by Suzanne Nielsen
Victorie Vanz was so grounded she couldn't even talk to herself; at least that's what Victorie's mother told Fortune Palmer when she rang the Vanz doorbell at 9:30 on the first Thursday morning in August. "Come back in a week," said Mrs. Vanz, "On second thought, make that two." The door slammed and Mrs. Vanz cursed all the Christian saints in alphabetical order.
Meanwhile Victorie was prying her ground-level bedroom window open. Fortune rounded the corner and heard the sawing of the screen, metal on metal. She also saw smoke billowing out from the window. Maybe Victorie was burning down the house, Fortune thought, ridding of the old bag Vanz.
"What did you do?" asked Fortune as she squatted next to the screen.
"Smoked, and lied about my age when I applied for that job at Smart Chicken," Victorie said. "I have to get out of this hellhole, and the job transfers you to St. Edward, all expenses paid." Victorie handed Fortune her smoke, then slipped through the ripped screen catching her sleeve on a stray wire. "I gotta get to the Marriott Hotel downtown before the chicken man leaves for Nebraska. I'm sure they want me for that job," Victorie said fidgeting with the sleeve of her shirt. "Do you have a pin or something, look at this?!" "Here's my shirt, let's switch," Fortune said while stripping behind the neighbor's garage. "I love you forever for this," said Victorie as she slipped off her shirt and put on Fortune's. Victorie ran to catch the 9B bus to take her to the Marriott before it was too late.
"Tell me again, Miss Vance, why you would like to sell Smart Chicken," said Mr. Mabriam. He sat across from Victorie in the lobby of the Marriott. Every time he took a sip of coffee he squinted. Victorie involuntarily squinted back. "Oh," said Victorie, "I was just thinking about all the reasons I want to sell Smart Chicken. The biggest reason is that I have always believed chicken were much smarter than they’ve been given credit for. My favorite movie is Chicken Little, no lie."
"I'm glad you wouldn't think of lying, Miss Vanz. I must tell you that it's through God's inspiration and glory that Smart Chicken became incorporated. The fact that your shirt says, "I Believe," makes me think that you'd be right for our business. When can you start?"
Victorie got back on the bus with a jump in her step. She'd gotten the job after all. Mr. Mabriam believed her when she said she was 18, just like Fortune believed if she wore the t-shirt she'd loaned Victorie that her breasts would get larger overnight. Finally Victorie would be out of that hellhole, away from the nag that grounded her at wit's end; maybe her boobs would grow overnight, and she'd be ready for bigger and better things. "You have to start somewhere," she said to the bus driver as she got off at her stop.
Feed the Birds
"Why do you drop change on the ground?" I ask my mom when I walk with her to work one morning during summer. "The birds have to make a living too, Joseph."
Our route is mapped out. We go straight down Monroe for two blocks, turn right on Furness, take that to Nebraska Avenue for three blocks and come up the back alley to the busy intersection where she clerks at the Eighty-Eight Cent Store. Mom's done digging in her purse for loose change. "Thirty-three cents," I say. She tells me something's wrong with my head that I can't read the sign on the front of the store properly and she'll ask my dad when he's in town to take me to an eye doctor, or to a head doctor for a lobotomy. She tells me to go home and park my butt on the porch with Scott, our dog, and read my Mad magazine. I say Scott and I have big plans to do just that. She'll be home in time for supper.
I take the same route home, collect the thirty-three cents and stop at Jack's Grocery on Sherwood and Ivy intent to blow my wad. As I open the front door and the bell rings overhead Jack says, "Here comes Mr. Moneybags," then puffs on his cigarette. "Hurry up, kid, I got 'The Price is Right' to watch." I put my cash on the glass counter and make my selections. I remember to get a pepperoni stick for Scott and a day old Bismark. As I leave Jack says, "Tell your mother to start feeding you better." "What, this?" I say, "This is bird food, Mr. Jack. I'm going home to steak and eggs."
I cram seven pieces of Bazooka Joe in my mouth before I turn onto Monroe. The comics are repeats of each other, which explain why the gum is hard to chew. Tim Wiger, who lives five doors down from me is out front drowning his rabbit. He's holding it up in the air by its ears and flooding its stomach with the hose. The rabbit's feet are kicking and it wiggles free. It runs first in circles, then finds the street and escapes to the other side and down the sewer.
"Quit eying me Joefes," he says, then points the hose at me. It stings as it hits my face and I throw my treats to the birds. I run full toward Tim yelling how he needs to go to a head doctor to learn how to talk properly. He kicks me in the gut and stands over me hosing me in the face until I think my eyeballs are swimming away. I hear what sounds like bells ringing above my head and I dare to open my eyes. Above me I see a collection of rabbit's feet in a rainbow of colors dangling from chains connected to Tim's belt loop. I close my eyes and think of the rabbit that got away.
An Eight-Hour Shift
I'd worked as a recreational therapist for over ten years in a psych hospital. During that decade I'd survived four layoffs, a patient drowning, and the news of John Lennon's death. Entering the eleventh month of my tenth year I was laid off. Instead of applying for work, I clipped Oreo coupons.
Within three weeks, my savings was depleted and I was counting calories. I squeezed into a pair of black pants and an orange sweater (it was October 30), and went to fill out a job application at T J Maxx, a clothing store close to my apartment. Miss Neumann interviewed me. Mr. Walters interviewed me after Miss Neumann. T J Maxx respected titles for their managers.
I was hired. Mr. Walters said, "You can work with Ida in the back room as a hanger." I followed Ida to the back room. "Is it Miss Ida, or Ms?," I asked. Ida's lazy eye stole a look my way, and then got down to business.
"Here's your box," Miss Ida said. "Here's your stack of hangers. Here's your weapon." Miss Ida handed me a knife-like tool with a razorblade edge. "Open your box, pull out your garments and hang them up. That's all there is to it," Ida said.
"Cool," I said. "Wow, you get to do this for eight hours every day huh?," I asked. "Where I worked before we couldn't have things like weapons for fear the patients would steal them. As a matter of fact the nurses used to take the patients' shoe laces away when they first came cuz they were nervous the patients' might use them as a hangman device," I said. Miss Ida told me that talking while hanging garments slowed the process down.
By lunch I wanted to slit my wrists with my weapon. Instead I went back to my box and hangers to finish out my shift. The next day I never showed up. I never darkened the door of T J Maxx again, not even to get my paycheck for those eight hours I spent with Miss Ida and her lazy eye. I wonder if she thought I was lazy, or just plain crazy. I kipped that weapon, still have it today as a matter of fact. Just to remind me that an eight-hour shift is worthy of being armed.
Suzanne Nielsen teaches creative writing at Metropolitan State University and The Loft Literary Center. She writes a quarterly column, "Cool Dead People," for Doubledarepress, an online literary journal, which also appears in print through Whistling Shade Literary Journal. Her book of short fiction titled The Moon Behind the 8-Ball & Other Stories is available from So'ham Books (http://www.sohamindia.tk).
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