In my newest temp job, I am hired to be wallpaper.
This is less exciting than working reception
and a little more exciting than making cold calls for surveys in West Virginia.
The employee director trains me and a team of five from the agency for fifteen minutes
during which we are spray painted beige.
“Office decoration had to be cut this year,” she says. “We have to hire outside.”
She asks if one of us would mind being part of the bathroom wall for the day
and a broad-face boy earning his master’s degree volunteers.
With care, he is stripped and sprayed in powder blue,
shrinking back when the artists ply him with delicate brushes
and map out a grid of gray lines on his skin.
The rest of us, hair flattened with paint, are ushered into the offices
in a service elevator that smells of stale air.
For the entire day, I stand at one corner of an office,
halfway between a basketball hoop over a waste paper basket and a potted plant.
The office is separated by a wooden cubicle maze with tiny plexiglass windows.
The potted plant has cloth leaves, branching wire vines like firm, little veins,
and brown Styrofoam instead of potting soil.
I look at it all morning as I stand very still.
Any job worth doing is worth doing well, I remind myself,
especially if there’s a paycheck on Friday.
I will buy my own paint, mermaid greens and purples,
and be my own wall all weekend.
As the afternoon crawls, I make up conversations between myself and the plant.
He tells me—because he’s a he—that he’s from a factory in West Virginia
where he sat all day and watched the owner’s wife
as she put together fake roses and fake orchids and fake peonies and fake lilacs.
He fell madly in love with her.
At 5:00 pm, the director comes back to take us to the door.
The master’s student looks pale, his neat rows of tile grit now blurred seismograph readings.
The conversations I make up between the potted plant and I
are washed away as we’re all hosed down at the door.
We came to an understanding, though,
that we are both replacements,
stand-ins for real things.
Gillian Daniels’ poems and prose have been published in Flash Fiction Online, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Flying Higher: An Anthology of Superhero Poetry, and PodCastle. After attending the 2011 Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Workshop, she moved from Cleveland, Ohio to the Boston area where she lives, works, sketches, and temp’d not-so-long-ago. She can be found on Twitter as @gilldaniels.