Feng Shui and Other Subversive Religions

Jackie Miller danced around her kitchen when she learned she landed a temporary-to-permanent position at Finch Life & Casualty. It had been years since she held down a regular nine-to-five. Her duties entailed answering the ten-line phone system, greeting guests, and opening the mail. And most importantly to her, it would give her the ability to make new friends.

On her first day, she brought in a small tote bag. She learned a valuable lesson at the last job placement when she was let go and the office manager refused to ship her personal effects to her. Jackie’s agency asked her why she needed so much useless junk at her desk especially for a week-long assignment.

This time, Jackie brought a couple of framed photos, a coffee mug, a water bottle, and a few plants to liven up her work area. She made sure she took everything home each night although she was sure this company would appreciate her talents and ask her to stay right away.

Jackie stood at the reception desk each morning while she unpacked her possessions and attempted to start conversations with everyone who walked into the lobby. The employees at the insurance company didn’t appreciate her intrusive inquiries but she felt it was her duty to monitor others’ activities.

“Where ya going? When ya coming back?” were usually unanswered.

“Where are you having lunch?” as she grabbed her handbag, was met with closed elevator doors.

There was a hierarchy at the firm. The executives didn’t speak to the brokers. The brokers didn’t speak to the assistants. And no one had lunch with the receptionist, especially a temp.

When Jackie spoke, no one responded. This didn’t stop her. She went from office to office chanting her “good mornings.” Her basket of baked goods were definitely rebuffed.

After a month of asking her supervisor when she would become a permanent employee, she was told they wouldn’t need her after Friday. She was undeterred by this news. She continued with her unwanted cheeriness, twirling around the reception area and wanting to connect with anyone who looked her way.

Katherine, the marketing assistant, brought up a box of brochures to be mailed out. She watched Jackie attack her sandwich, open-mouthed, bread crumbs flinging in every direction. She didn’t bother to dust off the kaftan and her breakfast and lunch usually stuck with her throughout the day.

“Can you mail these out after lunch?”

“Sure!” A stream of crumbs flew onto the desk.

Katherine winced.

“Oh, sorry,” Jackie wet her index finger with her tongue and slowly picked up each crumb and inserted them into her mouth.

Katherine put her hand over her own mouth.

“I’ll do it after I call my daughter. She’s a recovering addict, ya know.”

“Oh, I see,” said Katherine.

Jackie was emboldened by the attention. “She got mixed up with a cult.”

Katherine was equally as intrigued as she was disgusted as she watched Jackie swirl her lunch around her mouth like clothes in a jerking washing machine.

“She started studying religions in high school. She didn’t want to be like us.”

Katherine nodded her head, wondering what this poor kid had to endure growing up under Jackie’s roof.

“First, it was Catholicism. Can you imagine? We’re Lutheran! Although, this Pope says we’re all cool.”

Katherine clutched the cross dangling around her neck.

“Then she started going to…” She looked around and whispered, “She went to the black church. They jump up and down during the service. I think they’re trying to tire you out so you will fall under their spell. It just seems exhausting.”

Katherine looked at her feet and stepped back. She was relieved when the human resources director approached them and handed Jackie her last timesheet.

“Good luck to you,” she said and walked away without looking at either of them.

Jackie banged her head on the desk several times. “God is punishing me for my daughter’s beliefs. Now, she’s into this weird cult called Fing Shing.”

Katherine pressed her lips together.

“No, that’s not it.” Jackie held her face between her two mustard-stained hands. Fung Shang. Fang Shoo.”

“Feng shui?” asked Katherine. She closed her eyes. Oh, God, she just realized she unnecessarily continued the conversation.

“Yeah, that’s it. Feng Show. You went to college. Of course, you’ve heard of it. I found the Feng Show bibles and noticed everything was moved around in her room so she could pray to her new God. We tried to send her to therapy but it wasn’t covered under our insurance.

She said it wasn’t a religion. She was trying to get rid of negative energy. What negative energy? Well, one day she brought some weird plant into the house. My husband was convinced she was going to make some potions out of it. Then she bought a mini waterfall. It ran all day and night and made me want to pee all the time. We had to kick her out.”

“You know that’s not a religion, right?” asked Katherine.

“Yes, it is. She changed. She wasn’t happy with us anymore. She started questioning her life. She should have been happy with what the real God gave her. She didn’t need spirits to bring her luck.”

Katherine picked up her box and backed away. “I’ll have the interns do this.”

“It’s definitely something you don’t want to become a part of, but most of the time we don’t have a choice.”

“She said a cult actually sounded better than being with us. Can you imagine? Well, we’re talking again. She called the other day and told me about hashed me too. Have you heard of it? I’ve been hearing some of the girls around here talk about it, too. I think it’s a new hippie girl religion.”

“It’s Hashtag MeToo,” said Katherine.

“That’s it. I’ve overheard the bosses say it is pure evil and it must be squashed at any cost. They say women have gone too far now. I’ve been trying to stay out of my daughter’s business, but I don’t want her to get mixed up with this nonsense.”

“It’s definitely something you don’t want to become a part of, but most of the time we don’t have a choice.” Katherine took in a breath.

“Are you taking me out for a farewell drink?” asked Jackie.

“No, I have to get rid of some negative energy,” said Katherine as she turned away.

“I can bring you the Feng Show bibles my daughter left behind,” said Jackie. “I want to get those books out of my house.”

“Good luck to you and your daughter.” Katherine went to her office.

When she peered out of her door at ten after five, she found one of Jackie’s plants sitting on the floor. A note was taped to the glass container. I hope this brings you joy. Thank you for talking to me.

Katherine placed it on top of her file cabinet. It did brighten her day when the executives ignored or belittled her or when she thought of her own Me Too memories.

Yong Takahashi won the Chattahoochee Valley Writers National Short Story Contest and the Writer’s Digest’s Write It Your Way Contest. She was a finalist in The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, Southern Fried Karma’s Novel Contest, Gemini Magazine’s Short Story Contest, and Georgia Writers Association’s Flash Fiction Contest. She was awarded Best Pitch at the Atlanta Writers Club Conference.