“A Thankless Job for It’s [sic] Worker’s [sic],” by Vanessa Weibler Paris

Dec 20th, 2011 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

Jonah sat before the panel of blinking red lights.  Merry Christmas, except not merry and not Christmas.  It was a hot July night, and he’d just started the second of a double shift.

“Pedantics,” he said, taking the next call.

Jonah could remember when teachers still used red pens.  There were moans and groans and no-fairs every time a paper was returned.  “God,” his friend Emmett complained after class.  “She’s a million years old and half-blind; how can she even see such a tiny mistake and who the fuck even cares?”

“I fucking care,” Jonah yelled at him, and then Emmett wasn’t his friend any longer.

The switchboard had 125 lines and the blips and bloops of red just kept flashing.  Jonah thought he saw two that were unlit, but even as he blinked to be sure, they both fluoresced urgently at him.

Jonah’s parents told him stories of their own school days, a time when two spaces between a period and a capital letter were required, when the difference between an en dash and an em dash actually mattered.

Over the years, his mother said, people cared less.  They were worried about politics and money and pop culture and the economy; who could be bothered to fight the good fights?  Who even knew which was good for sure any longer?

Politics and pop culture, while Sarah shakespeared refudiation and Alanis assassinated irony.

“Pedantics,” Jonah answered the next in queue.

“At the county fair,” the voice hissed.  “Rampant misuse, it’s all over the place.  Raspberry apostrophe ess, horse apostrophe ess, you get the idea.”

It was Malcolm, one of his regulars.  He could always count on Mal to scope out the worst abuse.  Late July, it was country fair season.  He’d be hearing from Mal again, and soon.

“I’ll sent out the local crew to take care of it,” he assured Mal.  The local crew was three guys with Sharpies, but it was better than nothing.  Apostrophes was the quickest and easiest role in Punctuation, but for now, it suited Jonah.  He’d started here just out of college, and in the last six years he’d risen from Sharpie guy all the way to this: heading up the entire Apostrophe section of Pedantics’ tri-state office.  Someday, maybe, he’d move up and even beyond.  Breaking into Spelling was the ultimate goal, but Jonah was in no big hurry.

“News headline,” said the next caller.

“Circulation?” Jonah asked.  He was known for his quick triage and got the White-Out folks on the road.

“Billboard,” reported the next caller.  Jonah dispatched Spraypaint.

Over the next eight hours, the blinking never stopped, not for a minute.  He dealt with plenty of possessive faux pas, several dozen your/you’re bloopers (which required dotted-line reports to Spelling), and nearly a hundred its/it’s issues.

Then Leonard Heizter called in sick, not sounding sick at all, and Jonah was stuck for another shift.  No one else to call.  The pedants were growing scarcer and scarcer.  His parents were right: People just didn’t care like they used to.

The calls kept coming.

“Three more fairs,” reported Malcolm, and Jonah could picture Mal’s hair sticking out in fifty different directions.  The crazier Mal sounded, the crazier Mal’s hair got.  “There are FRY’S here, and my head is killing me just telling you that.  Send help before it explodes.”

The lights kept lighting and the blinks kept blinking and Jonah’s eyes kept flickering, but the calls kept coming.  Who else was there?  No one, that’s who.  Thats who?   No, wait: “That’s who.”

Jonah yawned.  Spelling probably wasn’t too busy tonight.  If the switchboard would ever slow down, even for a second, he could call over and ask Mark, Mark who was in charge of…his head hit the table and he jolted up.

“Pedantics,” he said.  Street sign, a quick fix.

“Pedantics,” he answered.  Neighborhood garage sale, problems all over the place.


“Country FAIR,” Malcolm shrieked.  “The peach’s and cherry’s and pie’s, God help us all!”

Eight more hours.  July was always busy, but not this busy.  The lights.  The red lights, beaming and blazing.  The switchboard.  The headset.  The…

“Sick with a hachoo hachoo cough cough cough,” faked Sue Jiminez, scheduled to relieve him for the next shift.  Jonah hung up on her before she could continue.

If he could just catch a catnap, just for a few minute’s…

“Downtown, a bunch of protestors with really bad signs.”

“It’s an apostrophe catastrophe!”

The calls came faster.

The night or day or afternoon, whatever it was, the room had no windows and no lights except for the flashing red red red red red (“PIG’S and COW’S, for fuck’s sake, when will fair season END?” raged Mal) and Jonah slept.

He slept below the red flashing lights that foretold years of coming Christmas’s and present’s and loved one’s, if he could just get some zzz’s, just a few minute’s and he could start answering the phone’s again, could fix all the mistake’s before it was too late.


Vanessa Weibler Paris lives, works, writes, and does some other stuff (like eating hot peppers and mulling the Oxford comma) in Erie, PA.

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