Tom Payne and The Hammers

30 06 2008

A friend of mine had to take his old cat to the vet. It has to have it’s a-hole cleaned out because it’s getting infections. Apparently he has forgotten to clean himself. Or the cat has made a decision that he no longer wished to lick himself. I told my friend that he could save himself a lot of money with the Vet if he did it himself. He laughed politely then moved on to another topic. I think he was considering it.

……………………………………

TOM PAYNE AND THE HAMMERS

“I just had an encounter with the most vicious woman.” Tom Payne’s teeth were bared. Like he was prepared to go for someone’s throat. He dumped his bags on the counter of Tom and Bob’s Hardware. The store was uncommonly dark, blinds on the front windows shading the store. Bob had sensitive eyes and always kept the lights dimmed when he was working. The glare of sunlight gave him vicious headaches. Tom’s eyes on the other hand were not so sensitive. He craved sunlight. Had a tanning table built in the apartment they shared. Loved to ski, both water and snow. Loved tennis. Anything that got him out into the sunlight. And so Bob waited. Knew that the comment about the place being too dark could not be that far down the tunnel. Bob Williams, a large man with thinning hair, looked up from the papers he was hunched over.

Tom stood in the middle of the shop, breathing heavily. Obviously upset. Bob had decided to ignore Tom’s emotional state. Tom was always in a state. Bob called it, problem du jour.

“Do you remember why we ordered so many hammers last spring?” Bob asked.

“I’m not sure she was a woman,” Tom continued, disregarding Bob’s question. “More like a shrew. Some mythological beast. I thought she was going to devour me. Rip into my chest and pull my freakin’ heart out.”

Tom looked at Bob.

Bob looked at Tom. “The hammers? Do you remember?”

Tom pointed at Bob for a moment as he went over several thoughts in his mind.

“You thought there was going to be a renovation boom in the area,” Tom finally responded.

“A renovation boom?” Bob asked. “You’re saying it was my fault.”

Tom was looking through his grocery bags.

“I forgot to buy toothpaste,” Tom said. He slapped the counter with his open hand.

“Renovation boom?” Bob cried. “What would I know about a renovation boom?”

“You read it in the Star,” Tom muttered then looked up at Bob. “It wasn’t a fault of anyone. You speculated. It was a mistake in judgment.”

“But it was my judgment that was at fault. That’s what you’re saying.”

Tom bit down on his lip. “Does it matter, Bob? They’re only hammers. I was accosted in the drug store. Attacked. Could I get a little attention?”

Bob ground his teeth and nodded.

“I heard you. Some woman looked at you sideways and it upset you. You’re a man, Tom. Go back and beat the shit out of her.”

Tom took a deep breath. “It was a little more than looking at me sideways. She accused me of stealing her cart. I wouldn’t do that. You of all people know that, Bob. And then her reaction when I denied stealing it. She was carnivorous. Went straight for my jugular.”

Bob stared at Tom. “Why would she think that you stole her cart?”

“I don’t know,” Tom responded scratching his head. “I found it in an aisle. But there was no one around it. Nothing inside it. It was just there. Abandoned.”

Bob laughed. “You stole it.”

“I did not,” Tom replied. “I’m telling you it was…”

“You get your carts at the front of the store. If you didn’t pick up a cart there then you must assume it was someone else’s. Now can we get back to the hammers?”

“You’re so cavalier,” Tom said.

Bob took a deep breath. “Who was the woman?”

“I’m not sure,” Tom responded. He described the woman to Bob.

“It’s Mrs. Newton,” Bob responded. “The banker’s wife. You don’t want to get her pissed off at us. We owe the bank a lot of money.”

Tom turned and stepped over to the barrel where a pile of hammers were piled. He picked up one. Bob came from behind the counter and grabbed the hammer out of Tom’s hand.

“Give it back,” Tom cried.

“What do you think you’re going to do with that?”

Tom grabbed the hammer back.

“I’m going to the bank to make a deposit in that woman’s pretty blonde head.”

Bob grabbed Tom around the waist. And nestled his lips in Tom’s neck.

“Come on, Tom. Why waste a hammer on that woman? We can find something more pleasant to spend our time doing.”

Tom gave in. He stepped away from Bob and handed him the hammer.

“Here. You go whack her.”

Bob took the hammer.

“I’m not going to whack someone because they…” Bob replied.

“Why not?” Tom asked.

“Because you don’t do things like…”

“You love me?”

“Yes.”

“Then.”

“This is ridiculous,” Bob said placing the hammer back with the others. “Tom, get some perspective. We’re on the verge of bankruptcy and you want to do a lobotomy on some woman who was rude to you?”

Tom put his hands on his hips. He took several deep breaths.

“That’s it, isn’t it?” Tom cried.

“What’s it?”

“You think,” Tom licked his lips trying to gather his thoughts, “it was my fault that we ordered all these hammers. When it was you that ordered them. You think that all of our financial problems are caused by decisions that I made. You forget the mistakes you’ve made. Everything is my fault. Is that the way it is, Bob?”

“Tom, you’re being ridiculous.”

“Do you think I ordered the hammers or not? Come on. Tell me.”

“Okay, Tom, it was you that told me to order them. I was against it. But no, Tom, you always think you’re some kind of friggen market analyst. And this confrontation with Mrs. Newton is only the latest of your social disasters. You invite trouble, Tom. You’re like a walking talking target for problems. A million little problems. You don’t see it. You’re totally oblivious to your friggen handicap. And I’m getting tired of it, Tom. I can’t take it anymore.”

Tom tried to respond, but he could not get the words out of his mouth. He glared at Bob for a minute, turned, and walked out of the shop. Bob hesitated for a moment before racing to the front of the shop. He opened the door. The white flash of the afternoon sun hit him like a stroke. He sheltered his eyes from the glare and quickly looked up and down the plaza. Tom was nowhere to be seen. Bob turned and closed the door behind him as he reentered the shop. Tom was standing behind it. Smoking a cigarette. His free hand clenching a hammer.





Swooning with the Wooing

30 06 2008

I’ve got to have some dental work done. 2 teeth to be pulled. Not that I can afford to lose anymore teeth. But the roots are infected. They are sending me to an expert. I went to his office to make an appointment to meet with him for a consultation. Which is another way of taking more money from you. Everyone is a thief. Except artists. They almost give their work away so that people will look/listen/read it. So pathetic. I’m amongst the pathetic.

I’ve been listening to his fantastic song sung by Louis Prima called Angelina. The lyrics can’t help put a smile on your face.

I eat antipasta twice
Just because she is so nice, Angelina
Angelina, the waitress at the pizzeria

I give up soup and minestrone
Just to be with her alone, Angelina
Angelina, the waitress at the pizzeria

Ti vol-glio be-ne
Angelina I adore you
E vol-glio be-ne
Angelina I live for you

E un pas-sio-ne
You have set my heart on fire
But Angelina
Never listens to my song

I eat antipasta twice
Just because she is so nice, Angelina
Angelina, waitress at the pizzeria

If she’ll be a my My Car-ra mi-a
Then I’ll join in matrimony
With a girl who serves spumoni
And Angelina will be mine!

…………………………

THE CART

Mr. Tom Payne eyed the grocery cart for several seconds. He looked around. The cart had been abandoned. It was empty. There was no one around. Tom stepped up to the cart and dropped his purchases, several boxes of tissue, a box of laundry detergent, and some band-aids into the cart. He placed his hands on the handle of the cart. Smiled. And began to move down the aisle to complete his purchases.

“Not so fast!” a voice cried out from behind him.

Tom looked behind him. An attractive woman dressed for an occasion more formal than shopping began to approach him. Mary Newton. The bank manager’s wife. She was walking like she meant business.

“You took my cart,” she said roughly.

Tom looked at her with surprise. The roughness of her voice seemed out of sync with her appearance. Shapely with long blond hair that fell over one eye, she looked like posters Tom has seen of Lauren Bacal from To Have and Haven Not. Tom expected a smoky lilting voice. Instead he got the harsh guttural sounds one might have expected from a truck driver. Tom swallowed deeply.

“I did not.” Tom’s voice was squeaky. He felt betrayed by his voice.

“You did!” the woman insisted. Her voice seemed to have gained force. The closer she got to Tom. By the time she reached the cart, Tom was totally cowered.

Tom lowered his eyes. He’d never been very strong with woman. His own mother continued to brow beat him when he visited her in the senior’s home, even though she was close to 90, half blind in one eye, hard of hearing, with arthritis in 3 of her 4 limbs, and constantly reaching for a respirator.

“I thought it was abandoned.” He blushed.

“It wasn’t.”

“It was empty.” Tom began to make his case. “And there was no one around. And I waited.”

“You waited!” Mary Newton leaned over to one side. A smirk attacked the left side of her face. Placing one hand on her hip, she nodded.

“How long?” she added.

Tom thought for a moment.

“A couple of minutes.”

“A couple of minutes?”

“Well,” Tom hesitated. He knew that all was lost. “Maybe not a couple of minutes. But it was at least a minute.”

“Sixty seconds?” Mary closed her eyes and shook her head dismissively.

“Well, it’s hard to tell. There was no one around.”

“Sixty!”

“Forty,” Tom shouted. “It was at least forty seconds.”

“Forty seconds isn’t long enough.” Mary stepped up to the cart and put her hands on the handle. “Now get your rubbish out of my cart. Or…”

“Or what,” Tom finally had the courage to ask.

Mary Newton turned to Tom and looked him straight in the eyes.

“You don’t want to find out!” she said.

Tom released his hold on the cart. Defeated. He gathered his things and made his way down the aisle not daring to peek behind him. When he made the turn into the next aisle, he heard the howl of Mrs. Newton’s laughter behind him.


SWOONING WITH THE WOOING

“You know, Louie,” Mrs. Murphy cocked her head sideways as she spoke to the owner of the dollar store, “love isn’t just for young people.”

Louie smiled. A faint almost lipless smile like the matinee idols of the silent era. He pushed back his straight lubricated locks. His eyes crinkled.

“Viva romance,” he muttered in a raspy French accent.

“Oh, I see it all the time on the television, dear,” Mrs. Murphy continued unaware of Louie’s antics. “Couples jumping in and out of bed. Girls acting like men. They are so aggressive, Louie. Animal love.”

“Still,” Louie shrugged his shoulders continuing his parlor game, “it is romance.”

Mrs. Murphy took a deep breath. Sat down on her walker. She smiled weakly.

Like a rose sprinkled with dew. Louie’s eyebrows rose in parenthesis. Oh, my God! He touched the old woman’s shoulder. Did she die?

“Don’t die on me now, dear,” Louie said with some concern, suddenly shaken from his revelries.

Mrs. Murphy looked up from her seat and shook her head.

“I get a little dizzy when I get excited.”

“What!” Louie said turning his good ear to the old lady. She took another deep breath.

“Head spins. Feel like I’m going to swoon. That’s what old age is all about. Swooning with the wooing. But, I had my time.” The old lady looked up at Louie. “You’re so young, Louie. You think you’ve still got time?”

There was a twinkle in Louie’s eyes. He grinned mischievously. “Time for what?”

Mrs. Murphy waved at Louie. “Shame on you, Louie. I know what you’re thinking. You’re worse than the young people. Trying to make an old woman blush. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“Mrs. Murphy!” Louie cried innocently. “I am ashamed.”

Mrs. Murphy wagged her finger at the store owner.

“Now you’re just being ridiculous.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Murphy.” The smile left Louie’s face. “I was just having some fun with you.”

Mrs. Murphy waved at Louie good naturedly.

“I know.” Mrs. Murphy sighed. She paused before continuing. “Do you know what it’s like, Louie, to know that you’ll never fall in love again? That you won’t feel that skip in your heart when a young man looks at you. I’m not talking about… fooling around. I’m referring to something finer. Something…”

Louie heard a commotion from the back of the store. His eyes flashed on the convex mirrors in the corner of the store. Three teenage boys were up to something. Louie turned to Mrs. Murphy and put his finger over his lips. Then he turned and walked to the back of the store.

“Can I help you?” he asked the boys. Louie’s voice had taken on a different timber. A rough, angry tone. He wanted to scare them. These boys. Who huddled in his store building up the courage to steal something. When they turned around to face him, Louie realized they were older than he had suspected. One of them had grown a goatee. He was the one that held the plastic gun in his hand. His name was Tony.

“How much for the gun?” Tony asked.

“A dollar,” Louie said. “This is a dollar store.”

“If we buy three,” the bigger of the three boys called Sean asked, “can we get a deal?”

Louie stared at the boy. There was a small scar dividing his left eyebrow. The third boy stood silently behind them, smiling. His teeth were yellow. He was smaller. There was a cigarette stuck behind his ear. His name was Teddy.

“Why do you boys want to buy these plastic guns?” Louie asked. “They’re for kids. Little kids.”

“We’re going to rob a bank,” Teddy responded then chuckled.

Louie smiled. Smart alecs.

“It’s for my nephew,” Tony added, irritated with the response of his friend. “Him and his friends like to play cowboys and Indians.”

“Everything is a dollar,” Louie said. “You want a deal, go to the casino.”

The three boys looked at each other. They put the guns back on the shelf.

“We’ll come back later,” Tony said. “I forgot my wallet.”

The three boys sauntered slowly out of the shop. Louie kept his eyes riveted on them.

“Those boys are up to no good,” Louie said to Mrs. Murphy when he had returned to the cash register.

“I think I recognize one of them,” Mrs. Murphy. “The black boy. I think his little brother died last year. Drowned in Etobicoke Creek.”

Louie nodded. “Yes, I think you’re right.”

“His poor mother.” Mrs. Murphy shook her head. “They showed the funeral on the news. She broke down. That boy’s death almost destroyed her. You’ve got to wonder how some people survive such pain.”

Louie smiled. He still had his mind on the three boys and the toy gun.

“What would those boys want with little plastic guns?” Mrs. Murphy asked.

“Rob a bank, maybe,” Louie said.

“Oh don’t be foolish, Louie,” Mrs. Murphy said. “A person could get killed doing something stupid like that.”

“Well,” Louie nodded knowingly, “they are boys. Now, what do I owe this appearance?”

“Can’t a body just drop in on someone?”

“Well,” Louie explained, “it’s my experience that either people want to spend money in my shop or they want me to give them some money for some honourable cause. In any event, money changes hand.”

Mrs. Murphy slapped Louie’s hand playfully.

“And I want neither. Actually I do need some gardening gloves. But I wanted to speak to you about the bank leaving the plaza.”

“Yes, I heard,” Louie said.

“What should we do?”

“You could get a petition started.” Louie suggested.

“Would you sign it?” Mrs. Murphy asked.

Louie shook his head. “Not that I don’t agree with you. I think the bank should stay but it has been my experience that banks seldom listen to the voices of people. They only listen to money. But I have another reason. Not one that concerns you but one that I’m having a great deal of trouble with.”

Mrs. Murphy who had risen from her walker, took her seat again.

“My goodness, Louie, you are serious.”

“I am having trouble with the owner of the plaza. Mr. G.”

“What sort of trouble?”

“I had an agreement with Mr. G. that I would be the only dollar store in the plaza. Well, Mr. Singh, who runs the discount furniture store has opened a dollar corner in his store. His daughter runs the corner for him. I complained to Mr. G. There is barely enough money in the plaza for one of us. Mr. G. has taken my concerns under advisement. Which means that he doesn’t intend to do anything about it.”

Mrs. Murphy stood up angrily.

“This is quite dreadful, Louie. We can’t have it. Simply can’t have it.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to talk to him.”

Louie grabbed Mrs. Murphy. “Please. I know you think you’re doing the right thing. But I’m in enough trouble with Mr. G. If you…”

“I’m not going to speak to Mr. G,” Mrs. Murphy said. “I’m going to talk to Mr. Singh.”

Mrs. Murphy pushed her walker out the door.

“Watch out for the daughter,” Louie cried as the door closed. “She’s a live one.”

The old lady pushed her walker out of the shop. Louie turned his attention back to some paper work he had begun when the old lady had entered. He didn’t notice the young boy standing in front of him. It was one of the young boys he had chased out of the store. The small one called Teddy. The boy was holding a gun in his hand. Louie looked down at the gun then up at the boy. The boy was smiling at him.

“I’m sorry,” the boy said, “about all that shit before.”

Louie looked down at the gun pointed at him. How did the kid manage to sneak up on him like that. He wondered if he would have enough time to reach the baseball bat he kept under the counter. Likely not. But he had to do something. The boy reached into his pocket. And pulled out a dollar.

“You said the guns were a dollar,” the boy said.

Louie took a deep breath. He rang up the sale.

“You better put that thing in a bag,” Louie said. “You don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea.”

The boy smiled. Louie put the plastic gun in a bag. The boy made his way to the door. Before he exited, Louie spoke up.

“What are you going to do with a plastic gun?” Louie asked.

The boy did not respond.





The Ambassadors

27 06 2008

THE AMBASSADORS

Gerald sat carefully down in the middle of the parking lot, careful not to spill the glass of beer he held in his hand. He looked back at the line of stores. So lonely in their emptiness. The last of the great plazas in the city. Replaced by malls. Those fake villages of enterprise. He looked around at the few cars parked. Each one of them waiting obediently. Some of them sporting clever bumper stickers. Others declaring their affection for the Supreme Being. And still others wearing faded messages long forgotten.

“Careful,” he said to David who stood over him.

David waving back and forth on his feet handed his beer to Gerald who set it down on the asphalt beside his own. Then David struggled to set himself down on the pavement, first kneeling, then sitting. He picked up his beer and took a swallow. He looked around at the parked cars, the large apartments in the distance, the planes climbing the sky behind them.

“So, this is the good life. I’ve known friends who came here. Sent postcards. But I never really believed it existed.” David took a drink.

“You don’t get it?” Gerald asked.

David looked around again.

“It’s flat,” he said. “Like the prairies. Except there’s no wheat. What happened to the wheat?”

“Man,” Gerald said shaking his head. He pointed to everything around him. “This is what we’re leaving to posterity.”

David looked at Gerald. He shook his head. What have we got now?

“Posterity? You dragged me out here in the middle of the night into the middle of the parking lot, huddled between these cars, to talk about posterity?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

David looked around. He looked at Gerald and smiled.

“Of course it is. How could I miss it? You’d think I would have noticed it right off.”

Gerald smiled, satisfied. But he was wrong.

The smile on David’s face was replaced by impatience.

“What am I supposed to see?”

Gerald took a swallow of his beer.

“Asphalt.”

“Asphalt?”

“Some day,” Gerald explained, “we will have undone ourselves. I don’t know what it will be. A plague. Some virus spread on the Springer show. Maybe some kind of bombs that destroy organic life but leave the buildings intact. We will do something irreversible. And fuck ourselves.”

“Well, hell, that’s worth drinking to,” David said raising his glass and finishing it.

“Don’t you get it?” Gerald slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand. Fortunately he had put his glass of beer down on the asphalt previous to his performance. “When there is nothing left alive on the planet. When we, along with our pets, our domesticated animals, the beasts of the wild are gone. All we’ll leave behind is asphalt. Acres and acres of parking lots, highways, roads, driveways…”

“Tennis courts,” David added.

Gerald glared at David. “The point is that all that will be left on the planet are the ruins of our society. Like those cities high in the mountains of Peru. We’ll just be one big fucking mystery.”

“To who?”

“What?”

“Mystery to who? You said that there’d be nothing left.”

“I think you’re purposely trying to undermine my point,” Gerald said.

“If we’re going to be a mystery,” David said, “we have to be a mystery to someone. The sound of a tree falling in…”

“Okay,” Gerald conceded. “For the purposes of this argument we would be a mystery to the aliens.”

“You didn’t mention aliens,” David said.

“I didn’t.” Gerald said. “Aliens will land in space ships and won’t find anyone home.”

David shook his head. Thought for a moment then smiled.

“Well, at least they’ll have some place to land.”

Gerald glared at David for several moments.

“You don’t appreciate me,” Gerald said.

“Are you going to finish your beer?” David asked glancing sideways at his empty glass.

“I’ve been trying to raise your consciousness.” Gerald gestured with his hands. Which he normally never did. It was the alcohol talking. “Trying to broaden your view of reality. Why can’t I free your doubtful mind?”

“Hey,” David cried, thought for a moment, then cried again, “that’s from a song. Cold Cold Heart.”

Disgusted Gerald finished his beer and attempted to stand up. He could not get up. Fell back down. Then proceeded on all fours to crawl towards a car parked close by. Reaching it, he pulled himself to his feet. David had watched all this. And had begun to laugh.

Gerald wiped his mouth with his hand leaning against the car.

David tried to climb to his feet but was just as unsuccessful as his friend.

“If those aliens landed,” Gerald said, “we’d be quite an example of humankind.”

Gerald staggered over to David to help him up. The two men leaned against each other.

“Real ambassadors.” David laughed as the two friends staggered arm in arm back to the bar.





Dancing to our Deaths

27 06 2008

……………………………

DANCING TO OUR DEATHS

August 1, 2008 by Maynard G. Krebs

“I was thinking about aliens. The other day. Tuesday. If they’re spying on us. What do they see? Think about it. Are they watching us going off to work every morning? Filing out of our little homes? Our apartment buildings? All at the same time. Filling the buses? The streets? In cars? On the sidewalks? In elevators? Filling our offices? Our factories? And then waiting? Or are they watching us on Saturday night? Rushing into clubs? Shaking our heads? Consuming huge amounts of alcohol? And waiting? To go back home? Or are they watching us go to war? Screaming and parading? Throwing stones back and forth? Calling each other names? It’s all so frantic. Everything we do. Like we’re all mad. Dancing to our death.”





The Ten Cent Screw

27 06 2008

……………………….

This incident actually happened to me. Except that I was the one returning the item. And I thought I was having a heart attack. I thought I was going to die and how pathetic a way this was to end one days, arguing with some guy over a ten cent screw.

…………………………………………………..

THE TEN CENT SCREW

“I bought this carrier for my son’s bicycle,” Jack Johnson, a middle-aged balding man, said, putting a yellow blue bubbled package on the counter. He took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his brow. Perspiration dripped from the tip of his nose.

“The air-conditioning is working about fifty percent,” Bob explained looking up at the box that hung from the ceiling. “It’s these bloody hot Augusts we’ve been having. What ever happened to the wind chill factor, eh?”

Jack laughed politely then got back to the reason for his appearance in the hardware store that morning.

“When I opened the package, I noticed that there was a screw missing.”

“I guess a lot of us have a screw missing.” Bob roared with laughter, knocking his knuckles on the counter.

“That was a good one, eh?” Bob chuckled.

Jack Johnson was not laughing. Bob noticed this and cleared his throat. He looked at the package for several moments. The packaging was a mess. God, he was going to have to rewrap it. He looked up at his customer.

Jack Johnson wiped his neck with the handkerchief. That was big enough to be a pillow case.

“You could go camping with that thing?” Bob chuckled. Pleased with his little joke. Jack Johnson just stared at Bob. He was not amused. Or not conscious. Exhausted by the heat.

“I guess you want to replace the package,” Bob suggested with a sigh.

“I just need the screw,” Jack explained. His eyes had a distant look about them. As if he were dreaming. Imagining some better world where he might be. A cooler world.

“If you could just give me the screw,” Jack said, “I’ll be out of your hair.”

Bob laughed and ran his fingers through his thinning hair.

“Good one.”

Jack Johnson had a stunned expression on his face. Bob stared at him for a moment. He wasn’t joking. Bob shook his head.

“Sorry, can’t do that.”

Jack looked at Bob quixotically. “Excuse me?”

Bob licked his lips. The air conditioner above him, the one that hung from the ceiling, groaned.

“It’s like this,” Bob began to explain. “We don’t sell the screws. We sell the packages with all this other shit in it, but we don’t sell the screws individually. I know it sounds crazy. You’d think we would, but… hey that’s the way of the world. It looks like you’ll have to exchange the package for another one that has the screw. Somebody screwed up at the manufacturer. Things like this shouldn’t happen. For the sake of one screw, we have to send the whole package back to the company and get credit. There goes your profit margin. It’s a real mess. But…” Bob paused for a moment thinking of all the work ahead of home over one lousy screw. “That as they say is the way of the world.”

Jack Johnson sighed. His son had been looking forward to having the carrier attached to his bike. Jack reached into his pocket for his wallet, and fished a paper out of it.

“I’ve got the receipt.”

Bob smiled and shook his head.

“That shouldn’t be necessary. You look like an honest enough fellow.” Bob looked at Jack closely. “You alright?”

Jack smiled weakly, wiping the sweat from his brow. “I’ve felt better.”

“When’d you get the carrier?” Bob asked.

“Last week.” Jack nodded. “My son’s birthday.”

“Let me see the receipt to check on the date,” Bob asked.

Jack passed the receipt over.

Bob looked at the receipt and then at Jack. The smile had left the merchant’s face.

“You didn’t buy this at our store.”

A bewildered expression came over Jack’s face.

“Of course I did. Says so right at the top of the receipt.”

Bob handed the receipt back to Jack. Jack pointed to the heading.

“They’re franchises,” Bob explained. “You have to take the article back to the exact store that you bought it from.”

“I have to…”

“We don’t support the warranty of the other stores in the chain.”

“You don’t what?”

“You’ll have to take it back to the store of origin.”

“That’s on the other side of town!”

Bob smiled sympathetically.

Blood rushed to Jack’s face.

“It’s only a 10 cent screw for Christ’s sake. You said so yourself.”

“The paper work would cost us five dollars.” Bob shook his head. “It’s a shame really. If we only sold the screw it would solve all of our problems. But, I’m afraid that…”

“Jesus, I’ll pay the fucking five dollars.”

Bob shook his head slowly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jack asked. Sweat rolled down his forehead. His eyes began to blur.

“No can do,” Bob responded. He handed the package back to Jack.

Jack looked at the package and then at Bob.

“You fuck!” he cried and stepped back. “I…” his voice broke off into a stammer. For a moment Jack thought he was going to pass out. He looked at the package as it fell out of his hands onto the counter. Bob looked at Jack. Jack looked back, pleadingly, then staggered from the counter and out of the store. The whiteness of the day flashed across his eyes. He placed his hand over his heart. His chest was pounding.

“Shit! Not again,” he muttered to himself in a moment of revelation. “I’ve got to see a doctor.”

Inside the hardware store, Bob looked at the package in his hands.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with this thing?” he said. All he could think of was paper work. Fuck that. He looked around, spotted a garbage can and dropped it in.





Toilets

27 06 2008

……………….

Bathroom humour is very British. But it is a place for high comedy. There are a whole lot of unwritten laws in toilets, public toilets. About noise. About how long you can stand at a urinal and not pee. About keeping your eyes fixed on the wall ahead of you. Well, they go on. And they are in tune with the spirit of Chaucer.

……………………………..

THE STALL

There were two vestibules in the washroom for those inclined to sit. One was large, equipped to handle the handicapped. Paul McGregor was reluctant to go into the large chamber. But the other was being used. And he had to go. And go allows for no options. So Paul made a decision. If it can be called a decision. Once in the larger room, Paul relaxed. He looked around. What a palace. This was the life. All the rooms should be this large. A guy could stretch out here, relax. They should put a television in here. Maybe a small refrigerator with refreshments. There should be a window with a view. Fit for a king. Paul dropped his drawers and prepared for blast off. But when he sat down on the throne a thought seized him. What if a handicapped person came into the washroom? Were they expected to wait? And what if the person in the smaller chamber left before Paul was finished? Would the next person entering the room think that Paul had jumped the cue? Weren’t tickets given to people who parked their cars in the spaces saved for the handicapped? Was this any different? If the person occupying the other stall left, was Paul expected to get up and move? The stress was too much. Paul couldn’t go.

The party in the second room appeared to have the same problem. Paul could hear his struggle with his bowels. Like a woman giving birth to a baby. Push! Paul wanted to scream. But he was in no better situation. Traffic had come to a halt for both men. And then the unexpected happen. The man in the next cubicle began to sing. Opera. Italian. He had a strong powerful voice. Maybe he was a professional. And the singing had its desired affect. In no time there was the sound of splashing, the roll of toilet paper. Like railroad ties rattling. The readdressing of trousers and the zip of a zipper. Zip. And finally the flush. Like gargling. The man stepped out of the cubicle, washed his hands, patted his face with a few drops of after shave. Which was water. And departed. A happy man.

Now Paul was alone. He couldn’t move to the other stall. That was certain. He might get half way and all hell might break loose. What if he sang? Paul knew he had no voice but it was worth a try. So he began to sing. A country and western song. A song he had loved since he was a kid. His father used to play it. He thought the singer was Johnny Ray. He remembered how his father used to join Johnny in belting out the tune. The song was called Rawhide. Paul began, Roll them, roll them, roll them, keep those doggies rolling, Rawhide! A smile came over Paul’s face. His bowels began to loosen. Paul cried out, keep those doggies rolling,

The washroom door shook. Paul’s eyes went to the lock. Unlocked. The door rushed to open. A man in a wheelchair sat waiting for Paul. He looked angry. There was a cigar in his mouth. Paul had just reached for the toilet paper. And remembered that there was no smoking allowed in the building.

“What are you doing in here?” the man in the wheelchair cried.

Paul blushed. Looked around for a savior.

“I…” he began but could not continue.

“Isn’t it bad enough that we are disabled without people like you taking advantage of…”

“You can’t smoke in the store,” Paul blurted out.

The man in the wheelchair took the cigar in his mouth out of his mouth and looked at it.

“It’s against the law,” Paul added. Pulled up his trousers and with as much dignity as he could manage, walked past the man in the wheelchair and over to a sink where he washed his hands. And then noticed. The room was out of paper towels.





Shift Work

26 06 2008

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Canterbury Tales has always been the standard by which I have measured all fiction. Characters that are real because their preoccupations are basic, food, sex, shelter, company. And laughing at life. It is difficult to take anything else seriously even though I think that most of my work has dealt with the big questions, why are we here? etc. But a lot of writing deals with those questions in between. Those conflicts between men and women, the vices of ambition, greed, teen pregnancy, etc. They all seem to pale when faced with the ultimate fate of all of us and how we deal with it. It’s like there is only one question. On the exam. And I can’t get passed it.

………………………….

SHIFT WORK

The three men sat at their table in the Canadiana Restaurant, filling their mouths with hamburgers and French fries and spewing out resentments. All three men looked alike. Large vase like faces with sweat trickling down their temples. Guts that hung over their belts. Nestling up to the table like hogs at a trough. Hands pink and dainty. And tiny mouths that flickered between grins and scowls. The younger of the three men was Pete.

Pete was an angry man. The bar they were sitting in made him angry. It was well constructed. With the best wood. Brass and glass. Fine finishing. Why didn’t he get to work on expensive sights? He was sick of cheap renovations. And the woman sitting at the bar. He looked around. A fleeting glance. So beautiful. Never attainable by men like him. Men with big guts. And small wallets. And the terrible feeling inside him that this was as good as it was going to get.

“He can’t do a frigging thing right.” Pete wiped his lips with the back of his arm. There was a tattoo on his arm of a rose. A gesture to a woman he had once loved before he’d met his wife. The pink of the rose had turned a dirty blue. Pete turned to Bart on his right.

Bart was his boss. The foreman of their jobs. Bart was the oldest of the three men. He had begun to lose his hair in his late teens. Now a few spirited hairs celebrated their survival in curls on his forehead. Question marks. Bart was content with life. Had curled himself up in the soft loving arms of mediocrity. Bart did not like to shake the status quo. Just wanted to put in his time, go home, eat and down a few beers in front of the television. Bart’s happiness infuriated Pete.

“Everyday, Bart,” Pete said, the burger in his cheek looking like a pregnant belly. I think it moved. Can I feel it? “Every frigging day, I’m fixing up his screw-ups. What’s the difference between a Philips and a flat head? Ask him? Ask him what a spanner is? You don’t dare because you know that I’m right. The other day we put that floor into the Wilson’s kitchen and he forgot to take out the corner round first. It never ends, Bart. And I’m fed up. I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”

As Pete talked, he ate. Fat from his burger trickled out of the side of his mouth as he spoke and splashed on his rose. Like sunshine.

“I’m telling you Bart,” Pete continued, “you’re going to have to do something about him. He’s costing us money. This job would have been over by now if we had a half-ass competent bugger working with us.”

Pete looked at Bart who seemed to ignore him. Bart took the top bun off his hamburger and daintily plucked the dill out and dropped it onto his plate. Bart didn’t care for dill pickles. Told people that he was allergic to them. Just so that he wouldn’t have to justify his distaste for them. Bart put the top back on his hamburger then rubbed a finger across his moustache. His finger turned a mustard colour. Like sunshine. As Bart munched on his hamburger he lost audio contact with Pete. All he could make out was Pete’s lips moving and Pete’s finger thrusting back and forth at him like a piston. And the sound of his own mouth composting his lunch. Pete was upset about something. That much was clear to Bart.

Frank, the third person at the table, leaned back in his chair and looked at Pete. Frank had only started working with the other two, nine months previously. There was a lot to learn. Frank was not sure that he was capable of learning as quickly as Pete would have liked. And he didn’t care. Pete was always blowing his top. If he hits one of his kids again he’s going to have hell to pay. The only person Frank was concerned with was Bart. But he couldn’t get a fix on Bart. Was he happy with Frank’s work? A shrug and a smile was all he got. Was he patient? He seemed happy enough. The day previous to the last day they worked, it has rained on the two days in between, Bart danced across the crest of a roof they were putting on the Wilson’s house. For a big man Bart sure was light footed. Frank was afraid that with Bart’s prodding, Pete could turn and fire him on the spot. Frank didn’t care. He’d worked long enough to collect unemployment insurance.

“I’m right here, Pete.” Frank glared at Pete. “Right over here to your left. You don’t have to talk to Bart about me as if I’m not here.”

Pete looked at Bart and grinned.

“Did you hear something, Bart? Something in the air. Maybe I should apologize. I might have farted.”

Frank rolled his eyes as he picked up a fry and dipped it in the ketchup.

“You’re so immature, Pete.”

“Blow me, Frank!” Pete said then placed his hamburger back on his plate and picked up his mug of beer, taking a swallow. And felt that cold golden gurgle as the beer flowed down his throat like a cold northern stream over the rapids. He licked his lips and in the process cleaned his teeth with his tongue. He turned back to Bart.

“I don’t know how we can expect to finish this job on time, Bart, if Frank can’t hold up his end. That’s what he’s being paid for. Holding up his big fat end. The guy is about as useful as a tit on a bull.”

Frank laughed, almost choking on his burger. He turned to Bart.

“Pete’s just pissed off because the wife cut him off last month.” Frank belched then continued. “A woman likes her man to take a shower now and then.”

Pete glared at Frank.

“You keep my wife out of this.”

“Why should I?” Frank responded. “She’s my sister.”

Bart wiped his lips with a tissue. The blood had drained from his face. Something in his chest. Lodged there. He took a sip of beer. Goddamn beavers!

“You alright, boss?” Pete asked.

Bart shook his head. “I don’t know what hit me.”

“Maybe we should call it a day,” Frank suggested. “It’s awful hot to be up on those ladders.”

“Oh, you’d like that,” Pete responded. “Take a day off.”

Bart shook his head. “I can’t believe you two are family.”

Bart pounded his chest. And took another bite of his hamburger. Where a pickle was hiding.

Frank laughed. “You think this is bad. You should see Christmas dinner.”

Pete turned to Frank with a grin on his face. “Remember a couple Christmas’s ago when your old man almost took the turkey knife to us.”

Frank howled with laughter, slapping his hand on the table.

Bart pounded his chest again. He moaned. Bart tried to rise out of his chair.

Pete turned to Bart, a look of concern on his face.

“You sure you’re alright?”

“Feel all flushed,” Bart explained. Sweat began running down his forehead.

“Indigestion,” Pete suggested.

“Shit,” Frank said looking at this boss with closer scrutiny, “you don’t look too good.”

Bart smiled at his two colleagues. Then his eyes rolled up into his head and he collapsed onto the table.

Pete looked at Frank.

“Oh, shit!” he said.

Frank leaned over the table and tried to take Bart’s pulse. He looked up at Pete.

“I think he’s dead.”

“What are you talking about?” Pete cried. “Go get a doctor.”

Other patrons of the restaurant began to gather around the table.

“Where?” Frank asked.

“Call an ambulance.”

Frank stood up. One of the other patrons reminded Frank that there was a doctor in the clinic back of the drug store. Frank looked at Pete who was attempting to raise Bart from the table.

“Well?” Pete cried.

“What should I do?” Frank asked.

“Go to the clinic!. Get a doctor!” Pete cried.

Another patron helped Pete raise Bart’s head from the table. There was hamburger lodged in his mouth. They laid him on the floor. A minute later Frank returned.

“What?” Pete cried looking for the doctor.

“Where’s the clinic again?” Frank cried.

“In the drug store!” Pete cried.

Frank smiled weakly.

“What!” Pete cried.

“And the drug store,” Frank asked. “Where’s the drug store?”