A crying, slobbering, pleading mess of a boy that asking for anything might have it. I sat in a small room dedicated to one of the four managers I worked under, the least of which I admired. She walked with a bounce. Not a fat bounce or a slutty bounce, but a bounce of unfounded cheer that was such a face that it could only be hiding something just as nasty deep within her. Behind her perfect teeth and taut skin. Behind her glazed eyes and practiced smile. There was a devil in her but I wasnt one to unleash it.
Instead I'd just watch from a distance and still distant sitting next to her in her small office, blubbering on about two losses of which I didnt understand. Two losses greater to humanity, equally contributing on a freedom plane, perhaps unequally financially. Either way, they were a loss and each day the weight of the loss in me grew without my understanding.
But she understood. Or she said she did, and I wanted to hurt her. No. This is my pain. How dare you pat my back. Get the fuck away from me. Then I left for two more weeks. They paid me for the time off. I would have laughed all the way to the bank if I was in the mood. But I didn't and nobody bothered me about it.
A few days later dad and I were in the old man's apartment. The drive over was quiet, some sun peeking through the clouds, but the wheels of his old bronco still hissed against the wetness of the freeway from the night before. Spokane left us a decent parking spot, but dad had to use the key to get in the apartment.
The hallways here always smelled of cigarettes and rat poison, even though a sign in the elevator says no smoking in the building. It was the remnants of what was once a fine, unjostled habbit.
His apartment smelled no different. Though he didn't smoke inside, it still carried the aged scent and undusted blankets. Dad set the keys back in his jean pocket and turned to shut the door. I waited and snooped around, in the closets, his old room, the living room. A small stack of Playboy magazines and TV Guides were piled up under his metal TV stand. A pair of binoculars sat waiting on the windowsill, probably used recently to look at ducks in the river a cold distance away.
Dad walked by and took off his driving glasses and set them on top of the fridge. Another set was there, but it wasn't his. The room was centerpieced by an old record player that doubled as a countertop, holding pictures of people I didn't know and plants that were slowly dying. At the opposite end of the room sat a metal folding table and a few chairs. Instead of a vase or fruit bowl, the table was bare except for a box with pens, pencils, scissors and knives sticking out of it like a fortress. One of the pens held up a handful of rubber bands like it was about to break a hula-hoop record. On one of the two chairs was an old newspaper covered by another box. And another TV Guide.
Hey do you remember this? My dad asked, while pointing to an old microwave that weighed about 50 pounds. It used to be ours, but we gave it to him when we moved him up here to live near us.
God yeah I can't believe he was still using that thing. I stood there with him, my hands in my coat pocket and looked around. I opened a drawer in arm's reach to peek inside. It was full of knives and I opened it more. I pulled out an older one among other rusted and broken blades or those with half-shafts of wood or plastic. It was heavy and dark and it had a circle of metal at the hilt and it felt good in my grip. Hey, Dad, whats this for I asked. That's where the barrel goes. It's a bayonet. I loosened my grip and the knife rolled in my palm, revealing dents here and there. I put it back and sauntered to the old mans diner, a brown folding table with the castle box.
Dad watched as I flipped through the box, not looking for anything, and not finding anything. There was a package of hypodermic needles on the table, some scissors and gauze. A daily torture he'd no longer have to endure, I suppose. Not a whole lot, is there, Dad says behind me. Nope. He was looking at the fridge and pulled a box, one of three, each with 24 rolls of Rolaids from above. Need some Rolaids? Jesus, did he really need that much I asked. No. He kept them around just in case. Yeah, but three boxes? Maybe they were on sale Dad says. Come on, three boxes? Well. He liked to collect things. He found things. Like that little radio youre holding. I didn't realize I had picked it up and had fumbled with the tuner and would never know what he was listening to before he left.
I set it down and put my hands back in my pockets. If you want anything, you'd better take it, Dad says, I boxed some stuff up there that I want to keep, some records and stuff. But whatever this crap you dont want I'm taking to Goodwill. Yeah, I said.
I kept looking around but it was like treasure hunting in a thrift store. Cupboards of unmatching dishes, drawers of unmatching silverware. One box was full of wallets, none of which had anything in them, not even pictures. Dad watched me open the folds in each and said hed already searched them. No money. I said I know, I was looking for pictures. Dad had his most recent wallet, in which he still kept a miniature version of his discharge papers from after the war, laminated and yellowed by age and hours in places like Denny's and Flying J. It had tiny typed letters and a tiny signature, like a shrinky-dinked get-out-of-hell free card.
I set the wallet back and looked out the window overlooking Riverfront Park in Spokane. Across the street was a clocktower, a skeleton pavilion of the worlds fair, and a merry-go-round sandwiching the river. It was crisp out, but it was a nicer day than all of last week. I opened the binoculars at the windowsill and watched seagulls fighting over a Burger King wrapper with some cheese and catchup on it. Its a little cold out for bikini babes yet dad says. Yeah, way to cold. I put the binoculars back and walked around some more.
On the table opposite the kitchen was a plastic picture frame of Erik and me when we were 8 or 10. Next to it were some pictures of people I didn't know that weren't in the family. I asked dad about them and he said they were some people he helped out. One of them was a waitress at Dennys that was one of his only friends outside of the family, who usually only visited when he was having trouble starting his truck.
Between us the house was empty and dad offered this or that, just to make sure I didn't want it. I finally took a pen from the box, a silver one like the one from another apartment not long ago. I said I'm ready to go when you are and he said whenever so I shrugged and he told me to help him out with one of the boxes. I set the binoculars on top and never returned.
As we drove on the way back with some of the man's things between us I asked if Dad was okay. He said oh, sure. He said he's been through it several times before and I wondered if he cried when he heard. Mom did, but I wonder how long he waited to compose himself before he called us. I wonder how long he'd prepared for this and if the shock was as he imagined. I wondered if he stopped for coffee at a rest stop on the way to Seattle to pick up his remains from the Veteran's hospital and what he would have said to the woman serving him when she asked where he was headed. To pick up my dead father's ashes.
He had lost aunts and uncles before this and said it gets a little easier with each. These things happen, you can't let them get you down, he says. It's all a part of life. I smirked and said yeah, I guess so.
We moved the old man up to Spokane to live with us because he would have been too far away to be cared for otherwise and he lived alone in the apartment. He used to live in a road trailer that resembled a silver twinky. He smoked inside. When Erik and I used to visit we'd ask him if he had anything for us and he'd say no and Dad would scold us. We'd go outside and tinker with his rusty puke-yellow and brown 1970s Ford with broken hatchet handles sticking up from ring anchors along the sides of the cab meant for tying things down. There was a big metal machine in it covered in decomposing maple leaves that looked like a lawnmower engine attached to a propane tank. We found out later it was some sort of generator but he wouldn't turn it on for us because it didn't work anymore.
We sought out the adventures there in that little parking lot of overgrown, unattended grass by his trailer. We found old oil filters and hunks of metal that probably went to things, but we couldn't make any sense of them, like monkeys with kitchen appliances. The visits were usually short, long enough for Dad to let Grampa know that somebody was still around and still cared. They each had a couple cigarettes and sometimes Dad would drop off some auto parts or mail and we almost always left with armfuls of Guns & Ammo or Popular Science magazines.
When we got back home from his apartment we set the things on the kitchen table and Dad went to the fridge to take off his driving glasses again and set them on top of a collection of bills and aspirin bottles. He exhaled and put a hand on his hip and ran the other through his hair. Well, shit he said.
A generation of men had been wiped out of the family within a week and they knew nothing about what was going on here. They didn't know about our home, the cars we drove or the people weve been with, been loving, been hating. My friends weren't even ghosts to them, they weren't even memories or faint mentionings. I was almost sick. But not from grief. From myself, half relieved and half afraid for what soul I had left and grappled with while waiting for my seed to emerge. And now they would know less of it than they knew of my friends. Less than a ghost, less than a memory, less than a mention.
Dad went into the living room and turned on the TV, standing while holding the remote. He didn't find anything good worth watching and turned on a video game instead.
I sat with him on the couch and rolled my grandfather's pen between my fingers while he played. After a while I said I should get going and he said okay, bud. He paused the game and stood up to walk me out. He said I'll be here if you need anything or you can call. Do you have the number, yeah, you have the number. Well.
I started counting up my things, quantifying my existence through net worth. A cheap car, a decent stereo, a bike, a bed, other junk. By the time I was done I figured I could have sold everything but a shirt and a pair of jeans to pay for school at a decent four-year college out of state. I thought of someplace like southern California or Arizona where rain is worth a little more and junk isn't so much.
I drove by a trendy coffee shop looking for the car of an ex-girlfriend, wondering if she would let me lean on her. But it wasn't there and I almost hit the car in front of me at a stoplight. It was an old woman taking her time out of the green light but she was looking right back at me, watching me and almost waiting for me to hit her.
Ryan wasn't waiting for me when I got home, so I grabbed the pool stick in my bedroom and went to a bar down the street. The bartender knew me and knew I was underage, but didn't care because all I did or wanted was to play a few rounds of pool and be left alone. She was working that night and saw me, but didn't offer me the cup of coffee I never accepted. I played one round, then two, systematically breaking down the game, the pieces to a line here and corner there.
After a few games I realized I wanted that coffee and walked over to the bar. It was late but it was best to drink up to stay awake and at least make an effort to stay up all night so work tomorrow night wouldn't be such a pain. She was surprised to see me at the bar and asked if something was wrong. I said no, I just wanted a cup of coffee and she apologized for not offering, but said I never take it anyway while she was pouring a cup from a pot that had probably been on the burner all day. I said yeah and when she handed it to me she said youre luckyI just brewed that before you walked in. She smiled and said its on the house when I pushed a few quarters to her and she pushed them back. Play another game or something.
I racked the balls up again and replayed pool sessions from months ago or miles away. I line up one shot and uncle Matt is standing behind me with the palm of his hand an inch from the butt of my stick just waiting for me to take the shot and mess it up on purpose but his son Charlie is my partner and sees him and says no, no, no cheating old man. I look back to see what hes talking about and nobody's there. I take the shot and nobody is there to see it fall in.
How the hell did you do that, says an old friend with his mouth gaping and his hand gripping a Rolling Rock. I've been trying to figure out that shot for years he says with a finger pointed to the table while holding his pool stick in the same hand. The stick leans forward as he points and I tell him how to do it. He says huh and tries it but I watch as it doesn't work. When I look up he is gone.
There's four balls left on the table, all colors. I must have shot the 8-ball in, but who could I lose to, I thought. I missed one shot after another, finally deciding to rake up what was left and take my half-empty coffee cup back to the bar. I waited around to say thanks but the bartender was chatting with one of her regulars so I left the small mug on the counter and walked out.
Looking at my car again I started back with the tab, hoping that a new calculation might bring a few extra dollars. Maybe then I could justify blowing five bucks on pool by myself in the corner of a room where the only company was a few drunks on a Sunday night that I'd seen here many times before. But there's little change in the worth of it all and in driving around I wind up at the coffee shop I'd passed before. I sat waiting in my car as the windshield wipers cleared off new rain and the headlights reflected off the building in an elipse in front of where I'd parked like a flashlight on the ground. I turned off the ignition but the lights stayed on and a faint repetitive ding kept sounding when I opened my door so I pushed the knob in to shut it up. The car door sprayed slightly when it shut.
Inside the coffee shop was just as bare as the bar, with an old couple that wasn't a regular and instead probably got sucked in by the trendiness of the place and didn't mind spending four bucks for a coffee. I ordered a coffee on my credit card. I wrote a tip on the receipt even though the guy didn't deserve it but I went to high school with the guy so I felt obliged.
The next night I was out of quarters so I stopped by to see how mom and dad were holding up. It wasn't as wet as it had been lately, but a strong wind teased my car and howled over its not-so-aerodynamic body. The nights were getting shorter and the treeline was bumpier against the horizon. But if the wind was any indication, they wouldn't be sprouting flowers for a few more weeks and would instead wave and wait until their blooms were purged regardless of weather.
I turned down my radio when I pulled into their apartment complex and I saw dad outside smoking when I turned the corner where their building was. He was an orange light rising and falling from a set of worn lips trying to stay warm. He lifted his hand to wave and the light in his hand almost looked like a tiny beacon on a shoreline miles away while his other hand was tucked in his coat pocket.
He brought the torch back to his lips and it glowed brighter for a second. He returned to his pacing and I parked in front of him. Hey bud, he says. Hey. What're you up to he asks and exhales smoke. Not much. Just stopping by. I just got off work. He nodded and squinted slightly but didn't say anything and instead took another puff. Sure is windy I say. He breathes deeply and exhales again, this time steam, and flicks the cigarette lightly. The wind carries it feet away and when it lands it rolls away a few more feet, still glowing. Sure is, he says. I got some steaks cooking if you want to stick around. I say sure and watch the light from the cigarette fade as we walk up the stairs to the apartment.
When we get inside Dad tells me to take my coat off, stay a while. I say okay and ask him how work is going. He sighs and says he isn't sure if they'll have any more work to last the next two weeks. I set my jacket over one of the chairs around the kitchen table and Dad takes his hat of to run his fingers through his hair, then puts it back on and adjusts it slowly. He puts his hands on his hips as if to take some of the weight off his shoulders and opens the freezer to look inside.
So what's up with mom, I ask. Well, I guess she's going to be staying down there for a few more weeks. I ask why and he says so she can have time to get more junk, probably, and we laugh. He pulls a half-empty bag of frozen vegetables from the freezer door and unwraps the clip holding it shut. He grabs it by the top and lets it spin just above the counter until it slows to a stop and asks if I want to stay for dinner. I stand leaning on the refrigerator wonder what he's thinking about but don't ask. Maybe it was because I didn't want to find out, or maybe it was because I already knew and was thinking it myself. For the first time in a long time he's spinning around just for a few kernels of corn and not sure why. So he asks me and I say sure, I'll stay for dinner and he feels he has an answer.
Two steaks sat melted in a Ziplock bag in their own blood by the sink and arch upward as if reaching out for help. Dad says how does steak sound and I can't remember the last time I ate steak. Real good.
Dad says alright, then and starts digging through pots in a drawer below the stove. He doesn't find his cast-iron pan and I lift my legs straight out so he can check the cupboard under my dangling feet. He pulls it out and says goddamnit and rinses it in the sink. These pans are never going to cure if she keeps cleaning them, he says and turns off the faucet, grabs a paper towel and wipes down the pan. He sets the pan down on a spiral burner and goes to the fridge for a red Folger's can tucked behind a half-gallon of milk and a jug of Kool-Aid. Inside is a store of milky bacon fat saved over weeks or months or years. He looks at me and tilts the can so I can see and says looks like we're almost out, but the can is nearly full to the brim. We laugh and he slices some out to coat the pan and turns on the burner.
The fat seeps from under itself and house starts to take on a faint bacon smell and he puts his hands on his hips with his pointing fingers in his pockets. So, when's Mom going to be back I ask. He raises his eyebrows and lifts one hand from his hip and flicks it to the sky like throwing a pizza from his waist and shakes his head. She said she was going to be back today, but now I guess she's thinking of staying a little longer. How long, I ask and he says a week, maybe two, but you never really know with her. He looks back at the pan and watches as the grease carving now roams the pan like water and tells me to drain the bag, would you.
I pick it up from where it lounges on the faucet next to me and peel the zipped plastic apart at one corner. The meat is cold and squishy between my fingers, and a dark red that's almost fresh from the butcher. The fluid drains quickly, a mixture of blood and water that was once ice and leaves a strong smell in the sink like metal and iron and sugar. I hand him the drained bag and he lays out the steaks. They hiss and pop as the grease hisses back like a little tribe of grease bubble men dancing around the edges. Dad adds seasonings without measuring and rolls the corn into a pot, then sets the timer and his hands return to his hips.
I hop down and go into the living room to turn on the TV and sit slouching. He walks over by the couch but doesn't sit and watches the sitcom for a few minutes, then checks the steaks and comes back and leaves to check the steaks again. The show is almost over and I've missed the beginning. He comes out with a plate and a napkin and silverware. The vegetables still steam and are full of color. Thanks, Dad, I say and he says sure, bud. He goes to fix his plate and comes back to sit down. I haven't touched mine yet, half out of respect and half because it's still to hot and I burned my tongue already. He slices out a piece of the meat and stabs it with the knife and brings it to his teeth, biting carefully and withdrawing the knife slowly. Mom hated it when we did that, but she wasn't here. I cut a piece off myself and did the same. I opened my mouth, a reflex of bending the elbow according to Grampa, but before it hit my lips, before the scent danced and swirled with my nostrils the phone rang. Dad was still chewing his bite and was busy sawing at another so I set down the knife and carried my plate to the phone.
I was ready to pick up and yell whatever it is youre trying to sell, I don't want it. I wanted revenge for interrupting yet another thing and of all things a steak dinner. But when I answered it was Mom on the other line.
She was quiet and sounded tired. It was almost midnight there and she said she's been working on sorting out all of Grampa's estate and keeping everybody happy. I put the bite to my teeth and slid the knife out while she talked. I looked at the knife while I chewed and listened. She told me about some of the squabbling that was going on, but all I heard was her being the Atlas of his death, bearing most of the weight of carrying out his will, dividing his things and tying up all the loose ends. She'd been doing it for almost two weeks now and she tells me she'll probably end up staying another week. I cut another bite and stand by the phone while chewing.
Her voice reminds me of the morning after camping in the Uintas when Erik and I were too young to carry big packs and she had gotten up early to start coffee but was tired well into breakfast and ready for a nap by lunch. That was the way things were. But she kept going. Another week I ask and she says yeah with a sigh and asks how Dad is. Fine, I say, trying to hide having food in my mouth, and she asks how things went with clearing out his dads apartment. I don't know, I say, he did it all the other day while I was at school. She says oh, well, tell him I said hi and I'll be home in a week or two. I've got to get going, but I love you and miss you. I said you too, ma and we said good-bye.
When I returned to the couch Dad had already wolfed down his steak and was gnawing at the bone between his fingers. Was that your mother he asks and I say yeah. What did she have to say he asks and I say she just wanted to know how things were up here and to let us know she'd be up in a week or two. He was watching the TV as he asked and as I answered and he nodded his head and put the bone down to wipe his mouth. When he cleaned off his plate I was still working on the steak. But when I was done I took his plate to the kitchen with mine and rinsed them both in the sink I grabbed the pan off the stove and he came around the corner at the commercial break. Don't worry about washing that, he says, it's not good for it. I say alright and put it back on the stove. I finish washing the dish pairings and wipe my hands on a nearby towel while he digs around for a toothpick. Have you seen the toothpicks he asks and we open cupboards and drawers where they wouldn't be. He finds the box on top of the fridge and picks at his teeth with a hand on his hip again and stares at something between him and the light in the other room.
I pat his chest and say thanks for dinner and he says sure, bud, and I walk down the unlit hallway to my room. I reach for the light but it flickers and doesn't come on. I flick the switch again as if to take it back but nothing happens. An orange glow from streetlights takes on some of the dark and I close the door behind me.
I walk over to the closet and my clothes are barely visible when I step into the lamplight and my shadow overtakes them. I thumb through to find my work shirt, pull one out and look at it. It's not the one, so I put it back and keep looking. I find the one I'm looking for and toss it on the end of my bed. It poofs out in mid-air and falls like snow on the blanket. I sift through the closet again for a pair of work pants but they're gone. I look around on the floor and see one of the pant legs and pull it from where it's buried in a pile of other clothes. There's a stain on the front where I spilled fish oil. It stinks so I spray it with cologne and rub it dry. I sniff it and now it smells like spilled fish oil and cologne. I throw it with the shirt and go over to lay down and kick my shoes off at the end of the bed. They tumble and knock on the bed frame.
My heels touch one end of the frame and my head the other it's not so bad because I curl up at night, just as I have for years on this bed. But this twin bed is alone. Erik has the other one set up in the room down the hall, but only uses it on holidays when he's in town. They used to be stacked together and now are as separate as he and I. They are wood with pegs at each post so one could rest atop the other. But they were made to come apart. Just like the burned-out light above from its socket and the shoes from my feet. My feet are free. But the socket is empty. Alone.
The bed is made, somewhat, and I pull down the sheets to get out a pillow, but still rest on top, fully clothed and wide-awake in the dark with only the orange hue of a streetlight outside my window to keep me company. On the windowsill adjacent to the bed is a small leather pouch I found in a box Dad brought home from the apartment in Spokane. It was used for holding ammunition and holding it I saw two slits in the back where a belt could slip through. It was latched with a leather strap through a metal bracket and I opened it.
Inside were pictures I'd taken and stashed away. Many had been cropped to fit inside the box or were small wallet pictures of old school buddies. I stop at one of the pictures where a girl is kneeling in a lawn on a summer day looking into the disposable camera I needed to finish out so I could go get it developed. I don't remember if I saved any of the other pictures or if any of them came out at all. This girl with the blurred toddler running in the background. She was thin then and told me not to call her any more. Months have passed and I wonder if it has been enough time. I wonder if she's dropped her grudge and if shed talk if I called.
I cradled the rest of the pictures between my hands to get their corners in line and set them back in the little leather pouch. I set the latch back in and put it back on the sill. But I kept this photo out. I looked again and tapped it to my lip, feeling the sharp edge and poking the skin as if to penetrate and bleed on her.
I looked over to the white cordless phone I bought so my parents could get away from the corded beast in the kitchen that's been in the family for at least 15 years. Dad said the ringer was too loud so I kept it in my room and used it when the person on the other line was for me. I picked it up and ran my fingers across the rubber numbers. I didn't know what some of the buttons did and didn't care because if I hadn't needed three voice mail boxes or call forwarding by now it was pointless to try and figure it out. But the numbers were there, ready for a combination that I'd used day after day for months. I touched each of the buttons but didn't press hard enough for the beep and glow that the phone used to tell me it wanted more. More attention.
I set the phone on my belly and looked up at the light and tapped the picture on the phone to chop it with the edge. It clacked while I weighed the chances. She could be home. She could be asleep. She could hang up. She might not pick up. She could yell. She could cry. She could make me cry. She could talk. I lifted the phone up and pressed the keys, waiting on the last one and thinking to myself she could talk. I pressed it and held it down while the phone beeped one long beep at me. I let go and listened for one ring before putting it to my ear. It was silent for a moment and soon another ring came. Another silence. Another ring. I hung up during the ring as if afraid to go through another bout of silence. She would call back to see who it was, maybe, I thought, and watched the phone.
I watched the phone but it didn't ring. I rolled over to set it back on the charger and dropped the picture. It fell on the floor face down against a textbook as if trying to read it. I slid it off the book and brushed it off on my pant leg, then put it back into the leather pouch in front of the rest. Then I closed it and set it back on the sill and rolled over to fall asleep.
I woke up a few hours later and held my watch up to the street light. It was 10:50 p.m. and I had to be at work in 9 minutes or the managers would lock me out as they left to go home and get some sleep. I jumped from bed and stepped on the textbook. I stood with my palms in my eye sockets and remembered what day it was and that I had steak for dinner. My clothes weren't where I'd left them, but were covering my shoes, having fallen off the bed, probably from kicking away monsters in a dream. I bounced into my pants and one of the belt loops ripped as I pulled it up while stepping on one of the pant legs. I whispered fuck, fuck, fuck and kept jumping into the pants. I put the shirt on over what I'd worn to bed and shoved my feet into each shoe, kicking the heel back and forth until the shoe gave in. I walked out and saw myself in the hall mirror just outside my doorway. I patted my pockets and returned to get my keys off the window sill. I pushed the leather pouch I was looking back at earlier and it fell onto the bed but I left it and grabbed the keys hiding behind it.
I tried to clip a small carabineer on the keychain to my pants, but the belt buckle I tore earlier was gone. I whispered again and attached it to a different belt loop. I walked out and turned the light switch off out of habit. The house was dark except for a blue light coming from the living room where the TV was on a late-night talk show. Dad had fallen asleep on the couch with a small wind-up alarm clock at his side. He was covered in an afghan his mother made him and another he must have recovered from the apartment. I whispered Dad but he was sound and inhaled a few times rapidly as only someone asleep could do and exhaled. The blue light danced and flickered on his bald knee sticking out from the afghan and I tip-toed to the glowing box and turned it off.
I turned to see if he'd awakened but all I could see was the ghost of the TV screen blocking out his face like a bug on a windshield. I stepped out of the living room and entered the kitchen, where the stove light made the frying pan we used earlier look like the moons surface with craters of grease and meat burn and fat blotched at random. I grabbed a pack of Ramen noodles from a cupboard above the stove and found the last can of tuna from a cupboard next to it. Dad would have used it for lunch tomorrow. I hesitated to take it but knew I'd be hungry into the morning if I didn't. I put it in one of the cargo pockets at the side of my work pants and grabbed my jacket to leave. I jangled my keys in my hand just to make sure and looked back at Dad. Six to five, four days on, three days off. I wondered if he got a break from work or if he went to the funeral on his days off and made it back in time to take me to the apartment. As I left I closed the door slowly, knowing I'd probably do the same for him.
Outside the rain that had tapped away at my car earlier had beaded up and frozen to my windshield. I started the car and got out to scrape away just enough of the ice to keep me on the road and left before the heater kicked in.
The roads were empty and the streetlights flashed yellow and were backed by the orange hue of rows of street lights that patted me on the back one after another, each in its turn. I took one of the corners to work quickly and fish-tailed over black ice. I would have hit an old lady in a Caddilac or a suburban if I wasn't by myself. A cop drove through the intersection ahead and I slowed down and didn't fishtail again.
When I got to work one of the managers was talking with another by the door, each with their coats on and purses in hand. One was a midget and sat on a flat that was half-full of toilet paper and Kleenex. I went in a different door than I would exit in the morning when the store opened and the shorter of the two said I was cutting it pretty close, she was about to lock me out and by the way would you take this flat back to the stockroom. I said nothing and rubbed my eyes and headed for the time clock to put in my employee code that took weeks to memorize but now flew angrily from my fingertips.
They said bye as I turned the corner to go upstairs to throw my lunch in a small red locker that I wouldn't lock and I waved to them but didn't look back. When I came back downstairs they were gone and one of the cleaning guys was trying to move the flat out of the way so he could vacuum. I strode over to him and said can I get it out of your way, friend and he smiled and said yes, yes.