As always, we had deadlines, there were demands. It would be difficult to break away. We had to hunker down. But E.J. was one of us—had been anyway. We had to represent.
There were the usual suggestions. Liquor, someone said, because maybe we’d get some too. Gift certificate thought another, take the load off. Cash said someone else, that’s what we all want isn’t it, folding dough-re-me?
I said we had to do better than that. This was E.J.! I said we had to give a rat’s ass.
When the time came, the higher ups cited consistent service and acceptable performance. Then the rest of us who had been E.J.’s associates came forward, gathered ‘round.
You watch someone when you give them something, right? Oh wow, socks. Great. Thanks. Fits size 7 to 10, hey! How did you know?
We could have given socks.
“What is this?” E.J. asked.
Most people don’t give a rat’s ass. So logically, with so few in circulation—what are the odds you’ll know one when you see one?
Or maybe, the problem? Was that getting a rat’s ass wasn’t nearly as good as giving one.
“E.J.! It’s a rat’s ass!”
E.J. was no fool. That’s why she was a favorite of the higher ups. She even had manners, a rarity these days.
“Oh. Yeah. Great. Thanks.”
That was more like it. Then the higher ups looked at their watches and we got the clue. We had to go and get with it, say goodbye to E.J., and so we did.
A few days later we went to the lunch room as befit. We each had our sammich—tooner, chiken salid, or chamaneese—and then we let out our big sighs, and put our heads in our hands.
“Is that E.J.?” said someone, after a bit.
“What?” I said, peeking through fingers.
“Didn’t you hear?” said someone else.
“Apparently,” someone else said, “she changed her mind.”
“She didn’t leave,” someone said.
“Well she did, but she didn’t,” said someone else. “She came back and took another job. That’s not even the worst of it! Now she works for free, on the ultimate cheap!”
All this cut into my precious time with my head in my hands so I wasn’t pleased. I could tell my associates weren’t either. And—maybe because I had been the one to insist we go so far as to give a rat’s ass when E.J. left—they wanted me to find out what the fuck.
“E.J.,” I said when I got over there. “Swing by for some of that old tooner did ya?”
“Can’t talk,” she said. “Got to get back.”
The higher ups were thrilled. E.J. was even more their favorite. To be blunt, a bad precedent had been struck. And my associates struck next. One day tended to be like any other, except for the one when they came over to where I sat.
“Hey dude you got to clue,” someone said.
“Fucking E.J.,” said someone else.
“Didn’t we all agree,” I asked, “that giving a rat’s ass would make us look good?”
“It did!” someone said. “Now they want us to give a rat’s ass like all the time! But how can we give a rat’s ass—we don’t have it anymore to give!”
“Sooner or later,” said someone else, “someone is gonna wanna know who squandered it.”
I felt a cold breeze a’blowin.
E.J. had a new, bigger cubicle, on the far, sunny side. She was working hard, didn’t hear me come up. She tapped on her technology. She sat with perfect posture, a little taller than before.
I realized why most people don’t give a rat’s ass. On the loose, there’s no telling where it might end up.
She didn’t hear me, intent as she was.
I started to wave, but then I thought again how E.J. didn’t need what we’d given her, we needed it. I needed it most of all.
I came up low down and grabbed it. I held it tight, tried to tug it free out from under her, but lost my grip and fell back onto the floor.
“What are you doing?” she said.
“E.J we need….” I had gotten hold of it again and gritted my teeth. “We need this rat’s ass!
“I guess you’ll have to get another one.”
“It’s not something you can keep!”
“You finally decide to give a rat’s ass,” E.J. said, sounding a lot like a higher up, “and you change your mind?”
“Look E.J. we gave a rat’s ass because we wanted to look good. It had nothing to do with you.”
“It would seem,” she said, “that it has a lot to do with me now.”
“Come on, E.J. You didn’t need it then, and you don’t need it now.”
“I think you’re missing the point.”
“E.J.!” I shouted. “I don’t give a rat’s ass about the point!”
I cursed back through the cubicles to give my associates the bad news.
“Hey! I don’t know about anyone else. But I’m never going to give a rat’s ass again!”
No one came out to ask what the fuck. I thought they were too busy, or by that time didn’t care. But then the higher ups stepped forward, like animals coming out of the woods, from where they’d been listening, like they always did.
I was cited for occasionally acceptable service, somewhat okay performance, and a piss-poor attitude. Those who were my associates gathered ’round.
Not that they gave a rat’s ass.
No, I got socks. Which, in spite of what you might think, what with the odds and all? Somewhere between a 7 and a 10?
Jon Fain began publishing fiction in commercial and literary magazines in the 1980s. In 2020 his fiction has been published by 50-Word Stories, Blue Lake Review, (mac)ro(mic), Flash Flood Journal, Potato Soup Journal, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Daily Drunk, Molecule and others. He lives in Massachusetts.