I softly knocked on the half open door. The blinds were closed on his office window, so I couldn’t tell if he was concentrating on something and whether I would be interrupting him.

“Yeah,” he called out. He said it with a flat tone of voice, and I couldn’t tell what kind of day he was having. You never could tell with Greg, and no matter how hard I tried I could never seem to get him to smile. I practiced jokes in the bathroom mirror every morning, trying to perfect my delivery. My jokes were met with an awkward silence, and after a few months I gave up and resigned myself to serious workdays in a confining, gray workplace.

“Um,” I cleared my throat. I threw pleasantries out the window after a few months of working there too. Greg wasn’t much for pleasantries. “I have my ideas for the ads for the online campaign. Want to hear them?” I shifted my weight as I stood in the door, conscious of his gaze. He swiveled in his chair, after pressing the “save” command on his keyboard. His face always held an expression I could never decipher. It contained irritation, mixed with curiosity and a twist of sarcasm. It wasn’t exactly a sneer, but it wasn’t entirely indifferent either. This time he raised his eyebrows as if to say “Oh, this ought to be good.” Only he didn’t think it would be good at all. In fact, his expectations of me had become quite low.

He had two chairs facing the front his desk. I discovered on the day of my job interview that one of them squeaked loudly. Occasionally I forgot and sat in the squeaky one. On those days the squeak completely threw off my game. It distracted me every time I fidgeted uncomfortably while being scorched by Greg’s stare. With every squeak his stare grew harder. I couldn’t remember which one squeaked, and after debating for a few seconds I sat in the left one. It squeaked as I sat in it, and it would look weird if I got up and moved into the other one. So I stayed with Ol Squeaky.

He pulled a special wet wipe from his second drawer, and proceeded to wipe the lenses of his glasses with it. The smell of the cleaning solution wafted and stung my nostrils. It smelled like cheap citrus vodka. I gagged a bit, and tried to cover it up by clearing my throat again. Not for the first time I wondered how he could wear his glasses after he’d used those noxious cleaning wipes. The smell alone would make anyone’s eyebrows fall out; Greg’s were intact, however. They were probably strengthened by all the sneering.

Greg replaced his glasses, and then wordlessly folded his hands on his desk. I’d learned in the few months I’d worked for him that this was my cue to begin. I set my notes on the edge of his desk, careful not to let my things mix with anything on his desk. Greg’s desk was sacred ground where my papers were strictly forbidden from fraternizing with his. I imaged one of his pure-bred printouts having to sheepishly inform him that she’d gotten knocked up by flea-bitten mongrel notepad. Greg would passive-aggressively inform the printout that she was a tramp and no longer welcome in his office. The print out would then fold itself inward, slink out of the office and swan dive into the shredder next to the photocopier.

Speaking rapidly and wildly tapping my pen against my thigh, I presented my ideas. I held up my rudimentary sketches, explained the concepts and the sites where the ads would run. He raised his eyebrows at the stick figures I'd drawn. I wish I'd hired some sort of artist to help me prepare for this presentation. Maybe next time I'd hire a sculptor.

When I was done, he leaned back in his chair. He folded his hands, as if in prayer, and rested his mouth on his fingertips. He stared, blankly, at his desk. I couldn’t tell what he was looking at. Was it the brass clock in the shape of a ship’s steering wheel? Was it the decorative pen set that he’d glared at me for using once? Was it the picture that I'd mistakenly thought was of his mother, but learned it was really of his wife? Then he fixed his gaze back on me. I knew this expression, because I’ve seen it on his face before. It was the “You are by far the stupidest person I’d ever met” expression. The stomach acid rose through my esophagus and I could taste its metallic flavor on the back of my tongue. It was the same flavor I’d experienced that very morning when I had grasped the guardrail and vomited on the side of the highway on the way to work in preparation for this very meeting. My palms began to sweat; I braced my hands against my thighs to stop the spasm in my quadriceps.

I felt myself fold inward and slink toward the door, like so many sullied pure-bred printouts. I cautiously avoided the shredder as I made my way back to my office. I paused at the water cooler to wash the taste of puke out of my mouth.

I flopped in my chair and scanned my emails, thankful that my office mate was not at her desk. I didn’t want to talk about it. She and I had spent weeks brainstorming ideas for the campaign. She, the employee that he interacted favorably with, was convinced he’d love our ideas. She appeared at the door not two seconds after I sat down.

“How’d it go?” she asked when she took her seat.

“I have to start all over again.”

“What did he say?”

“Nothing. And that’s the problem. I wish he’d just fire me and get it over with already.”

I thought these nightmares would have stopped by now.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.