‘Negligence’ by Daniel Schulz

warehouse with concrete floors

I am trying to tell him something, but, of course, he has to parody the high pitch of my voice. It’s his way of telling me that I’m not masculine enough. He interrupts me to show me I have nothing to say. He is not going to listen. Building myself up in front of him, I glance at him with irony. Suddenly, he laughs and continues to work and that’s the end of that. Harold loves displaying his masculinity. He loves boasting to me about sex. He loves to parody. I leave him be. Packages are falling off left and right from the belt. Our team leader has switched his diet from beer to bourbon. They are trying to drive production rates up. People are falling out with no one there to replace them. 

Workers stuck in the delivery trucks, unloading a long traffic line of packages, working blind every day, ignore how they are overloading the belt. The only thing that matters is speed, as the metro clutters and jams. Standing tall the supervisor hovers over the scenery, tall, delegating one of the workers to stop unloading, fix the jam, all while holding his coffee cup. When I am around, he prefers to act as if I didn’t exist. Multitasking is his strong suit. I grab my work gloves, pump up the lifting carriage, and pull the empty crate behind me, while Harold pulls off in the opposite direction with his priority packages. Rest assured, we will see each other again. But if the world fell apart around us right now, we would not blink an eye, as it wouldn’t come to us as a surprise. 

Everyone seems overworked this time of year. There is hardly enough space to get through with my cart as packages are crowded around work benches, deliveries for our district. With business infinitely expanding in a finite space, we find ourselves buried underneath deliveries, as a team leader recently discovered as a package fell down on him from above. The machine is just as overcrowded as the space we work in. Mending this, mechanics have riveted plastic walls onto the metal frames of our slides to minimize hospitalizations. Mail sort has been expanded in order to keep production rates up without risking lives in order to keep the overload we are experiencing at its limit, though you can still see things falling from above, sometimes.

“It’s as if peace doves are shitting boulders down on us,” Jack tells me, as workers hurry to fill bags with envelopes, neatly sorted by post code. “Do you know that guy?” he asks me, pointing at one of the men loading one of our export containers, nearby. Everyone is sweating and complaining about the pain in their bones. Not Jack. He is complaining about a chill running down his spine.

“He’s gay,” he answers me, “he’s gay. And I mean, good for him, but every time I turn around, I’m afraid he might be looking at my ass.”

“Well, then you know how women feel,” I snap, only to watch his face distort in astonishment.

“But that is something else,” he gasps, talking to me about how that type of desire is “natural.” I tell him about the two gay bunnies I had when I was a kid, but he says that is different, because they were animals.

“But animals are ‘natural’”, I smirk, then retort, “You know, just because he’s gay doesn’t mean he’s into you.”

Shaking his head, Jack turns his back on me. “What do you know?”

Loading my empty cart at the mail sort with packages full of paperwork for global export, I see another colleague waving at me, asking, “Do you even like women?” Cem has been asking me that for the last few weeks now, again and again and again, staring at me with wide eyes. Probably overhearing my conversation with Jack, he utters this question with renewed urgency. Something about the way that I act seems to trigger this question for him, something he thinks seems different about me makes him impose his inquisitions on me. Suddenly, it seems, my private life is his business, making me feel like I’m under surveillance like that man back there in the container.

“Do you have a girlfriend, Jamie,” Cem asks me with repeated urgency and concern, “or are you gay? …  Hey, Jamie, I asked you a question!” 

“James,” I say to him with resentment, because I want some respect, “my name is James.” 

“Okay, Tina, don’t answer me. Your choice. I just wanted to know, because you don’t seem to be like any of us. I mean the way you act isn’t norm…” –

Blurring his voice out, I let the sound of the machinery take over my mind, rolling over the acidic mockery he has been handing me for the last five weeks. It gets to you at some point, the way that people treat you, the way you are constantly supposed to acknowledge their boundaries, but they never respect yours. I stare into the void of my feelings and stay there for a moment, far away from the acid he wants me to swallow. It’s all about self-affirmation. That’s what he wants. Confirmation of his own thoughts on me. And looking up, I suddenly find him grinning at me, mischievously.

“I knew it,” Cem cheers, “I knew it!” And I realize that instead of staring in the air, I have involuntarily stared at some colleague’s well-rounded ass. Closing my eyes, I breathe in a deep sigh of humiliation and get on with my work. Cem nods at me with acknowledgment, because, in his eyes, we both are men.

Washing the filth off my hands and washing my face, after a hard day’s work, I take a breathe and sigh. We’re on the other side of the mirror now, on the abyss underlying the surface. This is the place where I let out all the screams I cannot let out in my everyday life. This is the place where I get to be a human being, instead of just being what I am expected to be, an automaton. Closing my eyes I hear the machine rolling on inside my mind, turn up the volume to blend it out of my head. Music is my sea of calm. I still feel too much like a machine. I go on. I repeat. I want to break out. My freedom is only a few blocks from here, a place where I can be me, a place where I can be with my friends, a place where I can feel gorgeous, instead of feeling like I’m not a human being.

Closing the door behind me, I go out on the street to take a breathe of fresh air. It’s a good night to be out on the streets. It’s a good night to go out to the club, or so I think, as the calm of the air settles inside my chest. Seeing red and blue lights flashing underneath the street lamps, I hasten, not sure of what has happened here. I draw closer, see a body bag, see an ambulance nearby. Police keeping away the crowd to which I now belong looking into my life from the outside. Only a few hours later the News will announce a shooting having taken place here. Only a few hours later the News will spread out about the eight deaths and twenty two wounded, my friends.

There is a mother of two children among the victims, there is a father, a sister, a brother, someone’s sibling, someone’s parent, someone’s child, people who have done absolutely nothing to deserve this. People I cared for and that cared for me and cannot be brought back. But year after year they just keep on coming for us, imposing dress codes on us with a shot gun and shrapnel, telling us how to act and to feel, telling us who to be, because for some odd reason they feel that they are the victims, they that censor us with violence and guns.

Looking around, I try to find my friends, hoping that none of them have been harmed or sent out in a body bag. I am both afraid for them and myself. Heading toward the back alley, I see a friend’s van standing there, shot up with shrapnel. But no bodies to be seen other than the men looting it, steeling packages from the back. How could all of this have happened, I ask myself. And as some of the packages crash down and split open on the asphalt like a special delivery, I realize that a cold breeze has taken hold of the air and that nobody really cares.

Meet the Author!

Daniel Schulz is a U.S./German writer known for his publications in journals such as Mirage #5/ A Period(ical), Gender Forum, Fragmented Voices, Versification, Café Irreal, Cacti Fur, The Wild Word, Shot Glass Journal, Outcast Press Journal, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Word Vomit, Dipity, Flora Fiction, Steel Jackdaw, anthologies such as Heart/h (Fragmented Voices 2021), The Clockwork Chronicles (Madhouse Publications 2022), and the catalogue Get Rid of Meaning (Walther König Verlag). His poem ‘Gorgon’ was shortlisted for the Mono Poetry Prize in 2021. He is a 2022 Pushcart Nominee. His editorial work Kathy Acker in Seattle (Misfit Lit 2020) will be republished this year. IG: @danielschulzpoet