A Poet by Neils Reddick, Short Story Semi-Finalist, LISP 2nd Quarter 2020
Val slammed the back door, threw her purse on the table, and said, “I’m sick of working at that grocery store.” She’d checked out nasty people all day again, customers not wearing masks and hacking germs. She wore her mask even though most of the employees didn’t. Her saving grace was the plexiglass shields installed to prevent Covid 19 from spreading across the conveyer belt and scanner. Of course, it had taken a few deaths from the virus before the chain had taken action, then did a press release about how they wanted to protect employees despite swirling rumors of lawsuits from those deceased employees’ families.
“How was your day?” she asked.
“Pretty good. I got another rejection today from one of the best journals. The editor wrote a personal note about how much he enjoyed the poem, but it hadn’t made the final cut because it didn’t meet the aesthetics of the issue as a whole. Then, in the next paragraph the son of a bitch said I should submit to their contest, which, of course, has a hefty fee. I’m done. I’m not submitting to them again.”
Val just stared at me. “How can we afford for you to submit all those poems and work part time, Sam? Did you talk to the department chair again about a full-time position?”
“I didn’t. Last time, he said they wouldn’t likely advertise anything, since we’d gone online and they expected an enrollment downturn in the fall.”
“Did you look at job sites, see what might be available?”
“No, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it after reading those dumb ass essays with fragments, run-ons, agreement errors, and comma splices. I don’t understand. Teachers covered all that in high school and again in freshman composition. Why do they make the same mistakes over and over?”
“I know you’re proud of your MFA, but colleges are looking for Ph.D.’s, faculty who can do more than one or two things. You’re going to have to get a job to bring in some money. I’m going to apply for supervisor positions in the city. I’m tired of being poor, of barely making ends meet. When I find something, Sam, I’m out of here. I can’t live like this.”
I rubbed my forehead, slammed the laptop screen.
One of the qualities Sam hated about Val was how easily she’d give up. She’d given up butter pecan ice cream after getting sick from it once, she’d given up reading Don Quixote because it was too long and “silly” she’d said, and she’d given up on his family after the second time his parents asked about marriage and told her he’d make it as a poet because of the contests he’d won since kindergarten.
Now, she seemed to be giving up on them, and Sam didn’t know what he’d do. He couldn’t move back in with his parents again. He was appreciative he wasn’t homeless, but his part time faculty pay would not be enough to survive on his own. He saw Val with her long, black hair in the kitchen. She reminded him of the Lilith figure, Adam’s first wife who wasn’t content being subservient, wanted equality, and left. He’d heard the story in a Graduate class and remembered that when the priests and monks decided what to include in the Bible, they kept the Lilith story out, among many others. He imagined them in their robes deciding the fate for future generations, people they declared needed a clear roadmap to salvation without a divorce story and without equality for women. He wondered if those priests and monks chose celibacy because relationships were complicated and difficult. He also wondered if they’d had wet dreams at night, dreams which spilled seeds of life that dried and crusted on straw beds. He wondered if that was somehow similar to abortion, something they’d abhorred to this day. He speculated they’d blamed Lilith for their wet dreams, her way of coaxing them to include her in the biblical texts, since they had referred to her as the Sumerian succubus. He decided he might write a poem about it and felt it might get picked up by a good journal, maybe a lesbian one. That sort of publication would look good on his vita.
He watched Val in the kitchen and knew if she left, he would dream about her. He didn’t want to cage her because of his bad poetry and lack of success. “Val, come on. Let’s stick together. I’ll try harder. I’ll apply for everything tomorrow. We can go anywhere. I’ll see if I can’t search for editing jobs. I’d be good at that.”
“Yes, you would. Okay, but let’s get going. I’m afraid of this virus and I don’t want to risk my life for minimum wage, and I damn sure don’t want to die because of someone else’s stupidity.”
“Did you know some of my friends who got laid off at stores will get unemployment plus a stimulus? They’ll make more than they made when they were working. What a damned racket.”
“Yes,” he said. He loved when she got mad and scrunched her eyebrows together and pursed her lips. He instinctively reached for her, pulled her to the sofa, and they kissed and rubbed each other’s arms and shoulders, forgetting about issues for just a few minutes.