Shift Work

1 10 2010


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. Hands pink and dainty. And mouths that flickered. Like butterflies. Between grins and scowls. The younger of the three men was Pete.

Pete was an angry young man. Maybe not so young. The bar they were sitting in made Pete angry. It was well constructed. With the best wood. Brass and glass. Fine finishing. Why didn’t ‘Petey’ get to work on expensive sights? Pete liked to call himself Petey when he was pissed. That made him angry. Not getting to work on the restaurant. And the woman sitting at the bar. So beautiful. Long silky legs. Really pissed him off. Never attainable by men like him. Men with big guts. And small words. And the terrible feeling inside him that looking. 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. And the rose itself had begun to wilt. Its once mighty stem, bent and flacid. 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. Begun a long time ago. Some place in grade 11. A few spirited hairs celebrated their survival in curls on Bart’s forehead. Question marks. Which were a lie. Bart was content with life. Never asked questions. 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, fall asleep, let off a few smart ones, and wake up the next morning. Bart’s happiness infuriated Pete.

“Everyday, Bart,” Pete said. “Every frigging day, I’m fixing up his screw-ups. It never ends. 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. His mouth rose and fell. Food stretched from ceiling to floor. Like a cement truck. Carriage. Turning and turning.

“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. Centuries ago. If we had a half-ass competent bugger working with us. We’d be taking the sun in. In Malibu.”

Pete looked at Bart who seemed to ignore him. Which wasn’t true. Bart’s mind was focussed. He 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. Nothing ever good came from eating a dill. He liked to think. He put the top back on his hamburger then rubbed a finger across his moustache. His finger turned a mustard colour. 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. Pete was upset about something. That much was clear to Bart. Bart looked down at his plate. Maybe Pete would like his dill.

Frank the third. Sat silently. Not because his grandfather’s name was Frank but because Pete and Bart were the first two people at the table. Frank knew his place. And respected other’s. But that didn’t seem to hold much favour with Pete.  Frank leaned back in his chair and looked at Pete. He didn’t really like Pete. Had never liked Pete. But hadn’t realized it to this very moment. Frank had only started working with the other two, six 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. 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? Was he patient? Frank was afraid that with Pete’s prodding, Bart 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 said. “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. “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. 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.” He swallowed. Something didn’t go down right. “If Frank can’t hold up his end. The guy is about as useful as a tit on a bull.” Pete grabbed his beer and took a swallow. Relief. Everything was clear.

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.

Pete noticed that Bart had begun to turn pale.

“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. When have you ever taken a day on? That’s what I’d like to know.”

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

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. He moaned. Something wasn’t moving. Bart tried to rise out of his chair.

Frank stopped laughing. 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 his 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. Face first. Into his remaining burger. And fries. And ketchup.

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.

“I think he’s dead. I can’t get a pulse.”

Pete looked at Frank. He wanted to strangle his brother-in-law. Couldn’t he ever see the bright side of things?

Pete cried. “Go get a doctor.”

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

Frank did not move.

“Go!” Pete cried.

“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.

Frank left.       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.

Snow…. new

1 10 2010

New blog of book I published almost 40 years ago. It’s called Crowd Noises.