In every edition of the Writer’s Digest magazine, there is a contest where people can submit a short story of less than 650 words based on a photo. I submitted a short story based on the photo below for the July contest. My story didn’t get selected, but that is A-OK and I thought I’d share my story here instead!
Tracy, standing tip-toed in her worn, black flats, peered over the beige wall separating her cubicle from the cubicle of her co-worker Megan. In his glass-walled office at the end of cubicle row, Jeff sat behind his imposing, wooden desk; his chubby fingers folded on a pile of papers while he spoke with Megan, her back facing Tracy. Tracy slowly sat down into her chair feeling her heart begin to pick up.
Just a normal Thursday, she repeated like a mantra between deep breaths. This morning she had left home with her shiny thermos of coffee, dropped off her two youngest at the home of their daycare provider and the older two at Forest Lake Elementary School, as she did every weekday. Tracy parked her crushed-cracker carpeted minivan in its usual spot in the parking garage and greeted her co-workers with a smile before she sat down in her cubicle, flipping through spreadsheets and expenditure accounts with all the casualness of a Thursday morning. But once Megan was called into Jeff’s glass-walled office, all of the heat in Tracy’s body raced to her face.
She heard the door of Jeff’s office door close and kept looking at her computer screen, willing herself to not look up once Megan had returned to her cubicle. A loud sigh punctuated the random keystrokes Tracy was making and she heard Megan thud into her chair.
“Did you know about this?” Megan whispered suddenly. Startled, Tracy looked up at Megan who was draped over the wall between them.
“Know about what?” Tracy whispered back, trying to hide an awkward swallow.
“The layoffs?” Megan said, speaking so that only Tracy could hear. “Jeff just let me go.” Megan said incredulously, rubbing her temples with a hand. Tracy pushed back from her computer and put her hands in her lap; she hoped her face looked as sympathetic as when one of her kids came to her with a world-ending scrape or scratch.
“Megan, I’m so sorry. I knew profits were a little lower the past few quarters but I had no idea there would be layoffs. I can’t believe it!”
“I have rent payments! I have my car payment. What am I going to do?”
“You’ll find another job. You’re smart and great at what you do.” Tracy said soothingly.
“Yeah, well not good enough apparently.” Megan huffed, collapsing into her chair again. Tracy turned back to her computer and felt the veins in her arms turn into frozen rivers when she lifted them to the keyboard.
The memory of the discrepancies in the accounts and hesitantly walking into Jeff’s office replayed in her mind for the hundredth time that day. She had been mentally reenacting that conversation with Jeff, evaluating every word she said and the exchange he made with her. For the price of a few adjusted numbers, she could remain in her cubicle.
Anyone else would have done the exact same thing. This wasn’t personal, it was about the four little faces in the rearview mirror this morning, keeping a roof over their heads and the student loans they would have someday. Being a parent meant making the tough decisions. Without looking up, Tracy heard the door of Jeff’s office close again as another coworker shuffled back to their cubicle. Just a normal Thursday.