Worlds & Time

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Lex and Lia: Three Weeks of Pennies

Two days working in a pawn shop, two days doing odd jobs for the super of an apartment building, three days working the nights at a junkyard, and even a day bussing at Luca’s Italian Restaurant, Alex was no closer to steady employment.

There were days between the jobs, and he would beat himself up, going over sentence dozens of times in his mind.

The pawn shop owner had been crazy. At the beginning Alex could forgive himself because he could blame the owner’s insanity. He had searched Alex before and after the shifts, and the second day, when Alex dropped a cheap ring in a pile that Alex was carrying for him, he’d accused him of trying to steal it. He’d threatened to call the cops, and Alex had walked away, seething in anger.

Then there was the job at the apartment complex, but at the end of the second day the guy had tried to renegotiate what he paid Alex six times, and at the end of both days he had only paid Alex half of the agreed amount, promising that he’d get around to getting the rest of it soon. However, after two days mopping up crap from overflowed toilets, Alex told the guy that he wasn’t coming back until he paid him what he owed. He’d gone back three times, and each time the super had made some excuse, exhorting Alex to work more before he paid him.

Alex had caught the drift. He was desperate, but he wasn’t stupid. Half a day’s pay for a full day’s work just wasn’t worth it to clean up shit.

The junkyard had been the best job. The guy had hired him after barely looking at his ID. He was paid cash, after work, and the owner, Gervasi, didn’t try to stiff him on the pay. Of the three guys and two dogs that guarded the yard after dark, Alex was the smallest by weight.

Gervasi had been having problems with thefts on the lot at night for the last few months, and Alex’s biggest recommendation seemed to be that he was new to the area.

They stationed him in a little booth on one corner of the property. It had no electricity and no heat, and in the in the middle of the night the desert wind seemed to blow in and howl through every orifice in the yard. Alone, in the dark, with piles of rusted metal and the wind, Alex jumped at every noise and stiffened at every flutter of paper or trash.

Alex tried to be brave, but after the second night, even Lia knew that he was terrified. She’d tried to massage his shoulders, but she simply wasn’t strong enough to get the knots out of his shoulders.

It didn’t matter though. On the third night, Gervasi was robbed again. Nothing within Alex’s line of sight had been touched, but instead of firing Saul, who was the old guy working the gate (and had nodded off the first night before he’d even finished training Alex), Alex was dismissed.

Less than a week ago, knowing that he didn’t have enough money to keep the apartment another month, he’d finally walked out to the Italian restaurant and asked for a job. He’d cleaned up best that he could, and he’d worn his nicest clothes.

The hostess was named Tina, and she introduced him to the manager. They didn’t need anyone, per se, but with Tina spinning her curls behind him, the manager had offered him a job.

The first night was going well. The cooks teased him but treated him fair. His two waiters, Paula and Lamar were willing to explain things and he went along.

And then Eli had shown up.

He was sitting at a table with another pretty woman. She was older, but you couldn’t really tell until you were up close.

Eli didn’t notice him at first, but he eventually flagged Alex over for water, and as Alex poured into his glass with a shaking hand, he looked up, saw Alex’s face, and his eyes turned into ice cubes.

Eli didn’t say anything, but his eyes followed Alex away from the table. His food was prepared and delivered without incident, and Alex was beginning to think that perhaps Eli would just let him be.

There was a party of two tables down and Paula convinced him that he could deliver everything with one trip. They loaded up one of the huge oval trays, and Alex carried it to the table, straining under the weight.

Eli pushed him as he passed where he and his girlfriend were sitting. He wasn’t sure how, exactly, because Eli hadn’t seemed to notice him as Alex passed him, but one moment he was concentrating on keeping the tray upright, and the next moment he was staggering forward, the tray just ahead of his hand. He tried to grab it back, but the eight plates and four side dishes flew ahead of him. One plate struck a man in the side of his head, another bounced off the table into a woman sitting across the table. Food was everywhere.

It was then, after what seemed like the worst had been done, that Alex realized that he was still moving.

He slammed into the diner nearest to him, a pre-teen girl, and then fell heavily on the table. The entire thing seemed to gasp under his weight, and then something broke and the hard surface seemed to give out below him. All of the drinks on the table slid in all directions, drenching Alex and the people sitting at the table.

Despite all the broken glass, Alex wasn’t cut at all, and no one was hurt.

In the end, he’d destroyed nearly two hundred dollars in plates and glasses, a two hundred dollar table, and the manager promised that the restaurant would pay a hundred dollars or so in cleaning costs.

Instead of taking it out of his pay, the manager had fired him on the spot, in front of all of the patrons of the restaurant. Alex managed to make it into the kitchen, having to push through the kitchen staff that had gathered at the door to see what had happened, before he started sobbing.

Paula caught up with him before he left completely.

“Here,” she said, slipping him twenty bucks. “You earned it.”

“What about all the stuff I broke?” he managed to say through the tears.

“I saw the guy behind you. It wasn’t that hard to figure out what happened, the way he was smiling like an idiot.”

Instead of going back to the apartment he wandered around for a few hours, trying to come up with some story for Lia.

By the time he stumbled through the door, Lia should have been asleep, but she was still awake, watching television.

“What are you doing?” he asked. He’d hoped that if he got home late, he wouldn’t have to deal with her.

“Waiting for you,” she said, “How was the restaurant?”

He shrugged, and her smile fell a little bit but didn’t go away. She got up, came over and hugged him.

They stood there for a moment, and she said: “You smell like noodles.”

“I need to take a shower.”

“Alright,” Lia said. “But make it quick. There’s a scary movie marathon on, and I can’t watch it unless you watch it with me.”

Alex smiled, touseled her hair, and then went to take a shower.

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