Stephanie C. Smith: ‘A Xerox Machine Took a Bullet Once’ & ‘Plan A’ w/ 2 Collage Works by Sonia Murray

A Xerox Machine Took a Bullet Once

The active shooter
drill drags on. I’m still
under my desk. Outside

a hush of rain
sweeps in. We hear
what we wouldn’t hear

if it was two o’clock without
a drill. Air rumbles through
the vents. My heart doubles

over in my little tomb.
If you can’t run
like a horse, hide

like a ghost, the officer
said before we began. If all else fails,
go out like a lion. Our division

is spooked. We do
what we wouldn’t do
if was two o’clock without a drill.

The secretary’s squeezed inside
her locker. I hear her cry,
she blows her nose. Grief

gives us all away. I feel
what I wouldn’t feel,
quit the drill, curse

the cop, and fail
like a lion
loose in a zoo.

Plan A

By Phoebe Trigo

The thing is I could lose my job, so this whole story is off the record. I should really choose a safer alias, something plain, yet not too Smith or Jones where everyone expects a mole. But what the hell – I’ll take the risk.

Phoebe was a titan once with prophecy as her superpower. Trigo is the answer to my security question – what’s your maternal grandmother’s maiden name? Also, fun fact, trigo is the Spanish word for wheat.

When our Chief Justice lost the election by just 400 (gerrymandered) votes, our state agency became Republican-ish. No more first Black woman Chief in charge. On January 7, 2021 the new leadership stormed in victorious and cut longtime staff in one fell swoop. The cut weren’t allowed to say goodbye, no cake and coffee, no let’s stay in touch. This new Chief we’ve got is happy angry.

Next the website was slowly scrubbed without a word. Gone are the statistics on the disparate rates of juvenile incarceration for Black youth. Gone is the recording of my workshop on cultural trauma and trauma-informed practices. I argued for a compromise, but one fell swoop and all that jazz.

Website pages on COVID safety were taken down overnight. Employee of the Month awards popped up instead. A dozen co-workers have been force-fed faux gratitude. Each month one of them has taken a turn with the director in the lobby, held up a certificate for the camera, and eked out a difficult smile.


The head of building safety calls my office late one afternoon. We’re both transplants from the Gulf Coast and like to talk about the food we miss. If it weren’t for flying cockroaches and hurricanes and the dearth of jobs with decent benefits, we’d both move back home in a heartbeat.

Your name came up at the management meeting, he tells me.
Which name? I want to ask, but I hold my tongue.
Someone put WEAR A MASK signs in the bathrooms and hallways on your side of the building.
It’s not allowed,
he says. But I was able to prove that you weren’t even here that day.
Thank goodness for the work badges we have to swipe!
Thank goodness,
I say.

We all work at the Director’s pleasure.

Elevate your game, he tells us at a staff meeting over Zoom. Don’t think of us as just another state court system. Think of our state as a country and make this country the greatest in the world!
I want to type into the Zoom chat – And we’ll have fair elections in our fine country, and face our past, and make amends for all we stolen to make us great!
But the director’s on a roll and has a different plan for national greatness. Success Sequencing in three parts: 1) graduate high school, 2) get a good job, and 3) do not have children out of wedlock. When pressed on how this plan will be implemented, he mentions posters for local schools.

We all stare at our monitors muted and confused. The screen full of our boxed faces could be an exhibit in an art gallery titled Employees Frozen in Place After a Gerrymandered Nightmare OR How Are We Supposed to Work Like This?

On my lunch break I Google Success Sequencing and read that its roots are Evangelical. An article in The Atlantic describes this sequencing as a meme in search of a policy. And the point of the meme is to make the entitled feel more at ease with how they got what they got. This makes is much easier to eliminate social programs.

I call my friend in Human Resources. Be careful, she tells me. And prepare your Plan B just in case you’re the next one they dismiss.

At 63, my Plan B is mostly gigs at Door Dash, Grub Hub, and Trader Joe’s. But I’ve decided instead to beef up Plan A – I will keep my job, defect in place, and become the best mole in this country. I have the perfect disguise to make it work, a civil servant on the cusp of retirement. Just last month, I leaked my guts to a reporter. She told me none of my news is newsworthy yet – shit happens all the time. Still, the Evangelical mission creep at my agency is right in line with a trend she is tracking. So, I work all day to hone my craft. I take good notes at every meeting. I bide my time, like a field of wheat waiting underground for the best chance to go on the record.

Sonia Murray: Stop the Guns and Killing Innocent Children.

Stephanie C. Smith is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana. Her essay, The Empath, won Bellevue Literary Review’s honorable mention award for non-fiction in 2020 and was a Pushcart Prize nominee. Other work has appeared in Xavier Review, Raleigh Review, and Pinesong Awards. She was recently granted an Artists Support Grant by the United Arts Council of Wake County. She currently lives in Raleigh, NC. Twitter: @steep_smith

Banner Collage (color): Stop the Gun Insanity Against Our Innocent Children by Sonia Murray (c) 2022.

Sonia Murray was born in London, England & has lived and raised her family in multiple countries including England, Canada, Brazil, and, most recently, the US. She is a painter, photographer, collage artist, sculptor and stone carver. Her work is exhibited in Florida, incl. 3 solo shows. She has collaborated with poets, modern dancers, and other photographers. Her work has been featured at, a website for international photographers, writers and artists. A large part of her work is dedicated to focusing on improving our world and appreciating the beauty surrounding us. Twitter: @Mu03841066Sonia.

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