SMALL TALK: A VERY SMALL PLAY ON THE MODERN WORKPLACE by Scott Neuffer

October 4, 2015

Welcome to a bright, pink-hued break room in an unspecified corporate office. Any break room in America will do. Take your pick, but it has to have pastel-colored cabinetry and an oddly jarring slant of light.

Our characters are BILL, who, on this unspecified day of the week, has become strangely introspective, agitated; DAVE, a very nice and dull man, a bit of a Facebook creeper; CONNIE, a diligent, conscientious woman always outperforming her male counterparts yet somehow always feeling bereft of their respect; and MR. SMILEY THE SUPERVISOR, whose name says it all.

Dave enters the break room, currently occupied by Bill, and heads for the coffee pot, which, to no one’s surprise, is empty, though this doesn’t stop Dave from filling up his white, chipped, company-logoed mug with air.

DAVE: Hey, Bill, I saw a picture of your fiancée on Facebook the other day. What a cutie!

BILL: That’s great, Dave—but hey, do you believe in God?

DAVE: Um, yeah, I guess so.

BILL: Really? In life after death, too?

DAVE: I suppose so, but why are you asking?

BILL: Just making small talk, Dave. I was thinking the other day that the afterlife must be a lot like Facebook. Everybody floating around in space vying for divine attention. I mean, heaven must be the greatest status of all. Am I right?

DAVE: (hurrying toward the door with his empty cup) You’re a strange man, Bill.

BILL: Thanks, Dave. I’ll see you at the meeting today.

Connie enters the break room and goes straight for the sink, wringing the soap dispenser of its last foamy puff, cream-white. She turns on the water and begins lathering her hands methodically, rinsing them even more methodically. After she turns off the water, she grabs the shredded flag of the last paper towel.

CONNIE: Bill, thanks for the update on your latest project. Sounds like it’s going well.

BILL: It is going well, Connie. Thanks. But hey, Connie, do you ever get the feeling we’re being conditioned to do well without really knowing why? Like, why are we doing all these things? For whose benefit? Have you ever taken a step back and asked how we know whether something is truly good and valuable? Who decides? An implacable god? Sheri down in HR? It’s just mind-boggling if you start thinking about it.

CONNIE: You lost me, Bill. Are you talking about your project?

BILL: I guess you could say I’m talking about all projects, Connie.

CONNIE: Well, truth be told, there are really only one or two supervisors in this whole place who do their jobs. The rest just kind of let things slide, if you know what I mean.

BILL: I don’t know what you mean, Connie. You’ve lost me.

CONNIE (heading for the exit) You didn’t hear it from me.

BILL: Hear what?

Mr. Smiley the Supervisor enters the room, preparing to raise his voice to a sonorous level of authority, firm, full of resolve, just as he practiced in the men’s bathroom minutes before, when he locked the bathroom door so that no one could see him—the auto-flushing urinals his only applause.

MR. SMILEY THE SUPERVISOR: You writing a novel in here? I haven’t seen you all morning.

BILL: No, I was just wasting time. But Steve, if I were writing a novel, what do you think I’d be writing about?

MR. SMILEY THE SUPERVISOR: Please, call me Mr. Smiley.

BILL: I think all writers must be con artists. How can they ever profess to portray people and places and events in their entirety?

MR. SMILEY THE SUPERVISOR: (voice deflating) I’m confused. Are you working on a novel?

BILL: No, not even close. I guess I’m wondering if an act of omission is the same as telling a lie.

MR. SMILEY THE SUPERVISOR: You’re really starting to worry me, Bill. Is there something you need to talk about with Sheri down in HR?

BILL: How do we ever get a complete picture of the truth, Steve?

MR. SMILEY THE SUPERVISOR: Listen to me, Bill. Because I like you, I’m gonna let this little incident slide.

BILL: What incident?

MR. SMILEY THE SUPERVISOR: Whatever it is you’re doing in here. And please, call me Mr. Smiley!

BILL: I understand, Steve. I haven’t been myself lately. But hey, I’ll see you at the meeting today.

**************************************************

Scott Neuffer is a journalist, writer, and poet who lives in Nevada with his family. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Carson Valley Times, Nevada MagazineThe Nevada Review, Fiction Fix, Underground Voices, Foreword ReviewsConstruction Literary Magazine, and other fine publications.

You can find his first book, Scars of the New Order at:
http://www.undergroundvoices.com/ScarsOfTheNewOrder.html
Follow him on Twitter and check out his blog on Goodreads.

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