Nicolle Elizabeth

Up in Boston one winter we were telemarketers. And carpet-sleepers. This office was doubling as a hotel. After-hours Security rented out the spaces under the desks, like it was a kind of non-rolling bunk-truck. They put people on the floor, each fetal-positioned in a three-foot cube, for money. The ideal affordable situation if you were me. You went in after dark and left just before the sun came up. You were grateful you’d heard about the place. The Five-Dollar Hotel, the place to sleep, the place to sit and feel like you’re in the purgatory of a Lost and Found.

The door had some angel tagged on its front. Mary, maybe, weeping in the middle of a brick wall. Two knocks and they grabbed you in—as if anybody was looking. They had a cage somebody sat behind, like in a pawn shop, full of people’s things checked-in/taken. Boots, bags, ratty dolls, dust. They stood you under a bare light-bulb then led you up the side stairwell, to a dark elevator. There were no hands to hold but your own. I gripped the elevator railing, my knuckles chapping and scabbed from the cold, my fingers raw. I will never forget the way that guard’s face looked while he walked into the elevator, lit up by number buttons: not divine.

An office full of cubicles, desktop computers, rolling chairs, tightly-woven fabric carpet, coffee mugs untouched. It looked like the sort of place a person might temp at, might spend three years miserable at, might save up and plan a life at. I crawled into my three-by-three cube. In other cubes: human beings, pained, crouched, with their feet sticking into the aisles, smelling at least semi-mortal. Some looked relieved; some rolled away, trying to sleep. A woman dazed in that way you see, that aching, worn look, as if what she’d heard and seen and done was going to come out her eyes in one long snake-shaped pustule. Like she had been given morphine, watching things that weren’t really on the wall, just all of our constantly-created shadow-puppets.

“You a whore?” the red-haired girl one cube across the aisle asked me, her head propped up on her hand, her elbow bent into the carpet.

“Nope,” I answered, rolling away. But I wanted to add, “But we’re all a prostitute about something, right?” Anyway, that’s what I was thinking, as I tightened my shoelaces just in case someone tried to transfer ownership of my footwear to themselves as I slept through the night.

Before the sun came up, we were cleared out. Guards called, “All right,” and walked around and us, tapping their flashlights on the desktops. We rose, yawning. People stretched their legs out, sweet-stinking daffodils coming to life. We leaned our hands into our stiff backs, our sore shoulders, heavy with the dirt we’d slept in. The red-haired girl was gone. We were quietly corralled into lines. Men with industrial vacuums on their backs walked past our line, their eyes fixed ahead as if we didn’t exist. Downstairs a guard held the door open, while another motioned us all out with a constantly-swinging arm. Frozen morning air filled my lungs with the space between what had, briefly, been home and what was becoming the here-and-now. I could get some coffee, if I found enough change, and I could walk up down the Boston sidewalks all day, and you’d pass me and you’d think I was living a normal life, just someone running an errand.

Nicolle Elizabeth is a fiction writer and bicycle mechanic. Her work has appeared in Elimae, Wigleaf, Dogzplot and many other publications. She is a contributing writer at the Brooklyn Rail, Words Without Borders, the Collagist and other publications. Her blog is .

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