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Second Best by Yash Seyedbagheri


We survive by seeking to be second best. Don khakis and long sleeve shirts that make us sweat. Navy blue, of course, not the odd combos we once wore. No pink shirts and green sweatpants. No purple and green shirts paired with ripped blue jeans or shirts. Just khakis and shoes that clickety-clack with time’s precision. We tuck dreams under our stained and stale mattresses each morning, before we leave, dreams of Nabokovian prose, running for office, mixing country with rap, and being the next McLovin in some awkward indie movie, subordinated to customer service. Phones ring with shrill immediacy and bodies meander, looking, demanding help with broken computers, finding the right fixtures, the right dress shirt, the right bottle of wine for an elegant party, a black-tie party, of course. Flaccid husbands, sweatpants-wearing mothers, once nerdy and delightfully awkward girls who now wear attitudes and librarian’s glasses. The customer is always right, we’re told, so we tuck in even more when they call us incompetent, assholes, ask why we can’t go faster, faster, faster, like the beat of that country rap that could have made millions. This wine’s too sweet, not this one, it’s too dry, damn it, this scheme doesn’t fit oak flooring, this shirt’s checked. I said stripes. Lavender doesn’t look good on me. Isn’t that obvious?


Their words strike like a fifty-ton train that never slows down. Can I talk to your supervisor becomes let me talk to your supervisor or on the worst days, your superior. Let me talk now, now, now. Bosses tell us to seize the initiative and be creative with faux-energetic tones, the byproduct of five Red Bulls. But they shut us down when we tell of broken appliances in our lives and our solutions. Empathy is verboten. Our own personal tastes are irrelevant as a VHS. You’re not their buddies, be professional, meet this quota, sell this line of wines, clear this space. The customer will like this shirt because we can make it so. Weave a dreamscape about professional lives, weave dreams. They don’t want absolutes, they want their egos fed.

Dreams of marching out with cries of kiss our asses and this is our time dance with us day in, day out. Sometimes we tell ourselves it’s going to happen. This must be the day. Too much is broken to stay any longer. Our tempers can only be strained long enough, the leash fraying, the teeth snapping, the insults forming, deeming customers bourgeois sellouts, phonies, passive-aggressive sweater wearers. And we’d inevitably whisper sorrow and seek redemption, smoking joints in our old Corollas, our dying Dodge Stratuses, the ghosts of Cokes and Camels past witnesses to our foreign cruelty. A lone Skittle staring up, purple with disappointment. No, this must be the day, to leave. It’s our time, today, tomorrow, which is a new today, and the today after that. We march out of offices at dusk, proclaiming the creeds and speak it to the early evening shadows, to the pink and purple that bathe the sidewalks and rows of apartments colored beige and turd-brown. And we speak of it, gathered together for post-work beers, promising just one beer, but ending up with three or four. But late every night, when the euphoria of booze slinks away, another forgotten autopay processes, another washing machine breaks, another toilet clogs, another student loan servicer needs its monkey fed, and the numbers in the bank account shrink like an emaciated child, we tuck these promises away. We whisper soft adieus, second-best adieus, although there’s only so much that can be tucked before it all spills.


 

Yash Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University's MFA program in fiction. His stories, "Soon," "How To Be A Good Episcopalian," and "Tales From A Communion Line," were nominated for Pushcarts. Yash’s work has been published or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Write City Magazine, and Ariel Chart, among others.



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