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  • Manifold Northeast Life & Trust
  • Cat Powell (bio)

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Photo of cubicles by Tim Patterson; forest by Nicholas A. Tonelli

[End Page 26]

I wake early and water the plants. I have a lot of plants, and it takes the better part of an hour to see to them. Most are rescues that I find abandoned [End Page 27] on suburban sidewalks, put out with the trash because they’re ugly or dying or refusing to flower. My oldest is a Ficus benjamina I’ve had for forty-five years, retrieved from the garbage room of my freshman dorm with only three dark and glossy leaves to his name. Like me, he’s thickened with age, and unlike me, he’s grown so that his crown now brushes the dining room ceiling.

I mist the broad-leafed bird-of-paradise that’s only ever flowered once; the purple-pink Hawaiian ti plant; the arrowhead syngonium; the forest of pink and white fittonia, which everyone gave as gifts the year my wife died. I soak the orchids, the flaming sword bromeliad, the tillandsia my daughter left behind when she moved out to LA. Then I get the watering can and attend to the geraniums my wife planted, now grown to Little Shop of Horrors proportions; the massive jade tree my mother left me; the spiked snake plants, the hanging vines, the calving spider plant, the gold-and-green-draped corn plant, the ZZ plants with their dark, plasticky leaves.

I make a pot of coffee. I make a tuna fish sandwich. I make a piece of toast with butter and strawberry jam. I put the sandwich and a travel mug of coffee into the satchel full of papers I cart back and forth from work each day, though I’ve never once taken out the papers at home.

The walk to the bus is cold and drab, gloom crowding the corners of the late April day. Heaps of dirty snow still line the street. I’m alone at the bus stop—too early for the students, too late for the downtown workers whose shifts started hours ago. No one else takes the bus if they can help it. But I hate driving.

No matter the hour of the day, everyone looks tired on the bus, and this morning is no different, the few occupants all grim and ground-down in the fluorescent light. I take a seat and watch the dark teeth of the roofs and the lit windows of the old houses rushing past. In one, a woman in a red dress with yellow flowers stands over a stove. I imagine a quick spiral of golden oil, the snap of the gas burner, the crisp tap and slime of an egg. Maybe she has a young son, and she shouts for him to get up, but he just pulls the comforter over his head and hides in the warmth. She goes to get him, pulls back the blankets half teasing, half exasperated; she leans over to give him a kiss, the loose V-neck slipping to reveal the line of sun-worn skin between her full breasts. My wife would have looked good in a dress like that. And now we’re nearing my stop. I put these things away. [End Page 28]

I used to have an office with a window back when I was a manager and there were still people to manage. Now I sit alone in a cubicle at the windowless center of the empty seventh floor. No one else ever comes to the office. The other survivors prefer to work from home, and all of us work harder than dogs, the functions of a team of forty devolved to the aging shoulders of the five of us and our tyrannical machines always pinging and dinging and pressing for our attention at every moment of the day. In two years, the lease on the building is up, and a large multinational conglomerate will conclude its long, slow digesting of what was once Manifold Northeast Mutual Life & Trust. What few jobs are left will disappear down to corporate headquarters, and we’ll...


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pp. 26-46
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