Richard Weems ~ First Day Back

In the last moments before wak­ing, Keli was a tour guide at a sheep-shear­ing plant. During a shear­ing demon­stra­tion for sev­er­al fam­i­lies, the adults broke away to tin­ker with a row of rust­ed back­hoes. Keli knew she’d get docked if the adults dam­aged the back­hoes fur­ther, but they had left their small chil­dren at the shear­ing demon­stra­tion. She couldn’t leave the chil­dren unsu­per­vised, espe­cial­ly since they kept reach­ing for the shears and wan­der­ing towards the sheep, who were the size of hors­es and poised to kick any­one who came up behind them.

Keli opened her eyes, and for a moment the shear­ing plant sat next to the real­i­ty of her bed­room sat like an atro­cious Gucci knock­off paired against the gen­uine arti­cle. Why would adults bring wrench­es and weld­ing torch­es to a shear­ing plant? What use were back­hoes in a shear­ing plant, any­way? She went into the bath­room and heard her hus­band through the show­er wall as he con­duct­ed a meet­ing in the spare room he’d made into his office.

She did her tai chi, then made eggs over easy, toast and decaf cof­fee. She’d binged a few British dra­mas and sev­er­al real house­wife loca­tions over the sum­mer, so she perused her numer­ous stream­ing ser­vices for some­thing new. She had bare­ly fin­ished her eggs and start­ed a series about a mys­te­ri­ous woman arriv­ing in a remote Alaska town when Glen came out of the spare room for his lunch. He moved to the kitchen qui­et­ly, always defer­rent to her TV time, though he start­ed mak­ing tuna with­out much regard for her keen sense of smell.

This dream,” she began, shak­ing her head, and she described the sit­u­a­tion at the shear­ing plant. She left out the fact that this would have been her first day back at school, had she not retired. She want­ed to see if he’d make the con­nec­tion on his own.

Sounds like an anx­i­ety dream,” he said as he scraped every smidge of tuna from the pouch. Glen abhorred waste. He always cleaned his plate, whether eat­ing out (when they could eat out) or at home, even if he didn’t like the food. He stuck his fin­ger into the pouch to coax out a cou­ple more flakes. He added rose­mary and dill to the tuna and mixed. He added onion salt, which only inten­si­fied the stink.

Keli had spent the final three months of her thir­ty-four year career star­ing at her stu­dents in grids through her tablet screen, which only mag­ni­fied their suck­ing up or total dis­in­ter­est. The Sunshine Committee can­celed her retire­ment par­ty. Glen wore a tie and squeezed her hand as the super­in­ten­dent thanked Keli for her ser­vice at the online Board meet­ing, but Keli only took note of how the Board President pro­nounced her name as though they’d nev­er met. Her depart­ment sent her a plaque. What could she do with a plaque? She had gone into teach­ing straight from col­lege, so she was only in her late fifties. Plenty of time, she thought when she put in for retire­ment, to paint, to trav­el. But now there were trav­el restric­tions, and a paint­ing class over Zoom made no sense. She couldn’t even go north to spend time with her mother–the nurs­ing homes were a high trans­mis­sion zone.

Keli and Glen were emp­ty-nesters. Robbie was start­ing a cannabis dis­pen­sary in Colorado. Glen still had a half-dozen years before he could pull a pen­sion. He was a super­vi­sor in pub­lic tran­sit, and she’d nev­er under­stood what a meet­ing about pub­lic tran­sit entailed. He nev­er griped about his day the way she used to, even when his office was just on the oth­er side of the mas­ter bath. He nev­er had to bring paper­work home.

Glen cut up some gherkin for the tuna and remained oblivious.

Keli decid­ed to give Glen a hint. After all, his year began in January, not September, and for him, time off in the sum­mer was two weeks at most. With pay.

Makes sense, I guess, that I should have an anx­i­ety dream today.” She turned towards him.

Glen kept his focus on the gherkins. “I know. Everyone’s under a lot of stress these days.”

She real­ized she was peer­ing at Glen over her glass­es, the look she’d giv­en to kids who were being obtuse. She recalled the faces of the adults who’d ignored her as they head­ed for the back­hoes, the kids who reached for the gigan­tic sheep over her objec­tions. The ambiva­lence, the way they acknowl­edged her exis­tence but didn’t rec­og­nize their need for her.

Keli sat back, turned up the volume.


Richard Weems has recent­ly pub­lished in North American Review, Flash Fiction Magazine and Tatterhood Review.