SmokeLong Quarterly

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Difficult Times

Story by Jeff Friedman (Read author interview) December 16, 2014

art by Colleen Randall

The boss came in with his usual alacrity. “Sorry we have to let you go,” he said. He held the doorframe and hung his head as if stunned by his own revelation. When I got up to offer him my chair, he crumbled into it and began sobbing, the tears running down his red cheeks. I handed him my handkerchief, which he used to sop up the tears. Then he blew his nose, and the chair shot back into the wall. “It’s so hard, my job,” he cried. “These are difficult times,” I answered and patted his shoulder for support. He bent over as if he were going to be sick. I pushed the wastebasket under his face, because if he made a mess, I was worried I’d be responsible for cleaning up. He coughed a few times and spit into it. “Ive been here 10 years. Do you have to let me go?” I asked. Suddenly, he fell on the floor, doubled up, a fierce pain in his gut. I called the infirmary but the operator broke in to say that the infirmary had been shut down. My boss rolled back and forth as if in a seizure. He moaned so loudly he couldn’t hear me repeat my question, so loudly the floors and windows vibrated. When I pinned his shoulders, he went limp and his eyes rolled back. I couldn’t hear his breathing. Firing me had killed my boss. How would I explain that to Human Resources? Then miraculously he came to, smiling and cheerful. “Youll be missed,” he said and jumped to his feet, extending his open hand.

About the Author

Jeff Friedmans sixth collection of poetry, Pretenders, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in February 2014. His poems, mini stories and translations have appeared in many literary magazines, including American Poetry Review, Poetry, New England Review, The Antioch Review, Poetry International, Hotel Amerika, Vestal Review, Quick Fiction, Flash Fiction Funny,and The New Republic. Dzvinia Orlowskys and his translation of Memorials by Polish Poet Mieczslaw Jastrun was published by Lavender Ink/Dialogos in August 2014.

About the Artist

A painter and professor of studio art at Dartmouth College, Colleen Randall has been exhibiting her work in commercial galleries, academic settings and public spaces for more than 25 years. She is a recipient of the National Academy of Design’s Edward Palmer Memorial Award for painting and a Whiting Foundation Fellowship Grant. Randall is a member of The Painting Center in New York City, where she will have a solo show in September 2015. She lives in West Lebanon, New Hampshire, with the writer Jeff Friedman.

This story appeared in Issue Forty-Six of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Six

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