Shane Jones

Megan sits in her cubicle. She hasn’t seen a person in hours but she’s heard their voices. Pinned to both cubicle walls are fourteen separate 8½ by 11 papers explaining everything from how to put the phones on voicemail, to proper behavior during a fire alarm. The papers form a curtain that is divided by the computer Megan stares at.

Her dream is to have her own office. She’s worked here for fifteen years, in the same cubicle, and her legs hurt. She moves inside the fantasy and can feel the odd non-weight of the door when pushed, how it clicks smoothly when closed. There’s fifty unlocked windows and a view of the town – car crowded roads, strings of identical homes, the landfill with trucks crawling in and out beneath the ooze of the sun.

There’s a break in the surrounding office conversation about Chinese food, and in the silence, Tanya clips her nails. Coworkers move over office carpet in feet and plastic wheels.

Megan’s legs hurt again. There’s the issue of her head. She takes pills the color of sky.

She can handle most office noise. It’s when people, Carol or Cheryl specifically, announce they need to use the little girl’s room, or, run to the potty, when Megan curl-digs her toes into her shoes. The words potty and little girl’s room from a grown woman’s mouth, grate. Whenever she hears the words she places her head on her desk. She closes her eyes and enjoys the mass of black space between floor and desk.

“I’ll be ready in a sec, let me just use the little girl’s room real quick then we can leave,” says Carol.

“I’ll go with you,” Cheryl says. “I have to use the potty too.”

Megan pushes herself backwards so her body is a foot from the desk. She crosses her arms on the desk-calendar doodled with work notes and shuts her eyes. Her forehead touches her top forearm. The office drones to distant blurry cities as Megan squeezes her arms around her head. She imagines Carol and Cheryl discussing hot turkey sandwiches while perched in neighboring bathroom stalls. She imagines if she was a person who could just be calm, and she sees herself in her fantasy office a mile upward inside a white building that pierces clouds.

Her body hurts from living in a padded chair. The voices of her coworkers close her eyelids. A voice inside her bubbling low then high tells her to leave, now. She has five hundred hours of sick time.

She tells her boss she isn’t feeling very well, it’s her legs again, she says, but really it’s her head. Everyone knows this. He nods and smiles the way he always does when she leaves early, and Megan fills out the personal leave form.

She packs her bag and walks past Agency Buildings 1, 2, 3, and 4, roughly a football field in length, and heads to the parking lot, which is another football field in length where her cars sits several spots from a chain-linked fence and wall of dirt, the base of the landfill.

At the entrance to each Agency Building are smokers, men who stand wide-legged and gaze at the plaza’s reflecting pools which are brimmed with water dyed black to prevent growth. One man didn’t wear an undershirt today. His white button-up shirt resembles toilet paper in water. The heat wave is sky-sized jaws expanding for nearly two weeks now. Megan shakes, feels guilty for leaving work early, and a layer of sweat forms on her usual layer of sweat and she walks faster to her car.

She sits with the air conditioning on max and the stench from the landfill seeps through the vents. Sitting in an office, doing nothing, can be exhausting, and she doesn’t understand how, but she reclines her seat and closes her eyes. Seagulls float across the windshield.

She falls asleep and sees herself sitting at her computer, in the office, and the ceiling is a pulsating bed of white light. No co-workers. She’s alone. The computer screen is black, and in the center, at a great distance, is Megan as a child wearing a coat of lava.

In her dream, she tells herself she won’t go back to the office again by typing the words across the face of the child. The lava is pooling outward from her feet. Megan’s fingertips burn on the keyboard. Her eyelids flicker and she thinks she sees her boss standing on the hood of her car.

When she wakes, she tries to remember.

Shane Jones is the author of Light Boxes (Penguin 2010) and Daniel Fights A Hurricane (Penguin 2012). He lives in Albany, New York.