The Warehouse Mob

IMG_20170822_121016.jpgThe small group huddled in the corner of the postal warehouse. Undelivered packages lay open on the floor alongside blankets, eaten food packages, and flies.

The last of the afternoon light dwindled.

“I can’t spend another night in the dark,” Sarah said with a tremble in her voice.

She wrapped her arms around her legs and wept into her knees. Around her, married couple Lance and Glen put their hands on her shoulders. On the other side, Priyanka and her son, Ashwin, reached up to touch the fading light.

The warning sirens started their nightly ritual, “Woo-woo-woo.” For five straight minutes, it would continue until the timer turned off – a relic of those first few days. It didn’t cover the sound of the agonies of the living, the half-living, outside the tin walls that protected them.

“Make it stop, Mommy,” Ash cried. Priyanka pulled the toddler close and hummed a sweet lullaby. Her gentle rocking settled his tears for a moment.

“Don’t you worry, Ashwin,” Glen said with a slight gruff. “We’ll be saved soon. The army will be here any day now.”

“No, they won’t,” the boy said. “The monsters will get them too. Just like Daddy.”

“Shh, shh,” Priyanka said, covering Ashwin’s ears. “Don’t fill his head with such nonsense. We know we will have to make our own luck if we’re going to survive.”

She picked up her son and laid him down on one of the blankets. She continued to sing a song until the boy’s breathing became steady and slow.

Priyanka inched back to her side of the makeshift bedroom and sighed.

“Dads?” Sarah whispered.

“Yes, sweetie?” Lance and Glen said.

“Can we try the radio again?”

“Only if you keep it down,” Priyanka said with a hiss.

“Yes, yes, of course,” Lance answered.

The teenager fumbled in the dark for a moment before the sound of static filled the room.

She moved the dial, the frequency of the static changed with each turn. She moved it fast and slow from one end to the next for several minutes.

“Don’t leave it on too long, hun,” Glen said. “Conserve the batteries.”

“Okay,” she turned one last time and heard a voice on the other end.

“Repeat, if there are any survivors out there, you are not alone.”

The group gasped in varying states of surprise. Survivors!

They listened intent on the transmission and the words said: their names and their location – an abandoned army base and a laundry list of ways to survive on the outside.

“The key is light. They hate light.”

The transmission ended and Sarah turned the radio off. The group sat in silence for a moment.

“How are we going to get all those items?” Sarah asked.

“I know where some batteries are,” Glen said. “Mr Saunders – ”

“The man with the little dog?” Lance asked.

“The very same… He used to keep a jar of batteries… for the apocalypse.”

“But Dads… he was one of the first to turn.”

“Then he’s long gone now,” Glen said.

For the first time they ignored the cries, the gurgles, and the bangs around the warehouse. They had hope.

It wasn’t until they all stood, like a giant mob, at Mr. Saunders’s door the next morning that they realized the truth. Overgrown grass and weeds covered the once immaculate lawn.

He greeted them from under the front porch. Batteries and a tiny dog head stuck out of the bulbous form.

Their screams were hushed as they became one with the host.

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Midnight Dreamer

IMG_20170522_054502Awake. Again. At midnight.

Tears cover my pillow. I wipe my nose, not daring to sniff in fear of waking someone.

Why don’t you like me? I’m fifteen. Shouldn’t I have a boyfriend by now?

But the trumpet player doesn’t like me that way. Instead, he looks right past me. His gaze falls on my friends. Their perfect hair, perfect skin, and perfect breasts are as far from me as can be. I’m so cool, though. He tells me so. I play games with him, watch movies, talk about all the things he likes. It’s gotta be the way I look – my acne-riddled face, my big nose, my tiny mouth, and my ridiculously small boobs. That’s why no guy wants me, least of all him.

I close my eyes.

Across a crowded room, he enters.

His blue eyes search and fall on me.

His mouth widens in a smile.

Ignoring all else, he comes to me.

“Hey.” “Hey.” We say.

He leans in.

Noses touch.

Lips touch.

*****

Awake. Again. At midnight.

My pillow and mattress are damp with sweat. I stare at the ceiling as rivers trickle down from my eyes to my ears.

Why do I like him? I’m eighteen. I’m running out of time to find a boyfriend.

But just as before, the theatre major doesn’t look at me that way. His hazel eyes graze mine. He’s the first boy to look at me, not through me. We talk and laugh while we work. The days go by so much quicker when he’s there. But he’s not available. His girlfriend frequently shows up to brighten his day. I hate that I wish they would break up.

His head is on my lap.

I run my fingers through his hair.

We pretend to watch TV. But…

We are content to stare at each other.

His hazel eyes hold all the secrets.

*****

Awake. Again. At midnight.

My pillow is over my head, stifling what would be a full-on sob by now.

Why doesn’t he love me? I’m 22. I’m out of time to find a boyfriend.

But just as every time before, the roommate doesn’t look at me that way. His brown eyes are closed in the room next to mine – closed to me. He looks above me, scared to meet my gaze. We talk, we laugh, we play games together and watch movies together. On the days that he’s happy, everything is awesome. But on the days he’s not, all the weed in the world won’t help me forget.

He’s available. He doesn’t look at my girlfriends. He must like me. Why doesn’t he like me like that?

Black lingerie on, I step down the stairs.

His eyes fall on me.

Without words, he says, “Come here.”

I don’t.

I lay down on the couch.

Show him my curves.

He doesn’t wait long.

He crosses the room.

*****

Awake. Again. At midnight.

My neck pillow is no help. Tears of joy stream down my face as I stare at the tiny monitor in the seat in front of me and watch Mrs. Henderson Presents.

Why does he love me? I’m 25. I thought I didn’t need a boyfriend anymore.

But I found him. He found me.

His blue eyes stare back at me through a webcam. He talks to me, never at me, and for hours, we discuss everything from our day to our past and future.

I’m nervous excited about finally meeting him in person. In a few hours, I will start my life with him.

It only took ten years to have a partner. I hope I don’t screw it up.

No dream tonight.

In fact, I never have to dream again.

 

Riding in Cars with… Family

I stare at my hands in the passenger side. Dad’s driving my car through the streets of Dallas. Do I tell him now? Or do I wait until I can have them both together? This is really a family discussion. Maybe I should tell them all at once?

I’m angry. I want to hurt them so bad.

“Did you have a nice time with Aaron today?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say.

“What did you get up to?”

I’d rather not say. “We signed on a rental property today,” I blurt out.

Well, guess I ripped that band-aid off. 

“I understand,” he says before he goes silent.

I know he doesn’t. He never will.


2 years earlier

“She’s not a very Christian lady,” Daddy says. His fingers are wrapped around the steering wheel, his knuckles white, and the color in his cheeks is red. “How dare she ask you to pay three month’s rent!”

I’m crying in the backseat with Momma quiet in the front.

But… She said you hadn’t paid her any since you’ve been here. I’ve only been here a month.

“She knew my sales business was struggling. I promised to pay as soon as I got my commission check.”

Which will never come if you don’t actually make a sell.

“We’ll use your first pay to get bond on an apartment,” Dad says.

No… no that’s mine. To save for college. Absolutely not!

“Okay,” I say meekly. We’re homeless. I can’t just say no…


1 month earlier

“You’ll like the place we’re staying at,” Dad says to me. “She’s a good Christian woman. We have the entire house upstairs to ourselves. In a few months, we’ll be able to afford to move into our own place too.”

“That’s good,” I say, listening to Pink Floyd more than his words.

“Your mother is getting paid to clean some lovely Christian homes. My sales business is going well.”

That’s the only reason I’m here.

I study my nails for a moment, wondering if it’s too early to say what needs to be said.

“UNT has let me wait another semester before starting. My scholarship money too. I have to use it first semester, though, or I’ll lose it forever. So this is only temporary.”

“I’m so proud of you. Everyone takes a little time off school anyway.”

I didn’t have much of a choice.


3 months earlier

“We have something to tell you,” Dad says as I settle in the backseat of the car.

The worry lines on Mom’s face are more pronounced than usual; her nose redder and cheeks puffier as well. I swallow and clutch my backpack.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

I’m not ready for this. I haven’t even processed the tragedy of the Twin Tower attacks.

“We’ve lost the house.”

The words crash into me with all the force of a football player.

“What?”

Why did you say that? You heard it. You stupid girl.

I think back to May when August was to be the start of my life. University of North Texas. Film school. I was going to be a screenwriter. A movie critic. Something awesome. Something not here.

“I don’t have any money left,” I offer.

You took everything last time with the promise to pay it back and some.

Mom turns to me and shakes her head, “It’s too late for that. We have two weeks to vacate.”

What did you expect? This was always going to happen.

A queasiness overcomes me. I went back to community college this semester. Am I going to be able to finish? I’m going to be homeless!

The world is muted. I look down at my hands and flex my fingers to make sure my brain was still connected to my body.

Life has to get better than this.


4 months earlier

They’re sitting in the car. Little brother and Mom. Excited, I enter the car. I just got the promotion I’d been after for so long. Now I will earn a whole extra dollar more an hour and get a guaranteed 35+ hours a week. With no regard for either, I start telling about how great it is and how much money I can save for August. I have all these amazing plans. Live on campus. Work at the movie theatre as a manager every night, and go for a run around the campus every morning because I’ve always wanted to do that.

Silence.

I look at their faces.

“Mel,” brother says, tilting his head to Mom.

Mom’s lips are pursed. She never did have a very good poker face.

“We owe three months to the bank,” she admits.

“How much?” I ask.

“Five thousand.”

Only a month ago, I had decided to not buy a car for $1500 because it didn’t fit into my plan of having enough for my first year of university life. But this… this was almost all of my savings.

“Your tax check?”

“Won’t be here in time. If we don’t pay by next week, they’re going to foreclose.”

I stay quiet for the rest of the car ride home. She doesn’t directly ask me yet. That’ll come later. Life definitely has to get better than this.

Rose-Colored Glasses

A solitary light shone over Daddy’s lap. In the darkness, his tanned skin was the shade of a penny, and his black hair, eternally cut and parted in the same respectable style, was nothing more than a shadow.  

He read aloud, never adding a flare or bravose to the telling. There was no need to be dramatic. His voice carried in any room he was in, but at night, it was quiet and reverential.

“Words carry enough weight on their own,” he said that night.

It was Tolkien – no Herbert? Heinlein? Ludlum? Donaldson? I can’t remember which. Why can’t I remember which book it was?

…..

I sit on the edge of the church pew. The sound of his voice, his piano, resonates in the auditorium from the speakers. The recording is scratchy, authentic.

The words of the song take on a whole new meaning. “Until then, my heart will go on singing. Until then, with joy I’ll carry on. Until the day my eyes behold that city. Until the day God calls me home.” I dig my nails into the underside of the rough carpet-y cushion and bite my lower lip.

…..

With his lamp turned on and the TV turned off, Daddy ruffled the college rule pages. I sat on the floor, eyes squinted, trying to read the back of the page. He was hyper-focused, but the rest of his face was neutral. Does he like it? I hope he likes it!

He set the pages onto the lamp table and looked down at me.

“Melly, this is amazing! How did you come up with this story?” he asked.

The glisten in his eyes, the dimples in his cheeks made my heart leap.

“I don’t know. It just came to me,” I admitted.

“You could be the next Stephen King!”

I cried tears of joy that night. Was it that night? Maybe it was another. He read lots of my stories. He said it. I think.

…..

I stretch my hand over to Momma’s. The chill of her skin is jarring, but I wrap my fingers around hers and squeeze. She trembles and cups her other hand on top of mine with a gentle pat.

“Tim was one of the best men I knew,” I hear a friend say.

On the other side of me, Wayne puts his arm around my shoulder. I lean my head into him and stifle a sob.

…..

Daddy drove around town.

“I’m so proud of you,” he said. “You’re such a good worker. You’re going places, Melly Belly.”

Loop 286 took all of fifteen minutes to drive around, yet here we were in our third pass, singing to Hootie, Eddie Vedder, Alanis.

Maybe it was Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac? I can’t remember which.

No. He’s loaning his suit to a friend so he can go to an interview.

No. He’s playing the beginning of Come Sail Away on his keyboard.

No! He’s singing on the church’s Grand Piano.

NO! He’s sitting beside Mom at my graduation, beaming from ear-to-ear.

No no no no no. That’s not it. He’s driving me to work? Driving me home?

….Driving me to the airport.

…..

I left! I left him! He’s gone, and I never got to say how much everything he did mattered!

I swallow, but I choke on the gathered moisture. I want to hold onto the good memories. All the good stories. But I can’t.

He’s gone. Forever.

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Sadly one of the only photos I have of him. 😦

Dreamers

Little boy having fun with friends in park blowing bubbles

Nothing she could say would assuage their grief; the country they called home had become a corporation, a tyrant, a leviathan. Still she mustered the strength to stand tall and speak, “Fuck him!”