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Fiction #424
(published March 5, 2009)
Be A Man
by Eric Bennett
Begin the conversation by baring your throat, a sign of submission. Lower your eyes. Hide your contempt. Think bunny thoughts, mouse thoughts, and small, furry critter thoughts so he doesn't feel threatened. Let him know he can devour you in one bloodless gulp. This is the way to keep your job.

He visits your cubicle. Wonder who taught you to tuck your tail, to piddle, to say "please" and "thank you" so often. Like a boy-band fan, sigh and faint at his feet. Effuse.

No doubt he changes his own spark plugs, bucks broncos, eats rattlesnakes. He shakes my hand as if to say, "Be a man." I squeeze harder, think of football and fishing but alas, I am no more a man than before. I know this because I use the word "alas."

When his three hundred dollar pin striped suit walks away, do not cry. Face your computer and pretend to type memos; duijkdf, dfjfd; df;jkfda; fdl;j.

Understand that my boss hates me. He's never said so, I just know, which is yet another reason he hates me. He'll say, "Join us for a beer after work." He means, "Be a man." I decline to join the boys, for beer that is.

To him I'm the office un-man. I watch Audrey Hepburn movies, hum show tunes, and use the word "fabulous."

Watch the clock; 4:26, 4:32, 4:37, 4:41, 4:49. Go.

Head toward your car. My boss yells across the parking lot, "Blah, blah, blah." To which I smile and say, "You have a blah, blah, blah too."

Your car smells like Kentucky Fried Chicken. Drive through the drive through at Kentucky Fried Chicken on your way home. Hum the Patti Griffin song on the radio, and then grow self-conscious when the clerk opens the window.

He says (nose pierced): "Here are your chicken strips."

I say, (red faced): "I didn't order chicken strips."

He says (eyebrow raised): "Yes you did, bitch."

I say (eyes wide): "No I didn't, sir."

He says (with disdain): "You're not a man."

He doesn't really say that but that's what I hear.

I say: "Thank you."

Pull into traffic. Smile apologetically at the soccer mom who raises her "fuck you" flag. Her horn says, "BE A MAN!"

Eat your chicken strips and end the day at 9:45; go to bed. Lie awake feeling like an alien in your own life, a spork in a knife drawer. Loathe yourself in general. And in detail.

Dream, and in your dreams coyotes eat their young, children learn to ride bikes without fathers to run behind, and God is a woman caught shaving her legs in the Fountain of Youth. Wake twisted and frozen on the tundra of air-conditioned sheets.

Its 6:30 A.M. Continue to stare at the digital numbers on your alarm clock until you realize you will not go to work today. Call in sick.

"Get better," the receptionist chirps.

"Be a man." Is what you hear.

Hang up and cry like a little girl.

"Be a man," you whisper.

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