23 05 2007
jealousy is policy
There’s the girl who loves chocolate and eats nothing but cake. She eats her lunch in the shack, outside by the recycling bins. We can never find her when a customer comes for her. Sometimes the customers get mad and kick over tables.
Whenever I eat in the back room, I keep an eye on the shack. I can see it through the windows. I eat grilled chicken and potatoes in the back room. The other girls come back and get jealous of my chicken. The smell is so good and strong and it sticks to the walls in the back room for the whole day.
No one else is happy here.
Once we caught Stacey, a frumpish woman in her late 30′s, trying to microwave a fork in the back room. We scolded her and wrote a memo about things not to put in the microwave, and the next day she was dead.
June is the one who eats her lunch in the shack. Her mouth is always covered in chocolate residue when she’s working. The customers seem to like it but we always make fun of her. Some say that she lives in a fort by the water, that she is the daughter of a boatman. They say the boatman is always calling her on his boat phone. What is a boat phone?
There’s an attractive janitor that cleans the floors at night. I can’t believe he’s not a model. If you took pictures of him and hung them up in a store window, people would start walking in, I’m sure. He always makes sure that all of us girls get in our cars at night before he starts cleaning the floors. He has a tattoo on his hand. I wonder what he eats for lunch.
“That chicken–,” they say to me, but they never finish. I’m convinced that they are just jealous.
Sometimes June, the chocolate girl, makes something for everyone. Once she made a pan of brownies with peanut butter in the middle. She says she can’t live without chocolate. Once, Kimberly said something about how June was going to “overdose on chocolate”, but we thought it was so stupid, what Kimberly said. Kimberly was someone who made more money than all of us put together.
Of course it didn’t take long for my boss to say something about the chicken. “If that’s all your going to eat,” she said, “you can eat it in the shack, where we don’t have to watch you.” Plus she said I wasn’t working hard enough, that I needed to ask for help when I was having problems with a customer. Customers were complaining about me and also my clothes, she said. My boss was the type of person who liked to pop pimples on us whenever the opportunity arose.
Later that same day a photographer came to take pictures of us for a newspaper story. It was an old lady in her 70′s and we all made fun of her behind her back. She told me I had pretty hands.
There was a rumor going around that Janet and Lori planned to burn down the shack while June and I were in there eating lunch. The shack started smelling more and more sickly�like moldy eggs�and I was scared of its history. “It just showed up one day,” said Jack, the quiet old man who actually owned our building. “I expected someone to come back and get it, tow it away on a trailer, but it has stayed there for a long time. And there are tools in it,” he said. “And pictures on the wall.”
June and I discussed the pictures in there as we ate lunch. She liked them and wanted to bring them home to hang in her living room. They made me feel uneasy, all these close-up photos of people’s eyes and noses.
“I like caramel best with chocolate, see this?” June held up a thin bar of chocolate and dumped a spoonful of caramel from a jar on top. It oozed over the sides and June giggled as she opened her mouth largely.
“Can I try it?” I asked. She chewed and shifted the glob in her mouth, her cheeks bulging. “Jesus,” I said, laughing. There was a line of caramel hanging from her chin.
She finally swallowed and said, “I can stick my whole fist in my mouth.” She opened her mouth and showed me. I scooted near her and looked at her arm going into her mouth. I shook my head and she took out her hand and wiped it off on her shirt. She grabbed the spoon and prepared a piece for me.
“What do you think these pictures mean?” I asked June.
“I think they mean: a good place to eat chicken and chocolate.”
Soon after that there was a memo that told everyone June was no longer going to work with us, but instead, she’d only work in the shack, preparing signs and making equipment for the rest of us. Whenever the boatman called for her we had to crinkle paper in the receiver and tell him that we couldn’t hear him, that the line was bad, that he had to use a regular phone. One night a man came in and started crying like a baby. We didn’t know who he was, but some say it was the boatman. He cried with great drama and said nothing in any discernible language. Private Nurse Nancy had to take him outside and give him aspirin and a map. She walked with him to the corner and he was never seen again. The next day the boatman called and was angry and loud and said with much anger: “Don’t you know this water is getting godamned cold. Godamn you all to Hell and I hope you never board a ship on my river. For the waves will rise and crash upon you like an angry hammer from the Mother Nature. When I think of all of you there in that place, I laugh until I can’t breathe, I get sick to my throat and I spit on the dangerous jagged rocks of my shore. All of you, animals without a soul.”
I was then told not to eat out there in the shack again or to deliver any memos to her. She did not want to be disturbed, the boss told me. “She is making something in there that will be a surprise to you,” the boss said.
When the newspaper article and the photographs appeared it caused quite a stir. A famous movie producer visited us and was satisfied with the service he received. He wanted to make our little group into a movie, he said. I don’t think he knew anything about June or the way we all hated each other or the way I ate chicken in the back room. “I want to show the world your strength,” he told us later at a teleconference. But we were suspicious. Even the man who cleans our floors at night said, “How could he make a movie about you twits? All you do is complain and throw stuff on the floor.” Kimberly said he was just resentful. When she first started working here, Kimberly had an intimate moment with the janitor, reportedly on a desk somewhere, and so we all assumed she knew what his every thought and emotion was.
Of course, months later, the famous producer stopped writing letters and no one but our regular customers cared about our outstanding services. There was much work to be performed and we completed each task like our lives depended on it.
At just about the time our morale was getting dangerously low, a wonderful thing happened. I was in the back room eating grilled chicken and potatoes when I noticed the shack was gone. A rainbow-colored van drove up to the back door where the shack used to be and I almost started crying. The tears that were climbing to my eyes stopped at my throat. I swallowed and stood up. The old lady who took photographs of us months beforehand got out of the driver’s side of the van and walked to the back doors of the vehicle. I watched her as she strong-armed a trio of dark brown figures, each of which was about the size of a statue you’d find on someone’s front lawn. The figures were of hunched-over old women and each had a silly grin on their chiseled faces. My heart squeezed itself when I realized the statues were made from chocolate. The old lady looked at me and nodded before climbing back into the driver’s seat and making the odd vehicle cough its way away.
I went outside and looked at each statue, wondering if June had made them, and also wondering if they were hollow. If they were hollow they might crumble in my hands. I could just see everyone laughing at me if I tried to move the things and they broke all over me. It was cool outside but the sun was bright and mean. A bead of chocolate sweat ran down one of the wrinkled-looking faces.
I decided not to tell anyone about the chocolate. Someone else would come into the back room and see the statues through the windows. They would call for help. Someone else would know exactly what to do. I went back inside and turned my chair around so I couldn’t see them. I finished my potatoes and sniffed the air for the stench of my half-eaten chicken. I sweated and prayed for someone else to come into the back room. Sometimes customers would ask for me but when I went out to the main room they would wave me back to the back room. I averted my eyes, not wanting to display responsibility for the things outside. I heard a man raising his voice to the other girls working. Then Janet and Lori could be heard laughing. I tried to eat but couldn’t.
I felt lonely and jealous.
kevin sampsell has worked at powell’s books since 1997. he has published books on his small press future tense books since 1990. his own books include the patricia letters, a common pornography, and beautiful blemish.