Fri, 19 December 2008 - 7:28 pm

One of those days

I almost called him today.  It was reflex – I’d had a crappy day and I wanted someone to talk to.  A friendly ear and a warm voice on the other end of the line.

 

It was one of those days today.  The supervisors at the bookstore were all stressed out because today’s delivery was late.  All of their carefully prepared schedules were out, and of course they took it out on us. Never mind that this happens at least once a week.  Never mind that we had the delivery sorted and out on the shop floor in record time.

Of course, the store was packed, which made it impossible to get any books actually onto the shelves.  It seemed like all the nasty customers were on the prowl today, too.  Like this one lady who pushed her way down to the self-help books and nearly knocked an old man over.  I went to see if he was okay, and he gave me this look as if I’d just suggested something disgusting, or I had forgotten to put my shirt on this morning.

He had only just got done looking like he wanted to scrape me off his shoe when the pushing lady came steaming up again.  She missed him this time – she was after me, apparently.  She stood there in the middle of the store and tore strips off me because the books weren’t in order and she couldn’t find what she was looking for.

And you know why?  Because of people like her.  Because customers pick up books and shove them back on any handy shelf.  At this time of year, it’s all we can do to keep the books off the floor and chairs and other books.  Does she have any idea how long it takes to re-order a shelf after the store has been open for a couple of hours?  We’re not miracle-workers, y’know.

 

Yeah, I didn’t say any of that to her.  I apologised for the state of things – it tasted bad to let that pass over my tongue, but I was hardly going to have a go at a customer.  No matter how tempted I was.  Instead, I offered to help her find what she was looking for.  And of course, the book was exactly where it should have been, if she had bothered to use her alphabet.  I didn’t say that to her, either.  She went away happy, or at least quiet.

Then one of the managers walked up and asked me why I hadn’t shelved a cartload of books yet.  I almost but my tongue bloody so I didn’t say something we would all regret.

So I just took it.  Sucked it in and took it.  They really don’t pay us enough to take that kind of crap, but I can’t just leave.  I need the money.  I need this stupid job if I’m ever gonna get out of where I am and start my own life.  I don’t like it, but there it is.

 

On the train home, I had to talk to someone.  I had to say all of those things I had bottled up all day – all of these things I’m splurging here.  Otherwise, I would burst or break down.  I’ve done way too much breaking down lately.

I found myself staring at his name on my phone.  I had scrolled to it automatically, a habit so deeply ingrained that I didn’t realise I was doing it until his name slapped me in the face.  Cocky little electronic sucker.

His name.  I have to stop doing that.  He has a name.  He’s not one of those people who Must Not Be Named.  He’s no scary, undead, noseless bastard who just won’t quit.  And I’m not one of those limp girls who goes to pieces at the sound of his name.  It’s Cody.  His name is Cody.

I used to call him on the train home all the time, almost every day for two years.  Just to hear his voice.  Just to have someone care about my day.  But that hasn’t happened for about a month now.  He used to be my boy with the beautiful hands and I can’t get used to thinking of him as the ex.

 

I called Matt instead.  Matt and I have been friends forever, since we were kids.  I hadn’t realised how long it had been since we talked – six months, almost.  Wow.  I guess I neglected him while I was with Cody. 

It was good, talking to Matt.  We caught up as though no time had passed at all, sailed right over the gap without even noticing.  He caught me up on his latest exploits – he’s a regular at a gay bar downtown, and it’s pretty much drama central there.  All of a sudden, my life didn’t seem so bad.  He’s good at that.

Maybe I’ll go see him soon.  Catch up properly. 

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Sat, 20 December 2008 - 5:04 pm

My nemesis

I thought yesterday was bad.  Well, today was worse.  Who knew, huh?

Yeah, it’s the week before Christmas and everything is crazy.  Everyone’s frazzled and strung out, and desperate to get that one perfect present so that they can go home and put their feet up.  And for some reason today, all the posters and decorations kept falling down.  I swear, we have an anti-Christmas gremlin in that store.

I was in the middle of trying to re-hang one of the big banners – it takes about three hands, but I was managing – when a familiar blonde flounce caught my attention.  My stomach fell through the floor, but I got the damned banner to stay upright before I turned around to face her.

And there she was, grinning at me and looking as perfect as ever.  Bree, my former friend, the bitch who thought it was funny to screw my boyfriend.

Ex-boyfriend.

She was the one who had started the rumours among our friends.  She was the one who had spread the lies all over Facebook, until even strangers were insulting me and leaving awful messages on my wall. 

I still have no idea why she did all of that; I didn’t do anything to her.  But I’ve seen her go after other people and I know how much she enjoys it.  Now I wonder if she had told us the truth about what they had done.  Perspective is a funny thing, isn’t it?

 

So, there she was, standing right in front of me.  Behind her left shoulder, Tarisha was looking on – Bree’s faithful little shadow, wannabe extraordinaire.  The girl who might have been nice if she wasn’t constantly emulating a bitch.  She at least had the grace to look uncomfortable when she glanced my way.

I hadn’t seen either of them since it all blew up, since I found out about Bree and Cody.  I wanted to slap her in the face, I wanted to scream and muss up that prettily-brushed hair of hers.  But no.  I was working and I was damned if she’d take my job from me, too.

So I looked her in the eye and asked if I could help her, cool as a cucumber.  I was, in that moment, very proud of myself.

Then she spoke and I saw myself wrapping my hands around her throat.  “Hi, I’m looking for something special,” she said.  “For my boyfriend.  I was thinking something like the Kama Sutra.”  She was thoroughly enjoying the notion of using me as a minion for this; her voice positively dripped with it.

I’m fairly sure that I had at least one hand curled into a fist.  Right then, the banner I’d spent fifteen minutes subduing slithered out of its holder and onto the floor.  “I’ll just go and find someone to help you,” I told her.  Then I turned on my heel and walked away.  I have no idea how I managed not to smack her.

I was so upset that I just headed straight out the back.  Amber saw me and asked what was wrong – she’s one of my closest friends at the store.  So I told her.  She went all taut and frowny – and let me tell you, seeing a goth girl getting angry is an intimidating experience.

She told me not to worry about it and went out onto the floor.  I took a few moments to calm down and then peeked out, just in time to see Bree heading out of the store with empty hands and a face like thunder.  Amber was standing by the tills with her arms folded, smiling unrepentantly.  I have no idea what she said to Bree; she refused to tell me.  I’m not sure I care.

Right now, Amber is my hero. 

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Tue, 23 December 2008 - 7:16 pm

Looking Forward

Today was both better and worse than I expected.  Christmas and new tattoos don’t mix well, but with a few painkillers and a painted-on smile, you can face just about anything.

I realised halfway through the day that I still hadn’t picked up Dad’s present.  I picked it out weeks ago, but I had to wait for a paycheque to come in, and then… well, my world exploded and it slipped my mind.  And now it’s Christmas in two days and I still don’t have it.  The hardware store was closed by the time I got there after work; I’ll have to try tomorrow at lunchtime.

 

When I got home, Dad was waiting for me with his concerned face on.  It creeps out every now and then, usually when he’s had a slow day at work and too much time to think.  Not too many people buying cars right now, it seems.  They’re tending to go for cheaper presents this year.

It came over dinner: the Talk about My Future.  What I’m going to do, I can’t stay at a bookstore my whole life, come on Faithy, you have to do something better with yourself.  You could be more than this.

I’ve heard it all before; he does this once every few months.  So I’ve been at the bookstore for almost a year now.  So this job is yet another in a string of crappy retail positions.  So I’m smart enough to do something better.

I surprised him by having an answer for him.  I surprised him by telling him that I’m angling for the supervisor position that’s about to open up there.  That I want to get management experience before I look at opening my own store. 

My own little bookstore – one of those poky, kooky places that smells of old paper and newly-minted books – not one of the chain monstrosities.  All mine – my own hours, my own work, my own weekendless weeks, my own crappy pay, my own name over the door.  I love books , I love working with books, and I love people who love books.  That’s what I want to do with myself.

That shut him up for a while.  Finally, he asked if I was sure that I wanted a bookstore.  He might be a bit upset that I don’t want to go into the car business.  That’s what I took these retail jobs to get away from, so I could find my own thing.  Now I’ve found it and I’m not going to let him guilt me into helping him at the yard again.  Been there, done that.  It’s time for me now.

A girl can dream, right? 

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Thu, 25 December 2008 - 10:05 pm

The angel

Everything looks so strange; it’s like walking in another world.  I have no idea where I am most of the time.  Going down one street after another, stepping in through what was once a business frontage and right through into the bowels of places that were once private, looking for the signs and sounds of someone still alive.  It’s not the city I knew.  It’s not the city I grew up in.  I used to say that I could walk around here blindfolded; now, my eyes are wide open, but there’s nothing familiar about it at all.

I stepped on the face of an angel today, fallen from its place atop a tree.  Its beautiful wings cracked.  It almost made me cry.

I didn’t recognise the bookstore at first.  I was up ahead of the others, scouting, stretching my legs a bit, and all of a sudden there was a gap in the line of buildings.  The gap was filled with a messy pile of remains, like a pudding that had collapsed in on itself, with the body of a helicopter puncturing the middle of it.  The chopper was crumpled up, like a child’s toy dropped carelessly.  I could just see the radio network logo on its side – it must have been one of those traffic ones that were always buzzing around.

It wasn’t until I saw the shard of the big, un-glowing logo by my toes that I realised what I was looking at.  There was no mistaking that logo – I saw it every day.  It was emblazoned across the shirt that I tore up for bandages yesterday. 

The bookstore’s gone.  All of it, crushed into a scrappy heap.  I knew every person working in that building; I said goodbye to them yesterday, on my way out to lunch.  It had had never occurred to me that they might have been gone.  Everything I’ve seen over the past day has been so alien and strange; I guess I hadn’t thought it could get so personal.  It had never occurred to me that a single stroke could have smote a part of my life so thoroughly. 

And now it’s gone: my job, my future.  And all of those faces are dead, ones I had resented and laughed with and joked with and respected.  All of them, wiped out like condensation on a mirror.

 

I don’t know how long I stood there staring at it.  Dillon appeared at my elbow and said something to me – it was him who saw the hand up there in the rubble.  I saw it move and told him to go get help.  Then I was scrabbling up onto the heap, ignoring the way it slithered under me.  The firemen had told me it was dangerous when it did that.  But someone was still alive in there and I had to get to them.

It was Harry.  I had to heave a chunk of masonry away to get to him, but all I could get free was his head and shoulders.  He was awake, though, and he smiled when he looked at me.  I tried to shift the lump lying on his chest, but it was bigger than a horse; there was no way I was going to move it on my own.

But Dillon was getting help.  The firemen would be here soon, and they’d get him free.  Harry was so pale, though.  So pale and quiet.

I gave him some water and held his hand while he talked to me.  I’ve always liked Harry; he’s gotta be about sixty and only works at the bookstore because he loves books so much.  The managers often complained because he worked so slow, but no-one had the heart to fire him.  He’s the one who talked about having a little store, who infected me with that notion until I wanted to make it my own.  He talked about books as if they were alive and gave me my dream.

He’d come to work at the store after his wife died, made himself at home, and became a fixture.  He was the one who always came to you when you were upset and asked what was wrong.  He was the hand on your shoulder, the good advice and the sage stories when you needed them.  He was everyone’s grandfather, though he’d never had kids of his own. 

Today, he died there in the ruins of the books he loved so much.  We talked while we waited for the others to come, and his voice got thinner and thinner.  He smiled at me and he said that he was old and not strong enough.  He held my hand so tightly.  I tried to be strong enough for him, but I couldn’t help it; I begged him to hold on, to stay with me. 

I cried when he told me that it was all right and sighed and stopped.  He let go of my hand and I couldn’t get him to hold it again.  I curled up over him, but there was no protecting him any more; there was just me, and I couldn’t do anything except cry over him.

 

A fire had blown up between the bookstore and the emergency workers; that’s why they took so long to get to me.  They were way too late.  It wasn’t their fault.  I guess I was too late to help him, too.

I was useless.  One of the firemen had to put his arm around me and help me off the store’s remains.  He stayed with me until I calmed down, and Dillon was there, patting my hand.  They were so patient with me, even though there was so much to do.  So many other people to help, and save.  So many who could still be saved.

I’m ashamed that I broke down.  At least it means I’m not made of stone, right?  It wasn’t until the calls came over, asking for extra hands to get some people out of an upper floor, that I managed to pull myself together again and be of any use.

Now, I’m crying again, as if something broke in me and won’t heal up. 

 

I can’t get that trodden-on angel out of my head.  I can’t believe that it’s Christmas today.  Christmas is a dream that someone else had, a long time ago.

I wish Dad was here.  I wish I knew if he was okay. Matt – I have to see Matt again.  And Amber – she wasn’t working yesterday, she wasn’t in the store when it came down, she has to be all right.  Even Cody – I hope Cody is okay.  He tore my heart out, but I don’t wish him dead.  And Bree and Tarisha.  I hope they made it.  I hope somewhere they’re making it through this.

Peace on Earth is a distant illusion today.  Maybe I’ll just wish peace to Harry, and hope that I see those faces alive again. 

Goodbye, Harry, sleep well.  Merry Christmas.

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