A View From A Depth

[I wrote this piece for a flash fiction anthology.  Since it was rejected for that, I’m going to share it here.]

“Hey, what’s going on?”
“Hmmm? Oh, nothing. Just clearing the boards.”
“You’ve got something on your mind.”
“I’m tired, I guess.”
“Want to talk about it? We could get some coffee.”
“No, I’m… You know, I’d like that. You ready to clock out?”
“Ten minutes. You know Jay-Bob’s, up on three?”
“Sure. Ten minutes.”


“Two black and whites—”
“Naw, get the real stuff. I’m buying. Two Konas. Extra large.”
“Are you sure?”
“I had a good month. I feel like splurging.”
“Well… thanks.”
“Don’t mention it. Now talk.”
“What do you want to talk about?”
“All shift you’ve been Mr. Zombie. What’s on your mind?”
“Well… Look, my contract’s up.”
“Oh, no—they aren’t renewing you?”
“It’s not that. I got an offer. Another five, with grade increase. I just don’t know if I want to take it.”
“You thinking about going back up?”
“Thinking about it.”
“Seriously? You know what it’s like up there?”
“They seem happy enough.”
“Tourists? Sure, they can afford to blow a couple of grand a day on a vacation. Of course they’re happy.”
“I just don’t know what we’re doing down here, you know?”
“We’re running traffic for the locks. At least I am, you’re staring off into space and letting the boats pile up halfway to St. Thomas.”
“I kept my locks moving.”
“Only because it was a slow shift, and I was rerouting half of the inbounds from eight to seven and five.”
“Bullshit. You want to run the numbers?”
“Okay, relax. I was just needling you. Man, if you’re really unhappy here, maybe you should go up. But I think you’d be making a mistake.”


“You sticking around, boy-o?”
“Yeah, I signed. You’re stuck with me for another five.”
“Good, I’d hate to have to train a new assistant.”
“Assistant, my ass. I’ve got rank in grade on you now.”
“No shit. So I guess that, ‘Oh, gosh, I think I want to go upstairs’ line worked? I need to try that next time.”
“Careful. They might let you go.”
“Shut up and safe your boards. We’ve got inbounds.”


“What happened after they pulled you off the board? I was going nuts trying to cover eight locks.”
“I got paneled.”
“An inquiry? Because of Captain Dickweed? They’re buying his ‘diplomatic priority’ bullshit?”
“Evidently I wasn’t responding professionally to a communication from a partner nation.”
“So what happens now?”
“Suspended pending.”
“Well they damned well better ask me what happened. I was there, and you followed procedure. They’ll have riots if they try to censure you for that.”
“I don’t think it’ll come to that. They’re just going through the motions to make the attache or whatever feel like she’s a big cheese.”
“These are same jokers that talk about how bad their people need ocean harvested protein every time we try to get a price increase and you’re suppose to let a couple of thousand tons of that protein drift so she doesn’t have to wait for a lock? I think I hate upstairs.”
“It’ll blow over, and I got a couple of days off out of the deal.”
“Yeah, and I’m stuck with some cadet until you get back.”
“Poor boy. You know the drill—stay calm and keep the traffic moving. Me, I’m going to get a bottle of that drain cleaner to go and see if I can kill it.”
“Have fun.”
“…want to come with?”
“Seriously? I have to work tomorrow.”
“I’ll get you out the door in time. I don’t want to be alone tonight.”
“…”
“…”
“Yes.”


“… to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, so long as you both shall live?”
“I do.”
“And do you….”


“Where’s the other bag? Do we have a ticket for the other bag? I’ve only got four tickets here. Which one is missing? Did we leave one at home? Damn—we haven’t got time to go back.”
“We have five bags on the trolley and five tickets. See? Relax, we’ve got it all handled.”
“And the shot records? Have we got all the shot records? The doctor said we can’t bring him without the records.”
“I have all the paperwork right here. Just sit down and wait for them to call us. This is supposed to be a vacation, remember?”
“I just want to make sure—”
“I’m sure. Take a deep breath. Everything is going to be fine.”
“I was up all last night worrying.”
“I know. You kept me up. We’re just going to islands for a week, not invading the mainland.”
“Are you sure this is the right thing for him? All those diseases up there…”
“We’ll be in the member nation quarantine zone the whole trip. Everyone who works those resorts has to be screened. We’ve all got our shots.”
“Do you think he’ll like it?”
“Darling, our son is almost three and he’s never seen sunlight. I think it’s time.”
“What if he gets scared?”
“Our boy? He’s been running around playing upstairs for a month. He’ll love it.”


“Let’s take a look at—oh, no,that is not how you tie a tie.”
“I followed the instructions.”
“Let me see that… no, that’s for the other kind of tie. You need the one for the bow tie.”
“This is stupid.”
“They’re dedicating a new transit annex. It’s kind of big deal.”
“But why do they need me?”
“Because you’re the division chief and they need someone to make a speech.”
“I have to wear this getup to make a speech?”
“You want the representatives of all the member nations to see you in a ratty old wet suit?”
“Honestly? Yes.”
“Well, you have to impress you’re new daughter-in-law in any event. They’ve come all the way from deep Alaska.”
“I can’t breathe in this thing.”
“Then stop talking. You have your speech? Good. Now let me finish my makeup and we’ll go.”


“The writer and reformer George Bruce wrote, in 1884, ‘The sea is the largest cemetery, and its slumbers sleep without a monument. All other graveyards show symbols of distinction between great and small, rich and poor: but in the ocean cemetery, the king, the clown, the prince and the peasant are alike, undistinguishable.’
“My wife heartily approved of that sentiment. She always used to say that upstairs cares about ranks and titles, but down here the only thing that matters is if you can do the job.
“She had a lot of jobs, and she did them all so well. I met her when we were both lock controllers, and I don’t mind admitting that I learned the job from her. ‘Stay calm and keep the traffic moving,’ that was her motto, and over the years it’s been the one principle that has guided my career. We’ve gone from eight locks to thirty-four, and our daily tonnage has increased exponentially. But the basics haven’t changed. Stay calm and keep the traffic moving is still rule number one.
“She brought that same calm and that same dedication to the job to everything she did. As a mother, later a grandmother, she was always the one who picked up the pieces and kept the traffic moving. Most of you know her as the chair of the civilian advisory board, a role that she kept for over ten years, until the cancer forced her to step down last year…”


“So you’re really going upstairs?”
“Yeah. The new kid can handle the department. You don’t need me any more.”
“We’ll miss you.”
“An old man to use up more breathing air? Naw, this isn’t any place to retire to.”
“You’ve been down here a long time. It’s different upstairs, you know.”
“Thirty-eight years. I’ll adapt. I’m not planning on doing anything more that lying on the beach and getting a tan.”
“Well, I hope you’ll stay in touch. And you know you’ve always got a place here, if the surface doesn’t agree with you.”
“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind. Now, I’ve got a sub to catch.”
“Take care, Sir.”
“Carry on. Keep the traffic moving.”

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About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in New Wave, On Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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