Working Man's Blues

byHeathen Hemmingway©

I wanted so badly to charge over to the kitchen table and pick the gun up with my free hand, hold it hard against my head and pull the trigger. Only instead of that perfect peaceful blackness I keep thinking about, all I could see was Ginny's beautiful face on the other end when she heard the shot. At first she wouldn't know what it was. Then it would register and she would be completely shocked. She would be holding the phone so tightly that her knuckles turn white. She would be calling my name into the phone even though the dread and finality of that shot would have already set in as a fact. He's dead.

She would be thrown into a maelstrom of emotion more painful and confusing than everything she's ever known before. She's a happy girl and goddamnit she deserves to stay that way. If I did that to her it would be like raping her.

All I could actually say in response was the same. It's true, too. I do love the girl.

"I love you too baby." I struggled with the last few words. "Talk to you later."

She said goodbye and hung up. I stood there for a few seconds with the phone still to my ear, listening to the dead monotone of a dial tone. I was holding the phone to my head like it was the gun, squeezing it tight. I heard the plastic creaking and realized I was about to break the damn thing. I tossed the phone onto my couch and went back to the kitchen table. I sat there and had a staring contest with the gun for about a half hour. It won.

My apartment is pretty shitty. In ways it's ok, but for the most part I don't like it. I like peace and quiet. Most nights there is music and loud noise all around me til two or so in the morning. I have always wondered why people who like shitty music insist on sharing it with the world. It's like some pathetic and weak form of rebellion. I can't really do or say anything that matters to you, so I'm going to irritate you with Slim Shady all night long.

There are rare moments when this place is graveyard quiet, like tonight. I went out on my balcony for a while and just sat there. Ginny bought me a little wind chime for my birthday. It has a small glass pane with Chinese ideogram for love on it. It's a small simple thing but I couldn't have been prouder of it even if it were a new car. It has five slender gongs on it. When the wind blows across my balcony the gongs sound off in a series of high, sweet ringing tones. Like tiny bells. When you live in a place like this you learn to appreciate anything that makes life seem more peaceful.

I was thinking about work the next day. Working in a busy kitchen is always one of two degrees. Either it's great or it sucks. No in between. The floor in our kitchen is really hard to work on. The owner got the cheapest people he could find to build the place, and the floor is just as poorly built as the rest of the restaurant. The tiles on the floor weren't made for food service use. They look like they were meant for a sidewalk or maybe some kind of decoration. No doubt the construction guys had them stashed back somewhere for no telling how long, and saw this place as an opportunity to get them out of the way and make a buck at the same time. The end result is a kitchen floor that kicks your ass on a regular basis. The tiles are hard to clean. They have a coarse texture so dirt and oil set in and don't want to move. You can sweep and mop til your arms fall off and the tiles are still dirty.

My first night there I was walking through the kitchen with a bucket of hot bleach water. I slipped on one of those fucking tiles and fell backward. I was saturated in hot water diluted with bleach.. My clothes were ruined and a few stray drops got in my eyes. It burned like hell and I had to buy new contact lenses. I was sore for three days after that. Busting your ass on a hard surface is a unique kind of pain. It makes you feel like your bones are all stuffed together in a tight knot.

Every morning when I get to work I have to pull the floor mats into the kitchen. They help some, but it is still easy to slip and fall. The mats are fucking disgusting. A kitchen floor can go from clean to landfill nasty in a heartbeat when the place is busy. I spray the mats down with hot water every morning to get the worst of the scum off, but some of that shit just won't come off no matter what. I know it sounds downright whiney, but dammit I hate to get dirty first thing in the morning then have to work all day feeling nasty. I'm picky about cooking food. If my hands feel dirty then I don't like to cook. When I go to a restaurant to eat, I like to go to places that have an open kitchen. That way I can see the cook's hands. If a cook has dirty hands, I'm not eating there. I guess that's one of the things you would have to be in the business to understand.

I had to stop thinking about work. I think I was beyond the point of looking for something positive to think about. I just wanted something to think about in general to distract me. My mind kept creeping back to the gun and the wake I would leave behind me when I died. I tried convincing myself there would be no wake, but I knew damned well there would be. Losing a loved one suddenly is like dropping a stone in a big puddle. The ripples are big at the center then gradually fan out and slowly disappear. Finally the stone is sitting at the bottom of the puddle forgotten and the surface of the water is smooth.

At first the shock and hurt is bigger than you are. The tears take over and the emotions come boiling to the surface. You say things you never wanted to hear yourself say. You say things you never before had the nerve to say. Then gradually the shock wears off and the tears don't come so often. The harsh words and the why's and when's don't bother you so much. Finally years later the sting is gone and all you have left is the memory of someone lying under the cold ground like a stone.

I could hear the wind picking up a bit. The sky was full of big gray clouds. Ivan was crawling closer to me. This indecision is tearing at me. I've tried as hard as I can, and dammit I keep going from one extreme to another. One moment my mind is made and the next something happens and I think I can't do it. In the end all I have is doubt and I hate myself for it. That's worse than wanting to die itself. I want to be one or the other. I can't take too much more of this indecision. I've never had troubles making decisions before. So while I was sitting on my balcony listening to the wind chimes Ginny bought me, I decided I would tough things out til hurricane Ivan was behind me. The hurricane is two days away from me.

The feeling of dread in my heart was almost overwhelming. I didn't want to try, didn't want to fight. I just wanted everything in the world to stop. So for the next two days I had to rationalize and make the hardest decision of my life. The decision would be my life.

Ch. 04

This isn't the ending you were expecting, it's the ending some of us actually experience

I had another cup of coffee then went to bed. I didn't even get undressed. I flopped down into bed and pulled the covers up over my head. I looked like a little kid who was afraid of the boogeyman in the closet or the monster under the bed. I like to keep the place clean, but lately the sink full of dirty dishes and the laundry piled up in one corner of my bedroom hasn't even registered on my mental radar. For some reason certain things don't matter as much as they used to. Things that usually catch my attention have been ignored lately.

I mustered what little ambition I had left and decided to get up for work early the next morning. I set my alarm clock for an hour earlier than usual. I couldn't sleep worth a damn. I would almost doze off then something new to worry about would pop up. My mind races at night when I try to sleep. It's like I'm thinking of a hundred different things at the same time, all in broken strings of thought and scattered images. I will try to concentrate on one thing but something else will push its way through before I can resolve anything about the first thought. I'm sure it's just the caffeine. Or maybe it's not.

I played the staring game with the alarm clock on and off all night. I never really went to sleep. You know that falling feeling you get as you fall asleep? I don't get that feeling anymore. Sometimes I'll wake up in a snap, not even realizing I was asleep. And the worst part of it is, when you toss and turn in bed all night long then finally do fall asleep, you wake up feeling like you haven't had any rest at all. Maybe that doesn't make any sense to anyone but me. When I was a kid I used to sleep like a rock. I remember I never had dreams. When I turned thirteen I started having trouble sleeping. At first it was just when I was excited or restless. I was a much different person back then. Often when I can't sleep I have these memories of how I used to be.

I remember one day in school, when I had my first real fistfight. I was a seventh grader. This senior named Nick decided that picking on me was his favorite past time. It started with shoves and pokes in the hallway then quickly degenerated to daily humiliations during break and getting shoved forward onto the urinals when I was trying to take a piss. After fall break his interest in me seemed to fade a bit. I went almost two weeks without his big redneck shadow looming over me. The day before we got out of school for the summer he made a sudden reappearance.

I was walking down the hallway with all the junk from my locker in a big stack. Books, annuals, etc. I also had my lunch box. That was back when it was nothing uncommon for a kid to bring his lunch to school. My lunch box was one of those thin metal ones with hinges that always squeaked. It was white and green. I can't remember what was on the front of it. When I was emptying my locker I put my old biology textbook in the lunch box. I had another at home. It was a little secret between my biology teacher and I.

Mr. McQueen was my biology teacher. He was an interesting guy. He made science interesting and fun. He could talk about sex all day long, and we all thought it made him the coolest guy alive. He had this subtle way of sneaking facts in that made you think, without realizing it. He was the biology teacher by title, but he gave all his students a very sensible lesson in sex education by showing us facts in a way that fascinated us. He was one of those people who truly planted seeds in life. I guess teaching us about sex was his big thing. Maybe his mom got pregnant when he was a teenager and they hard a hard life because of it, or maybe he had a teenage daughter who got pregnant. You could tell just by talking to him that the cared. In my mind he will always be one of the good guys.

Best of all he paid attention to his students. I would finish my biology work early then sit and read that old biology textbook. I was always four chapters ahead of the rest of the class. While they were chewing gum and idly arguing idly about whether Slaughter's Up All Night would sell more copies than Guns N Roses Mr. Brownstone, I was nose deep in that big biology textbook. After class one day Mr. McQueen asked to stay. I didn't know what to expect. He told me we were getting new biology textbooks for the next school year, and he handed me a huge hardback textbook. It was heavy and the cover was shiny and new. He told me to keep the book, but just keep it between us. I have never been good at accepting gifts. It makes me feel so damned awkward to know someone is thinking about me. I thanked him and tucked the new book away in my backpack. I took the book home and started devouring it page by page.

Two days before summer vacation we were all sitting in Mr. McQueen's class having our last biology discussion for the year. He announced that our textbooks were being replaced and the old ones were going to be junked. If anyone would like, you can keep your old textbooks to read, he told us. He wasn't looking at me, but I knew he was talking to me. I kept my biology book. It was a small thick book. I had got into the habit of carrying it home in my lunch box so none of the other guys would rib me for being a nerd. After class let out Mr. McQueen clapped me on the shoulder and told me he was looking forward to seeing me next year. I sure would like to see him again. Just to know how he's doing.

So as I made my way down the hall with my big stack of books and stuff Nick materialized in the middle of the hallway ahead of me. He palmed both my shoulders and shoved me back hard. I fell backwards, books and papers went flying everywhere. My feet slipped out from under me on the slick wood floor and I fell on my ass hard. A painful jolt went through my whole body. My ears were ringing for a second, it hurt so bad. I looked up to see Nick standing over me. Everyone around me was looking down on me and laughing. My lunch box was lying next to me on the floor. I grabbed it and swung it hard at Nick's legs. It hit his left knee with a loud thock noise. His leg buckled and he leaned down, grabbing his knee and cursing. I stood up and grabbed the collar of his shirt with my left hand, then balled up my right fist and popped him a good one right on his big redneck nose.

"Stop" I yelled, hitting him again. "Picking" Another smack, his nose bleeding. "On" Another shot, and this time blood flew from his nose like a water balloon full of red dye in his nose had popped. "ME!" I shouted, then nailed him square on the nose as hard as I could. He fell backward in the floor, students stepping back away from him like he was some kind of toxic chemical spilling across the hallway floor.

Memories like that always relax me. They don't always come to me so clearly. From the time I was a teenager until now, my sleeping has gradually deteriorated from rest to a grand annoyance. Sometimes I will go three of four days with only a couple of hours of sleep. Every once in a blue moon I will lie down and fall asleep right away, then sleep like a rock for several hours. I don't know what triggers it. Most of the time I lie in bed trying to make sense of my racing thoughts. These days when I do manage to get some sleep, I start dreaming the second I fall asleep. The other night I dreamed there was a big mongrel dog chasing Ginny. She was running like hell and looking back over her shoulder with a frightened look on her face. I was trying to catch up with the dog but I couldn't get close enough to grab its tail. When I finally caught up to the dog I dove and grabbed its long shaggy tail with both hands. The dog turned and barked at me, saliva and foam caked around its mouth. It had big saber like teeth and hungry burning eyes. Only it wasn't a dog's face looking back at me through the growls and sharp teeth. It was mine.

My dreams are always crazy and random like that. Sometimes I will have a brief dream full of crystalline clear images and memories that seem so real I would swear I could smell the honeysuckle and taste the sweet iced tea. I always wake up and lie in bed wrestling with memories and images of feelings and experiences I know I will never have again.

I got out of bed fifteen minutes before the alarm clock was set to go off. I flicked the alarm switch off and stumbled to the bathroom. Not resting well makes me incoherent in the morning. I took a hot shower then sat down on the toilet and bandaged my foot. The cut was in a bad place. Every time I put weight on the foot it wanted to open back up and bleed. I wrapped the bandage tight and carefully stepped down on my injured foot. I picked my foot back up and looked at it. Good, not a drop of blood shown through the white gauze. I got cleaned up and made a pot of coffee. It was misting rain outside. The wind was whipping up. I didn't have a raincoat, but I did have a nice windbreaker. I finished my coffee then got dressed. It wasn't raining bad so I figured I could trot to work and I shouldn't get too wet. I would be a little damp, but not soaking wet.

I set out to work. About halfway there I saw a big puddle of water in the road next to the curb, close to the big truck yard. The chain link fence around the truck yard looked the same color as the stormy sky. I knew that with my luck if I got within a mile of that puddle someone would damned sure drive right through it and splash me. I gave the puddle a wide berth, walking ten feet or so to the right of it. I was almost past the puddle when I hear a sudden noise from behind me. There was a sudden rush of wet splashy footsteps then angry growling and barks. I turned to see a big Rottweiler charging against the fence, growling and snapping at me. An image flashed across my mind, the dog in my dream. I took a few steps back, then tripped over my own feet and fell flat on my ass in the big puddle.

The water was fucking freezing. It was like being hit with a low voltage stun gun. Just what the fucking doctor ordered. The bad part is, it didn't surprise me at all.

"You fucking idiot." I said to myself, slapping at the water indignantly.

The dog was still barking at me. I gave him the finger and walked back home. By the time I got home I was freezing from head to toe. I put a fresh bandage on my foot then changed into dry clothes. My windbreaker was soaking wet so I went without it. When I finally made it to work I walked in the door at one minute past the hour. The kitchen manager was standing by the time clock holding my card. he was staring me down like I was the cat that ate the canary.

"You know today is our busiest day." He said. "If you like your job you might want to make it a priority to get here on time, otherwise you might be without a job."

I gave him the dirtiest look I could manage.

"I'm having a bad day. If you want to fire me, then fire me. You pull those nasty ass floor mars in yourself. You know I don't have a car right now and I'm doing the best I can." I responded in a stinging tone.

He handed me the time card then turned to walk away.

"Do better." He said, his back to me.

Yeah, I really got a jump on the day, didn't I? I started pulling the mats in, two at a time. They were wet and slippery. As I was pulling the last two mats in I twisted my ankle and fell. One of the kitchen guys came over and held his hand out, helping me up.

"Thanks." I told him. "Alot."

I guess he could tell by looking at me that I was just about beat.

"Don't sweat it kid." He told me before walking back into the kitchen. "Everybody gets a case of the working man's blues."

The mats smacked against my legs when I fell, and the bottom half of my jeans were soaking wet. It seemed like I couldn't keep dry to save my life. I worked the rest of the day with my ankle throbbing and the pain from my hurt foot pounding away. The damp clammy fabric of my jeans felt like cold dead hands raking across my legs. The day seemed to draw out forever. At the end of my shift I was clocking out when the kitchen manager walked by on his way out the door.

"Hey." I called to him.

He turned and stopped. He looked tired. I know being a kitchen manager is like holding down ten full time jobs. He has to deal with the cooks, the servers being a pain in the ass, the owners expecting him to stretch a penny a fucking mile, and fifteen other things at once. I just couldn't let him leave without saying something to him.

"Listen." I said. "I know my work hasn't been its best lately. I've been putting up with all kinds of unexpected shit lately and things have gotten the better of me. It's not like me to be late for work. I've just got alot to deal with right now."

He looked at me pensively for a moment then nodded his head. The expression on his face seemed to soften a bit.

"I understand. Just don't let it cost you your job man. You know the owners watch every move I make. If I don't do what I'm supposed to then they can put my ass in the street, too. You let me know what's going on and I'll work with you. Deal?"

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byHeathen Hemmingway© 3 comments/ 10497 views/ 0 favorites

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