Smile lines (a very short story)

Paula was older than everyone, but only chronologically. Sure she’d lived longer than everyone else in the department, but you couldn’t tell by her actions. The only evidence of her greater age was in the deep wrinkles around her eyes. They looked like smile lines, but the smiles had to be for show, or from another period of her life. Perhaps she smiled out of habit, because even when she was telling very personal, very private stories about herself, she smiled her brittle smile at whoever had the misfortune of being stuck at a task that required they stay in the room with her.

The other staff had taken to looking forward to any task that involved being away from the back room after she arrived for the day. Normally these tasks were completed by whoever felt like it, and whenever it was convenient. Now they took turns, working around her shift. Every day one lucky person got the blessed reprieve of not having to listen to her yammering.

She needed a therapist.
Or an exorcist.

She’d been counseled by her temp agency to not share personal details, but she ignored those censures, choosing to run over her coworker of the week (or month), or however long the assignment was (or however long they could stand her) whichever came first, like an 18 wheeler over a kitten. It was merciless and bloody, with no regard for the emotional and psychic carnage she left in her wake.

One employee, unlucky enough to be forced to work with her three days in a row, even considered homicide. This gentle soul, a vegetarian for six years, a person who marched in peace rallies, a weekly volunteer at the domestic crisis shelter, had gotten so overwhelmed with Paula’s incessant complaints and bizarre observations that she started fantasizing about how she would make her be silent. Strychnine in her water bottle was considered. Loosening the lug nuts on her tires was a possibility. Anything that involved a painful end that was preceded by terror and confusion – the same as she had endured but more focused, more compact. That would do nicely.

Asking Paula to be mindful of others didn’t work. Neither did complaining to her supervisors. Flat out telling her to shut up seemed cruel, but perhaps it was the only way to regain peace at work. Mindless blather and too-personal comments was cruel so why not fight fire with fire?


I’m being transferred to another library. It was unexpected, and I wasn’t really given a choice. I’m grateful it is close to my home and in a safe part of town. I have to rearrange my life-schedule to fit around this. There will be a lot of people I’ll no longer get to see. But, there will be many new opportunities to learn and grow. With the bitter is the sweet. I’m coming to look forward to this new opportunity. It will be a challenge since there are only three people working in that branch, and we will work every Saturday. In order to get the weekends off I’ll have to take vacation time or work extra (at my old branch) to make up the hours.

I find that I’m expecting a going away party. I am dropping hints for the kind of gifts that I would like. And then I realize this is really super rude of me. A gift that is given under duress is not a gift. And if I expect this to happen and it doesn’t happen then I will be really hurt. It is better for it to be a surprise in a good way. It is better for them to give me a gift of a party freely and out of kindness and love and respect then give it because they think they have to.

Everyone else has gotten a going away party. Well, except for one recent person who we almost wanted to give a going away party because we were so glad he was going away.

I’ve been there for 14 years. I was hired 10 days before the branch opened and so I helped establish the order and routine of how we do things in my department. Not only do I know the history of the branch but I have created the history of the branch. I think that deserves something. I don’t want a plaque or a memorial but I would like for my service there to be acknowledged and commended.

This is very small of me.

And perhaps I’m expecting too much of people who didn’t choose to work with me. Perhaps I’m expecting too much of coworkers and expecting them to be friends. Perhaps they don’t see how much I’ve done to create the stability and the flow of that department. Perhaps they will only notice it after I’m gone.