Free Breakfast: Part Seven
This is part five of Nathan Hare’s novella, Free Breakfast, which oook is serializing. You can read part one here, part two here, part three here, part four here, part five here, and part six here. Look for the last part coming soon!
The mall had about three customers in it as the sliding doors opened. I walked in, bag lunch in one hand, key in the other. Even at ten in the morning the summer heat was overbearing, and as I felt the little breeze of AC against my skin I suppressed a smile. Sometimes just before I start my shift I find myself actually wanting to go to work, but almost as soon as the day begins I remember how terrible it is. By the end of my eight hours, I feel like I’m ready to quit, but for that sweet spot five minutes before, I’m ready to go. There was already someone waiting for me at the stand. An old man, with both hands in his pockets, was leaning up against it. His chin was sticking out and I could tell by the expression on his face that he thought he been waiting a long time. Immediately I found myself hating my job once again. As we made eye contact I gave him a little nod. The process for opening the sunglass stand, known by customers as Tropical Shades, goes something like this: turning on the computer system, unlocking the drawers, and then putting the sunglasses out on the stand. We don’t keep them up there at night for what I’d like to think are obvious reasons. Usually things are done in that order, but it doesn’t really matter, so with a customer waiting I decided the unload the glasses first and maybe let him pick something out. As soon as I started he let out a huge impatient sigh. He stood a bit back and I watched. By the time I was finished putting them out he looked ready to shoot me or something.
“Finally,” he said.
It only took him a couple of seconds to find the pair he wanted, these blue round goggle style glasses, easily the ugliest in our inventory. Picture a mountain bike ad from the early 00’s. Very extreme.
As he brought them up to the counter I turned on the computer. Well, tried to. It wouldn’t start. After several attempts and awkward eye contact with my new friend I let him know what was happening.
“It won’t start.”
“Well I can’t complete your purchase until I can get the computer to turn on.”
“Why not.” he said, just after putting the sunglasses on.
I felt as if I was dealing with someone much, much younger than me.
“Well, basically how the system works is that every time a customer buys a pair of shades, I tell the computer this. It’s kind of policy.” I tried explaining this in the easiest way possible.
“Why don’t I just give you a twenty and we’ll be done?”
“Well that would go against everything I just said.”
He took the sunglasses off.
“I’m going to have to call my manager,” I said, trying not to let him get a word in. “Why don’t you have a stroll around the mall.”
He crossed his arms. “I have to go for lunch at twelve-thirty.”
I looked at my watch. It was 10:08. “You could go check the jewelry stand by the food court,” I suggested. It happened to be run by the same company as Tropical Shades.
As I watched him leave I called my manager, only to be hit with a message confirming my long-distance call. I forgot he was in the States for a few days, so I found myself, after one more attempt to boot it up, lugging the computer tower across the mall toward Future Shop. After putting the glasses back into their proper containers and locking the whole thing up once more, I could feel the eyes of mall-goers watching the trail of cords drag along the floor, and my arms buckle under the heavy load. Every once and a while it would get to be too much and I’d have to stop and sit on a bench, placing the equipment beside me. I found myself relating to the tired mother sitting on the bench across from me.
By the time I reached Future Shop my arms were the most tired they had ever been. This probably seems very pathetic, but I’m pretty sure it’s not. A computer is a heavy piece of equipment. I walked it over to the help centre which was completely dead at ten thirty or whatever time it was in the morning. I made eye contact with the person working way too early, and I tried to look around to avoid the awkwardness. He kept staring, though, and eventually I abandoned trying to avoid anything and locked my eyes with his. As I came closer and closer I could feel him growing more disappointed, as if he was hoping that I would turn and be looking for something else other than his help. When I finally did reach the counter he looked as if he was about ready to cry.
“We usually don’t get customers this early.” As he said this, I could almost hear a quiver in his voice.
“Oh,” I had no idea what to say. “Okay.”
“I have to take my break.” he said, looking very distressed. “I’ll see you in 15 minutes.” He closed the little station and bolted out of the store.
Unsure of what to do, I sat down on the bench outside the help centre. I placed the equipment beside me once again, like a kid that wouldn’t stop crying.
It was only yesterday that we had gone on that little adventure to Melissa’s old elementary school. Seeing the kids there made me very curious about everything. How we found her body, how that note somehow found place in my house, how drawn I am to her. It makes me wonder if there is some sort of outside force connecting it all. The fact that I didn’t know Melissa when she was alive creeps me out the most. Sitting there shivering in the air-conditioned store I found myself looking around for more connections to her life. It seems that at this point, they could be anywhere, anything. She would have been here at some point, upgrading her phone or shopping with her dad for a new TV. And yet Future Shop hardly reacts, having their biggest sale on DVDs yet.
It was at that moment I received a phone call from the CEO of Tropical Shades (and their affiliated companies). I was told his name was Ben, and just that, no last name or anything. This is probably to create fear in the hearts of his sunglass-stand employees. He’s been known to fire people at random. I didn’t have his number in my phone, so when he told me who was calling, it took me a second to clue in. Instantly I felt a chill run through my spine. Well, kind of. I mean I guess I was nervous, but I was starting to care less and less about working for this guy.
“WHY is the STORE CLOSED?!!?” he said. Just like that too, screaming most of the sentence, and then keeping some words quiet.
I explained the situation as best I could.
“Do YOU not HEAR ME?” He was yelling so loud people around me were starting to stare. “THERE is a CUSTOMER waiting for YOUR SERVICE!”
I could see the stupid old man leaning against the stand, waiting for his mountain-bike glasses.
“What do you want me to do…?”
I heard a long inhale on the other line.
“I want YOU to FIX UP that COMPUTER and get back to selling SHADES!!” He paused.”Oh, by the way, you’re paying for the damage…”
He could feel me tensing.
“… unless you want to get fired.”
I hung up the phone and walked out of Future Shop, leaving the computer on the bench. I felt like a terrible mother.
I sat in my car for twenty thinking about my decision. I wasn’t expecting a letter of reference from the good team at Tropical Shades, but I still felt like I had maybe done the wrong thing. That’s when I got my second, less intimidating call of the day. I immediately heard Kevin’s heavy breathing.
“What’s up man?”
“Not much. Just quit my job.”
“Oh nice.” He breezed over my big act pretty quick. “Anyways, I have big news. I did a little digging and found out that Melissa didn’t actually go to Cardston. Well, she did but that wasn’t the first school she went to.”
“Yeah, she actually moved here in like grade five or something. She lived a couple towns over when she was younger.”
“Oh.” I felt like I didn’t have much to add to this conversation.
“Yeah, so I’m thinking a road trip may be in the works.”
“Wait, you want to go there?”
“Well, we’ve come this far.”
He had a point. I agreed to go. At this point we were too involved to step away. Closure was almost in our reach. He was just on his break so we made plans for him to pick me up in a couple hours. I called Carly, but she didn’t answer.
With one last glance at my place of former employment I pulled out of my parking space and made my way home. I didn’t concentrate on the road at all, and when I felt my body lay out on the couch I was almost surprised to how it had gotten there. My dad wouldn’t be home until after I left, so before I forgot, I left a note on the kitchen counter. And, having a few hours to kill, I turned on the TV and let myself relax. The characters and situations were all vaguely familiar, like little relatable extensions of my own life. It was quiet comfort to watch feelings deeper in my subconscious come alive on the screen, the things we all see but never explain. The was an accessibility in small emotion. After maybe an episode I felt my eyes close. I can only imagine I laid in the same position my dad does.
I woke up to a vibration in my pocket. Kevin wanted to go home and have a shower before we left. He’d be over in half an hour. I brought myself up and tried Carly again. After what felt like forever she answered. She said she was too busy to come, saying something about already having plans. But then she asked to come over. I’m not sure what it was, what put me off about it, but I could tell something was up. Whether it was the highs and lows of her voice or the slight pauses, I knew her well enough to tell when something was bothering her. After a quick call to Kevin postponing the road trip to tomorrow morning, I made my way towards her.
I was more focused this time around, although I don’t remember much from the drive. I watched as the clouds started to come together, making the summer day a slight bit darker. I noticed things as I drove by them. Passing by Sunny Days made my lips smile a little bit. What an interesting place. I knew then that when I pictured that year in my head, those would be the images that came to mind: the small plates of breakfast, the indoor swimming pool. They were the sort of things that would stay etched. I saw one of my teachers from the year before pulling into the high school, and the idea going in to that building crossed my mind for the first time in weeks.
I rang the doorbell twice with no answer. After a second pause I tried the door, letting myself in. There no were no lights on upstairs so I headed to the basement. We almost ran into each other coming up the stairs.
“I think we should break up.”
Artwork by Jeff Ellom Check out his flickr.
Free Breakfast by Nathan Hare is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.