by Cecilia Kennedy
The lotus flower on my laptop will devour me. Its creator chose the most desirable qualities, magnified them ten times, and set the whole thing afloat, drifting through an eerily dark void on my screen. The petals reach for my chin. I take the bait, click the mouse, and check my status: unread, pending . . .
People once crossed networks of roads and took sidewalks lined with green grass and tulips to enter office buildings and drop off resumes on creamy, weighted paper. If they were lucky—and sometimes they were—they might meet the CEO and get a tour, shake a hand, and leave behind a trail of perfume or cologne—a hint of an impression that lingered. That’s how I got my first job— and the last one I held for ten years before moving and discovering that the rules have changed: “No potential candidates allowed on the premises in physical form. Send links instead to portfolio websites. Include a bio in X amount of characters or less. Use key words.”
For practice, I invented stories of 66 words or less: Armed with a cursed pen, Cliff writes a memoir that haunts the Internet forever; To save her life, Ann drowns in the pages of a book. She lives on; A tragedy takes Lyn’s memory, so she writes the future on fortune cookie slips; Sparks fly as a mad scientist kisses her lab rat, turning it into a zombie. I didn’t send any of these in. Instead, I spliced them together for my own social media pages in an attempt to attract jobs as a “content writer.” My Professional Summary link now reads: Uses cursed pens to haunt the Internet and write the future zombie apocalypse on fortune cookie slips.
I check my status and hit “refresh:” unread, pending.
Minimizing the page, I start a new search and discover the elevator pitch, which answers questions that people may want to know about me: Who am I? What do I do? How do I do it? What do I do it for? Who do I do it for? The answers don’t form readily in my head, so I drive to the grocery store and stand under the fluorescent lights for a while. Who am I? At the moment, I’m a consumer. What do I do? I make lists and shop for the items on the lists, but sometimes, clever displays and non-food items distract me. How do I do it? Quickly. The lights hurt my eyes and the man who beats me to the frozen food section every Saturday strangles me with a scent that penetrates my skin. What do I do it for? I think that’s obvious. I can throw that question out. Who do I do it for? Again, an obvious question, I think . . .
–My side feels as though it’s splitting. I have to double over the shopping cart, until the pain passes–
When I return home, I put the groceries away and let the lotus flower on the screen lure me in again. Closing my eyes, I imagine that the petals are stroking my chin. I click the mouse and check my status and hit refresh three more times. Pending, pending, unread . . .
There’s my profile picture. It makes me look like something is suddenly funny and I’m tossing my head back with laughter. I’m just so struck by some secret punch line that I have to share the joke with the viewer, who will never understand and who will perpetually ask, “What could be so funny?” This picture, which took over five hours to take and edit, makes the hysterically laughing woman, with the creased forehead look too old. The light perhaps makes her hair slightly gray, though it’s not. She’d never admit to that.
I minimize the window.
One of those social media surveys pops up: The color of the outfit I’m wearing and what I just ate is my gangster name. I’m gray yogurt. Who am I? I’m gray yogurt. It doesn’t sound gangster enough, so I shout it out loud and listen for the echo. I’m convinced I’ve convinced myself I’m gray yogurt. Now, I just need to figure out what I do. I search for ideas through job postings and decide that I could tailor my qualifications to fit those for an administrative assistant in a medical arts building, but the pain returns to my side—as if hot needles were piercing into my flesh, over and over again—stitching something up inside me—or attaching something to me, but I’m ignoring the pain— typing furiously now because the deadline is approaching and I need to create a Twitter account with a very clever handle. When I’m finished, I realize I won’t be able to get into an elevator with the hiring team for this position because actual physical candidates are never allowed “in person.” So, I call the number listed on the job posting and leave my elevator pitch message, shouting loudly and clearly:
I’m gray yogurt—ready to deliver stellar customer service with my hardcore humanities degree! I’m all about hardcore customer service—able to write effective, meaningful, 25-character Tweets that will rock the Westside Medical Arts Building staff and potential patients—and existing patients—with a 100% zombie prevention rate.
When I’m finished, I cry. Of course I sound ridiculous—and I just sent my resume without including the key words. The pain in my side intensifies and my sobs echo off the pale walls of my windowless apartment. The burning, knitting together of needles in my side won’t stop. Minimizing the window on the computer screen, I watch the lotus flower open its petals wide, to eat me I suppose. The pain grips me—rips into me—and I have to pull my chair back from my desk, so I can bend over. I believe that if I just hold my middle together, I can soothe away the agony, but the crease in the center makes the burning sensation stronger and I notice a leak—a trickle of thick, puss and liquid, angry and red, seeping out onto my shirt. A round, lumpy mass bulges from the gray cotton fabric, as nausea pours over me in waves of hot and cold.
On the screen, the lotus seems to pulse and bloom in steady staccato rhythms. It grows a head with teeth, yet I’m more frightened by the lump beneath my shirt. My body twists, convulses, and expels the contents of my stomach onto the carpet. The air is ripe. Stepping outside seems to be the only relief. So, I stand up and gather the courage I need to look at the lump that’s seeping and oozing. My trembling hand pulls away the fabric, and I take in the sight of some kind of fluid-filled sac that’s purple, blue, and riddled with veins. It too pulses in time with the lotus on the screen and I can see the stitches. They are thick and black, holding this thing together.
The fowl stench in the air grows unbearable, and I remember to go outside. If I can manage to get outside, I can at least overcome the impulse to retch, which only prolongs the burning.
Outside, it’s raining. The heavy drops cool my skin. I let the rain fall on the sac that’s stitched to my side. The fluid mixes with the water and sloughs off into the muddy soil below. The whole thing simply detaches, and I’m left with just the stitches, which I begin to pull, carefully from my skin, letting them untangle and fall onto the shapeless sac in the mud. The driving rain forces the gel-like material and the black stitches into the ground, making them into a form that’s much larger than it ever was before—and something about it looks familiar. The blues and reds mix together with the outline of the stitches to hold them in place, if only temporarily. I recognize the beckoning petals unfurling. A new lotus floats on pools of water in the mud. It occurs to me to snap a picture and post to my social media page—to capture it for likes and comments—to attach it to my Professional Summary, but I don’t. I let it dissolve, and I walk away.
Cecilia Kennedy earned a doctorate in Spanish literature and taught English and Spanish for 20 years in Ohio before moving to the Greater Seattle area with her husband, teenage son, and cat. In 2017, she began writing fiction for the first time. Since then, about sixteen of her short stories have appeared in eleven different literary journals/magazines online and in print. She also has a blog called “Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks,” where she chronicles her humorous attempts at cooking and home repair. (https://fixinleaksnleeksdiy.blog/)