This couldn’t be happening, but it was. Diana met her manager’s gaze, then looked down. The issue was the application she maintained, which was outdated. The technology would no longer be supported.
“Your position is being eliminated,” the boss explained.
When she was hired, the boss told her how great her coding skills were, and how she was going to be working on a new application. That was exactly the sort of role she was looking for. Programming was a joy, like doing puzzles. It helped her become the software engineer her dad told her she couldn’t be, because she was female. But she always suited up and showed up. No excuses.
The money was good, too. When the boss made the offer, his bald head bobbed with anticipation. His blue eyes twinkled with what Diana realized later was deception.
The people the boss promoted, the stars who developed the new applications, were young and male. They all went to the pub together every Thursday night. When the boss didn’t invite Diana, she should have realized. He knew she didn’t drink, but still.
Once she started, the boss told her she’d be doing maintenance on an existing application, but it was only temporary. Diana had waited five years, but her role never changed. And the boss was irritable. But she was making more than market and was saving for a condo. Then she’d leave. But he beat her to it, suddenly calling her into a nearby conference room. A twitchy young woman from HR passed her a legal-sized envelope and a pen.
“If you have any intention of suing, you won’t get severance,” the boss warned. “So, you need to sign the document.”
Diana looked up, grasping the pen. This wasn’t real.
“Just sign it,” he said, his eyes fierce. “Don’t make this difficult.”
“It already is for me.”
“You need to move on to the next opportunity.”
What had happened with this one? Why hadn’t the boss assigned the legacy application to one of the guys so that his position was eliminated? Why couldn’t he have assigned Diana to do new development?
“It might take a while to get another job,” Diana said. “And you gave me stellar performance reviews.”
“This has nothing to do with performance,” the boss said, pulling his glasses down on his nose. “The bank needs to cut costs. And we looked, but couldn’t find you another role.”
Diana sighed. “That would have been nice.”
“You know what to do if you want severance,” the boss said, folding his arms.
Diana picked up the pen and signed, thinking of the rent and all of her other bills. She still owed her doctor for the last appointment.
“Will you at least give me a reference?”
“It’s against company policy. Just have prospective employers call HR for dates of employment. They’ll understand.”
They wouldn’t. Diana would have to get references from previous managers.
The guys in development were here to stay. Managers decided who got laid off. They were only told the number of staff to cut.
It didn’t help that she was over fifty. The boss must be in his forties. Her co-workers were all under thirty-five.
The conference door swung open. The meeting was over.
The boss gestured towards a security guard, who led Diana directly to an elevator and rode down with her. She held her breath as the elevator dropped. How could her day get any worse? When they reached the lobby, the security guard followed her through the front door before he left. “Sorry,” he said.
Once outside on the street, Diana realized she didn’t have any shoes on. That meeting had been such a surprise before lunch! She’d been about to change into flats. Her high heels were still in the drawer. At least she still had the bag with her phone. When she punched in the boss’s number, it went to voicemail. Diana’s ID had been confiscated in the conference room. She couldn’t go back.
Her toes in thin socks were not enjoying the pebbly texture of the sidewalk. She stepped carefully to avoid a puddle.
In aviator sunglasses, the boss marched out of the revolving door in the other direction. Diana called out, and he turned. “Can you let me back up so I can get my shoes?
“You’re still here?”
“I need my shoes.”
“I can’t let you go back.” The boss stepped closer, grimacing as he peered at her feet.
“How am I going to go home like this?”
The boss shrugged. “Do the best you can.”
First Diana had been stuck with legacy code. Then she’d gotten laid off. But this was just evil.
“Now, Diana,” the boss said, folding his arms. “I didn’t mean for things to turn out this way.”
Tiptoeing, Diana made her way to a bench at the bus stop and called an Uber.
Inside her apartment, she settled on the sofa in a pair of fuzzy slippers. Then, she heard the uproar outside and went to the window. People were shouting and carrying signs. A protest march was going on across the street.
Diana pulled off her slippers and grabbed her running shoes, quickly knotting the laces over her feet. She ran out of the apartment and joined them, raising her voice along with theirs. They moved in a tight crowd, in jeans and sweatshirts, leggings and jackets. The women wore low-heeled shoes. The chanting held a sense of purpose, something she hadn’t had since her first software engineering job.
Once upon a time, she’d wanted to tell these people, “Get a job!” But it wasn’t all that simple. She knew that now as she marched, her feet tied securely into her sneakers.
Elizabeth Morse is a writer who lives in New York’s East Village. Her work has been published in literary magazines such as The Raven’s Perch, Visible, and CafeLit, as well as anthologies such as Crimes of the Beats. Her poetry chapbook, “The Color Between the Hours,” is forthcoming from Finishing Line press in 2023. She has her MFA from Brooklyn College and supports her poetry with a job in information technology.
Image By: https://unsplash.com/photos/DyFjxmHt3Es