Rewrite of chapter 5. The scene is the morning after a glorious party, and the end of the first third of the novel. Everyone is hungover but happy, and the story reaches a peak at the end of this chapter, after which is the downward slide to its ultimate fate.
Just gave chapter 4 a rewrite, the party scene. One of the inspirations for this chapter is the party scene from The Great Gatsby. Not that I’m at that level of expertise, but learn from the best. What struck me about the party scene from Gatsby is that it’s so ethereal it almost seems unreal, and so beautiful that you know the happiness won’t last. And I think it’s a match with my party scene because it represents a deliriously happy peak for all the characters that they’ll never reach again.
Just rewrote chapter 3 of Redwood Summer. I’m going through the entire draft of the novel making final changes and improvements before I approach an agent. Redwood Summer takes place in 1990 San Jose, CA, and this chapter is set in the main character’s workplace during the early summer. All 17 chapters of Redwood Summer are posted on my site.
“So I caught a fish this big,” said a fisherman, his hands slightly apart.
“Oh yeah? Well I caught one this big,” bragged another fisherman, his arms stretched out farther.
“That’s nothing,” another fisherman chimed in. “I caught one this big!” He strained his arms apart as far as they could stretch.
“Hey, guys!” announced Spiderman foe and public nuisance Dr. Octopus as he approached. “Wanna hear how big of a fish I caught?” he boasted, a proud smile underneath his coke bottle thick eyeglasses. He eagerly prepared to extend his four extra metallic arms to maximum length.
The parties, family gatherings, career change, leaving of school, ordeals, dispersement of friends to their separate lives, and all the other life events of the past year ran through Jason’s mind as he continued to look out the passenger side window from a work truck as Hal drove. He gazed ahead to the dry, golden hills in the distance covered with light brown grass, then another memory came to mind as he thought back to a time when he and his friends drove up to the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains, hiked into a park of enormous rocks, and looked down across the entire valley. He peered toward the south and tried to find the spot on the mountain range where they went, but the truck turned a corner and he lost sight of it.
“I tell you, Jason, your uncle’s a good guy,” Hal said as he sped past a long row of business parks and concrete tilt-ups. “He lets me work for him when I’m not making enough at my own business. Things are kind of dicey right now, but it should pick up soon. Times like this are good for the economy.”
The cab became silent, then Jason figured Hal was waiting for a response. “Yeah, I’m sure it will,” he answered reflexively. “Uncle Ray is a good guy, saved me from a dead end job.”
“Salt of the earth,” Hal proclaimed. “Ought to be more like him.”
“Yeah, there should,” Jason responded as he recalled how welcoming Uncle Ray was when he approached him for a job. Like he was expecting me, Jason thought to himself.
“You see, what we’re doing is solid,” Hal informed. “Businesses come and go, some get bought out, others move overseas, but there’s always going to be a need for construction. All the engineers and programmers and computer nerds around here, they spend their whole day in front of computer screens, never go outside, probably never get laid. Think any of them can do what we do?”
“Maybe not,” Jason replied, “but they’re the ones who come up with the ideas that keep
everything going. So what if they don’t know how to swing a hammer, they don’t need to.”
“But you can’t run a business outdoors, or this country for that matter. Every king needs a castle, and someone has to build that castle, that’s where we come in.” Hal looked around the expanse. “Sure, this place gets more crowded every year, I remember how it used to be, but that’s what keeps us in business.”
“Yep,” Jason said, “until we run out of land.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Hal reassured. “There’s still enough to keep us busy for a long while. Plus there’s all those older buildings that need to be demolished and replaced. No new real estate required for that.”
“And on it goes,” Jason said partly to himself. He contemplated the perpetually onward flow of time, and its complete indifference to the changes in his own life.
“You know what,” Hal began, “we supply a necessary demand, which gives us a chance to make a decent living in the greatest country on earth. That’s something to be thankful for.” Over the radio a news talk show was discussing a pending United States military deployment to the Mideast. “Now you take that situation between Iraq and Kuwait,” he said, “all the bleeding heart types say we should avoid war, but what choice do we have? That is a key strategic part of the world.”
Jason listened to the discussion on the radio, and thought some of the people talking sounded more agitated and enthusiastic for war than they needed to be. “I don’t know,” he countered. “You think they’re telling us everything?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well the way they’re talking about it, it just sounds too neat, like something is being left out.”
“We got the biggest and best military on earth. What’s the worse that can happen?”
“What does a war on the other side of the world have to do with us?”
“Strategy, my friend,” Hal reminded.
Jason pondered. “I thought we were friends with the Russians now.”
“All the more reason to strike, they won’t get in the way.”
“But it seems like there’s still time to work it out.”
“Well, you have to look at the big picture,” Hal advised. “If all we do is talk, which is basically doing nothing, greater problems may happen. Problems that can affect our security,” he added ominously.
“It’ll still cost some lives.”
“Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good.” Hal looked over at Jason. “You don’t like war?”
“All I’m saying we shouldn’t rush into anything until we know what’s going on over there,” Jason cautioned.
“I’ll tell you what’s going on,” Hal said confidentially. “Over there is where most of the world’s black gold is, that’s what fuels industry, the economy, pretty much all of civilization, and we got to have a foothold there if we want to get our share. It’s all a matter of survival.”
“What about the people already living there?”
Hal laughed. “Are you kidding me? A bunch of sand niggers who’ve been killing each other for centuries? We got to go in there, straighten the whole mess out, and put everyone back in their place. That’s what we do.”
Jason looked down an avenue they were crossing and in the distance noticed the building where his last job was. “Since when?”
“Okay, all kidding aside,” Hal started. “Everyone does have a right to an opinion, that’s the American way, but when the shit goes down you don’t want to be caught on the wrong side.” They drove along further. “You know what I’m saying, right?”
Jason listened closer to the talking on the radio. The debate had become heated and antagonistic as the voices rose to a higher pitch. He sensed Hal still looking at him, and he felt the push of coercion. “You know what,” he began, “I work, I pay taxes, I’m a good citizen, and I have the right to believe in what I want, when I want, how I want,” he asserted. “And no one can tell me different!” He was surprised by the righteousness of his declaration, and it dawned upon him that he was free. “Yeah,” he said to himself, “I’d fight for that.”
Hal appeared to want to respond, but silently drove on. Jason then remembered his plans for the upcoming weekend with Christine and some friends, as well as some people from their new neighborhood. Something to look forward to, he thought happily.
©2018 Robert Kirkendall
Jason drove along a Central Valley freeway through large expanses of agriculture. In the distance he saw the prison, a desolate cluster of rectangular, institutional buildings imposing upon the surrounding open space. He exited off the freeway as he approached and drove to the visitor lot. He parked and felt a little uneasy as he passed under a guard tower and entered an outer gate into the stark compound. He walked down a concrete path lined with high cyclone fencing topped with a long coil of concertina wire. He entered a building, went through a metal detector, signed a visitor log, and a guard led him to a drab room with a row of chairs lined up in front of glass partitions. He followed the guard and walked behind the other visitors. He noticed the grim looking prisoners behind glass panes out of the corner of his eye. The guard pointed him to a chair and he sat down.
Jason looked through the glass pane, then saw Randy approach. His heart sank a little when he saw him in his prison uniform. Randy sat down across him. Jason picked up the receiver, and Randy did the same. He was unsure of what to say.
“So how you been?” Randy finally asked.
“Not bad,” Jason answered. “How about you?”
“I’m settling in, getting to know the rest of the guys,” Randy said from the other side of the glass. “What choice do I have anyways, right?” he said jokingly. Jason involuntarily smiled along with him.
“Yeah,” Jason agreed. He struggled with the sight of Randy in prison.
“Some of the guys here,” Randy continued, “you should hear their stories.”
“And I thought I had it bad.”
“Seems like no matter how bad it is,” Jason realized, “somebody always has it worse.”
“Guess I had to learn that the hard way,” Randy said half kiddingly.
Jason remained serious. “So what’s it like in here?”
“It ain’t complicated. They got everybody on the same schedule, same old routine, day in, day out. So I do what they tell me to do, stay out of trouble, and count the days. I’ll be out of here someday.”
“Yeah, took some getting used to.”
“I guess it could be worse,” Jason said.
“Yeah, but it could also be a whole lot better,” Randy replied. “Bad as it is, I didn’t think I was going to miss the outside world so much. I really miss is being able to bullshit people, can’t do that here. But I’m making the best of it.”
“I suppose that’s all you can do,” Jason said resignedly. “But I can’t get used to seeing you like this.”
“At least I know where my next meal is coming from, and you can’t beat the rent,” Randy said with a smile.
Jason wanted to smile along with Randy, but couldn’t.
“I’ve also been doing some reading,” Randy continued. “Nothing too difficult, but it’s a change. Used to be I was too busy for school, but I’ve got plenty of time now.”
Jason was surprised that he was feeling slightly envious over of his own lack of free time.
“So how are things on the outside?” Randy asked.
“Everyone’s doing all right,” Jason answered. “They sure do miss you.”
“Not as much as I miss them,” Randy said longingly. “I even miss the people I didn’t like,” he added amusedly.
“How about Gina?”
Randy laughed. “I burned that bridge to a crisp.”
“You remember Terry’s little brother?” Jason asked.
“Yeah, the one who joined the Navy.”
“Looks like he might be headed to the Persian Gulf.”
“It’s not for certain yet, but if things keep on going the way they’re going…” Jason trailed off.
“I can remember when he was was just a toddler,” Randy reminisced.
“You know, he only signed up was for the college money,” Jason said. “Didn’t think he was going to see any action.”
“Yeah, he got tricked,” Randy concluded. “Hope he’s going to be all right.”
“I’m thinking he will be.” Jason said. “I don’t think this thing will drag on for too long. I’m sure they learned from all the mistakes in the last war.”
“We’ll see,” Randy said suspiciously. “I wonder if my dad knows I’m here.”
“Doesn’t your mom or your sister know where to find him?”
“I think my sister does. She said she’d try to find him and tell him.”
“Hope you hear from him.”
“Yeah,” Randy said forlornly. “Maybe he’ll write me a letter or something. So how’s Christine doing?”
“Doing well,” Jason said. “She isn’t showing yet, but she will be soon.”
“Wow, you’re going to be a dad!” Randy said happily. “That’s got to be tripping you out.”
“I’m still trying to get used to it.”
“I can’t wait to get out of here so I can see him, or her.”
“I just hope I’m up to it,” Jason admitted. “Seems only yesterday I was just a kid myself.”
“Ah, don’t worry, you’ll make a great dad,” Randy reassured. “At least you’re making more money now. How is the new job?”
“It’s more work,” Jason said, “but it is a whole lot better than the last job.”
“Good. You were really hating that other place.”
“Yeah, it was getting on my last nerve,” Jason said with recalled anger. “I have to say, this was not how I planned on changing jobs.”
“Hey, so what if your old lady had to help find a job for you. It’s all about who you know.”
“I do get to be outdoors at least,” Jason remembered, “working with my hands. If nothing else it’ll keep me in shape.”
“Yeah, you don’t want to be stuck indoors chained to a desk. How’s the pay?”
“Five bucks more an hour than the last job.”
“Yeah, and I’m going to need every penny of it raising a kid.”
“And then you’ll need a raise if you two have any more kids,” Randy added encouragingly.
“One challenge at a time,” Jason resisted.
“So are you and Chris going to tie the knot?” Randy asked.
“Looks like it. We’re practically married already,” Jason added.
“Sounds like we’re both set,” Randy said with a laugh.
Jason leaned forward toward the glass. “You know, it didn’t have to be this way. All you’re doing is protecting the wrong people,” he implored. “You think they’d do the same for you?” he tried to persuade.
“They caught me red handed,” Randy reminded. “They were going to put me away no matter what, why drag other people down.”
“What about an appeal?”
“Can’t afford it, and the public defender said I needed more grounds.”
Jason felt defeated. “Wish there was something I could do.”
“Hey, at least you came to see me,” Randy said gratefully. “That means a lot.”
A regretful memory rose to the surface of Jason conscience. “Sorry for the things I said that night…you know, after that party.”
“Don’t be,” Randy brushed aside. “I’m the one who should be apologizing.”
“I never wanted you out of my life,” Jason asserted. “It’s just that things changed.”
“Yeah they did.”
“This is all fucked up,” Jason said moodily. “You don’t deserve to be stuck in here.”
“There’s always time off for good behavior,” Randy pointed out.
Jason was struck by the Randy’s optimism. He saw no reason for it, but his gloom lightened. “You should be able to swing that,” he said humorously as he finally relaxed. “At least you’re going to be paroled someday, not me. Parenthood is a life sentence.” He leaned in confidentially. “I have to admit, you may be right about Chris taking over my life.”
“You know,” Randy began completely serious, “if I had a girl like Christine in my life, I wouldn’t be stuck in here right now.”
Jason saw a long absent clarity in Randy’s eyes as they looked at each other for a long moment. “Yeah,” he finally said. “I guess I’m the lucky one.”
“Sorry I couldn’t take care of the bachelor party.”
“It’s all right,” Jason said, “probably would’ve lead to more arrests.”
“Yeah, Darren most likely,” Randy predicted, and they shared a laugh. “Send me some pictures of the wedding.”
“You got it.” Jason wanted to make the moment last. Memories of a disappeared, happier past beckoned him, and he sensed Randy was feeling the same way. He wanted to enjoy the moment some more, but he felt the pull of the outside world. “Well, I better get going.”
“Tell everybody I said hi.”
“I’ll do that.” Jason looked to Randy one last time. “Good to see you again.”
“Likewise. Don’t be a stranger.”
“I won’t.” Jason fought back tears. “Bye, Randy.”
“See you later, brother.”
Jason slowly hung up the receiver, got up, and left the stark room. He saw Randy in his periphery still seated behind the glass partition as he was departing.
©2018 Robert Kirkendall
Timmy brought the balloon animal to his family. “Look at what I got.”
“Why look at that balloon dog!” his mother said. “How cute!”
“No,” father disagreed, “it’s a horse.”
“You’re both wrong,” grandma interrupted. “It’s obviously a rhinoceros.”
“Let me look at that,” Uncle Wally requested as he took the balloon animal and inspected it. “Just as I thought, a pelican.”
Aunt Sue grabbed the balloon animal and looked it over. “No, it’s a lobster.”
“You’re all wrong,” Timmy said as he took it back. “It’s just a bunch of balloons randomly tied together. You people are weird.”
Jason looked over the newspaper classified want ads while sitting at the kitchen table. David was across the table doing his homework.
“Anything promising?” father asked from the living room.
“Not much,” Jason answered. “A lot of the same old stuff.”
“Budget cuts because of the Cold War ending would be my guess.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking,” Jason agreed. “We need another war to get things going again,” he added half seriously.
“Doesn’t the county building have a job center?” David asked.
“I checked it out, most of it’s part time work,” Jason said, “and nothing that pays enough.”
“What about a temp agency?” David suggested.
“I need a permanent job,” Jason replied. “Those temp jobs don’t pay dick anyhow.”
“I should look for a new job myself,” David said. “I’m getting tired of the fast food scene.”
“Then get a job at Safeway,” father said impatiently.
The telephone rang. David reached over and picked up the receiver. “Hello? Oh hi, Todd…Yeah, he’s here.” He handed the receiver to Jason. “It’s Todd.”
Jason took the receiver. “Todd. What’s up?”
“Jason, got some bad news,” Todd said.
He got a sinking feeling. “What is it?”
“Randy got busted.”
“Dammit!” Jason struck the table and David looked up. “What happened?”
“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Todd said. “A SWAT team did a raid on this house where he just happened to be in the middle of a deal.”
Jason was dismayed and angry. He got up as he tried to grasp what he just heard and paced around as the coiled phone chord dangled from the receiver to the telephone. “I can’t believe this!” he said angrily. “Where is he now?”
“They got him at the city lockup. I called and they told me he’s going to be arraigned tomorrow.”
“Goddamn, this is a nightmare!” Jason became anxious as the news sank in. The dread he felt for Randy reached its conclusion, and the remaining hopes he had came crashing down. He then looked around and noticed his brother and father looking at him. He turned toward the telephone on the wall to conceal his anger. “You know, I told him a thousand goddamn times not to be careless, not to get mixed up with Darren and Tony, all those other sketchy motherfuckers, that whole scene, now look what happens!”
“I heard how he lost it at Tony’s party and got into a fight.”
“Yeah, we got him out of there just before the cops showed up.”
“I also heard from some of the guys that you and Randy almost got into it,” Todd said carefully.
Jason felt the regret of that night. “Yeah,” he admitted. “Never thought it’d come to that.”
“Don’t blame you for avoiding the party.”
“I never knew Tony all that well anyway,” Todd said
“I only went because of Randy, guess I thought I could keep him out of trouble. A lot of good that did,” Jason added with bitter irony.
“It’s all fucked up,” Todd lamented. “But I guess it isn’t a total surprise.”
“No, guess not,” Jason agreed. “So now what? It’s not like Randy or his mom can afford a
decent lawyer, or any kind of lawyer.”
“I know. He’ll probably end up with some half ass public defender.”
“Which means he’ll probably end up doing some time.”
“Most likely,” Todd said dejectedly. “It’ll all depend on the lawyer he gets stuck with, the judge, whether the DA wants to cut him a deal, and they won’t do that unless he’s willing to give up some names.”
“Can’t see Randy doing that,” Jason predicted. “Probably doesn’t know anyone important anyway.”
“I doubt he does,” Todd agreed. “He’s the low man on the totem pole.”
“So what next?”
“I’m going to call in sick tomorrow so I can go to the arraignment. I’ll be in touch with everyone as soon as I know what’s happening.”
“So how much do you think his bail will be?” Jason asked.
“No idea,” Todd answered. “I guess that’ll depend on the amount he was caught with.”
Jason leaned against the wall and rested his head on his hand. “He’s really up a creek.”
“Could be,” Todd said. “Do you know if he has any priors?”
“Nothing like this,” Jason said. He stood back up. “This sucks, this really, fucking sucks.”
“I know. Randy always was the life of the party, since he was little. Guess it finally caught up with him.”
“It’s like he ignored all the warning signs.”
“Yeah,” Tom sighed. “Well, I’ll let you go, I’ve got some more people to call. I’ll call you tomorrow and let you know how it went.”
“All right,” Jason said. “I was just about to head to Christine’s myself. Says she has important news, probably about a job somewhere.”
“That could be a good thing, I know you’re getting sick and tired of your current job.”
“We’ll see, not exactly on my mind right now.”
“Well, talk to you tomorrow,” Jason said.
“All right, bye.”
“Bye.” Jason hung up the receiver.
“What happened?” David asked.
“Randy was arrested.”
“Oh, no!” he reacted. “What for?”
“Possession,” Jason said. He grabbed his keys off the table and headed to the front door.
“What a shame,” father remarked sadly.
“Going over to Christine’s,” Jason said as he left. He got into his car and drove away quickly. The late summer twilight faded into darkness as he was driving and all his worries about Randy were recasting into new uncertainties. The story of Randy’s life played out in his mind once again, from when they first met in kindergarten, their shared times and adventures as they grew up together, and all through the years up to the present where it was culminating into a sense of finality. He then despaired that Randy was slipping out of his life.
He arrived at Christine’s and tried to straighten out his thoughts as he walked to her apartment. He knocked on the front door. It opened slowly and Christine quietly let him in. He entered and milled around in the front room. He was feeling the weight of what he was about what to tell her.
“Bad news about Randy,” he finally said.
“He got busted.”
“Oh no,” Christine said sadly and she sat down. “That’s terrible.”
“Todd just called and told me, he was arrested earlier today.”
“What did he do?”
“He was in the middle of a drug deal then the police raided the place.” Jason paced around some more. “I tried to talk some sense into him,” he said exasperatedly. “I told him not to get mixed up with the wrong people.”
“You did the best you could,” Christine reassured.
“Did I?” Jason countered as he kept pacing around the room. “Feels like I could have done more.” He came to a stop as he dwelt some more about what happened. “Shit, they’ll probably throw the book at him, because they can.”
“I know,” Christine said somewhat absently, “it’s awful.”
Jason sensed that Christine was thinking of something else. “You work for lawyers, what do you think his chances are?”
“Hmm? Oh, I don’t know, we don’t do criminal law. I guess it’s going to depend on how much he was caught with, and if he’s willing to plea bargain.”
“Well then he’s in bad shape because Randy was never one to snitch.” Jason started to move around again to release mounting stress. “Why the fuck did he have to get caught? Now he’s stuck in the gears of the system!”
“Maybe he’ll get help he needs on the inside,” Christine said hopefully.
“And he has to go behind bars to get it? That ain’t fair,” Jason said angrily. “This is all fucked
up. I know he blew it, but it’s not like he robbed a bank or killed someone, all he did was fall in with
the wrong crowd and make some mistakes! Why all this other bullshit?”
“I know, it’s terrible, I’m really sorry it all happened like this,” Christine said, “but it’s out of our hands now.”
“Yeah, just like a lot of other things in life.”
Christine stood up and walked up to Jason as he was pacing around. “Look, Jason, I know this is important, but there is something I need to tell you.”
“If it’s about another job possibility can we talk about it later?” Jason demanded. “Got a lot on my mind right now.”
“No, it’s not about a job,” Christine reassured.
“Then what?” Jason asked curtly as he stopped in front of Christine. “Is it a family emergency? Someone back in the hospital?”
“No, it’s nothing like that.”
“Then what?” Jason repeated louder.
Christine hesitated and struggled for words.
Jason wandered away. “Well I hope it’s important because I have a lot on my mind right now.”
Jason was startled. He looked back at Christine. Her expression was gravely serious. His agonizing over Randy ended abruptly and he looked searchingly into her eyes. He became apprehensive of what he was about to hear. She tried to speak. He moved closer to her. “What is it?”
Jason was suddenly numb all over. He tried to comprehend what he just heard and struggled to say something, but was too overwhelmed. He sensed his life changing beyond his control. “For real?” he asked astonishingly.
Christine nodded. “I just found out today.”
Jason remained confused. “I…I don’t know what to say.”
“I was late,” Christine revealed, “and I started to worry. So I took the test.”
Jason saw his old life disappearing for good, and a new reality of living for others began to emerge. He tried to grasp the situation but it was changing too fast. He searched for something to say in the sudden vacuum. “I guess I never figured on this happening so soon,” he finally said.
“Me neither,” Christine admitted. “Oh my god, what are my parents going to say!” She buried her face into her hands.
Jason began to think of her ordeal. “You haven’t told them yet?”
“I haven’t told anyone.”
Jason slowly put his hand onto Christine’s shoulder. She held onto his hand, and they came together. She convulsed a little as they leaned onto each other for a long moment. He held her close as he realized everything about his life was changing permanently. She sobbed a little more then wiped the tears from her eyes as she continued to hold on to him.
“Now I’m really going to have to get a new job,” Jason said. “I need to get out of my rut anyway,” he said with unexpected relief.
“I’ll work for as long as I can,” Christine offered, “at least until I get too big.”
Jason imagined Christine in the last stages of pregnancy and how she would look. “Guess I’ll have to hug you from behind when that happens.”
“When I found out, I wasn’t sure how you’d react,” Christine said as she rested her head on Jason. “I guess it’s still sinking in for me.”
“I’m still in shock myself,” Jason admitted. “Hope I’m up for it.”
Christine looked up at Jason. “I think you’ll make a great father,” she said convincingly, her eyes still wet as she smiled a little. He worried if he could live up to her faith as he saw his youth coming to its final end. He considered all his new obligations for the future as he headed irreversibly into destiny. After a long while they slowly relaxed their hold on each other.
“Sorry it happened like this,” Christine apologized.
“Nah, don’t be,” Jason consoled. “Time to move on from that soul sucking job anyhow.” He sensed himself readjusting to his new circumstances automatically without any effort. “They’re forcing everybody out so they can bring in all their own high end cronies. Whole place feels like it’s on lock down.”
“I was afraid you were going to be upset.”
“No, just surprised.”
“Same here, this changes everything.” Christine appeared concerned. “What are you going to do about school?”
“Some other time,” Jason said resignedly.
“Really sorry about that.”
“Don’t be, degrees aren’t worth what they used to be. Better to learn a skill anyhow.” Jason gave in to the transformation that he felt to be happening on its own. “Guess we’ll have to tell everyone pretty soon,”
“My family will sure be in for a surprise,” Christine said as she laughed a little.
“Same with mine,” Jason said laughing along with her. “My parents are going to be
grandparents for the first time, that’s gonna to make them feel old!” They laughed some more, then embraced each other again as their laughter subsided. The weight of their situation grounded them and Jason felt more tied to Christine than he ever had before. “So you’re ready for all this?” he finally asked.
“This is sooner than I expected.” Christine held onto Jason contentedly. She then looked up to him. “Yes, I’m ready.”
Jason paused for a moment. “Is your uncle still hiring?”
©2018 Robert Kirkendall
The man stopped when he came across a pleasant sight of white flowers arrayed in front of him. He wistfully contemplated the field of new growth. The beautiful daisy, he sighed to himself, Bellis perennis if memory serves me. He looked across the many bright yellow dots surrounded by snow white petals atop thin green stems and silently thanked Mother Nature for providing him with such a lovely site. It’s like a…carpet of prettiness, he beheld, a gift from the natural world for all the world to enjoy.
He then restarted his mower and chopped them all down.
Jason took a long drink from a bottle of tomato juice and waited for it to replenish him. His body was fatigued and his mind taxed from too much alcohol over the weekend. He leaned back against a three story rack of heavy steel shelves half filled with inventory and relaxed for a bit. He then screwed the cap back on the bottle and hid it behind a box of computer hardware parts. He tiredly walked back to an assortment of more boxes scattered around the concrete floor and next to a large wooden pallet.
He picked up a clipboard that held a stack of papers and looked at the top form. He tried to comprehend the maze of small writing and blank spaces with his slowed thinking. He then looked down at the pile of boxes and picked up the one closest to him. He read the writing on its label, looked back at the paper on the clipboard, and tried to figure out which information belonged on which line or square. He took the pen from the clipboard and tediously filled out the form. He wanted to go home and sleep off his hangover, but forced himself to go on. He finally completed the form and placed the box on the pallet.
He picked up another box, slowly copied the information from its label onto another complicated form, then stacked the box onto the pallet next to other one. He continued the task alone in the cavernous building. The flickering light of the florescent tubes from the high ceiling aggravated his headache as he struggled to work through the pain.
Isolated and hungover, Jason’s mind began to wander. He thought back to the night of Tony’s party. The argument he had with Randy continued to haunt him in his dulled state. Some harsh words were said, he thought regretfully, we never talked that way to each other before. I had no idea he was jealous like that, he thought, or did I just miss the signs? have I been ignoring him? maybe he’s right about me pushing him away, maybe it’s partly my fault. He recalled more about that night, a party at a strange house crowded with tense people he didn’t know, Randy’s somewhat secretive manner, and his more belligerent than usual behavior that blew up into conflict and almost got in trouble with the police. He’s mixing with the wrong people, Jason asserted. He then began to wonder about his own responsibility. Maybe I drove him to it, he conceded, I have been spending more time with Christine, his getting into wrong situations, doing things he shouldn’t be doing, is he just trying to get me to notice him again? Guilt began to weigh on Jason. I need to be there for him, he reminded himself, but he still felt unsettled. What if he doesn’t want to come back? he worried.
Jason’s actions became more automatic as the day wore on. He silently swore at the new owners for denying employees the playing of radios anywhere in the workplace. Time dragged on without the familiarity of music and he furthered his resolve to find a new career path. I just keep losing my freedoms, he bemoaned, then wondered if Randy was right about some of the things he had said. Life does feel more restricted, he admitted, don’t have as much fun as I used to, spending more time with Chris’s family and friends than with my own, if it keeps up I’m going to be driving around in some lame minivan before long. He looked around the remote area for other people, but saw only empty, lonely space.
His thoughts returned to the night of Tony’s party. The events of the night replayed in his mind as he looked for the moment when everything went wrong. He recalled showing up with Mike, Brian, and Terry when the party was already happening. The people at the front door were paranoid about letting them in, but Randy vouched for them. Once inside they tried to hang out with Randy in the house full of strangers, but he was busy talking to other people. They then tried to talk to some of the other party goers, but the noise and everyone’s erratic behavior made it difficult. A lot of those people were on something other than alcohol, he remembered. Probably just a matter of time until a fight broke out, he figured, if it wasn’t Randy and that other guy it would have been some other two guys. He searched some more but couldn’t pinpoint an exact moment when everything went wrong. Maybe there wasn’t one, he concluded, or it had already happened.
As he poured over the events of that night they began to combine into a single totality, which he then saw as part of a long chain of events that built up unnoticeably over time. He tried to find its beginning but it stretched as far back as he could remember. A pattern of behavior appeared to him and he was surprised that he didn’t see it sooner. It seems so obvious, he thought to himself. He then tried to foresee what the future held for Randy, but it made him uneasy.
He then considered his own future, and the futures of all his other friends. He saw the ending of their happy-go-lucky lifestyles and a future of greater responsibilities and less fun. It used to be we were all living it up without a care in the world, he reminisced, and now it’s all about careers and families and car payments. I thought I had more living to do, he thought indignantly, but with everything getting more expensive all the time I guess there’s no more time to take it easy. He started to wonder if Randy was right in his accusations. He may have a point but you can’t stop yourself from growing older, Jason reminded himself. His actions settled into a manageable work tempo.
His thoughts were drawn back again to Randy’s uncertain future. Where is he headed? he worried, he’s gone way beyond just having a good time. He then looked into the past and tried to find the source of Randy’s behavior. There’s got be a reason, he told himself, people don’t get that way for no reason. He then felt he needed to remind himself that he shouldn’t make excuses for Randy. Why did I have to remind himself of that, he wondered, I’m not saying it’s okay for him to go through life recklessly, I’m just trying to understand.
Jason wondered if everyone else was worrying about Randy. He tried to contemplate if
anything could be done for him, and dreaded that there wasn’t. But I can’t just shun Randy, he told himself. He tried again to figure out a possible positive outcome for Randy but was still unsuccessful. The hopelessness of the situation wore him down. What do I know anyways, he reminded himself, I may know Randy better than anyone, but I didn’t go through what he went through, I didn’t live his life. The history buried in his subconscious became unearthed and dawned upon him.
Jason looked around the stark building as he worked. The bare concrete and steel gave an appearance of solid, immovable permanence. I guess I ought to be thankful for what I have, he thought ironically. Not that I exactly have anything here, he reminded himself, the breaks are shorter, the new bosses suck, all the cool people who used to work here were either laid off or quit, they put a freeze on raises, now they’re talking about drug testing, and I’m not making enough to live on my own.
He remembered some gossip he overheard that the new owners were intentionally making the workplace miserable so people would quit and the company would not have to lay them off and pay them a severance. That’s a fucked up thing to do, he thought angrily, shouldn’t be allowed to happen. He remembered how one of the new supervisors gave him a hard time for being two minutes late. He said it wasn’t fair to the other workers, he recalled bitterly, what an asshole, like anyone cares about two goddamn minutes, that bullshit never happened in the old days.
I better get a new thing going quick and get the hell out of here, he reminded himself. His bleak work situation weighed upon him further, his desperation amplified by his hangover. First thing I’ve got to do is to stay away from those kinds of parties, he told himself, and maybe I’ll have to take any job I can get even if it’s less pay just so I can leave this place. But if I take a job that pays less, he pondered, I’ll have to keep looking for a better paying job. Would Christine even put up with me working for less money? he worried as he struggled to find a solution. Dad had it way more together when he was my age and now it’s getting impossible, he agonized, maybe I really was born at the wrong time.
His thoughts traveled back to all the years of playing sports under a hot summer sun and hard manual jobs he used to work. He remembered one strenuous job where he had to dig trenches for water pipes and sprinkler systems, and another where he had to push around heavy wheelbarrows full of concrete and dump them into wooden frames laid upon the ground. Got to say I was more happy with life then than I am now, he admitted. Here I am filling out paperwork and stacking boxes like they’re blocks, he told himself, pretty easy, a job where I don’t have to kill myself, but I liked it a whole lot better when I was breaking a sweat.
The boxes gradually cleared the floor and covered the pallet as Jason labored repetitiously. He worked just hard enough not to worsen his hangover and timed his task so he wouldn’t finish too fast. They’ll just give me some other stupid thing to do, he told himself. His thoughts drifted further into the past. He remembered how Randy, ever since kindergarten, always seemed to get into trouble with teachers, principals and other authority figures. Mom always said he was looking for the attention that he needed, he recalled, but we all thought he was a lot of fun, made everybody laugh, a lot of good times, sure didn’t seem like a problem back then. He was struck by how life seemed so innocent back then. So many things I didn’t see, he realized, and all because I was too busy having fun.
He reflected on Randy’s home life and the stress and conflicts between he and his mother. Sure they clashed, he remembered, but that’s just how it was, Randy was a handful, especially after his dad took off, so she did what she had to, at the time it actually seemed normal. I know they love each other, he acknowledged, some people just have a harder time showing it. He saw Randy’s lifelong impulsiveness and risky behavior in a new light, and more flaws were revealed than he had remembered. He tried again to find a solution to the chaos. What if he got along better with his mom, he thought, what if his dad never left, what if he had some guidance, what if…what if what! The dam of sympathy burst inside of him. You can’t go back in time and change things! he insisted, you do the best we can with what you got and you get on with it, everyone’s got problems.
The boxes were almost cleared off the floor and stacked onto the pallet. Jason looked at his watch and saw that it was getting close to 5PM. He felt a bit of satisfaction over finishing at his own pace. I wonder if this going to be be my last task here, he thought offhandedly. He then heard a heated discussion in another section of the building.
“Look, this was never a problem before, I’ve already made arrangements for occasions like this,” a coworker was pleading.
“That was with the previous owners,” a new supervisor replied.
“But I have to pick up my son!”
“You can’t bring your personal problems to work,” the new supervisor responded firmly.
“When you’re here, you’re on our time.”
©2017 Robert Kirkendall