‘Wage packet’ by Stanley Donwood

The last time I was thinking about writing some short stories, in 2012, I asked for recommendations of collections on Twitter. This collection, by the artist Stanley Donwood, was one of them, and this story in particular has never left me. It’s of the classic escalation type, but maybe it also stuck with me because it evoked a particularly horrible job I had briefly the first summer I was at university, working in a department store café for under minimum wage (‘we have a special student rate’). The story opens with a simple line: “During a period of poverty more pronounced than usual I consider applying for a job.” The job in question is as a dishwasher in a restaurant.

The friend who used to work there tells me that in a restaurant there is a structured hierarchy of abuse; the owner harangues the manager, who insults the chef, who turns angrily on the preparation staff, who vent spleen on the waiting staff, who then unleash their fury on the dishwasher. The dishwasher has very little room for manoeuvre in this concatenation of spite.

The last line of the section I’ve quoted draws attention to one of the features of the story that I enjoy: its use of both a flat tone of resignation and an almost geometric appreciation of the different formations of unfairness. I’ll only add the following hints: every night after work there is a form of lock in, and that the back room of the kitchen houses a type of industrial macerator that deals with scraps of food, a large metal machine known as ‘The Pig’.

First published in 2011, collected in Household Worms, Nosuch Library 2012 and Humour, Faber, 2014; also as a limited edition chapbook of “nearly 100 copies”, 2014

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