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Today's Story by Jim Meirose

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Their Proper Places

All life starts with noise; bang the pot, bang the drum. Celebrate.

Percy banged his stapler down on his steel worktable after saying this.

What do you mean? asked Jimmy.

Percy waved his arms, answering.

Noise! Noise is used to celebrate—fire the guns, beat the drums, fire off the cherry bombs.It’s wrong. Quiet should be used to celebrate. Instead of the big noisy marching band on Fourth of July, there should be ranks of silent people lined up walking quietly along. Instead of firing guns into the air as they do in the Arab countries, they should dump the bullets out of the guns and stand there quietly holding them.

But it’s the nature of happy people to want to make noise, said Jimmy, as he shoved a box off onto the conveyor belt.

Well that’s the opposite of what it should be. And you know what else?

No. What else?

Jimmy pulled a tray to pack off the line as Percy answered.

When something bad happens, great noise should be made. There should not be the flowery hush of the funeral parlor; there should not be the silence at the graveside. There should not be the respectful quiet hush by the sickbed. There should not be the silent shock of being told you have a dread disease. There should not be moments of silence to remember bad things that have happened in the past—there should be moments of noise! There should be yelling and screaming by the sickbed. There should be stomping and shouting at the graveside and yelling and laughter in the funeral parlor. And for example, I hate this God-damned job. So I yell Yee-hah! Yee-hah, I’m happier than shit! That’s how it should be.

This is not how people are brought up, said Jimmy, pushing another packed box onto the line. Percy scowled and shook a fist.

Well this is how people should be brought up. God damn it.

With that, Percy pulled a great handkerchief from his back pocket and loudly and wetly blew his nose. Smiling, he held out the handkerchief toward Jimmy so Jimmy could see what had been produced.

That’s disgusting, said Jimmy.

See! See! You should not have said that is disgusting, you should have said it was great, and good, and something I should be proud of! And then you should have pulled out your pistol and fired it into the air, in honor of the moment.

I don’t have a pistol, smiled Jimmy, pulling another tray across.

Well, you should. For occasions like this. Jesus believed in what I am saying.

Jesus? said Jimmy, taping up a box.

Yes. Jesus! said Percy, throwing out his arms—when Jesus entered a city, he did not have himself preceded by a great marching band. He and his followers entered in secret. And what could be happier than Jesus coming to town? It’s not like Santa coming to town and they all jump up and down like idiots.

People are asleep when Santa comes to town.

Well, if it weren’t for that, they’d be jumping up and down like idiots and there would be big brass bands and great choruses sung into the air.

Jimmy grimaced and shook his head.

You’re crazy Percy. Why don’t you just shut up and pack. You give me a headache—

Just then Panko the supervisor came down the line to see how things were going.

Yay, Panko! shouted Percy, grabbing a tray off the line. God damn it, it’s good to see you!

Yeah? Why? said Panko, patting his hand on the top of a box.

It just is! Isn’t it, Jimmy?

Percy shoved the packed box off on the line.

You guys are nuts, said Panko.

With that he proceeded down the line away from them.

What was that all about Percy?

It’s a bad thing to see Panko—so I had to act real joyous. And look what happened—it made him go away. See? It all works for the greater good.

Jimmy stood loading his staplegun.

And what if it’s a good thing to see someone? he asked.

Then, when they approach, you should be silent.

It must be a bad thing for you to see me then, he said. Because you won’t stop talking a minute since we’ve been on the line today. Tell you what—


Jimmy raised a finger.

You should be silent. And so should I. Because I like working with you and you like working with me. So lets be silent and enjoy each other’s company—

Percy dismissed this with a wave of the hand and said That’s true, we could do that—but—but—maybe that we like each other is a lie.

Jimmy stood there, his mouth a straight line. Percy smiled broadly at his funny joke.

I’m thinking about going to the bathroom, Jimmy, snapped Percy. Do you think that would be a good or bad thing?

Jimmy took a deep breath.

I suppose if you have to go, that would be a good thing, he said.

Good then. I will go in silence. Because going to the bathroom is a good thing.

Rigght—and you know—that’s why it’s so quiet in the offices up front. Those are good jobs. People are happy there. It’s like I’ve been saying for days—I had a job up there, I’d be the quietest one there. Most productive one there, too. Those jobs are sweet. I’d kill to have one. But now—I’ll be a while, Jimmy. Hold down the fort.

Percy went around the conveyor toward the bathroom. Jimmy stood packing quietly and thought that what Percy said made a little bit of sense—after all, here he was happily packing, and in perfect silence. Panko the supervisor came back up the line. He stopped by Jimmy.

Jimmy, he said—where is Percy?

In the men’s room.

Tell him I want to see him in the glass house when he gets back, said Panko.


Panko slapped Jimmy on the back and walked away.

Jimmy was curious. No one got called to the glass house unless it was serious. Either very good or very bad. Like when Einhorn got promoted. Or when Jolly got let go. There was no in between about being called to the glass house. When Percy came back, Jimmy spoke.

Panko came by—he wants to see you in the glass house.

What? Me? Why?

I don’t know. He wouldn’t tell me.


He put down his stapler and walked off in the direction of the glass house. A half hour passed, then forty minutes, then one hour—and no Percy. Jimmy wondered what they could be talking about for so long—but Percy never came back. He must be let go. That’s it. Panko’s let him go. Jimmy packed quickly, relentlessly, wondering what he could do to avenge Panko’s letting Percy go without losing his own job. The day ended, and Jimmy walked to his car and was surprised to see that Percy’s old rusted out Datsun was still in the parking lot—why would it still be there? Jimmy thought to wait for Percy to come out and then confront him and demand to know what had happened—he waited a while, but Percy didn’t appear. The next morning Jimmy drove into the warehouse parking lot and saw that Percy’s car was still in the exact same spot it had been the night before after work. He walked up to the car and put his hand on the hood—and it was warm. Jimmy knew the hot hood meant Percy was in the warehouse, and it meant he hadn’t been let go. He felt a little better about things now that he knew this. Maybe Percy would be on the packing line when Jimmy got in the warehouse—maybe he had been called to the glass house because Panko wanted something done someplace else in the warehouse yesterday afternoon—yes that must be it—and things will be back to normal now. But when he got to his workbench, Percy was not there.

After Jimmy had been working a while, Panko came up.

Panko! said Jimmy.


Where’s Percy?

Oh—he’ll be working up front from now on. We’re training him in the computer room.

Jimmy’s eyes widened.

What? Why?

There are reasons—and don’t worry, it has nothing to do with him being a better worker than you back here—as a matter of fact you’re far superior to him. We need you back here, Jimmy—without you back here things just wouldn’t run the same—and you’ll get more work done back here now, that you don’t have him yakking away in your ear every minute. You hated that, I know. Everything is right now, for you both—

I—I guess that’s right—

Sure it’s right. Percy had really hated working back here, said Panko—that was why he never shut up. I get paid to slot people into their proper places. Oh well—got to go.

Panko walked away and disappeared. Jimmy worked through the day undistracted by Percy’s chatter—he got more boxes packed that day then he ever had up until now—but then he noticed a battery and a piece of tape hanging by a wire from under his workbench. He bent and followed the wire with his fingers, and ripped something free stuck up under his table.

A microphone.

Shit, muttered Jimmy, holding it in his hand. What does this mean?

He looked around back at the other, unmanned workstations.

No. No. It can’t be—

He went and checked—and every workbench, including Percy’s, had microphones under them. Jimmy rushed back to his workstation. The microphone hung from his hand as he stood breathing heavily. It was true. Regardless of how Panko had done it, he’d got everyone slotted into their proper places. Jimmy’s hands formed to fists.

—It’s like I’ve been saying for days—I had a job up there, I’d be the quietest one there. Most productive one there, too—those jobs are sweet—I’d kill to have one—

Jimmy bit his lip bloody and slammed his fist down on a box. This wasn’t fair! Percy had got what he wanted—Jimmy hated his job too; but just because he worked hard and spent his time packing instead of yakking—look what’s happened! And he half thought Percy knew about the microphones—that was why he said the things he did about the jobs up front—but no, Percy could not have kept such a secret. If he’d known he’d have told Jimmy—after all they were friends—

Jimmy bit his lip again.

—maybe that we like each other is a lie.

He took a deep breath to calm himself. Then, after carefully replacing the microphone under the bench, Jimmy pulled off the next order to be packed.


Jim Meirose’s work has appeared in journals including the Fiddlehead, Witness, Alaska Quarterly review, and Xavier Review, and has been  nominated for several awards. Two collections of his short work have been published and his novel, “Claire”, is available from Amazon.


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