Patrick T. Reardon (right) at the age of two with his brother David. Not shown, their baby sister Mary Beth, three months
Bridge
by Patrick T. Reardon

My first job landed on me like a ton of children
on my four-hundred-and-twenty-eighth day. It
began with my brother. Two sisters followed.
Two more brothers. Eight more sisters. The first
shepherds, guardians, models, corrects, leads,
parents, loves. I watch in Burger King as the
oldest girl has her eyes out for each of the four
small ones. She tracks the route of each, the
message of the lips and cheeks. She knows each
inner fabric — the stories lived out there, she
hears in blips and blurts and epic runs of words
and visions that she holds in her heart. She is
the translator, the middleman, the bridge that
each side walks across to the other. She carries
a weight on her six-year-old shoulders. She knows
the weight I carry on my sixty-seven-year-old
shoulders. I carry the baby because the baby
must be carried and because I find the baby
endlessly a wonderment, flesh of my flesh, bone
of my bone, my blood. I smile when the baby
smiles. I fill up with the sight of the wide world
in the wide eyes of the baby. In the wide eyes
of each of the babies, and all of them. Mine is
a happy weight, and dolorous. I want to wrap
my wings around them all, pull them together
in my protecting embrace. But I am too small,
then and now.

PHOTO: Patrick T. Reardon (right) at the age of two with his brother David.  Not shown, their baby sister Mary Beth, three months.  They were joined later by eleven other siblings.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I have become aware of the joyful and heavy task that I carry as the oldest of 14 children.  Like most jobs, there is much about being the oldest that brings delight but then also much that brings pain.

Patrick T. Reardon..

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Chicagoan Patrick T. Reardon is the author of Requiem for David, a poetry collection published by Silver Birch Press and of seven other books, including Faith Stripped to Its Essence, a literary-religious examination of Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence.

Warhol_burger1

A Taste of the Real World
By Adjoa Wiredu

The floor was slicked with oil. Two, three, four times and the team still slid around the slippery varnish in the back kitchen; my mop did not make a difference. It was hot. In the middle of the summer months when it started off bright and the days ended muggy and stale. I wore a uniform; a stiff blue shirt, dark trousers, and a cap with a large yellow “M” on the front. That was the summer I finally got a job after the euphoria that came with the end of my GCSEs.

In three months, I learned about shifts; what it meant to be sleep-working the early- and the horror of late-night closing. I learned about timers for filet-o-fish and fries and the only rule to remember: listen out for the beep. I learned customer service; the magical smile to open up each sale and the toothy grins saved for complaints. I learned about true exhaustion; dosing off on the bus ride home and the effort it would take to move my jelly-like legs once I got off.

After my second pay-slip, I realised I wouldn’t last. On my days off I applied for other jobs motivated by the memory of smells that would waft out of the female toilets. I only had to think of the number of times I cleared the tables and re-cleared the tables; moped the floors and re-moped the floors to know I wouldn’t last. Even then, I knew that the greasy tables and the greasy floors would stay that way long after I left.

IMAGE: “Hamburger” by Andy Warhol (1985).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Adjoa Wiredu is a Masters student at the University of Kent on an inter-disciplinary writing degree entitled The Contemporary. She has an interest in social issues and the arts. Her work is focused on the development of writing and curating. Her first paid job was with Mcdonalds, where she grew up very quickly and learned a lot about people and the world of work. Visit her at marigoldroadblog.com and theearththedirt.wordpress.com.

Aaron
Child Labor
by Jennifer Hernandez

I learned to drink coffee that summer.
No sugar, no cream. Sixteen years old &
the dark, rich cupsful were so different
from the instant crystals at home.

Every morning early, I’d arrive at
the Andersons’, wave them off to work,
sip my coffee, listen for Aaron to wake up.
He was almost three. All boy, nonstop.

We played a lot of He-Man. An avowed pacifist,
in my action figure universe there was no fighting.
He-Man and She-Ra met up with Skeletor
for double scoop cones. They were all great friends.

On outings to the park, I’d push Aaron on the swings
while mothers shot me suspicious looks. They thought
I was a teen mom. I looked around at judging eyes
and shrugged. Just the babysitter. Not my kid.

No booster. Front seat. (Mid-80s, remember?)
Aaron once opened the door as we were driving.
First my heart stopped, then the car. I’m sure
I never told his mom. (It’s okay, Sharon. He’s fine.)

Mostly, Aaron and I talked. A lot.
More than once, his mom told me
how much his vocabulary had grown
during our three months together.

And when Aaron napped in the afternoon, I recovered.
Read my novel. Watched Karate Kid on the VCR.
Learned that while good, strong coffee is a useful tool
in child care situations, naptime is even better.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Aaron in the backyard blowing bubbles (1985).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:  I’d been babysitting for neighbor kids since I was eleven years old (and before that for my younger brother), but this summer gig was my first Monday-Friday, full-time work experience. Working for family friends has advantages — beyond the perk of good coffee. I still see my former employers from time to time, and a few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Aaron’s daughter, around three years old. Her grandma was surprised when she climbed into my lap for a story, saying that she didn’t go easily to people she didn’t know.

J. Hernandez

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Hernandez lives in Minnesota, where she teaches immigrant youth and writes poetry, flash, and creative nonfiction. She has performed her poetry at a nonprofit garage, a taxidermy-filled bike shop, and in the kitchen for her children. Recent work appears in Disarticulations, Mothers Always Write, Silver Birch Press (“Lost & Found” Series), Sonic Boom, and the Nancy Drew Anthology (Silver Birch Press).


A Gained Experience
by Daniel Wade

At the age of sixteen, I did my Transition Year work
experience in Tower Records, on Wicklow Street.
February of 2008. The second rain-swept summer
waiting to unleash itself. The recession still a rumour
in the weekly broadsheets. Every morning, I’d get
a DART into town, wearing my uniform of Docs,
hoodie, leather jacket, jeans frayed at the cuffs.
A week of stacking gun-metal shelves with C.D.s,
D.V.D.s, Blu-rays and magazines devoted to porn, music
and film, all interred in protective cellophane. I learned
to keep my head down, carrying up stacks of deliveries
from the basement in cardboard boxes, stamping prices
onto C.D. cases with a price-gun, nursing a slow addiction
to instant coffee. I didn’t get paid at the end, just a reference
for my teachers to mark and approve. I did a half-arsed job,
and no doubt I did, it wouldn’t have mattered. It wasn’t a job
I’d want to stay in for the rest of my life. Still, work is work.

*

My manager, a beer-bellied gobshite in a United jersey
who shot too much from the lip, watched me coming
and going about my tasks, a walkie-talkie clipped to his belt.
On the second day, he ordered me to help carry in
some new shelves, synthetic tiers furnished with steel edges
for holding the stock in place. It took four men to lift just
one of the things off the delivery truck. We hauled them
down the alleyway leading to the rear of the shop, where
we’d lean them against the wall. Turning the corner,
we saw, lying on a gutted mattress beneath the fire escape,
a junkie, thin as a sapling, heating a spoon with a lighter.
His hair was like lank iron, half his teeth were missing,
thin pocks of stubble stained his jaw. We could smell him
from ten feet away, the stale reek of his habit. My boss
bellowed at him for five minutes, abuse he didn’t seem to hear,
before beckoning us to come forward with the shelves.
He took me aside and told me to keep an eye on the door
that led to the basement — “just in case that junkie piece-of-shit
tries comin’ in here and fillin’ up his pockets” — before handing me
a walkie-talkie and vanishing upstairs with the others, saying
I was to call him if anything happened. I turned to watch
your man going through the ritual of spoon, lighter and needle,
throwing feral glances down the alleyway, biting down
on the cuff of his sleeve, rolling it up with his teeth, flaunting
the needle’s dull wink. When he injected, I saw his body
bristle with numb rapture. He lay back for a moment,
his breathing heavy, relieved. Finally, he climbed to his feet,
drew up his collar and staggered off down the alley,
getting lost in the swarming crowd of Grafton Street.
Not once did he notice me, standing just eight feet away,
or even hear the crackle of my walkie-talkie. I waited
for the rest of the shelves to be carried in, the chill of Dublin
swiping my face, the barbed chill of February 2008:
it made me glad to have gained another experience.

IMAGE: “The Wheel of Life” by Stanley Pinker (1974).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem was written in mid-2013, several years after the incident described. At the time of writing it, I’d become fairly enamoured with the work of the former American poet laureate Philip Levine, who often described the world of monotonous, blue-collar labour in poignant, unforgiving detail. Therefore, I admit to borrowing his style of litany-like, free-verse structure on the page, as it seemed like the most appropriate means of approaching the subject matter at the time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Daniel Wade is a 25-year-old writer/poet from Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland. He has previously published poetry in The Sea (charity anthology in aid of the RNLI), Sixteen Magazine (e-publication), The Bogman’s Cannon (e-publication), Iodine Poetry Journal, Headspace, Zymbol Magazine,  and The Runt. In April 2015 he was nominated for the Hennessey New Irish Writers’ page of the Irish Times. His debut play, The Collector, was staged in the New Theatre, Dublin, in January 2017 to critical acclaim. Visit him at danielwadeauthor.com.

meg2

Panda Express
by Meg Eden

The boys from Bowie order Orange Chicken and laugh at me.

Why’s a white girl working at a Chinese restaurant? they ask.

I answer, Free sample?

My Vietnamese friend told me, You are white on the outside but Asian at heart. She took her banana leaf rice cake and gave me half. This was our weekly communion.

When my shift ends, I take the chicken that has been sitting in the glass display, unfit for customers. If I don’t take it, another will throw it away. The meat’s tough and sweet in my mouth.

When I sweep the floors, my boss laughs. He says, Have you ever held a broom? He means: spoiled white girl. I’ve cleaned my father’s workshop, built our back patio with bricks and a pile of sand. But I know that all he sees are my soft hands.

He asks if I know Chinese, and I say, I love you.

He says, Say it again.

I love you, I echo. Wo ai ni. A phrase I learned from pop songs.

He tells me I sound like his daughter, a girl who is many oceans away, and teaches me how to write:

A heart behind two doors is agony;
a mouth behind two doors is a problem.
After twenty gates is an opening,
a window of unsealed happiness.

SOURCE: Previously published in Little Patuxent Review.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me, senior year with my Okinawan sanshin.

meg1_headshot

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Meg Eden‘s work has been published in various magazines, including Rattle, Drunken Boat, Poet Lore, RHINO, and Gargoyle. She teaches at the University of Maryland. She has four poetry chapbooks, and her novel Post-High School Reality Quest is forthcoming June 2017 from California Coldblood, an imprint of Rare Bird Books. Find her online at megedenbooks.com or on Twitter at @ConfusedNarwhal.


The Atlantic Ocean
by Anuja Ghimire

I’ve learned to stand for 18 hours
Calves know, heels adjust
I’ve folded T-shirts’ arms into embraces
Creased bellies to chests
Stacked up my cotton half-bodies for display

Inside the boardwalk beach store,
my breath stains the plastic cages
I’ve cleaned for hermit crabs

I’ve even begun to hum
Jewel and Bob Marley
to the rhythm of the price gun

But my toes only remember
sand sinking
waves crashing
seagulls calling
and the moon waiting for me
with my first ocean

IMAGE: Ocean City, Maryland, postcard.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I am working on a series of poems about my journey to America and leaving “mother” (my mother and motherland) behind. This poem was born in this nostalgia. While I worked at the front desk in college, my first real job was as a sales girl at a boardwalk store in Ocean City, Maryland, where many kids from my country spend their summers raising tuition money. Nepal is a landlocked country. The Atlantic Ocean was my first meeting with the ocean. This poem is about working for hours while missing the beauty that was teasing me from a stone’s throw.

anuja

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anuja Ghimire is a native of Kathmandu, Nepal, where she started writing at the age of five. She was published by the age of 16. Anuja came to the U.S. as a college student. Her first work was published in 2008. That year, she was a featured poet at Austin International Poetry Festival. She has published more than 60 works of poetry, flash fiction, and essay in the U.S., Nepal, and Canada. Her poem “Six,” published in Right Hand Pointing, was nominated for Pushcart in 2015. She won a two-liner contest for Dying Dahlia Review in March 2017. In April 2017, she was a featured poet at No Extra Word, celebrating National Poetry Month. She lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and two daughters, and works in the e-learning industry.

In a Bejam
by Allen Ashley

It was 1970s Britain and suddenly everybody wanted a chest freezer so as to stock up – if not for a nuclear winter, then at least for the weekend. Still at high school, I got a job as a shifter in the Bejam supermarket. Friday evenings and all day Saturday. Keep those cabinets of frozen peas filled up, cart the 10kg cardboard boxes around the store and, if you were lucky, hang around by the till and help the customers wheel their wares out to their estate cars. And maybe get a 10p tip.

If you were unlucky, the delivery lorry would arrive in the yard and you’d spend all morning lugging chilly legs of lamb off the back and into the walk-in freezer. At which point, one of your workmates would think it a fine practical joke to lock you inside the chiller for five to ten minutes as “a laugh.” There was no mechanism to open it from within. Release would come when the weedy deputy manager threatened them with the sack; or maybe something worse, like overtime.

We sold all the usual British culinary delights – Bird’s Eye fish fingers, Wall’s ice cream, Findus faggots (a low-grade meatball product, just in case you were wondering). People were encouraged to buy in bulk: multipacks that would, safely frozen, last three to six months. If you didn’t get bored with the bland diet by then.

We also sold own-brand Bejam goods: ten or twenty percent cheaper. It was an eye-opener for me that these arrived on the very same lorry from the very same factory as the branded products.

I lasted a few weeks; my wages spent on Hawkwind LPs.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This piece is about a temporary job that I took at a Bejam supermarket whilst still at school. We called them “Saturday jobs” here in the UK.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me, around the time of my first job, mid-1970s,

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Allen Ashley is the judge for the annual British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition. His most recent book is an updated, revised version of his novel The Planet Suite (Eibonvale Press, UK, 2016). He works as a creative writing tutor in north London, UK.

lucy chocolate

Chocolate Memories
by Susanna Fussenegger

Just like Lucy, I too worked in a chocolate factory.

For one day.

This was at the famous Lindt Works in Germany. The year was 1965 and I, a student, wanted to earn some spending money. I did not speak German.

No problem, the company desperately needed hands to create bon-bons. Getting hired was a breeze, followed by training which consisted of pointing me to a spot behind a conveyor belt.

Before I even had a chance to blink, there came the super sweet smelling chocolates, fast and furious. Putting pieces in my mouth, just to thin the flow, was impossible because of the scent. It could have brought even the hungriest of giants to the brink of puke.

My job was to wrap little toy soldiers, carved from chocolate, into red foil.

Those soldiers did not march, they sprinted.

As I reached for them, they fell over face down, instantly replaced by a new regiment. The ones I “dressed” ended up with their red uniforms all wrinkled, brown butts showing.

With hands sticky and sweaty, I soldiered on.

Instead of getting the hang of it, though, I made more mistakes.

Embarrassed, I glanced up — and what did I see? Two big supervisor ladies looking at each other, then at me, with utter disbelief on their faces. They started to walk toward me slowly, and I was sure they were going to yell:

AUS !

That word I knew.

I dropped everything, without looking back, I ran through the door saying:

AUSGANG

I was totally flying! Queasy, I prayed that I would see the sign:

00, which in Europe is known as WC .

What a memory! But you know what? I still love chocolate!

IMAGE:  Ethel (left, Vivian Vance) and Lucy (Lucille Ball) have trouble keeping up while working in a chocolate factory (I Love Lucy, “Job Switching,” 1952).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote this story thinking of all the talk about people working in countries other than their own. A first job is always a humbling experience. Multiply that with the anxiety of the unknown.

susanna

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susanna Fussenegger is an educator and counselor, and has been a naturalized American citizen since 1972. She is an avid reader. Since childhood she has always known that people enjoyed listening to her stories and hopes to leave special tales behind for her grandchildren or anyone who cares to read them.

pattern 1972
The Pattern Clerk
by Nina Bennett

Full-time college student, part-time employee
in a fabric store. I worked the pattern counter.
Cabinets divided by company, Simplicity, McCall’s,
Butterick, Vogue. I searched for the design number,
rang the purchase on a cash register
that didn’t calculate change, entered the sale by hand
on an order sheet to restock the drawers.

Anticipated the arrival of the new season
style books, made sure I was scheduled
that weekend, went through them
like reading a novel. Browsed the fabric aisles
during my break, fingered velvets plush
as midnight, silk that flowed like a waterfall.
Fabrics I couldn’t afford, even with my discount.

Minimum wage was $1.60 an hour. I brought home
$20 a week, just enough in 1972 for groceries.

IMAGE: Vogue sewing pattern circa 1972.

nina

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Delaware native Nina Bennett is the author of Sound Effects (2013, Broadkill Press Key Poetry Series). Her poetry has been nominated for the Best of the Net, and has appeared or is forthcoming in publications that include Gargoyle, I-70 Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Bryant Literary Review, Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, Philadelphia Stories, and The Broadkill Review. Awards include 2014 Northern Liberties Review Poetry Prize, and second-place in poetry book category from the Delaware Press Association (2014). Nina is a founding member of the TransCanal Writers.

suit
Bathroom escape no. 1
by Janet McGinness

She had her first job and her first suit, a pale pink linen that wrinkled fiercely against her slouching frame. She was working quietly at her desk, inwardly distracted by the idea of the lively city bustling outside and fighting off a vicious urge to nap. She looked out at the small patch of blue sky visible from her cubicle and back again at her computer screen. She realized then that there was possibly nothing but a thick dull line of plodding progress between this day and her death.

She wanted to run out of the office but she was much too responsible to do anything so bold.

So she stood up, smoothed out her wrinkly suit and went to find the bathroom. In a town where no one was really ever alone, she needed solitude. She thought it might also be possible that she would cry. Except she was really bad at crying on cue so it seemed more likely she would just feel incredibly sad and lost for a little bit in the tiny stall.

That seemed like enough for her.

Yeah, she thought. Just like everything else had seemed like enough for her until the moment she wondered if this was all there was before she died.

Where was the damn bathroom?

IMAGE: Wrinkled pink linen suit available at ebay.com.

JANETM

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Janet McGinness enjoys writing prose and poetry in her spare time.  She is a working mother and dog owner.  Her greatest joy is time alone in the bathroom, especially if no one has used all the hot water.