Literary Corner: Needs Improvement

Needs Improvement? What a load of crap.

He’d been senior technical specialist at Alynium Engineering for fourteen years. Not once had he gotten a Needs Improvement as his annual review rating. He stared at the offending document on his desk, freshly printed and requiring—no, demanding that he sign it, that he comply with corporate convention and formally acknowledge that he was less than adequate, less than Meets Expectations.

Fourteen years of head down, hard work, weekends when it was necessary, and yeah—maybe he didn’t always participate in the optional happy hours. Maybe he yelled at a couple of interns for a few infantile mistakes. But he always got the job done.

It took all his will power not to crumple up the physical manifestation of the insult and throw it in the recycling bin. He knew he’d have to sign it sooner or later. He was too old to start looking for a new job. He didn’t know the new software. He’d been out of school for decades. Most of his contemporaries had moved on to leadership roles. But he bet on the wrong horse and stayed too long at a company that didn’t appreciate him.

He sighed and picked up a long-dry fountain pen his father had given him when he graduated MIT. He dipped it in the pool of rust-red liquid on his desk, its banks expanding outward from its source: the inert body of his useless manager. Well, formerly useless manager. Then he calmly signed the acknowledgment form and left it in his soon-to-be new manager’s inbox before turning off his desk lamp and heading home for the night.

Mary Elizabeth Summer is the author of the young-adult Trust Me mystery series. She lives in Beaverton with her wife, their daughter, their dog, and their evil overlor—er, cats.