clothes for family

Clothing Store
by Melanie Villines

My sophomore classmate tells me the clothing store where she works is looking for Catholic school girls for part-time staff. I’ve just turned 15 so will need a work permit. On the subway downtown, I watch myself flash by in the window as the black tunnel takes me to some exotic future where I can earn my own money and spend it I however I please. I make my way to the Board of Education on Randolph and show my birth certificate. And, boom, there it is in my hand—the brilliant white piece of paper that’s my passport into the workforce. The same day, I go the clothing store, fill out an application, show my work permit, and I’m hired. I work a few hours after school three days during the week and all day on Saturday. On weekdays, I’m stationed in a storeroom, up a narrow flight of stairs from the sales floor. I fold, stuff, seal, and stamp the mail, and sign “T.N. Madison” on the collection letters to the deadbeats. At a table opposite me is a middle-aged man named Mr. November who creates the advertising materials. The two high school boys who run the elevator traipse through from time to time to make small talk. I develop a quick crush on John, but it’s the other one, George, who seems to like me. Sometimes salesgirls Olga and Lydia come upstairs to fix their hair and put on makeup – often arguing about the right color lipstick, and whether it should match your skin tone or the clothes you’re wearing. On Saturdays, I take payments in the credit department and file the account folders. My boss, Mr. Wolf, tells me he likes to hire Catholic school girls because we were trained to work.

PHOTO: A Chicago clothing store.

Melanie Villines
is a Los Angeles-based writer who — between writing novels and working as a researcher for true crime television programs — edits the daily blog at Silver Birch Press. Blame her for coming up with these writing prompts. Her latest novel, Windy City Sinners is available in a free Kindle download from Monday, 6/26/17 through Friday, 6/30/17. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download free apps here and read the book on your computer. Happy summer reading!

Vending machine
Fluffed, Not Crushed
by J.L. Smith

Cheetos bags should fluff like pillows,
not crush,
my boss said,
plucking the orange bag—
flat in the middle,
like a tire tread ran through it—
from the vending machine.

like a pillow at a two-star hotel,
a training demonstration
on how to refill Lay’s potato chips,
make them look appealing to factory workers,
who were sleep drunk,
tired from making plastic Pantene shampoo bottles,
who cared less about fluffed bags,
more about whether the contents
were stale or not.

My eighteen-year-old hands filled Squirt cans,
fountain Coke syrup,
prepackaged turkey sandwiches—
with just the mayo packet—
into vending machines each weekend,
as the middle-aged janitor
took a half hour to sweep the break room,
while we discussed Jason Goes to Hell
and his seventeen-year-old girlfriend.

His eyes targeted my back
when I pulled out expired ham sandwiches,
placed them in milk crates for disposal,
after his hands took what he wanted,
before the burly foreman
shooed him away for his break—
fifteen minutes before everyone else’s—
to ask me about my life plans,
before telling me to get an education
so my back won’t become twisted
from bending over lines,
loading bottles on a conveyor belt,
showing people how to pack boxes.

he threw his Coke can into the trash,
his eyes on me,
wishing me a good day,
before his eyes lifted to the clock and
the workers outside,
who were also looking at the clock,
waiting for salvation,
and maybe,
a bag of Cheetos.

I twisted the key on the soda machine,
walked past the workers,
who knew me,
asked refunds of me,
complained of no sourdough pretzels to me.

I was their dinner bell.
I fluffed their pillows
in the vending machines I filled,
if only for their ten-minute break.

IMAGE: Vending machine featuring Cheetos, Lay’s potato chips,  and sourdough pretzels.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I loved this prompt, as it made me think of a simpler time, when I could not wait for my life to begin. Not to mention, how much I remember those fluffy bags of Cheetos!


J.L. Smith
works have recently appeared, or are forthcoming, in Avatar Review, Cirque, Calamus Journal, Alaska Women Speak, and others. You can follow her blog at and via Twitter @jennifersmithak.

Reasons I Can’t Come to Work #33-41
By Gary Smillie

Hi Shabs, it’s Tom, I don’t think I’ll make it in today.
I’ve got bad hands from defrosting the freezer tray.
I’ve not seen the doctor, but let’s call it three weeks
Especially as I’m pretty sure I’m getting Swedish cheeks. (#33)

Hi Shabs, yeah, it’s Tom again. Hope you’re cool if I spend
The majority of this morning arranging loose pens.
I’ve got upwards of twenty and that’s really just the Biros…
Actually, I better take the afternoon off, also. (#34)

Hey Shabs, Tom here, look you really won’t believe,
I forgot to mention yesterday: I’m not recently bereaved
But just now I remembered that my granddad’s still dead
I think it’s best that, in his memory, I spend the day in bed. (#35)

Hi Shabs, yeah, that’s right, you’ve guessed it: Tom.
You know that thing when your earlobes throb?
Shabs don’t laugh, it’s a real condition. (#36)
Shabs, yeah, Tom: holes in my mittens. (#37)

Hello Shabs…Yo shabs…Hey Shabba, my man…
Blocked bins…scalp crabs…illuminous tan. (#s38-40)
No, the thing is, the truth, if I’m honest, it’s this:
Each new day in that place is like drowning in piss
And my soul’s so eroded that soon I’ll be hollow. (#41)
What’s that Shabs? Pay rise? I’ll see you tomorrow.

IMAGE: “Telephone” street art by Jerome Mesnager (2012).


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The creative process behind this piece is fairly simple — two mates in rubbish jobs mucking around.  Tom, from whose perspective I write the poem, was a good friend of mine when we both in our early twenties and had tedious office jobs.  We both used to amuse each other with our varied reasons for staying off work.  Tom’s line manager was called Shabs, which I just found an inherently comic name anyway, especially as I was never quite sure what gender Shabs was (I didn’t want to ask; I liked the mystery).  I wrote the poem as a kind of tribute to the sheer frustrated creativity of the under-stimulated mind and for stoic office managers everywhere.  After all, they must have heard tons of this crap!

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Tom (left) and Me (Right) enjoying escaping the hell of our first jobs (Liverpool, 2005).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gary Smillie  is a writer of poems and prose from the North of England.  Hailing from Liverpool, he now plies his trade in Manchester and, over the last decade, has read at various seedy bars and clubs both there and in London.  He is interested in the underdog, the misfit characters who linger on the fringes of society, and the way in which we each slowly lose or realise our hopes and dreams (usually the former) — often by a process of apparently unremarkable increments.  He recently finished his first novel, which is as yet unpublished.  More of his work can be found at writeoutloud,net and

pregnant woman otto dix

Pregnant Pause
by Linda McKenney

I sat waiting, in a large theater, with hundreds of other high school students who’d passed an exam for state employment.  We were interviewed according to our grade on the test.  I was fourth in line.  The position was beginning office worker, which meant you had to do whatever a superior desired.  Responsibilities included typing, transcription, filing, making copies and other duties as assigned.  I accepted.

My boss had a monotone voice, so I often dozed off while typing up his letters.  The interesting aspect of that was I continued to type.  Of course, the marks on the paper made no sense, so I had to begin all over again.  If there was a need for more than one copy of the document, we used sheets of carbon paper.  The ink would get all over your fingers and sometimes clothes.  More than two copies required a mimeograph.

This printing process used an ink-filled cylinder and ink pad. Documents were prepared on a special wax-covered stencil on a typewriter that had its ribbon disengaged. The typewriter thus made impressions in the stencil, which was filled with ink and squeezed onto paper by the mimeograph’s roller.

I married six months after I graduated from high school.  Shortly after that, I was interviewed for a promotion.  The man who would be my new boss told me that while I was qualified for the position, he wasn’t going to hire me.

“I noticed that you are wearing a wedding ring,” he said.  “In my experience, young married women get pregnant and then quit their jobs.  I don’t want to invest time training you and have you leave.”

What he said made sense to me, so I never questioned his decision.

Six months later I was pregnant and quit my job.

IMAGE: “Pregnant Woman” by Otto Dix (1930).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Linda McKenney is a Personal Life Coach, Motivational Speaker, and Writer, specializing in Mindful Living and Eating. She continually reinvents herself, and her new adventure is writing creative nonfiction. Her most recent work is published in Silver Birch Press, 101 Word Short Stories, The Survivor’s Review, The Rush, and Helen: A Literary Magazine. You can join Linda on her Mindful journey by visiting her blog –- She also has an alter ego at


Job Candidate
by Steve Bogdaniec

Subject: San Francisco Area – Base + Uncapped Commission with Fortune 500 Company

Job Candidate I Found on’s First Name,

My name is Guy I’m Writing This For—who can sell wonderfully but can’t write for shit, seriously, you should have seen this before I reworked it—and I am actually two people pretending to be one executive recruiter working with an Actual Company You Will Hopefully Be Impressed By. We would like to prescreen you for an interview with this company, and the “we” here is Headhunting Company That No Longer Exists, not Guy I’m Writing This For PLUS me—Steve—the one who actually found you among the jobless on Monster late at night.

  • Actual Company You Will Hopefully Be Impressed By, global leader in Document Management, has an Outside Sales position in your area, mostly because the turnover is ungodly and they’re always looking for people
  • Base salary 30-60K, compensation structure of 70k to 150k with car allowance, and uncapped commission, which, judging by how many people we actually got to take these positions back in 2007 and 2008, will not be enough to sway you
  • Successful performance at Territory Sales Representative level earns the opportunity for either a Major Account or Sales Team Manager promotion, though, remember, “successful” is apparently a very subjective term with Actual Company You Will Hopefully Be Impressed By

Please forward me an up-to-date copy of your resume because Steve probably emailed 25 people in three different cities tonight and we can’t keep track of you all. Upon receiving your resume, you will be contacted within 48 hours to schedule an interview. Or 72, depending, we’ll see.

Best Regards,

Guy I’m Writing This For

Executive Recruiter

Headhunting Company That No Longer Exists
Office: Somebody else’s phone number by now

IMAGE: “Fishing” by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1981).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: For this piece, I have altered an actual email template that I edited and sent out to job candidates. In 2007 and 2008, I worked for a struggling “executive recruiting” firm that had contracts with companies looking for business-to-business salespeople. We found candidates to interview for the positions, and if they were hired and lasted 90 days, we got paid. ¶ A friend of mine brought me in, knowing that I needed work. He would work during the day and do all of the talking—and selling, which I was not good at. I worked at night, finding us qualified candidates on Monster or Career Builder. Because of my writing background, I also either wrote or edited all of our copy. It seemed simplest to represent ourselves as one person, so we did. ¶ It was not technically my first job, but looking back, I can definitely say that it was my first “real” job—my first brush with the humanity and inhumanity of commerce. The work was frustrating because both sides—the companies and the candidates—were too picky, and perfect matches were hard to come by. Still, it was very generous of my friend to hire me in the first place. I will always look back on the job fondly because of him.

Bogdaniec - bio

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steve Bogdaniec is a writer and teacher, currently teaching at Wright College in Chicago. HE has had poetry and short fiction published in numerous journals, most recently Eclectica Magazine, Silver Birch Press, One Sentence Poems, and Blood Lotus. His work can also be found in the Nancy Drew Anthology: Writing & Art Inspired by Everyone’s Favorite Female Sleuth.

We started the Silver Birch Press blog on June 24, 2012 — and today celebrate our fifth anniversary. Thank you to our community of contributors, readers, and nearly 10,000 followers for making the Silver Birch Press blog part of your daily routine.  Cheers!

For a trip down memory lane, below is a replay of our first post (June 24, 2012).


To me, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is the quintessential summer book. It chronicles the hot months of 1922, when the Great War was over and the Great Depression was yet to come. The 1920s were a blissful time when possibilities seemed limitless — and everyone seemed to be having fun (despite, or perhaps because of, Prohibition). These were the years when the cocktail was borne (to make the booze go farther), when women bobbed their hair and danced with abandon. It was The Jazz Age, as Fitzgerald called it — a name that stuck.

Every time I pick up The Great Gatsby — and I’ve read the book perhaps a dozen times — I am drawn in and enraptured by the book’s poetry and romance. To quote the song Kiplinger plays: In the morning, In the evening, ain’t we got fun. Yes, Gatsby is great fun — even with its sad ending. The story seems fresh and real, even though it took place 90 years ago.

I believe, though, that required high school reading of Gatsby is ill advised. Teens are too young to appreciate the longing and loss portrayed in the book — which is much better read after you’ve suffered some major hard knocks out in the big, bad world.

We all have a Gatsby in us — a hopeless romantic, an impossible dreamer who tries to hang onto the inner spark that makes life worth living. So pour yourself a lemonade (or something stronger), plop yourself in a lawn chaise, and dive into the greatest novel of all time. Happy Summer!

watercolor girl

Tending the Dogs
by Elizabeth Hilts

“A job would be good for her,” Mrs. Pierce told my mother when I was 12 and the chaos of Mother’s schizophrenia was taking a firm hold on our lives. “She should go work with my daughter, tend the dogs.”

Mother drove me over to the Count and Countess’s stone mansion on the Point. He had escaped the Hungarian Revolution with his title; she was rumored to be a Guggenheim. They bred Miniature Schnauzers. Countess and Mother chatted over tea and small cakes carried in by a uniformed maid. “She can start on Saturday morning,” the Countess said.

Five mornings a week the cook doled out each dog’s breakfast: hard-boiled egg, cottage cheese, and kibble. I carried the bowls out to the kennel where the dogs quivered in their crates, stacked four high, five wide. Twenty of them, plus the Count’s dog, Dolly, who I collected from his suite where he lounged on the bed, lounged in the bubble bath. Dolly would not come when called. “You’ll have to come get her,” he’d tell me, his robe falling open, the bubbles parting.

After breakfast, I brushed their teeth, hand clamped firmly around each muzzle while they growled deep in their throats. Washed and blow-dried their cunning little beards. They took their revenge during the walk around the point of land overlooking the tidal inlet, skittering into the underbrush before charging out to nip at my ankles. I was already accustomed to the mad ambush but wasn’t yet immunized from fear.

The cook made me lunch: hot soup and a sandwich, doled out on plain white china. My mother had already stopped cooking by then. I ate in the kennel, understanding that it was possible to be grateful for small simple things.

IMAGE: “Miniature Schnauzer” by Watercolor Girl. Prints available at

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I loved and hated my first job in almost equal parts but I’d never completely understood why, of course, until attempting to write this piece. That’s part of why I write: to gain access to the parts of myself that remain shrouded somehow.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Hilts writes memoir, essays, and fiction; though she has written poetry, no one needs to really know about that. During the academic year, she toils in the fields of academe as an adjunct instructor of English and related subjects. She is in a constant state of revision both as a writer and as a human being. Her work has appeared in Spry Literary Journal, Extract(s), and in the Black Lawrence Press anthology, Feast.

A Little Color
by Alexis Rotella

About to take off
for Capitol Hill
the future senator
scowls when he sees the report
I typed on hot pink paper.

IMAGE: “Untitled” by Mark Rothko (1953).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Fresh out of high school I went to work for the Appalachian Commission in Washington, D.C. where I was one of a dozen girls in the typing pool. The job was boring — I thought adding a little color to Jay Rockefeller’s job would perk things up.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alexis Rotella is a veteran writer of Japanese poetry forms in English. Her latest books, Between Waves and The Color Blue were published by Red Moon Press. She is currently the judge for Ito-En Haiku Grand Prize Contest.  A practitioner of Oriental Medicine in Arnold, Maryland, Alexis is also a mobile photographer and digital artist.

JackintheBox63 (1)
College Sophomore at Jack in the Box
by Tamara Madison

They start me at the drink station, lunch shift.
Orders flood the kitchen. Soon I am using both hands
to pop lids onto soda cups, unaware that there is
a right way to do it. Diet Coke pours all over me,
7-Up slurries the floor. It takes a few orders to figure out
how the shake machine works. At the end of the shift,
there is shake mix in my hair, soda and coffee
all over the floor. The manager asks to see me.

“Some people are cut out for this sort of work,
and some people aren’t,” he muses. “Are you telling me
not to come back tomorrow?” “Oh, no, no! Come back
of course!” And I do. By the start of the second shift,
I have learned how to spread my palm over the lid
as I pop it on the cup. I learn how to read
the order display. I discover that onion rings
are better than I thought, that shake mix
and coffee can brighten my day, and that hamburgers
even at Jack in the Box, are made from meat.

By the end of the week, the other employees
have shed their wariness and are almost friendly.
After work each day, I drive to Pacific Beach;
whether the afternoon is sunny or chilled with fog,
I bathe in the cool waves until all the grease
and the sticky soda fizz wash into the green Pacific.

PHOTO: The first Jack in the Box restaurant (San Diego, 1960s).  Established in 1951, the chain was the first to use an intercom system for drive through orders.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tamara Madison grew up on a citrus farm in California’s Coachella Valley.  Her poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Pearl, Chiron Review, and The Writer’s Almanac. She is the author of the chapbook The Belly Remembers and two full-length poetry collection Wild Domestic  and Moraine, all published by Pearl Editions. She has just retired from 29 years of teaching English and French in Los Angeles and she is over-the-moon thrilled!

I Was a Carvel Soft Serve Queen
by Kathleen A. Lawrence

My first big jump from babysitting money to minimum wage,
and I was thrilled. I was out of the house on a school night
and I was employed by my favorite spot for treats, a mystery
palace of Fudgie the Whale Cakes, Cookie Puss, sugar cones,
peach topping, and space-themed ice cream flying saucers.

It would be the first time I got a real printed paycheck;
I remember buying a pucker shirt the color of lemon-lime
to show off my sweet-sixteen curves and I had money
left over from my twenty-six dollars and thirty-seven cents.

Since childhood I had felt there was a real artist hidden deep
within me. Swirling soft vanilla and chocolate twists suspended
atop a crisp, tasty but somehow tasteless, wafer cone became
my medium. Somehow, as though I had studied the craft
for years my wrist would know how just to turn and curve
and pull the lever creating the perfect design topped
with a meringue tip like a wave caught mid-crash.

My manager saw the potential in me right away and soon
I was working most nights with a line out the door and spilling
into the parking lot, especially when the heat would start
melting their resistance to ice cream. Customers would
light like butterflies fluttering: baseball teams, lovers, friends,
families, teens with their parents’ station wagon, any colorful
social group busy and flapping waiting for their sweet nectar.

I loved the lines, the pressure, because it only made my magic
spin faster into sundaes crowned with rich dark fudge and
a cheerful maraschino cherry. Tall scoops of favorite flavors
with sprinkles and jimmies and chips and fruit and salty nuts
were the orders I built. The freezer contained my palette
of lovely pastels like strawberry, sherbet, and the cool vibrants
like black raspberry, mint chip, banana, and the decadent tones
of almond to coffee to eggnog to chocolate to ripple to decadence.

By the end of my long, sticky, marshmallowy summer
I was proud of the ice cream guns I had developed, the money
I had saved, and the impressionistic dairy dreams, whipped cream
wishes, and modern silky works of edible art I had created.

PHOTO: Carvel ice cream shop in Irondequoit, New York, late 1970s.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is about my first job outside of house chores and lots of babysitting of siblings, which started early for me. I really enjoyed reminiscing about the seventies when I spent my halcyon days wearing peasant blouses, hoop earrings, Maybelline, Levis, and eating cherry bonnet vanilla ice cream cones. Because my first three serious jobs involved twisting, scooping, and piling high dairy treats, I imagine that I have more confection- and cone-inspired poetry in me still.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kathleen A. Lawrence has had poems appear recently in Rattle online, Eye to the Telescope, Silver Blade Magazine, haikuniverse, New Verse News, Inigo Online Magazine, and The Epic Presidential Poem: The Trump Years (section 74), as well as in two anthologies memorializing Prince, Delirious and A Prince Tribute. A poem in Altered Reality Magazine was nominated for a 2017 Rhysling Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association. She was Poet of the Week at Poetry Super Highway in January 2017.