Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chapter Ten

Sometimes, I get that call at ass o'clock in the morning from work, and it's Martha.

I usually hear the vibration first, small and echoing down a dark hall, and then I'm awake and it's my phone. It takes about five minutes to find my phone and another ten minutes to remember how to operate it.

WORK, it says on the screen.

This happens more than it should.

These are the days when I pray for a bus to hit me on the way in. Because I'll have to go in. There's no getting around it.

I'm laying here awake right now, listening to my phone vibrate, and I'm wondering why I'm awake.

Eventually, I send the call to voice mail. Maybe the robotic voice that tells ignored callers my phone number will help Martha not blow up the store. The world is thick and full of water, and my breathing is deeper than I'm used to and I can't do anything about it but yawn.

After a minute I realize I haven't heard the voice mail noise. Martha isn't one for voice mail. I haven't figured out if this is because she's afraid of robotic voices or because she doesn't know how to operate a phone well enough to leave one.

And just like that, my phone starts vibrating again.


I snatch it off the coffee table and say, “Martha. For the love of god. What is it?”

I can hear the sound of absolute chaos behind her panicked little voice, and I know that judgment day has truly arrived. “The computer's frozen, Aaron! It won't do nothing! I don't know what to do. We're taking orders with pen and paper.”

I might as well get in my car and start driving.

“Martha, restart it.”

I'm answered by about five minutes of total silence against the sound of yelling and the beeping of the drive thru. Then she says, “It won't do nothing.”

I sigh and close my eyes and wish that she knew what to do. “Martha,” I say finally, in a calm voice, “I want you to hold the power button for five seconds. Can you do that for me?”

Then more silence and some heavy breathing, and she says, “It won't do nothing.”

This is why I don't do tech support.

“I'll be in later. I'm a few hours away,” I tell her, and I hang up.


This is the story of my life. I take a vacation and shit happens. Here I am, in my car on State Route 505, heading into town.

Early morning darkened fields and houses fly by, and I'm still yawning.

These are the days I think about just not going in. Just letting Burger King burn to the ground.

Seriously. I daydream about it being on fire sometimes, and me in the parking lot laughing with all the fire extinguishers in a pile at my feet.

I don't think that's healthy.


When I get to work, I see a line in drive thru that wraps around the building and out into the street. I think about driving right past, but I manage to get into the lot through the back entrance and park in the last space left on the employee side. It looks like Martha's literally called in all the morning people, and some of the night people.

She meets me at my car and starts to yank on the handle. It takes every bit of patience that I have not to open the door as hard as I can and send her backwards.

I unlock the door and let her open it for me.

“We got chaos,” she says to me, out of breath.


I find and hold the power button in five seconds and order is restored within about half an hour.

It's now 5AM. I'm in the office with my head on the desk, drooling onto the forms in front of me when the phone rings.

I put it on speaker. “Burger King,” I say into the phone, which is all I can remember of the opening spiel at the moment.

“Hello?” a voice says. Then it sounds angry, “HELLO?”

“You're on speaker, Ma'am,” I tell the phone.

“You people need to get your shit together,” says the clipped voice on the phone. I know this woman. She calls every day.

I sigh and imagine her exploding into a thousand tiny particles and floating into some dark abyss beyond the receiver.

“What seems to be the issue?” I say as calmly as I can.

“Well,” she says, and she sighs before continuing, “I'll start by saying you need to personally get your ass out here and give me my god damned sandwiches like I paid for.”

I sigh again. “The same sandwiches we've replaced for you every day for the last four years?” I ask.

There's silence on the other side, then she says, “That's just it, though. They're always missing.”

“Ma'am,” I say, my voice rising over her, “We hand you two bags full of sandwiches every single day. Are you telling me that those bags are empty?”

Her voice becomes irritated. “Look, I'm not saying you're not putting them in the bags. What I'm saying is that they aren't in the bags when I open them.”

“When you open them,” I say.

“When I open them,” she repeats, irritably.

I am about to end this call.

“At home?” I ask, as calmly as possible.

“No, in the car.”

“You check the bags when we hand them to you?”

There's a pause. “Of course I do. What the hell kind of idiot drives off without checking to make sure the food is there?”

“Ma'am,” I say to her, “If the food is missing when we hand you the bags, it would be smarter to tell us right then, rather than going through all the trouble of having to call in and drive all the way back to Burger king. And if 8 large sandwiches are somehow vanishing between the drive thru window and your car window, you've got some sort of time vortex on your hands. I'll be glad to get someone to exorcise your car window.”

My statement is met with silence at first, then an indignant noise, and she says, “Listen you snotty little bastard, I want my sandwiches.”

“Do you have the receipt?”

“You think after all this time I'd still have the original receipt?”

“Ma'am, there's a receipt in each bag we've handed you, unless it vanishes with the 8 sandwiches.” Then I add, “furthermore, I refuse to believe that my crew is dumb enough to hand out 2 empty bags every day to the same car and not realize it.”

More silence.

“Bring in the receipt and you'll get your sandwiches. I'm not giving you any more free food. You've stolen from me for long enough. I think after four years, it's time you started paying to eat here.”

As I'm about to hang up, I hear her yelling about talking to my manager. I sigh and pick up the handset, and I say to her, “I AM the manager.” And I slam the handset into the cradle, likely ending my career.

I look down at my phone. No text messages, no calls.

I text Harrison: I'm home.

I sit in the office for the rest of breakfast with my head on the desk, and my phone doesn't vibrate once.


It's not that I hate Warren. I mean, I'm a little upset. I will say that. I've spent the last few months wishing one of us would pull away and now that it's happened, I'm not so sure I feel the same.

I don't know.

Maybe I think sometimes that only I feel things. I don't think that's normal.

It's an uneventful drive to the house, and part of me is feeling pretty okay about seeing Warren. I sort of want to see him and talk to him right now.

When I pull into the driveway, I notice a car in front of the house that I don't recognize. A little car, blue and beaten up.

A feeling starts inside me that I can't really describe.

After standing next to the trunk of my car for a few minutes staring at this car, I turn to look up at the house, The blinds in our bedroom windows are closed.

I go up the path to the house and up the steps and into the living room, and in a sudden fit of anger, I slam the front door as hard as I can. I can hear pictures falling off the bedroom walls upstairs, and the dishes rattle in the kitchen.

I can hear them now. Two voices, and footsteps upstairs. Then I hear someone on the stairs, and I watch the stairs through the opening to the hallway ahead of me. Someone is emerging, and when he's almost to the bottom, he sees me. Our eyes lock.

This guy is really young. Just out of high school, maybe. Either he's just thrown his clothes back on or he doesn't know how to dress himself. He looks at me like he thinks I'm going to kill him, and then he jumps the last three steps, landing with a bang on his feet, and runs into the kitchen and through the laundry room at the back of the house and out the back door. The screen door slams shut, and I can hear him running along the side of the house through the open window in the kitchen. After a second, a car roars to life, and I open the front door and watch him leave.

I find Warren upstairs in the bathroom looking guilty, his toothbrush sticking out of his mouth.

We stare at each other for a few minutes, and then I say, “I'm home.”

He pulls the toothbrush out of his mouth and kind of smiles at me. “Hey,” he says quietly.

“Hey,” I say, and I want to smash something.

“How was your trip?” he asks finally.

I smile and back out of the bathroom into the hall. I turn and start to go back downstairs, but then I go back up and into the bathroom where he's still standing.

“It was shitty,” I tell him after a second or two of us just staring at each other.

And then I go back downstairs and out the front door.


Besides Subway, I go to the bookstore on University Strip when life pisses me off. It's quiet, and I can think about stuff.

I miss living in denial. I really do. I remember when I thought I was doing Warren a favor by staying. I mean, how did I get to this point? Sitting in a book store staring at a book that I have no plans to buy or read?

I don't know.

I'm aware of a person sliding into my booth, just across the table, and when I look up it's Harrison.

“Hey,” he says.

“I sent you a text,” I tell him quietly, looking back down at my book.

We're silent for a while, letting this revelation marinate in the sharp tone I'm using just now.

“I got it,” he says finally. He laughs a little.

“Alright,” I say, for lack of better response. I don't look up at him.

The space between us is once again filled with dense, palpable silence, and it makes my ears ring.

“I'm bad at responding.”

“You don't say,” I tell him, not letting my tone soften.

More silence. What a game this is.

“I haven't known what to say to you since you and Warren broke up,” he says to me. I can feel his eyes on me.

I sigh and put the book down and stare at the table. He tries to put his hand on mine and I pull it away after a second, and he looks confused.

“It's not like I died,” I tell him, looking up at him finally.

And I get up from the booth, leaving the book on the table.

He gets up to follow me out and I just keep walking.

“Aaron!” he calls to me from the doorway of the book store, but I'm already across the street and heading home.

Not that I want to be home.

I just don't want to be here anymore.


Warren's gone when I get there. His parking spot behind the garage is empty, and there's no one inside the house.

I'm not sleeping in that bed tonight.


I've been cleaning the storage room for a few hours when I hear the front door open into the living room downstairs. The world outside the window of this room is dark and invisible.

I hear his footsteps in the hall and then into the kitchen, then down the basement stairs, fading into nothing. A TV turns on far away.

I'm sitting here cleaning the storage room like some kind of fucked up archeological dig. I've discovered a bed and the ruins of a dresser so far. Most of these boxes seem to be dishes and glasses.

Another hour passes of me shoving things off the dresser and vacuuming the mattress on the bed before I hear him coming up the stairs to the second floor.

I stand and go to the doorway to watch him come up the stairs. He looks over at me when he can see over the top of the stairs.

I look away from him and go to the closet in the hall and get some bed clothes and go back to the room. I turn to look at him again because he's on the landing now. He just stands there with this tired look on his face, and I bet I look just as tired. I turn to go into the room.

“I'm sorry,” he calls after me as I drop the sheets and blanket onto the bed.

“Yeah me too, I guess,” I tell him, coming back to the open door. My chest is killing me. Indigestion I suppose.

“We didn't do it in the bed,” he says to me.

And suddenly it gets worse. I imagine all the other places they could have done it, and I want to be dead. I want to be dead so bad.

“I don't care where you did it,” I tell him, my voice raw and bitter and full of ice.

And he bites his lip, staring at me.

“Goodnight,” I tell him.

He smiles, kind of, still biting his lip, and then he says, “Goodnight.”

I nod and start to close the door.

“I love you,” he says from behind the door, and suddenly I want to break everything in this house.

“Yeah okay,” I tell him quickly, and I shut the door.

There's silence on the other side for a few minutes, then his footsteps are going down the hall, toward the bedroom.


My phone has been going off for nearly an hour, text after text. It's after midnight, and I am exhausted.

I guess I should look at these texts. I know who it is. He's going to a lot of trouble to send them over and over, even when I don't answer. I just wish it would stop.

When I look at the phone, it says HARRISON.

I smile and look at the most recent message.

I want to see you, it says.


I guess this is supposed to teach me something, this whole process of being destroyed. Maybe I'm about to be reborn.

I sigh and put my phone on the pillow beside my head and I look over at the window.

It's funny to me how fragile we all are. I guess it isn't really by choice but it's not like we have no control over things.

I guess maybe we're all just fucked up pieces of shit, trying to be human.

So I grab my phone and send Harrison a response.

Tomorrow, I tell him.

And I turn my phone off and stare at the ceiling.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm really alive or if I really exist. Stupid questions.

I don't know.

I may not exist.

I don't know anymore.

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