The Iron Writer Challenge #57
2014 Iron Writer Spring Equinox Challenge #7
A Kiwi Bird
The Scent of Rain
Joan of Arc
How you would quit your job
The bored sixth graders were a daunting audience, but I pressed stubbornly through my spiel.
“You probably can’t see the birds in this diorama. That’s because they’re very shy, and they only come out at night.”
A trio of boys wandered off.
Refusing to be daunted, I said, “The most interesting fact about the Kiwi though, is its nostrils are at the end of its beak.”
More of the group left the thick Plexiglas window.
A girl, slightly overweight and wearing a wrinkled boy’s shirt that added five pounds to her short frame, hung in with me. “I didn’t know birds could smell.”
Before I could respond, she joined the fringe of her classmates. It was the last showcase in the gallery, so the trailing chaperone added her thanks and the darkened room was left in dead silence.
I stepped into the stagnant afternoon and locked the door. In a deep sigh, I inhaled the hovering scent of rain. Maybe it’d turn into a storm. Clear the air. Clear my life. My stagnant life.
The bus stop was in front of a diner, really just a snack shack with walls and plate glass windows. My stomach growled. Shit. That baloney sandwich is still in my backpack. I shaded the glass and squinted to bring the menu above the counter into focus. A girl in a fatigue jacket sat on a stool near the cash register.
The stupid chimes jerked me out of a trance. A guy stood in the doorway, but before he could ask, I said, “Everything’s already cleaned up.”
He nodded, and started closing the door, but I added, I’ll never know why, “We’ve got great pie, though. It’s why most people come in.”
His face brightened. “Sure. Life’s short, right?”
I slid a giant slice of nuked apple pie in front of him, the scoop of ice cream about the same size. “No coffee left,” I said, but his mouth was full so he just shook his head.
I closed my Kindle and put it my bag. The guy looked a question toward it.
“Joan of Arc just got to the siege of Orléans, film at eleven.” He grinned.
“So, you looked pretty lost when you got here,” I said, letting the “here” kind of hang like an invitation.
“My job sucks,” he said.
“I wouldn’t know about that,” I said. “Working here is the life of Riley.”
He looked at me under his eyebrows.
“Why don’t you quit?” I asked.
“Easy for you to say,” he mumbled as he put a huge bite into his mouth.
I snorted. “Yeah. My mouth isn’t full of pie.” He didn’t look up. “Oh, lighten up,” I said, putting some sass into my tone. “That isn’t humble pie.”
Now in terrier mode, I said, “If I were going to quit my job, I’d tell dad that voices told me to answer a higher calling.” He looked at me and then added melting vanilla ice cream to his spoon.
“Want to talk about it?” I offered.
“First I need another piece of pie. Chocolate meringue.”
“He’s coming round.”
“Should his eyes look like that?”
“They looked like that last time.”
“Last time? He’s done this before?”
Allan shrugged. “Steve’s a dumbass.”
He’d got that right. Nicky had spent the last half-hour hacking through dense bush in the dark with a torch and a machete, searching for him. She was supposed to be a wildlife tour guide, not Joan of Arc.
“Gnnunng”, said Steve.
“Steve? Can you hear us?” Allan asked.
“Where am I?”
“Good question.” Nicky replied. She handed the torch to Mark and crouched down. “Thanks to you, we don’t know. I said to stick to the track! Why did you wander off?”
“I needed to pee.”
“Why didn’t you say?”
“And let everyone know! Anyway, did you find a kiwi?”
“No”, Mark replied. “We shouldn’t have come out in the dark.”
“They’re nocturnal! When did you think we were going to spot one?”
“Guys, I think we need to concentrate on finding our way out.”
“We shouldn’t have come out in the dark. Anyway, Al, if you knew it was a night trip why’d you bring a camera?”
“It’s got a flash. You think I was going to trek this far and not at least get a picture?”
“I still say this was a bad idea. It’s dangerous. What’s the name of your tour company again? We should complain.”
“Look”, said Nicky, “I’ve been bringing groups here for years. So far you’ve been the only ones stupid enough not to listen to instructions, so don’t blame me because you’re lost.”
“Technically you’re lost too.” Mark corrected.
“Whatever, just be quiet, so I can think how to get back to the track.”
The scent of rain was heavy in the air. There was an echo of thunder and the first heavy drops started to fall.
“Oh great”, said Allan.
“Relax, it’s just rain, this is Fiordland, it rains all the time.”
“So did you bring rain gear?”
“I had to leave the jackets at the track so we could go after this buffoon.”
“I’m definitely going to complain.”
“Can you all just shut up!”
They sat silently, while the rain grew heavier.
“What was that?”
“No. Listen, there it is again!”
There was a muffled booming noise coming from the thicket.
“Hand me back the torch.”
She shone it into the bushes.
A lumpy green shape shuffled among the roots.
“Is it a kiwi?”
“No, a Kakapo!”
“I paid to see a kiwi. I’m definitely asking for a refund when we get back.”
“If we get back.”
“It’s one of the rarest flightless parrots in the world!”
“Parrot? But…it’s ugly.”
“I don’t care, I’m taking it.”
“I didn’t come all this way to return without a picture of anything.”
The flash lit up the night.
The startled bird flapped up, landing on Nicky’s head and started humping her neck.
“That’s it! I quit! You can find your own way back!” She stormed back in the direction they had come.
I have endured her for 12 years. I’m the office Joan of Arc but imagine not an iron ball at the end of my chain but a Kiwi Bird: A chicken-shaped reminder of my nationality that I have been bound to drag unwearyingly along by the ankle. But not this time. Yes, this time I’ve had enough.
My boss, for your information, is an insufferable hybrid of xenophobe and sadist. If I were to recount truly and accurately a third of her malevolence you wouldn’t sleep for a week. A real succubus. Mephistopheles incarnate.
I wonder whether she’ll catch me sitting here, under my desk?
I take a deep breath, pull out my compact mirror and stare. The fluorescent lights make the whites of my eyes look yellow, as if I’m lacking spleen. Perhaps I can say that, what was it, from King Lear, that hex he places on Regan… make it a child of spleen if ever you have child… yes. I’ll curse her. No. I have to stick with what I’ve rehearsed… ‘I’ve been here 12 years and I’ve had enough…’
I can do this.
I pull myself from under my workstation and over to her door. Knocking tentatively I wait, and after several eternities an unforgiving voice charges me to enter.
She sits, seemingly unaware of me, continuing to tap her orders into the screen in tiny, passive aggressive thumps. Such venom in those fingers.
‘Well, what do you want?’ she says, her eyes willing me into fight or flight and before I know it, my scripted words are rolling off my tongue.
‘I’ve been here 12 years and I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of being treated like a clown. I’ve never been late, I’ve never missed a deadline, never been sick, never shirked responsibility, never backstabbed, delegated unnecessarily, taken teabags, loo roll or sugar home unlike some people I could mention. But your repeated bouts of blatant prejudice, lack of positive reinforcement and any basic level of respect has made it inordinately difficult for me to remain working for you. Please take this as my full and finite resignation, with immediate effect.’
The tapping slowly dwindles to a halt and she twists her body to face fully towards me, placing her glasses silently on her desk.
‘Well I suppose you better clear out your desk then’.
‘It’s already done.’
I take this hiatus as my queue to leave, but just as I turn and place my hand on the door I hear:
‘It is a shame though. You were one of the best.’
I look over my shoulder and see her looking down at her glasses, toying pensively with the ear piece. For a moment, in place of her jaw of stone and teeth of grit, I see a softness, like a painting that’s been smudged in transit.
Without another word I drift to my things and float out of the office block, taking a moment to enjoy the breeze on my face and the cool scent of rain.
Ladies and gentlemen, in preparation for takeoff please make sure your seatbelts are securely fastened….
After performing the cabin check, Sarah strapped into her jump seat and exhaled contentedly. She smiled. This would be her final flight as an attendant with American Airlines. As the plane taxied toward the runway, she reflected over the past few days.
Sarah had come home after dinner one night, exhausted from a multi-day trip. Emily and Max were doing homework while Ginny, the preschooler, scribbled in an A-to-Z coloring book. Bob scrubbed dishes at the kitchen sink. “Mommy! You’re home!” The kids surrounded her, eager to share the latest news.
“Mom, guess what? School just started and I already have to write a biography on Joan of Arc!”
“I need help with fractions.”
“Look Mommy, I colored a picture for you! See? ‘K’ is for Kiwi bird!”
Bob joined the group hug and wearily whispered in her ear, “I’m SO glad you’re home.”
After the kids were tucked into bed, Bob and Sarah snuggled on the couch and talked. Bob had lost his engineering job five months ago, so Sarah had resumed her career to make ends meet. The initial adjustment from stay-at-home mom back to working full time had been difficult, yet it was even harder for Bob to slip into the role of “Mr. Mom.” Sarah recalled snippets of their conversation:
“The kids need you…this can’t go on much longer.”
“I really want to quit, but how can we make it?”
“Our savings should last a couple of months, and I’m getting more interviews. Trust me…it will work out.”
That night Bob and Sarah prayed for wisdom, and in the morning everything seemed clear. She quickly typed up a letter of resignation. Like the scent of rain after a long dry spell, Sarah felt refreshed and energized by the decision.
She told the kids right before the school bus arrived. “I’m quitting my job. I prayed, and God gave me peace about it.”
“You heard from God?” Emily asked, “Just like Joan of Arc!”
“Yeah, but don’t forget she was burned at the stake,” Max quipped.
The plane lifted off into the bright September sky, jolting Sarah out of her reverie. Back to work. She greeted each of the passengers as she handed out juice and coffee. “I won’t miss this at all,” she thought. Customer service was difficult enough, but disgruntled air travelers were the worst. “And some are just downright weird,” she thought, “Like this guy, rocking back and forth, is he on something?”
The next few minutes were a blur as the gesticulating man rose and shouted “Allah Akbar!” Panic…screams of terror…the lurching of the plane…and finally pain as she was pinned from behind. Outside the window, the New York skyline loomed in the distance, but Sarah’s last vision was of the crumpled coloring book page she managed to pull from her pocket. “I love you Mommy” was scribbled in crayon next to the kiwi bird.