a stressed woman lying on a bed beside cellphones and a laptop


Flash Fiction — 28 Days of Stories #8

“No one watches local news anymore, Suze,” Jason said when he walked into their room. It was 10:02 PM.

Susan followed Jason with her eyes without moving her head while he got into bed. “What do you care? You’re going to be asleep before the Weather.”

“That’s because everything they tell you about on the news is already old news. It’s boring.”

Susan didn’t respond. Watching the news was the only way she could wind down. It started when she was in fourth grade. Her mom would go to bed early because she always had the opening shift at the grocery store. Susan would creep out of her room to sit with her dad and watch the news when she couldn’t sleep. The late night news anchors then were all men with baritone and bass voices. It didn’t matter what they were reading. It all sounded like a bedtime story.

But Susan was listening to Brie Banff deliver the news with a diction closer to a Valley Girl accent than the anchors of her youth, with one twist: they called it vocal fry. It was the vocal fry that revved up Susan’s ire again.

The vocal fry was everywhere at work. It was in every meeting and interaction with anyone under age 35. Their sentences weren’t do-re-mi-fa melodically. They were fa-mi-re-douuuugggh, ending on a downward note and drag that crackled. No millennial ended a sentence with anything approaching the questioning increasing-pitch upspeak Susan’s Gen X peers made infamous.

She had been told in a performance review she needed to be aware of using upspeak in sentences. “It sounds like you’re questioning yourself when your statements end at a higher pitch than where they began,” her boss had told her last year.

The millennial Angelina who got the senior director job at work over Susan, even though Susan had more experience, sounded just like Brie. The millennial Angelina who was, as of this morning, Susan’s boss.

“And here’s a story for all you Harry Potter faaans,” Brie said, just before going to weather. “Idaho has officially been sorted, and we’re Hufflepuuuuff.”

“Did she just say that Idaho was Hufflepuff?” Jason said, popping awake and tilting his head toward the TV.

“Yes, but she just gave a monkeypox update,” Susan said, trying to justify the spin of nonsense news.

He shook his head. “That’s ridiculous. We’re Ravenclaw if we’re anything,” Jason said. “Goodnight, babe. Turn it off and get some sleep.” He fell back onto his pillow with a thump.

Susan couldn’t turn it off. The evening news was the only thing to save her brain from spinning. Listening to Brie end every sentence with a low staccato cackle spun Susan back to work.

Susan thought she had locked in the senior director promotion, what with her MBA and twenty years of experience that Angelina didn’t have. But then the phrase, “our team needs some fresh perspectives,” was uttered by the CFO who was hired from outside the company, and Susan knew she didn’t have a chance.

It was the polite way of saying Susan had too much of the wrong experience at just one place, like numbers and accounting changed from company to company. Maybe if she’d used vocal fry in her interview, she would have seemed more fresh. Did she use upspeak when she answered questions then?

Maybe there was more to numbers? Maybe there was something about accounting that Susan didn’t know. Numbers were immutable, weren’t they? Maybe Susan was too immutable. Maybe Susan needed to be mutable.

Maybe Angelina was already planning to get rid of her. Susan had no choice but to act like she was happy about it all day. Maybe she should start looking for another job.

Was right now the right time to go look for job? She would have to shop for new clothes, different from her black suits. Millennials didn’t wear black suits. She had seen Angelina on the day of her interview wearing a loose, flowing blouse and a bohemian skirt. And on her first day, Angelina wore jeans. JEANS. A new job could mean jeans every day.

Susan didn’t have enough jeans in her closet to wear jeans every day, nor did she want to. They cut into her waist and were more uncomfortable than an underwire bra. A new job could mean changing insurance, finding new doctors, and maybe a dentist. That would be a pain. Maybe if she learned to talk like Brie, she could seem like she had fresh perspectives. Maybe she needed new skirts and flowing tops and a new voice.

Susan began imagining using a vocal fry. She could drag out words. She could stop upspeaking. Grabbing her phone, she Googled “vocal fry” and found advice from a speech pathologist on how to get rid of it. She could do the opposite. Change that one thing and get some new clothes. Not jeans, though. Maybe one of those companies that sends you new things in a box every month that you can keep or return. That was easier than looking for a new job.

She fell asleep listening to Brie Banff, and dreamt of being asked to mentor Angelina.


About Christine Wilcox Anderson

Writer, former corporate communications exec, and perpetual student of life on this rock.
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