We Had Something Beautiful by Kathryn Silver-Hajo
We live in a world full of communities. Kathryn Silver-Hajo writes her nonfiction flash “We Had Something Beautiful” in the first-person plural, a voice designed to represent the collective consciousness of a community, the coworkers at a holistic-living magazine. The first-person plural, she explains in her author’s note, allows her to take her story from the personal to the greater concerns of “climate change and an increasingly toxic world.”
In the craft newsletter that inspired Silver-Hajo, flash writer Kathy Fish highlights the challenge of writing in the first-person plural, namely, “how to write with vivid, alive specificity…when there are no individuals.” Silver-Hajo supplies that specificity through word choice and humor. The piece is full of strong, vibrant verbs—“concocted,” “paced,” “gossiped”—and with musical word play—“flirted and fought and fiddled,” “bickered, plotted, prepared, and high-fived.” Although Silver-Hajo includes no dialogue, the reader can easily envision the warehouse where the coworkers create the magazine, trade jokes, and celebrate birthdays. The descriptive elements are focused and detailed—the scent of patchouli; a sugarless, eggless cake frosted with tofu; management wearing bow ties or “kitten heels.” By carefully crafting a balance of the communal and the specific, Silver-Hajo succeeds in rendering her group of coworkers and their goals in a way that is both original and socially relevant. —CRAFT
We were agents of change. We wrote about how hugging, laughter, and kissing can lengthen your life. Warned that toxins in commercial cosmetics seep surreptitiously through nails and pores. We advocated ditching pesticides and gardening with beneficial nematodes instead. We shared resources for Shiatsu, Rolfing, and Reiki, healing with homeopathy. Concocted recipes with sea vegetables and seitan, reishi mushrooms, amaranth, and spelt.
We created cover art, ran ads for holistic health spas and nut-milk producers. We brainstormed while stretched out with our dogs on the floor of a drafty warehouse building with exposed brick and beams though industrial was not yet chic. We paced the length of creaky floorboards barefoot, debating the content of an upcoming issue, a swirl of patchouli trailing behind. We wore cotton and hemp, drew on angled drafting tables, typed on PCs, saving our work on stiff, square “floppies.” Creative joked that Sales and Marketing were whores. Circulation said Editorial were snobs and we all agreed Finance were penny-pinching pains-in-the-ass.
We sent documents and mock-ups on chirping fax machines, left voice messages for vendors, waited for callbacks while clocks ticked on the walls, the sweet soil smell of simmering brown rice wafting in from the kitchen. We gossiped about who was sleeping with whom. We ate teriyaki tempeh, quinoa and kale for lunch, celebrated one birthday with an eggless, stevia-sweetened, tofu-frosted cake. After that it was strictly sushi for special occasions. We flirted and fought and fiddled until we made a magazine we were proud of, hand delivered proofs to the printer, celebrated with everything bagels for breakfast and began all over again.
But then they called a special, staff-wide meeting on a non-staff-wide meeting day. We sat around the old wooden door-cum-conference table, exchanging uneasy glances despite the still-warm, reassuring air of September whispering in through the windows. They arrived bearing sharpened pencils and flip charts, bow ties and bottom lines. They penned pink slips, pointed to the door, sneered at the dogs, tossed bonuses to a chosen few. We fumed and stewed, felt guilty but decided to stay.
We believed that fair was fair, that there was work to be done. We asked around, arranged a meeting with a union organizer at a too-near park, sat cross-legged on the spiky grass, clusters of yellowed leaves curling around us, the sky a gray weight hovering. While exploring options we saw one of them pass by in a neat navy-blue suit and clicking kitten heels. Too late to avert eyes, cover faces. We were busted. Branded. They’d thought us the good ones, the loyal, the willing drinkers of their FD&C-laced Kool-Aid—not a scheming cadre of visionary warriors on a mission, pens and foraged fungi in hand, girding ourselves for battle against their supposedly crunchier brand of corporate America.
Still, we were certain we could win. We were all in. The paperwork would be done and delivered in days. We shook hands, returned to our offices straight-backed and sure. We bickered, plotted, prepared, and high-fived, while behind closed doors they must have fixed their sharp, shrewd glares on the wide-open horizon, studied market share potential, envisioned the opportunities that loomed, carpe’d their diem and delivered the remaining pink slips to us and the ghosts of our dogs, scattering us like grains of pollen across a fallow field.
KATHRYN SILVER-HAJO is a 2023 Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best American Food Writing nominee. Her flash fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry can be found in Atticus Review, Bending Genres, The Citron Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Fictive Dream, Flash Boulevard, Pithead Chapel, Ruby, and other lovely places. Her flash collection Wolfsong and novel Roots of the Banyan Tree are both forthcoming in 2023. Kathryn is a reader for Fractured Lit. Find her on Twitter at @KSilverHajo.
Featured image by Adolfo Felix, courtesy of Unsplash.