- Okay, so I’m definitely working at the other store next weekend. Hopefully this means that my transfer is approved and not still pending.
- Our last day was changed from today to next Tuesday, which sucks because that’s when the district manager will be here “helping”. But whatevs.
- I think I might go to trade school to be a machinist.
Teresa sang softly to herself as she dumped and stirred, dumped and stirred. Today was going to be the greatest day of her life: the day she won The Great Chili Cookoff. This was her year. She could practically taste it–or was that some chili powder that she’d inhaled trickling down the back of her throat? Never mind.
It was nearly four o’clock in the morning. So far, Teresa had managed to keep quiet enough in the kitchen that she remained undisturbed.
And then she dropped the lid to her pressure cooker.
It hit the floor with a solid bang, and then rolled around on its edge a few times, adding to the din. She cringed, and turned to look down the hall. Sure enough, she saw a thin sliver of light pop on beneath the master bedroom door. About three seconds after that, the baby let out a wail. Teresa sighed.
She scooped up the lid and set it gently on the dining room table on her way to the baby’s room. Halfway there, she remembered that she’d left the stove on, and crisp black bits would not win her the title at The Great Chili Cookoff. The baby let out a more piercing wail, and Teresa cringed anew at the sound of the master bedroom door creaking open. Don was not going to be happy.
She tried to fix it, lightheartedly smiling and waving him back into the bedroom. “I got him, honey, sorry for waking you up. Go finish sleeping. Love you!”
Don gave her the stinkeye and kept coming. “I’ll handle the baby, Terry, you go finish that damn chili that you’ve been obsessing over for the past six years. Jesus Christ, if I never eat another bowl of chili, I could die a happy man.” He continued mumbling to himself about chili this and chili that as he opened the door to the baby’s room and then closed it behind him.
Teresa’s face fell, but she returned to the kitchen and turned the stove back on. “This is my year, I just know it. That’ll show you, Don. That’ll show everyone!”
A quick stir moved the black burnt bits from the bottom of the pan to the top, and Teresa sank to the floor in tears.
This year wasn’t going to be her year, after all.
Don came out of the baby’s room and knelt next to his wife, tenderly wrapping his arms around her. “Don’t worry, hon, there’s always next year. You’ll win it yet. I know you will.”
In his room, the baby began his wail anew.
I felt off when I clocked out at work last night. It didn’t wipe the end-of-my-shift-screw-you-guys grin off my face, but there was still this tiny collapsing place inside my chest where things should have been perfectly normal. It didn’t go away when I got home, either.
I sat on the couch until four o’clock in the morning eating ice cream straight from the carton and watching YouTube videos on how to groom llamas, which is normally a surefire crowd pleaser in this household, thankyouverymuch, but it didn’t work.
I say I only sat there until four because that’s my best estimate of when I passed out and dropped the ice cream to melt onto my favorite rug. That kind of pissed me off when I woke up with a crick in my neck and my ice cream spoon rattling against my molars. The spot of warmth snuggled up in the crook of my knees told me that my cat, Amelia, hadn’t given up on me just yet, though.
I sat up and swung my feet to the floor, and that’s when I found the ice cream. I made sure to thank Amelia for slacking in the dark of night. She meowed and walked away. I always knew she didn’t care about that rug. She pukes on it nearly every day. This morning the only thing on the rug was ice cream, so I guess I should have counted myself lucky. But I didn’t.
I stood up and felt that hollow space inside my chest again, aching for attention, but I didn’t know what kind of attention to give it. It didn’t feel like loneliness, or panic, or anxiety, or depression, or any one of the hundred bad things I had experience with.
So I did what I rend to do in these situations.
I ignored it.
I stumbled into the kitchen to grab a towel for the ice cream, but first I opened the fridge and took a good slug of OJ straight from the jug. I don’t have a lot to do with plates and bowls at home. I do know how to behave in public, though, so don’t worry about that. When I put the orange juice back on the top shelf of the fridge, I noticed that I still had an egg carton sitting there, which was weird.
I could have sworn that I’d eaten the last egg a couple days earlier, so I pulled the carton out and set it on the counter. I didn’t bother to open it. The weight already told me that it was empty, that I’d simply been too lazy or inattentive to throw it away instead of putting it back into the fridge to tease myself with the promise of eggs.
I’m such an asshole sometimes.
Amelia meowed at my feet and rubbed against my leg, and I leaned down to pet her and noticed that she waws only announcing that she had recently vomited on the very edge of the carpet, millimeters from the much more easily cleaned linoleum. That cat, I swear. She’s going to be the death of me one day. Probably in some highly unusual way.
I grabbed the dishtowel from the counter and took a step toward the living room to clean up the ice cream, and that’s when it hit me. It was my damn birthday. That’s what that feeling in my chest was all about. Now that I’d realized it was my birthday, I did recognize its unique emptiness and flutterings of nobody cares-ness.
I tried to shrug it off. Nobody knew or cared about my birthday anymore. I had no family and no friends, and i wouldn’t let any of my coworkers get close enough to me to know if I’d worn the same shirt the day before. For some reason, this year it didn’t work. I tried to push the whole thing to the back of my mind and continued to the living room.
I scrubbed the ice cream stain for a few moments, my knees reddening from the rough carpet fibers grinding into the tender skin. Finally , I dropped the towel and turned to plop myself on the couch, where I dropped my head into my hands and sobbed. As usual, Amelia failed to come and offer me any hint of comfort. She watched me from the opposite corner of the couch, expressionless as only a cat can be.
Dogsbody returned to the great brick building and reentered the revolving glass doors. The same receptionist sat at the same front desk, and she greeted him with the same warmth.
“Mr. Walker, right? Seventeen, sir.”
He nodded sheepishly in her general direction and tugged the collar of his coat up the tiniest bit. The smudge on the up button from his previous visit had been carefully wiped away, and Dogsbody stared at the button for a moment before touching it, wondering at how quickly even an entire person could also be wiped away, as if that person had never existed.
Again as before, Dogsbody was the only person in the elevator, but this time he appreciated the matte finish of the interior, dropping his coat collar for a brief moment of normalcy. He watched the numbers light up sequentially.
The elevator dinged, and Dogsbody exited to the hallway with the lone door and the sign calmly and quietly declaring Mr Walker. When Dogsbody stepped up to the door, it fell open before him before he had a chance to knock his raised knuckles against it, and there sat Mr. Walker himself, in the same position at the same desk, in the same suit of clothes.
Fora moment Dogsbody wondered if Mr. Walker were human at all, or instead a robot or maybe even a cleverly designed hologram.
“Sit down, my good man, sit down. You have satisfactorily completed the assignment that I have given you, and that’s good. That’s very good. It would have been quite the disappointment had you not done so, and when I’m disappointed, well, sometimes bad things happen.” Mr. Walker made the same gesture at the empty chair before his desk, and Dogsbody slid to it as thought magnetized.
“Yes sir.” The only words Dogsbody could manage to scrounge up from his blankly frenzied mind dropped from his scarred lips like rocks.
“No need to talk. You have one step left before we can reinstate you into the human race. But as I told you before, it isn’t a quick sort of thing; it’ll take you several months of surgery and rehabilitation. Once again, are you up to the task? You can nod.”
“Very good. I have three more letters that must be mailed for a very important client. A very important client. As before, they must all be mailed from different zip codes, but that shouldn’t be a problem for you, should it? It’s not like you have anything better to do with your time.” Mr. Walker laughed, and the harsh sound echoed against the plain walls of the warehouse-sized office.
Dogsbody didn’t move a muscle.
“Well then.” Mr. Walked opened the top right-hand drawer of his desk and removed three innocuous enough letters. “Here is your precious cargo.” He slid the envelopes across the desk toward Dogsbody. “Go ahead. Get up and take them and be on your way. I’ll be in touch.”
Dogsbody blinked twice, slowly, and rose from the chair, pressing down on the arms with such force that his fingers turned white. He took the three steps forward to Mr. Walker’s desk and tentatively reached out a hand to pick up the letters. He looked as though he was afraid that Mr. Walker would suddenly snap at him and take a hand off, leaving him to bleed out on the floor.
In fact, this was exactly what Dogsbody was afraid of, in the visceral depths of his mind, those places that he wasn’t fond of going but was somehow forced to visit far too often.
Mr. Walker regarded him expressionlessly. Dogsbody slid his fingers across the paper and picked them up, reflexively reaching to his breast pocket to tuck them safely away. Mr. Walker nodded his approval and looked down at the papers he shuffled across his desk, dismissing Dogsbody without another word.
Dogsbody didn’t realize that he had been holding his breath until the elevator doors slid closed behind him and he staggered, nearly falling. He took great, heaving breaths of the air untainted by Mr. Walker’s aura, and thought he felt a tear slip from his eye. He reached up to wipe his face, but felt nothing.
When the elevator reached the ground floor, Dogsbody exited, nodding a goodbye to the receptionist, whose smile remained bright as ever. Fifteen blocks away, he came to the nearest post office. He pulled out the first letter his questing fingers came to, and glanced at it before dropping it into the box. It was addressed to Shepard Strom. The name didn’t ring a bell.