In Broken Pencil, Susan Read shares short fiction centered on a Kafka-esque interrogation in the back room of a coffee shop — you know, the one where they wear the green aprons — that’s a stinging indictment of the byzantine policies, procedures, and psychology of being a low wage employee.
I wonder if my manager thinks I did this. If my friends think I did this.
I mean, I would think I did this, if I wasn’t me.
It’s hot and I feel anxious and I feel angry and I feel…guilty.
And then I feel even angrier, and I think about how hard I have worked for Tarsucks, how I am probably the best barista at my store, and instead of a farewell party, I will be walking out of this place with my tail between my legs, and my head down, hoping that no one will notice the tears that are now readily streaming down my face in fear and anxiety and frustration.
I take a sip of water.
I lift up the form I was handed and notice another beneath it. It has a similar format: fill in the blanks and sign your name, we’ll take care of the rest.
I _________ do hereby permit __________to ________ me up the _____.
Actually, the form authorizes Tarsucks to compensate the stolen money directly from my paychecks until full restoration of funds is received.
It is a confession, typed up and waiting for me to sign.
I sit back in my chair, crying a little but no longer fidgeting, still sweating in that tiny back office, which I am free to leave at any time. I wait for my tribunal to reconvene.