#HowlWrites Series: Featuring B.C. Edwards

February 22, 2017
Photo: Dave Bledsoe

This month we asked our programming director, BC Edwards to send along an excerpt from the collection of short stories he is currently working on. Recently he curated the 2017 installment of the Poetry Jukebox the launch for which is tonight at 7pm. The jukebox is a collaboration with the public space arts project Pianos on The Streets and will be installed throughout 2017.

This is excerpted from a series of short vignettes called Make Work.

Make Work: Ambivalence

When the PA learns that she will be in charge of the walkie-talkies for the day she is excited and deflated; she will be painfully bored, but she will not work too hard; she will be responsible for something vital, but can’t really fuck anything up. Like all tasks the PA could have been assigned, this is the best and worst of all possible worlds. The PA’s life is built from these ambivalences.

The PA’s boss, who is himself also a PA shows the PA how to use the sign-in sheet. The PA has used the sign in sheet before and has been shown how to use the sign-in sheet by this same boss before; everything is deja-vu.

This is where you write their name down, he says, and their department and this is where you write down the number of the walkie-talkie that they have. This is for the time they get the walkie-talkie and this is for the time they give it back to you. This is how the sign-in sheet works. The sign-in sheet is important, as the walkie talkies are of high quality and they can’t risk one being taken home accidentally, or possibly stolen. After all, they’ve made the effort to find the best walkie talkies on the market for efficiency.

The PA’s boss says that everyone must pick up their own walkie-talkie. This is important to the PA’s boss who is himself also a PA says. No one is allowed to get a walkie-talkie for someone else. Even if the director wants a walkie-talkie, and the PA’s boss says the director’s full name and says ‘fucking’ between the first and the last. Even if the Director Fucking the Director wants a walkie-talkie, the PA’s boss says, then the Director Fucking the Director will have to come here himself and sign one out, the Director’s assistant or assistant’s assistant is not allowed to collect the walkie talkies for the director. do you understand how important this is, the PA’s boss says. His face is red, his hands are shaking. The PA says she understands how important this is.

It is not at all important.

The PA surrounds herself with walkie-talkies, they cover her table in mounds, fall off of it like lemmings so the PA has to clip some of them to her belt and they hang from her like she is a Christmas tree. People sign for their walkie-talkies and the commercial is made. This takes a long time. There are hours in every angle. The PA stops remembering what the commercial is for. It might be a body-wash, she thinks. Or a watch. It is not a car commercial, she knows, because she has never worked on a car commercial, a car commercial is the best to work on. It is the gold standard, the most famous directors direct car commercials, the best actors narrate them, the sets float three feet off the ground and all the PA’s wear jet-packs. Also the food is the best on car commercials.

When the assistant to the director comes to get her walkie-talkie, she also needs one for the director. She uses only the director’s first name. She does not say fucking. The PA gives her one for each of them. There is no question that she would do this. Her boss who is also a PA will never know and the assistant to the director thanks her. But then the assistant to the director forgets that the PA exists at all. This is how it works; commercials are a game of exclusions. If the PA does her job well no one will know that she existed at all. If the PA fucks up then some important people will remember her name, will remember her as someone who fucked up. And then she will lose the next job. In this world the PA plans on getting ahead by being the last one standing, the last one who hasn’t fucked up. When they are going over the list of potential people to give more responsibility to they will look at the list and there will be small black marks next to everyone’s name except the PA’s and they will say what the hell, let’s give her a shot and they will give her a shot and she will get ahead. This is the PA’s plan.

Everyone has their own plan. The PA thinks that the assistant to the director’s plan is fucking the director. She does not like that she thinks this. It is a cliché and she was taught to despise clichés. It implies that the PA thinks the assistant has no marketable skills aside from her ability to have sex. This is not what the PA thinks. The PA has worked with this assistant before. The PA likes this assistant, which is why she gave her both walkie-talkies. But there is an angle to the assistant’s walk, a way she uses the director’s first name only that sounds to the PA like an evening was had that one or both regrets and now they are wary that the moment might happen again, wary that the other will mention that the moment ever happened at all. That is the way the directors’ assistant looks when she returns the two walkie-talkies at the end of the day. She looks like she once fucked the director months ago and is uncertain how she feels about it now, and she looks like she has had a busy day. Her eyes are darting from the volume of energy drink she’s had. She does not drink coffee, this assistant, she only drinks energy.

The assistant to the director leaves the two walkie-talkies–hers and the director’s–on the table with the other walkie-talkies, she thanks the PA. The PA is busy checking in walkie-talkies, the PA’s boss is looking over her shoulder. The PA’s boss who is himself just a PA notices the two walkie-talkies. He asks if the Director Fucking the Director checked his own walkie-talkie out. The PA is tired. The PA has not been busy like the assistant has. The PA has sat at this table, which is a card table that the PA will have to fold up and stow away when she is done with it. She has sat here all day, she has been largely ignored. She barely ate lunch. All this inactivity has exhausted her. The PA looks at her boss and says that no the Director did not check his own walkie-talkie out, the PA uses the director’s first name and first name only. No, she says. He did not.

The PA’s boss straightens up, he wants to yell at the PA but he cannot because he is only a PA himself and there are rules about this sort of thing. Instead he just walks off and he makes a black mark next to her name on his invisible list of people.

So there is a mark now. The PA is one of the hundreds of PA’s with a mark next to her name on the list that everyone knows but no one has written down.

The PA so marked folds up her card table once all the walkie talkies are packed in their cases and she loads the cases into the truck and then loads the table onto the truck.

And the PA rides the subway home.

And as the doors chime shut, she remembers that it was a commercial for deodorant.

B.C. Edwards is the author of two books, “The Aversive Clause” and “From The Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes.” He has written for Mathematics Magazine, Hobart, The New York Times, and others. He was awarded the 2011 Hudson Prize for fiction and was a 2014 Poetry Fellow of the New York Foundation of the Arts. He attended the graduate writing program at The New School in New York and lives in Brooklyn with his husband.

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