. Outside, a snow plow scrapes against the curb. It sounds like how my busted guts feel.
My phone vibrates on the counter. Bearded guy sent me a grainy photo of him sitting cross-legged on a riverbank. He is completely naked.
I forward the photo to my best friend.
I say: How do you even respond
You don’t. You will end up a lampshade in his mother’s basement
I find Kristy’s number and type:
Really sorry to do this to you just before the deadline but I’m so sick. I can’t come in tomorrow :( :( :( :(
Then I switch back to my best friend’s name and type:
I need to call 911 or something
Ya because HE IS A MOTHERFUCKING SERIAL KILLER
I ask her to come get me. There are eight red lights before the emergency room. I counted the last time I was sick. On the seventh light I get a text from Kristy.
If ur sick u need to go thru proper channels. Call Morty in the am. How long do u think u’ll be out?? U need a doc note.
The eighth light is green but I make her stop. I fall out of the car and puke into a snowbank. She screams: DON’T BE A PUSSY.
In the hospital, I sleep and sleep. When I wake I’m screaming in pain. They fire so much Dilaudid into my veins that it gives me rolling jackpot eyeballs. Only the phone at the nursing station wakes me, thinking it’s more clients calling to ask me how I sleep at night. When I finally wake again it’s two days past the RRSP deadline. The bathroom mirror reveals a skeleton, my ribcage jutting like something beastly and abandoned in the Sahara.
A bouquet shows up from work. Work Wives 1 & 2 signed for Morty. My last paycheque is stapled to the card. There’s a note scribbled on the envelope.
Sarah fucked me again. Staying home w/ kid permanently. Job is open if you want it. $18/hour + benefits. – K.
My best friend comes to visit. She brings me sweatpants and a t-shirt a whole size smaller because I’ve lost 20 pounds in three weeks. Also: fancy lavender shampoo, fuzzy socks, a novel, and a little bottle of coral nail polish called Tart Deco.
“Ha,” she says. “Your tits are smaller than mine.”
I want to hug her, but I don’t. Gang members don’t hug.
She scans the bouquet card while I paint my nails. “You gonna sign this?”
“My new meds are four grand a dose.”
She whistles. “Dude.”
“Just for now, maybe. Til I can find something better.”
“Sure,” she says. She takes over my manicure, blowing soft and cool across the coral. “Something else will come up.”
They put me on a liquid diet. Lime JELL-O. Apple juice. Chicken broth. All I want are pizza and cupcakes and fried potatoes, food that makes my tits look normal again. I only finish the liquids halfway. One night I wake up crying about the coffee cups. Work Wives 1 & 2 have probably washed them by now. I didn’t cry when I shit blood and I didn’t cry when I saw my decimated body but I sobbed and sobbed for my little bacterial army. All the cancers we could have cured together. All that wasted potential.
To calm myself I grab my phone. With Tart Deco fingers I reply to bearded guy: Haha nice pic. How did it go with the chickens
An hour later, my phone buzzes twice against the bed sheets.
Big fuckin mess
Kirsti MacKenzie has published in Funicular, Prairie Fire, and The Puritan. She studied creative writing at Humber College and Memorial University but learned the most from bathroom graffiti in dive bars. She lives in Ottawa and can be found perpetually on her bullshit @KeersteeMack.