Friday, September 21, 2007

Where will it end

The aisle is lit by fluorescent lights. The glowing bulbs are turned on at 9 in the morning and shut off at 10 in the evening. My skin seemed a little radiant under the light, but my skin is pale so I glow all the time. The children's section of the pharmacy needed to be reorganized again. At about 5 or 6 pm every night a bunch of little kids storm into the store grabbing every single cheap toy we have. Their parents get their various needs, diapers, advil, douches, milk, and cheap wonder bread, before heading home for dinner. After the little kids have torn the store apart I'm set to work facing product. I spend an hour lining up all the products on the shelves. The diapers must be straightened, the advil must be flush against the shelf, the douches must be dusted, the milk must be restocked, and the old wonder bread pulled off the shelf. I checked the time and cursed myself. The key to these service jobs is to somehow beat the clock. We all have our ways. I try to ignore it, the girl at the cash register, Rachel, in between customers writes poetry on scrap receipts, and Billy, the other stock boy, he pours forth his soul into his labor. He meticulously organizes the diapers, alphabetizes the advil, dusts, and redusts the douches, and keeps careful track of the stock being placed on the shelf.

The thing about living in a rural town is that you have to drive everywhere. My cousin said that LA is the same, but the distances are smaller and the traffic greater. Either way the neccissity for an automobile remains the same, especially in the cold, snowy winters. My father is a carpenter, my mother is a front desk manager at the town's best western (that's the classy chain motel at the top of the hill). Neither of them make much money, and they're split up so I'm forced to take care of some of my own necessities. My father worked on a porch addition on the side during the summer so he could front me money to buy a car.

"Now that you have a car you can get a job," my father said to me.
"Thanks Dad, I'll repay you, I swear," I had promised.
It took me two weeks to find this job. I applied for a position working at the motel, but they didn't need anyone and Mother never really liked having me underfoot. I thought about trying to do some construction like my father but I didn't want to break my back like the old man. I applied at the video store, the art store, the grocery store, burger king's, mcdonald's... I even got up the nerve to walk into the local bar by the town square to see if I could get a job bussing tables or barbacking.

As the clock came closer and closer to ten o'clock I felt more and more bound to the store. Time seemed to slow as my release came near. Minutes became hours, seconds minutes. When the manager finally let me go, a wave of relaxation swept through my body.

"Hey Michael what are you doing tonight," Rachel asked me.
"Uh, I guess I was going to stop by my friend Tom's for a little while and then I was going home. I have a twelve o'clock curfew," I replied.
"Do you think you could give me a ride home?"
"Uh, yeah, I guess that wouldn't be a problem."
"Thanks. I'll just be a minute. Let me grab my coat."
"Okay I'll be out front."

I stood outside of the store peering out into the darkness. The fall nights were getting darker sooner and at this time of night it was pitch black. The advantage of the dark was that the stars were out more clearly. My uncle had taught me all the constellations when I was younger. I could accurately identify the big dipper, the little dipper, mars, venus, and a couple other planets. I looked up and could see the light white mar across the sky that was the milky way. A cold wind blew and I tightened my coat around me.

Rachel had been asking me for rides home for the past few weeks. She didn't live far away and we would talk for a little while on the ride back to her house about school, about the manager at work, about Billy, and about the woes of or poor skin. Rachel usually made me listen to various mopey music on the way back to her house. I'd grown to having ambiguous feelings about Morrissey, The Smiths, Joy Division, and The Cure. I preferred Cocksparrer and the Buzzcocks so much more.

"Last night I saw the most interesting movie," Rachel said as she stepped out of the store and towards my car. "It was all about Tony Wilson. Do you know who he is?"
"Isn't he a freshman at school?"
"No, not that Tony Wilson," Rachel gave a small giggle and then went on. "This Tony Wilson built a night club in Manchester London called the Hacienda. He was single handily responsible for the rise of Joy Division, the Happy Mondays, he even televised the Sex Pistols."
"I like the Sex Pistols."

We got in the car and I pulled out of the parking lot. Rachel's house was about a ten minute drive out of my way but I had nowhere to go. Tom and I would spend the next hour or two smoking pot and playing Grand Theft Auto or some other video game until I had to go home. I had school in the morning and Tom would have to get up at noon to smoke more pot and play more video games. Tom had dropped out of school last year and had recently gotten his GED. He'd begun taking community college classes which he said were as dumb as high school. His mother had been pressuring him to do something with his time and he gave way after weeks of nagging.

"The movie is so great. You get to see live performances of Joy Division. I almost cried. I watched it twice already and I just got it in from netflix last night. I think I might watch it again tonight before I go to bed..." Rachel's gaze drifted off into space. She's probably thinking of twiggy english boys dancing around to sappy love songs I mused.

"I really appreciate you giving me these rides. My mother hates picking me up. All she ever does is sit in the house and watch soap opera reruns. She tapes them and the watches them later in the evening. I hate that we have Tivo. She comes home from work and if I'm lucky makes macaroni and cheese with hot dogs for dinner. I hate the taste of boxed cheese now, I think when I move out, when I graduate, when I'm all done with school I'll never eat boxed food again."
"Yeah I hate that shit, even with velveeta cheese or something on it."
"Oh I'm so glad you understand how I feel, it seems so rare.

We pulled into the drive way as Morrissey was mid way through another ambiguous love song. The ranch style house had a one car garage on the east side. Further east was another almost identical house. To the west was a vast field of corn. In the spring Rachel complained about the smell of manure from the field drifting into her house. I sat with my hands on the steering wheel staring at her garage door, it was brown, but in the dark it looked almost black. Through a window in the western part of the house came the glow of a television. Rachel coughed lightly. I turned my head to face her. She was looking down at her shoes.

"Do you want to come in? Last week I got my older cousin to buy me a bottle of wine and I haven't opened it yet. Its just some cheap merlot. Its better than carlos rossi... You drink wine don't you? I bet you don't. You look like a guy who just drinks beer all the time. You drink, like, PBR, or Hams or some other hip thing like that right? I bet my mother is passed out now, its not even eleven and she'll be passed out in front of the tv in her room the day's soap operas running. I mean if you don't want to you don't have to, it just seems like it might be nice. Maybe we could watch that Tony Wilson Movie, or have you ever seen "Sixteen Candles." Its the best movie ever, well next to Twenty-Four Hour Party people..." she looked nervously at me and then at the door. "Well, I guess I'm gonna go. Thank you for the ride again. When are you working next? Well I'll probably see you at school in the morning."

"I'll come in. I've never had merlot before. Does it stain your teeth?"
"We'll see won't we," she replied giggling.

I got out of the car and the brisk night air brushed against my face. My skin was soon covered in goose bumps. I looked up at the night sky and noted Orion. My uncle told me that in some regions where the seasons weren't so divided knowing the constellations was away of determining the seasons. With a knowledge of the seasons the farmers were able to plant at opportune times. When another constellation showed up in the sky the farmers knew that they had to reap their crops.

"I'll unlock the front door and then let you in through the garage door on the side." Rachel scurried up to the front door, fumbled with her keys for a moment and then quickly came out on the east side of the house. "Come on in. You've never been here have you? I don't really invite that many people over. Sometimes my cousins are here, when they're in town and for like dropping by, but really that's not that often. Most of the family has drifted apart ever since my grandmother died. She was the one who kept the family tied together. Everyone in the family thought she was crazy but she really kept us close. My older cousin, Rebecca, she was the one who bought the wine for me, she said that isn't anything quite like a common enemy, or common burden to keep people together. Isn't that clever? She's in college, a state school near the city. Well here it is, this is my room. You can have a seat wherever, on the bed, or on the floor, really wherever. I'll be right back I'm going to grab the bottle opener and then we can watch a movie or something. Okay I'll be right back."

Her room was neat but empty feeling. A television set resided in the corner of the room next to a small writing desk. I moved over to inspect the desk and saw several poetry books including Percy Shelly's "Promethus Unbound." Her bed was covered by a white quilt that matched the drapes. The room was marked only slightly by feminity. On her dresser resided a few hairclips and a very worn looking copy of Elle magazine. A picture of Morrissey decorated the walls.

"I don't have any wine glasses, and drinking straight out of the bottle is pretty ghetto. Anyways I got these two coffee cups from the kitchen. Which would you like? 'Gone fishin' or 'You should see me when I'm on the Rag?' My preference is for the one about PMS. My Aunt gave it to my mother as a gag gift for her birthday. When my parents split up, my father called my mother 'The queen bitch of the Universe.' She slapped him and then cried for two days. When my aunt gave her this mug she hid it in the back of the cupboard. I like to drink wine from it because it reminds me of how my mother isn't some nine to fiver who falls asleep in front of soap operas but rather is someone who can at least make someone mad."
"I guess I'll take 'Gone Fishin.'"
"Good choice, although I guess you didn't really have too much of a choice. Anyways do you want to watch that movie. Or maybe we could listen to some records. I have the collected works of Joy Division. Its a four cd set that I got from the mall last week..."

Rachel kept talking but I wasn't paying attention to what she was saying. Instead I stared at the Morrissey poster. Morrissey's youthful face is turned upwards. The shadow of his chin covers his chest. His red shirt contrasts with the blue background. He looks angelic. I took a big gulp of my wine. Its bitter and leaves a funny after taste. I don't drink much wine. One time Tom and I got pretty shitfaced off of boxed wine. I think we were playing Halo that night. His mother had had a small dinner party and we drank the left over wine. The next day hung over as shit Tom and I got yelled at. Tom said that he had to listen to his mother whine about how awful of a child was for a week. Whenever I go over there I always hear her complain about Tom so I don't really see what the big deal is.

"So what will it be? New Order? Joy Division? The Happy Mondays?" Rachel said. She was nervously tapping her front while diddling with her cd player. "I wish they would pay us a little more at work. I'm saving up for college but if I got an extra dollar or two per hour I could buy an ipod already. Its so stupid that we get minimum wage. Actually excuse me, we get $6 per hour, a quarter more than minimum wage. If I'm lucky I'll get an extra dime an hour in a month or two after my next evaluation. Hopefully Mr. Brokenberg won't try to hit on me during the evaluation. One of the girls in the pharmacy said that he asked her out like 5 times when she was doing her 90 day review. He is so fucking gross. I bet he has more hair on his back than on his head."
"He does seem like a pretty big loser. I don't understand why he drives from Albany to our shit hole town. You'd think that he could get a better job in Albany."
"He's also been working at the store for like a million years. How long have you worked there? I've been there nine months now, god what a fucking long nine months."
"I think its been eleven months, almost a year now."
"Oh god I've completely forgotten the music. Well if you have no objections I'm putting on New Order. Its good for the ambiance. Ambiance is an SAT word, that's what my english teacher Mr. Tulin said. Whenever someone says a word with more than two syllables its an 'SAT word.' Its a good thing I learned all this vocabulary, it helped me score well on the SAT. Now I can go to a decent college and not get stuck in this town. I don't know where I want to go yet. My mother doesn't really have the money to support me anywhere that's private. I want to go towards the city I think. Maybe I'll go to NYU. That will be soooo expensive though. I think I'm a cosmopolitan girl though. I read every issue of cosmo when it comes out. Sometimes I reread it when its slow at the store. Shit I'm babbling again. What are you going to do when you get out of school?"

Rachel looked at me and and then looked away. She took a long drink from her cup and then looked at the bottle nervously. Taking it she pulled off the cork and refilled her cup. My cup was empty as well. I'd been taking drinks from it during her soliloquy. Soliloquy that's an SAT word I thought to myself. She poured some wine into my cup. We'd already gone through half a bottle already. My head felt a little light. I'd have to stay here for a while if I was going to try and drive home. I looked at the clock on her stereo. It said 10:45. I could probably be okay to drive around one in the morning. The old man would be asleep already. He gave me a curfew but doesn't strictly enforce it. He probably gave it to me because one of the other guys on the crew gave their kid a curfew and so it seemed normal to give me one.

"I don't know what I want to do after school," I said after taking another drink from my cup. I felt drunk. "I don't want to stay here, in this town. I don't want to end up like my old man, breaking my back everyday doing construction. Going to college sounds like an alright idea. Most people don't do anything with their degrees though."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," Rachel agreed. She nodded her head with an excessive vigor. She must be drunk I thought. "I was out eating at this restaurant with my cousin in Albany. She's so nice, my cousin. Anyways the waitress went to University with my cousin. They talked about how they couldn't get jobs after graduating. The waitress laughed about how she was '40,000 in the hole to that bitch Sallie Mae for a piece of paper that would ensure her working in this crappy restaurant for another five years.' Going to school is a way out of here though. Even if its not far, where I end up going to school, at least its not here."
"Yeah anywhere but here."

Getting up from the floor where we'd been sitting cross legged Rachel went to her bed. She sat down and leaned against the wall. She patted the bed beside her. I got up and sat next to her.

"You like girls don't you?"
"Uh, yeah, why?"
"I don't know. I guess I was just wondering."

I stared at the Morrissey picture again. I followed his eyes up into the corner of the room. I thought I could make out a small cobweb. I wondered if that's what he was looking at. Rachel put down her cup on her bedstand and back against the wall. I looked at the clock it was 12:15. I still felt drunk. Rachel put her hand on mine and then leaned her head on my shoulder. I could smell her. She smelled like shampoo, not the cheap anti-dandruff shit that my father got but a more scented kind. I wondered if they ground up flowers for the shampoo. Her breath evened out and slowed down. I moved my hand a little and nothing happened. I was pretty sure she had passed out. I looked at the clock and willed myself to wake up at one am as I sank down onto her bed. As my body shifted horizontally Rachel's body followed.

My eyes hurt when they opened. The contacts were new and I hadn't gotten used to falling asleep with them on. Mentally chastising myself, my eyes looked over to my cell phone. 1:30am.
Rachel grumbled a little. She had stripped down to her underwear at some point. I looked at her body. I'd never thought I'd see her so naked. She rolled over on the bed. With a little momentum I got up. The short note that I wrote on a receipt I had in my wallet was sparse.
"Sorry had to go. See you tomorrow at school, or work."

I grabbed my cell phone and hurried out the door. I never got any calls on the damn thing but my mother had got it for me. It was on her plan. She said that every respectable kid these days had a cell phone. The only times I ever talked to her were when she was stuck in traffic and rang me up.

My dad would be pissed if he caught me up. Pissed but wouldn't do anything. The old man would be asleep anyways. It was Thursday and he'd have to finish up his work week by going in early. As my car started up and pulled out the driveway my eyes caught the light in Rachel's mother's room. Still watching soaps.

My eyes started to get a little water on the drive home. I'd saved for a few months to start getting contacts. They made me look less dorky and I was able to take a punch in the face without major damage to my ego from my glasses getting broken. I didn't have much trouble with bullies in school. I was too anti-social to be bothered by them but I still liked the thought of not having anymore of my glasses broken.

Before I could get to my bedroom I'd have to walk through the den. The lights were in the living room. My old man was sitting in front of the television watching a light night HBO movie. It looked like some Vin Deisel sci fi flick. He grunted as I walked in.
"You're late. You're curfew is at 12."
"Yeah, uh Sorry," I said. I looked around the room. He had an open twelve pack of cheap beer sitting next to him. "What are you doing up this late?"
He lifted up his right arm. His hand was bandaged. I sighed.
"Fucking guard on the saw broke off while I was working on it. Piece of shit machine damn near ate my hand. Got sent to the hospital. Stitched up my hand and here I am. Probably get workman's comp for a while. The crew wasn't that big and the guy's insurance probably won't go that far... Try not to think of it for too long."
"I'm sorry, Dad."
"Yeah, me too. Looks like the diet might be back to macaroni and cheese with hot dogs, instead of our special taco night." He chuckled slightly. After a moment he looked off to the side of the room and finished off his beer. He leaned over in his chair and grabbed another bear. He cracked it open. The hiss of the beer sounded so much louder than the screaming gunfire from the television.
"So where were you tonight? Hanging out with Tommy again?"
"No. I dropped this girl from work off. We watched a movie. It went later than I thought. I thought you'd be asleep by the time I got home so I didn't want to wake you with a call."
"You didn't fuck her did you? Better use a condom. Don't be a dumb ass like your father. Knock some girl up, marry her cause she's got a kid on the way and find out a year later that well.... you know the story."
"Uh, no we didn't do anything." I shuffled through the den moving towards my bedroom.
"Goodnight dad."
I went to the bathroom and took out my contacts. They made a slight sucking noise as I pulled them off. I rubbed my eyes and put on my glasses. I brushed my teeth and flossed then went into my room. After pulling off my clothes I laid down and went to sleep.

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