Elizabeth Wilkinson had too many letters in her name. It never fit on anything official, like the drivers license she once had where it would be truncated or roll around to the second line. It made finding an email address upsetting. Her younger brother urged her to go to gmail and secure her name, but elizabethwilkinson at gmail dot com just felt too long to her. She was overwhelmed trying to think of something else, so she didn’t sign up for anything.
Aden made fun of her for not having email, but Elizabeth didn’t understand why it was so necessary. When she was growing up there was no email, no computers, no phones that had the touch screens. She was unsure why her parents had Aden when they were so old, when her mother’s womb should have been long barren. She was confused when folks in town assumed Aden was her child when they were out at the Walmart.
Elizabeth stared at the question on the job application in front of her, asking for her email address. She paused in thought for a few moments, considering writing an explanation for why she didn’t have an email address but decided on simply writing “N/A” in the space. They could call her.
Her mother insisted that Elizabeth drive into the city and apply for the job at the bank. She called it a change of pace, which Elizabeth didn’t understand. Elizabeth hadn’t minded her job on the phones at the telemarketer office. It was loud in there all the time, her co-workers would laugh and throw balls around to each other in between the calls, and they would eat their lunches while on the calls chewing loudly. Elizabeth would not have liked to get a call from one of them, only to hear them chewing with their mouth noises on the other end trying to sell her insurance.
Elizabeth was always polite on the phone. Her desk was surrounded by those low wall cubicles, with the cloth material on the walls. The walls of the cubicle were the only things that bothered her about that job. She would run her hands down the material and it’d rake like chalk across a board in her head. She hated those walls. But she loved those calls. Elizabeth would dial the next number down the list, it was all very orderly. She would dial the number and the person whose name was next to the number would pick up the phone. Half the time, they would answer and she knew immediately if she would enjoy the conversation. They would answer “Hello!” with an exclamation point. Elizabeth could see the exclamation point hanging in the air in front of her, bobbing slowly up and down above the pages with the numbers. And she would mimic back with an exclamation point.
Others, though, would answer “Hello?” with a question mark. It was the question marks that Elizabeth had to be careful with. She couldn’t tell why, but those people were always either the quickest to get off the phone with a curt goodbye or the most profane. Elizabeth didn’t like the profanity. The words would grate against her ears like the cloth material on the walls of the cubicle.
She wish she hadn’t been fired from that job.
It wasn’t her fault.
Elizabeth’s boss, who watched over all of them with a cup of coffee glued to his hand, was a loud man. She had worked there for nearly three years. Elizabeth came in ten minutes early every morning, and left fifteen minutes after the close of her shift. She never left a mess on her desk. She never bothered her co-workers. Elizabeth didn’t throw the ball, or talk with food in her mouth.
But one day she walked in on the boss without his pants on, and that was the day she was fired.
Elizabeth didn’t understand what was happening, when it happened. It was eleven twelve at night and she was getting ready to go home. But she had not used up all of the paper on her note pad that day and she always returned the unused pages to the materials closet. It wasn’t right to bring home materials from work. Her co-workers brought materials home from work all of the time. One time, Tim had brought home a whole printer. When he saw that Elizabeth saw him leaving through the back door he shrugged at her. “I’m out of printer paper,” he said, simply, and let the door close behind him.
When Elizabeth opened the door to the material closet, her boss had no pants on. She wish she hadn’t seen, but she saw it in his hands. A piece of paper with a photograph of something inappropriate. Elizabeth closed the door quickly, bent down and dropped the note pad on the floor outside the material closet.
Elizabeth returned home that night and it was dark outside, but her mom was still up. There was no dinner on the table, like her mom often left for her. Instead, her mom met her in the living room, before Elizabeth could take her shoes off for the day. Her hands were on her hips, both of them.
“Your boss called,” Elizabeth remembers her saying this with… what was the opposite of an exclamation point? “He asked that you not go back. He said they’ll mail your last paycheck.”
Elizabeth didn’t understand why she was the one who got fired. She always had her pants on.
Her mom just shook her head and returned back to the kitchen. Elizabeth went to her room without eating that night and fell heavily into her bed, face down on the pillow. She yelled into the pillow. Loudly. Her fist beat the back of her head into the pillow. She didn’t cry.
Elizabeth stood with the pen in her hand, at the small counter with the see-through table top, filling out the application for work. Underneath the see-through top were little cubbies with many different colored papers in them. Elizabeth was distracted by the paper, there was a green one, and there was a blue one and a washed-out red one. The rest of them were white. She thought, if you put them together they would make almost a rainbow.
“Focus.” She said out loud to herself. The man standing next to her, filling out words on the little green paper looked up at her briefly when she spoke. His eyes moved up to her face, then, slower, down her body. His gaze quickly went back to filling out the little green paper. A pile of checks lay in front of him. His calloused hands sifted them around as he wrote numbers onto the paper.
She finished filling out the application, noting that it would require a math test as part of the application. Elizabeth was good at numbers.
Her mother had told her that this was a respectable job. Aden told her that she would make a terrible bank lady. He told her that bank ladies were supposed to be hot. Aden was eight and Elizabeth didn’t know how he knew about hot. When she was eight she knew about dolls and fields filled with grass and dandelions.
The lady behind the desk took Elizabeth’s application and tilted her glasses down towards the end of her nose. Elizabeth couldn’t help but stare at the glasses. This was fortunate, because normally Elizabeth couldn’t look people in the eyes. Her mom told her that this made people nervous around her, or that people didn’t trust her. She was lucky sometimes that people thought she was looking them in their eyes if there was something interesting to her near their eyes. The lady’s glasses were full of glass and waves and twists and turns. A small beading of pearls snuck behind the lady’s neck and connected each end of the glasses behind her ears. Elizabeth liked the order of the pearls one after another. When she looked closely at them they were individuals, they were round spheres. When Elizabeth looked back further and saw all of them together they were not spheres, they were sloping curves and straight lines.
The lady checked off many boxes while Elizabeth sat still. Elizabeth did not like to fidget in front of other people, she learned that it was most appropriate to sit still, or stand still. Elizabeth saw the lady’s phone and felt sad.
“You have a good work history, there are some very nice recommendations here,” the lady pulled her glasses higher on her nose, shifting them back and forth until they settled into the small indents between her eyes. “Why did you decide to leave your last job?”
Elizabeth was not ready to answer this question. She thought back to her scripts. They were very comforting when she didn’t know how to respond to someone. “I was not pleased with my job. I felt that there might be other options out there that would better suit my needs. I would be happy to hear how this job could better suit my needs.”
“You know, this is a tough job. There is a lot of responsibility working in a bank. You handle money all day and have responsibility for your own drawer.” The lady scribbled a note on Elizabeth’s resume. The one that her mom helped her put together last night. The resume had serif fonts only. Those were Elizabeth’s favorite. “Do you think you can handle the responsibility of your own money drawer?” She asked, putting her pen down.
Elizabeth thought about the question for a few moments. “I am as responsible a person as you will ever meet. I will show up ten minutes early in the morning, and leave fifteen minutes after my shift ends. I keep my things in order, everything has a place. My drawer will be mine and it will be in order.” Everything Elizabeth said was true.
The lady scribbled some more. Her glasses eased slowly down the bridge of her nose when her head was bent forward. “What is your greatest weakness?”
Elizabeth had prepared for this question last night at the computer in Aden’s room when she had typed about how to interview for a job. “My greatest weakness is that sometimes people have a hard time making a connection with me. I am not sure why. But I know for a fact that this is not relevant to the quality of work I will do for you.” Elizabeth was honest, she was always honest.
On her first day of work Elizabeth woke up at the same time that she woke up every day. Her mom was still asleep. Aden was still asleep probably but she could hear the television still on in his room. Elizabeth put on her blouse, her pants, her sweater and her socks. Then she put on her shoes and she tapped down on the Velcro on both of them. Elizabeth bent over at the fridge and picked up the brown paper bag with her name written on it. Elizabeth Wilkinson. It wrapped around to a second line.
At the office, Elizabeth saw the lady who hired her in the parking lot, ten minutes before she was supposed to be there. The lady quickly smiled at Elizabeth before walking briskly ahead and entering the building from the side. Elizabeth watched the door click shut. Elizabeth had to go around to the front, she did not have her badge yet. She waited at the front door for ten minutes until her new co-worker came and opened it for the day.
Elizabeth placed her brown paper bag in the refrigerator next to a piece of green Tupperware that had a day old taco in it. She didn’t smile for the camera and the picture on her badge looked like her. Her hair was too long but she didn’t think so.
After the first ten customers came through her line, Elizabeth understood how to do her job. She placed all of her pens in a row in order from least full to fullest. She would use the least full pens first.
Elizabeth made change for customers in the way that she saw others doing it, first counting in her hands then counting to the customer laying the cash out in front of them. Her hands were a little chubby but they moved quickly with the money and she laid out the cash in front of the customers in ascending serial number order.
She took only thirteen minutes of her fifteen minute break, sitting alone at the round table in the break room with the day’s newspaper scattered in front of her. Her brown paper bag was folded neatly next to her sandwich. Elizabeth learned the scripts for speaking to the customers and wrote them down during lunch. She pasted the script next to her window on the inside so that the customers couldn’t see it.
“Good morning (afternoon) miss (sir) how may I help you today?”
“Would you like that in twenties?”
“I can deposit this for you. Checking or savings?”
And so on.
Elizabeth was good at her new job and she thought that her mom was right. She felt respectable.
“Elizabeth?” One of her co-workers talked at her with a question mark. Elizabeth tensed up, unsure what was coming next. “Great job today!” Exclamation. She relaxed. “Could you go to the supply closet and grab me a new stamp for tomorrow?”
Elizabeth could do that. She knew where the materials closet was and she knew what stamp her co-worker wanted. She left the counter. The materials closet was stacked full of many office materials. She picked out a new stamp for her co-worker and was about to close the door.
Pads of paper, piled a dozen high. She reached out slowly for the one on top, instead running her fingers down the pile and pulling one from the middle.
The lady who hired Elizabeth was walking down the stairs from her office, to say good bye to the girls behind the counter. In the hallway, she noticed the door to the supply closet open partially. She placed her hand on the knob and thought to herself about how she needed a new gel pen because hers had just run out of ink. She inched the door slightly open upon thinking about the pen, but stopped herself, tilting her head to the side. She realized she should just get it tomorrow morning so she didn’t have to bring it home, and closed the door gently.
Inside the closet, Elizabeth huddled against herself holding the pad of paper in both hands. She knew that she shouldn’t let the lady see her in the closet. She wasn’t sure what would have happened but she had kept quiet when the lady was out there. Elizabeth bent down and hiked up her pants, because that’s what she was supposed to do. She waited for fifteen minutes before leaving the closet where she was right on time to catch the bus that brought her home, where her mom said she looked tired.