I had worked at Ashley Furniture for a year and a half before I finally met my favorite coworker. Her sour lips were quenched together while she leaned over a folder. She squinted her eyes, peering through a magnifying glass.
I instinctively pushed my thick rimmed glasses up my face. It was a nervous tick I developed in order to cope with relentless hours sitting at my desk pretending I wasn’t doing homework and writhing from customers’ cheap insults because their faux leather sofas had been delayed.
Our boss had just yelled at me for being eight minutes late, as if I could have controlled the stalled car on I-35 and Profesora Peña’s lecture about pluscuamperfecto verbs that had gone over class time by twenty-five minutes.
I turned to my coworker, Kathy, and frowned at her.
“I don’t know why I let her scream at me like that,” I said and opened a web browser. The day was February 14th, so I was confronted by the cheery Valentine’s Day Google Doodle. It was a game – “Pangolin Love” they called it.
“Just ignore it,” Kathy said. “Y’know she don’t get it.”
“Fuck this,” I said and clunked my fingers against the keyboard. “If Tim can read short stories and rant about greenhouse gas emissions, I can do Spanish homework and roll with some pangolins.”
I clicked on the Doodle. A pink pangolin, the most trafficked animal in the world, began rolling down a virtual hill. I poked at the mouse. The pangolin sprang up.
Kathy put her magnifying glass down and sifted through some papers. Her computer monitor’s light glimmered off her bald spot and I thought of how depressing female hair loss must be. “I ain’t gotta deal with this shit for much longer,” she said. “I’m getting outta here soon’s I get a car.”
I pumped my fist as my pangolin rolled through level one. “It’s not so bad when corporate people aren’t here.”
“I made so much more money back when I was a customs broker,” Kathy said. Wait a second… Customs broker. Kathy… really? Kathy pinched her face. “It was… I don’t wanna say more important–”
“It is more important.” The pangolin collected an energy heart. “You think the stuff we do here is important? Making copies and babysitting salespeople. Sometimes I just wanna shriek it’s only furniture!”
Kathy smoothed small straggles of hair over her bald spot. “It’s their livelihood.”
“Some livelihoods are more important than others. Seriously. Just face it. I’m pretty sure someone like a congressman or journalist’s livelihood is more important than a furniture sales guys.” The pangolin moved to level three. “Why’d you leave the customs brokerage thing if you liked it so much?”
She didn’t respond at first, just staring at whatever was in that pale yellow folder. “I had to take care of Mama when she got the cancer,” she finally said.
I creased my brows. Cancer? Shit. “Yeah, but why’d you come here? Why didn’t you go back to the customs thing?”
“Nobody’d give me a chance ‘cause of my age.”
I turned away from my computer, stared hard at Kathy. She took her hands out of her hair and put them on the keyboard. The bald spot wasn’t as obvious, but it was there. It always would be.
“Sorry about your mom, Kathy,” I said.
“Mhmm…” was how she responded. She stared at her computer, working through the job we both hated. She flicked her eyes to the sales floor. “Watch yourself. Someone’s coming.”
Our boss appeared over my shoulder. She fisted her hands and pressed them tightly into her hips. “Amanda, you cannot be playin’ games!” she exclaimed in her accent that hadn’t left her even though she left Georgia eight years ago.
“Here!” She plopped a folder labeled General Product Knowledge on my desk. “Read through that,” she said. “You’re gonna hafta know your stuff.”
She swung her hands off her hips and powered onto the sales floor.
“At least I have school to distract me from all this work drama,” I said, trying to look at the positive.
“I don’t go to school,” Kathy replied. It sounded more like she was talking to herself.
I felt the AC power on and disturb my hair. I pushed it out of my eyes and patted down the red frizz that I never figured out how to control.
I pouted at Kathy. “Ever wish you did go to school?”
I wondered what Kathy’s mother’s hair had looked like, if she’d had any left after the cancer. I wondered what my hair would look like at Kathy’s age, if it would ever calm down, if I would ever calm down. I wondered if I’d really get what I wanted, if I’d be a real writer, or if I’d be a custom’s broker… a clerk at a furniture store… or nothing at all.
“I hope you get your car,” I told Kathy. “I hope you get out of here.”
“I hope we all do.”
We sat in silence for a while. Clerks at a furniture store. She was sixty and I was twenty, but we were the same. We were nobody.
When I looked back to my computer, the pangolin was dead – game over.
The most trafficked animal in the world.
I studied our boss’s folder, reading about dura-blend leather, memory foam cushions, mattresses, laminate… “I hope we all get out too,” I mumbled, but I don’t think Kathy heard me.
When I got off work, I googled what they really looked like. They weren’t pink. They were scaly, annihilated by poachers in Southeast Asia, slaughtered and cooked into a stew that rich people in China liked. I thought about those rich people. I wondered if their mothers ever had cancer.
I wondered if they knew anybody like Kathy, a deflated old woman with no control over how her life had ended, and if they’d eat the pangolins had they known. It took me forever to fall asleep that night, alone in my room, far from China, far from Kathy. It was quite a creature, a pangolin. It was really something.
If you would like to read more, check these out.