Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier

The Graveyard Shift


It was a sunny day in California, as usual. I made it to class by the skin of my teeth.  Mornings were hectic for me. Putting my papers together, fighting the traffic, finding parking space and climbing steep stairs to reach my class was a handful for a single parent catching up with life. Education was a luxury I had accorded myself, despite the difficult choices and sacrifices at this stage in my life. I knew what fatigue meant, not to be confused with the garb the military wore.

I was fishing for my books from the briefcase, when I heard a thump on the seat next to mine. It sounded familiar – the drop from exhaustion after a stressful day.

“Hi,” I said, looking up. He was unshaven, unkempt, crumpled. “You must be dead tired,” I added. Couldn’t he at least comb his hair? 

“Yes,” he sighed, “I worked the graveyard shift.”

No wonder! Why did I use the phrase “dead tired”? He can’t be digging graves, could he? We were taking an upper-class business course, a step away from graduation. Couldn’t he find a better job? And you thought life was difficult for you lady?

          The professor’s call for attention cut our communication short, but not my interest in this strange guy. I wanted to concentrate on the Master’s lecture but couldn’t. The “graveyard shift” bothered me. What drove this young man to the desperate decision of digging ditches? Surely he could find a better company than the dead! I wonder if he saw ghosts at night, or angels visiting their kin.  There must be an explanation!  

As soon as we had intermission I followed him to the coke machine. He allowed me to go first. I couldn’t help but ask:

“Tell me, ‘what do you exactly do in a graveyard’?”

“What graveyard?”

“Didn’t you say you worked in a graveyard?”


“Graveyard shift, remember?”

His laughter could have burst the ceiling asunder. I was mortified. Was it my accent?

“I work the night shift,” he replied, wiping his tears.

Graveyard shift instead of night shift, evening gown instead of nightgown, and shelled nuts for nuts without shells, I still had a lot to learn – so close to a business degree and yet so far from mastering the innuendos of the English language!

Author: Mary Terzian

Born and brought up in Egypt I learned English in a local high school run by Irish nuns. Along the deep faith they imparted to me one invigorating phrase remained etched in memory for a lifetime "I can and I will." It was my password through personal battles, hair-raising circumstances, or hopeless situations. Occasionally, when the going was rough the quiet pussycat in me flared up to a tigress to defend my stance. I finally realized my lifetime dream to become a full-time writer. Since authoring two books and several articles online I have reverted to my youthful enthusiasm despite advancing age. My advice to youth is borrowed from E. Roosevelt: "The future belongs to those who believe in the power of their dreams."

3 thoughts on “The Graveyard Shift

  1. Another humorous memory from Mary Terzian — this is such a good one, Mary!

  2. Thanks Sherry. The idea is to compile all these loose memories in a book, after they pass the popular vote.

  3. You sure pulled me into this one, Mary! And wrapped it up with a zing!


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