At Dream Inc., a lifestyle magazine publisher, people are struggling not only to do their jobsor even to keep thembut to fall in love and stay that way, to have friends, to be good parents and good children, to eat lunch and answer the phone and be happy. Which can be pretty interesting . . . even on company time.
In The Big Dream, acclaimed short story writer Rebecca Rosenblum offers a suite of linked stories exploring the working world in all its dark and humorous complexity, creating an In Our Time for our time.
Rebecca Rosenblum's debut collection Once drew comparison to Alice Munro's Dance of the Happy Shades" (Quill&Quire). She works in publishing in Toronto, Ontario.
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||409 KB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
THE BIG DREAMSTORIES
By REBECCA ROSENBLUM
BIBLIOASISCopyright © 2011 Rebecca Rosenblum
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDREAM BIG
THE CAFETERIA WAS CLOSED for renovations and the temporary lunchroom was in the basement. In fact, the temporary lunchroom was actually a meeting room with tables, folding chairs, a microwave, four vending machines, and no windows. Many employees chose to eat at their desks, but some made use of the room.
Clint peeled the plastic off his Crackerz'n'cheze.
"Cheze does not look like an English word." said Anna. She was eating unstirred fruit-at-the-bottom yoghurt.
"Still delicious." Luddock was eating a mustard-soaked sandwich. The sheer yellow bread revealed the pink of bologna.
"Of course." Anna reached the fruit layer and beamed into her plastic cup.
"Listen –" Clint leaned forward "Remember, last Tuesday –?"
"No!" Luddock waved his sandwich. Bread flapped away from meat. "I download all previous-week memories to the main server at midnight on Saturdays. Frees up disc space for current work."
"Luddock, no!" Anna squawked, mouth full of pureed berries. "This is not a Tech Support situation. Do not make Tech jokes."
"Actually, only Tech is sitting at this table."
"Lunch is our own time. We could be sitting with another department, people who don't even work here. We shouldn't make this a closed conversation."
"Anna-cat, how would we eat lunch with people who don't work here? Unless we walked to the airport?"
Anna set down her empty berry yoghurt and opened the peach. "We might someday end up in a central location, freed from the horrid lunchroom –"
"Well, it isn't horrid ..." said Clint. Some cheese residue stuck to the package, eluding the spreader. Clint thought about Virgie safe in her lab, unavailable for judgment, then licked the plastic.
"It's not impossible that we might someday work near a mall with a food court."
"Dream big." Luddock sealed his empty Tupperware. "That was very anticlimactic, Anna. Not at all worth quashing my server joke. What were we talking about?"
Clint's Crackerz'n'cheze were just supposed to be the appetizer, but the margarine container of tuna casserole was no longer in his lunch sack. The mysteries of the office fridge. "Tuesday, last Tuesday, my three-month anniversary cake."
Luddock nodded. "I vaguely recall. Sure was nice of us."
Anna was eating fast, already down to the peach layer. "A joyous day. You're no longer fireable without just cause and you can finally go to the dentist."
"Dentist, orthopedist, psychiatrist, all your problems are solved now, Clinty. Plus cake." Luddock was flicking bits of napkin at the finance team. They hadn't noticed.
"No one else remembered."
"I hate to say it, but not everyone loves you as much as we do, Clinty."
Clint thought of Virgie's kiss at his door, her hand on his cheek. "No, but, like, management. Mai-Nam didn't give me a full-time offer. My contract ended last week. Technically, I don't work here right now."
"Oh, but you do." Anna's curls tossed. "We've got to do that image file migration, and the emphasis is on we, buddy."
"C'mon, Luddock, spitballs?"
Anna flicked one. "They don't actually contain spit. They are actually quite dry."
"Ok, like, if I'm a real employee, like I was promised, shouldn't I have signed a benefits agreement by now?"
Anna nodded. "Did you hear from HR?"
"No, or I wouldn't be asking you. I'd ask them." Clint had only had half a granola bar for breakfast. He'd given the other half to Anna on the bus.
Luddock was wadding a pear core, yoghurt cups, and snackpack into a ball. Things were snapping and dripping out of his hands. Anna stood and pulled her skirt neatly over her knees. Clint stood too.
"You can't fight the power, man. All you can do is subvert." Luddock smashed everything into the wastebasket and clapped Clint's back with his sticky hand, pulling him away from the M&M machine into the hall.
"People with the kind of OSAP payments I got don't subvert."
"Good point. Before papers have been signed, industrial sabotage is risky."
"Be fun to set everyone's homepage to porn with sound, though."
"Hey, I might. I'm a salary-man. You just play the course for now."
Clint wondered if Anna was glaring because he'd mentioned porn. They went up the elevator, down the hall to the Tech cubes and the long hungry slope of afternoon.
* * *
Three weeks passed. Clint started keeping granola bars at his desk, but then a mouse gnawed through a Quaker Chewy Chocolate wrapper, and he switched to canned foods. He kept submitting time sheets and getting paid his probationary hourly wage. He helped Anna finish the art migration and started some menus for the invoice database. He made a PowerPoint about voicemail options. He played the course.
Clint didn't like to sleep at Virgie's during the week because it was so far from work, and he never remembered to bring all the right clothes. When he'd stay, she'd cook something good and didn't put on a T-shirt to sleep, but Mai-Nam had called him "semi-unprofessional" when Virgie's streetcar made him 37 minutes late, wearing sneakers.
The day he wore Virgie's socks (just black cotton, but they felt girlish) Clint noticed an ache at the back of his jaw.
"My mouth hurts," he said to Anna as she approached with their coffees.
"So you don't want this?" She pulled both cups to her chest, a coffee bra.
"I want it." He reached towards her breasts. "I'm just telling you."
"Why does it hurt? Are you stressed and grinding your teeth at night?"
"Dunno." The first sip scalded him above the molars. "My gums are sensitive."
"You didn't just say that." This was Luddock, from his cube. Luddock had a voice that didn't stop at baffles. "You sound 93 and constipated."
"I think that's an unrelated condition."
"Feel better, Clinty." Anna smiled at him with her strong, dairy-white teeth.
He did not feel better that day nor the next, and the morning after that, he woke with the whole right side of his mouth a dull tight throb.
"Ohhaahhh ..." He meant to sigh, but it came out more of a groan. "Oh ..."
"What," said Virgie, from far under the duvet.
"Nothing," said Clint, but it came out Nawherm. He tried again, "Nawtherm."
Virgie's frazzled braids appeared, her pale half-open grey eyes. "Are you dying?"
"Nah, nah." That sounded about right. "Too-ack."
"Toothache?" Her eyes blinked wider, but he knew she couldn't really see him without her glasses. "People don't actually get those. Not like headaches, come and go, meaningless. When your tooth hurts, something is wrong with your tooth. Which tooth?"
She was right in his face, trying to see in his mouth.
She reached behind him for her wire rims on the bed stand. Her breasts swung against his chest.
Clint opened his mouth like a baby bird.
"Oh, not good. It's all red and puffy –" Virgie actually poked in a finger, which tasted salty "– there in the back. Wisdom tooth. You need to see a dentist."
"Er." That should've been no, which should've been, no money. He made the slippery-fingered money sign.
She rubbed his cheek. "You're in pain, you need a professional to make it stop." Virgie had the innocence of youth, though they were the same age; staying in school let her stay naïve. She had a dental plan through the university. Her parents sent her birthday gifts of cash and flowers. Virgie had no idea about anything, including that Clint was broke or even could be.
* * *
The hot shower spray on his jaw softened the pain, but Clint still couldn't really chew his bagel. The first bite he just sucked until it dissolved, which took forever. Then he tried sucking bites with a mouthful of coffee, which was faster, but not very much.
"You're late," said Anna from under her desk. She emerged ass-first, hauling her power bar, skirt tucked between thighs. "Mai-Nam came by twice and both times I told her you were in the bathroom. Now she thinks there's something wrong with you."
"There isth thomething wrong."
"Are you gay now?"
"What?" Clint flopped into his chair, which rolled back and almost dumped him.
"Gay? You're lisping."
"I thin that's homahphobic, Anna," Clint said very carefully.
"You're probably right." She stood and shook out her skirt. "I'm sorry."
"Doan apologize to me, it's ther gay piple that –"
"Why are you talking like that, Clinty?"
"Toothache, still. Is all swollen."
"Ah, Jesus." Anna shook the electrical cord at the sky. "What next?"
Luddock strode in, shoelaces flapping. "Anna-cat, we're too busy to go on strike. Plug that in right now."
"Some wingnut on the third floor broke his. Mai-Nam said –"
"To render your own computer useless? What's wrong with –"
"Whuh? Hah do you break ...?"
"What, Clint, are you drunk?"
"The storeroom door is jammed. He stepped on it. Clint has a toothache. God, this place would fall apart without me." Anna left, swinging her cord like a lasso.
"Toothache? Oh, fuck, be a man, get some Ambersol...." Luddock stomped out and then Clint could hear him trying to un-jam the storage-room door by kicking it.
* * *
Clint waited in the hallway outside Mai-Nam's office. It wasn't a real office–just a cube with a cardboard panel for a door. Clint could hear Mai-Nam's phone call perfectly: "Uh-huh, no, well, no, ok, Samsonite," click. He tapped the panel gently. It sounded like thunder in a school play.
"Hey, ah, Mai-Nam?" Clint slid inside and her small form popped up behind the two monitors, mounds of cables, Blackberry and cell charging on top of stacks of papers on top of hardware cartons, on top of desk. There was a deflated McDonald's sack on her ergonomic keyboard. Mai-Nam had a car and could go to McDonald's. She was staring at her monitor, scrolling rapidly.
"Hey, um, Clint. You know they got mice on the third floor?"
Clint enunciated carefully, "We got mies on this floor."
"Yeah, but are they eating the phone cords?"
"Er, nah yet." Clint tried to close the sliding panel but it jammed.
"Well, they are on third. You'd think mice would be a maintenance problem, but anything telecommunications-related is an us problem."
"Uh. Ye-ah." The door ripped. Most of it closed, but a corner caught on a motherboard, leaving a lightning-bolt-shaped hole. Clint saw high heels in the hall.
"So, I'm gonna send you and Anna down with the new cords – in the cupboard, Luddock fixed the door – and these thingies." Mai-Nam was waggling little metallic things on her fingers. They looked like Clint's 9th grade retainer, only smaller. "They clip cords under desks, see. But first you gotta glue 'em on. Do you know where any glue is?"
"I'll call Anna ..." Mai-Nam reached for the phone.
"Lissen, I wanta talk to ya, about my –"
"Hmm? Listening ..." Mai-Nam was in fact dialing, but not the last digit.
Mai-Nam put down the phone. "Yes, Clint? Yes?"
"Iss over. Three weks ago."
"Oh. Oh." It seemed several of the clips were stuck on her fingertips. Mai-Nam was yanking hard as she smiled at Clint. "Don't worry, you'll still get paid for any hours you work, even without a contract."
"Until ..." She managed to tug off one of the clips, but the tug flung it across the room and out the hole in the door. "What?"
"I unnrerstood, I was given to unnerstand ... after the contrad, I'd be full-time."
"Well, that's the, uh, goal." Mai-Nam was squinting at her door. Clint stepped in front of the hole. "But we would have to request budget for another full-timer, get approval from HR, the allocations committee. This would take time."
Clint thought about the conditional voice, indicative of a thing that not only hadn't happened yet, but also might never. Clearly, not tomorrow. He wondered if he could get the allocations committee to feel the lump in his upper-right gums.
"Do I have to go thruh a review? To see if you want ..."
Mai-Nam leapt up, feet catching a cord. Her laptop tipped back onto the screen. "Absolutely! It'll be time for your three-month review in a few ..."
"Three weks ago," Clint said. He remembered suddenly the Cheez-its he'd left in his coat pocket, and the mouse. Mice. "If ya do der three-month review when der person's been here ... three months."
"Thereabouts. I mean, that's the ideal but ..." Mai-Nam started flipping papers off the desk. Her Blackberry skittered to the floor. She still had a retainer clipped to her thumb. The phone rang and she hit the speaker button without stopping her search.
A squawk: "Mai, if you don't get someone on these fucking cords, I'm gonna go ape-shit down here. Nothing's bleeding working, I'm on my cell...."
Mai-Nam lifted a stack of what looked to be blank paper. The desk lamp that had been resting on it crashed to the floor. From the speaker: "What the fuck?"
Mai-Nam looked at Clint, the left corner of her mouth twitching like a cat's tail. "Could you just – just take those clips to Anna? She knows where the cords are? I just – this has to be done. I'll start on your ..." her gaze drifted to the torn door "... stuff."
* * *
Virgie was disgusted and adorable, chopping carrots while wearing only a pink T-shirt and orange panties. "What a horrible manager. You should report her to HR."
"Tha's not really ..."
"They take advantage. You work hard." Carrots into the steamer. Then peppers.
"Yes. And yes. But they won't –"
"They have to, they promised. Listen, can you eat anything that isn't steamed? It's my folks' barbeque on Saturday, remember? My mom won't want to purée stuff."
"Virgie –" He had forgotten, or not forgotten, just not wanted to discuss. On Saturday, Tech was installing CallPilot on every phone in the office, not barbequing with Virgie's parents. "I cen't. Gotta work."
"Iss a big project, everbody's gotta."
"Overtime is optional." She waved the knife absently. "Real life is not optional."
It was sweet of her to think this. Sweet and delusional. "Virgie, werk is real life. I'm nah in a good spot rie now. Sometimes, they jus say, come and you gotta come."
"What about me? Can I just say, come?" She smiled, jutted her left hip towards him. He looked at the pale curve, the bright cotton. He was wasting a perfectly good girlfriend.
"I cen't do it, Virgie. Um sorry."
The smile dropped like a comet. "Yeah. Yeah, you are."
* * *
The mouse-proofing took Tech two days. First, they made every employee leave his or her desk for several minutes so that the clips could be glued on. Again the next day, when the glue was dry, so their phone wires could be locked into the clips. People were furious at the inconvenience, the violation of strangers crawling under their desks. Curses were thrown, and Damien actually got kicked.
On the third day, it was found that though cords were no longer resting on the floor, the jacks were low enough to be vulnerable to vermin. Tech was sent to cover the breach with wide rolls of packing tape. Anna muttered, "This spells disaster as soon as they reconfigure the furniture. That's gonna be a hell of a lot of sticky jacks."
Clint could have made several good dirty jokes out of that, but by then he wasn't really speaking unnecessarily.
Tech spent the morning wandering with their tape, wincing when they met, whispering, "We are universally loathed." This time, many people chose to remain at their desks while Clint huddled beneath, taping.
No mice were seen.
When the team reconvened in the Tech hallway, Mai-Nam was being fired. The woman firing her was tall, blonde, and never before seen in Tech. As Mai-Nam wept and threw things into boxes, the woman introduced herself as the VP of Human Resources. She offered them all time-and-a-half to finish taping cords that evening, when it would be "less of a disruption." (Continues...)
Excerpted from THE BIG DREAM by REBECCA ROSENBLUM Copyright © 2011 by Rebecca Rosenblum . Excerpted by permission of BIBLIOASIS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Waiting for Women....................23
The Anonymous Party....................55
After the Meeting....................69
Bursting into Tears Every Twenty Minutes....................77
How to Keep Your Day Job....................101
This Weather I'm Under....................173