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Last updated July 3,
2004; first published to the web: July 3, 2004.
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Joe Giachero – Berks
Andrew Kelley ducked into his banged up sport-compact
car; it was far too small for anyone of his stature, but it was the sole
possession willed to him by his little brother. Sure, he knew that the
car probably served as collateral for a drug shipment at one point in its
history, but it now served as Andrew’s transportation from his dead-end
job to his dead-end life. Each night he folded his six and a half foot
body into the driver’s seat, drenched in the thick odor of cardboard french-fry
containers saturated with week-old frying oil from his fast food breakfasts,
lunches, and dinners of the week. Occasionally he sipped from the leftover
super-sized Coke in his cup holder that had become a lukewarm solution
of more melted ice cubes than coke. The waxy cardboard cup was soft and
wet by now, and as Andrew tightened his grip, the cup became less structural.
This was his constant reminder that his life, though simple and repetitive,
was building towards a collapse.
Exactly seven minutes earlier,
Andrew had pressed the necessary combination of buttons to arm Shop-Rite’s
overnight security system. Andrew’s workday was over at eleven thirty-six,
marking the moment that his worries officially changed focus from frozen
foods to a frozen wife. As he turned the key in the door, it was as if
the deadbolt struck the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange, and
if he squinted, Andrew could see his red Porsche across the lot, waiting
to take him home to his penthouse, to a different wife in the dining room
mulling over which wine to serve with their candlelit dinner that she had
prepared. As Andrew made his way across the artificially lit, empty parking
lot, avoiding the puddle of motor oil positioned in each spot, the shape
of his sixteen-year-old Toyota became more apparent.
Once inside the car, disintegrating
cup in hand, Andrew was assured that the dream was over. All expression
that may have accidentally entered his face during the lapse of reality
had now drained down his chest and legs and probably escaped through the
rusted hole in the floor of his Toyota onto the road, to be run over by
the big trucks. His drive was silent and pleasing, that is until home was
close enough that he could feel the chill in the air and the cold sweat
on his chest. Only a few turns off the main road and he would be in the
driveway of his home of deadly glances over silent Sundays, home of a marriage
that was nothing more than a certificate and a ball of confusion and anger,
home of his daughter, whose conception meant the death of Andrew’s dreams
and ambitions. Andrew’s smiles and plastic enthusiasm that covered him
at work were not bulletproof in this home. He was just thankful he had
the fourteen-hour shift, was gone before his family woke, home after they
were asleep. The mouths he had to feed would deliver rhythmic snores into
the midnight air by the time he got home. Anything was better than actual
Andrew Kelley had exaggerated
aspirations in high school. His plans included an extensive college education,
and a life as a brilliant businessman, working and living in New York City.
His true potential was realized the day his wife showed him the pregnancy
test, the same day he signed his withdrawal papers after a semester and
a half in business school, the day he had to add diapers and baby formula
to his budget, which previously included only candy bars and quarters for
the laundry mat. His abbreviated education and total lack of common sense
rendered him very unqualified for even his low-level career as the frozen
food department manager.
“It’s the perfect job for
summer; you’ll spend most of your days in the nice, cool freezer. We’ll
get you some new work gloves and a box cutter, and you’ll be all set.”
Andrew remembered the day he trained Bud as a stocker in the frozen foods
department. He could tell that Bud was impressed with his encouraging words,
acquainting him with the advantages of this minimum wage summer job with
excitement, as if Bud were signing into a multi-million dollar partnership.
Andrew found the excessive enthusiasm in his own words slightly eerie because
he knew that Bud was just beginning the same hell he had lived for seven
years. Bud was expecting Andrew to hand him the keys to the company’s vacation
cottage in Vermont for him to visit at his leisure, but Andrew knew that
in reality this job would barely afford Bud the proper treatment of his
young wife’s expected baby.
“Bud, look at these!” Andrew
picked up a box of packing materials.
“Okay, what are they?”
“Oh, man, they’re those new
Styrofoam peanuts that dissolve in water!”
“Okay, that’s cool, I guess.”
Andrew popped a handful of
the Styrofoam in his mouth and started chewing, “Look! They’re gone!” He
opened his mouth to show Bud, like a child who had finished his peas.
“That will probably kill you,
Andy! You can’t eat them!”
“Nah, I eat these all the
time. I’m actually thinking of marketing them with flavoring.”
Andrew only intended friendly
interaction but knew that these episodes fueled his coworkers with jokes
about him, and he hated it. He knew every time that they were laughing
at him, not with him, and he heard every word muttered under their breath
expressing their disbelief at how darn stupid he was. He knew that eventually
his days at work would become as unbearable as his nights at home, and
he dreaded that. But for seven years, a fake smile and a couple of blinders
kept him out of harm’s way, just as his bed and closed eyes saved him at
The headlights of his car
cast narrow beams of light down an empty highway. The road was clear because
nobody else was lucky enough to come home this late from work, and Andrew
felt truly blessed for that fact. He wondered if his neighbors were jealous
of him. They had to be jealous that he could easily avoid his wife and
daughter, while they were forced to discuss their family’s problems over
dinner. Life was painful enough for him, and he couldn’t imagine the pain
his neighbors must have dealt with. His body and car rumbled over the three
potholes that let him know his turn was coming soon. His time was almost
up. His wheels turned with the ruts in the road that he believed his car’s
seven-year routine were solely responsible for creating. From the top of
his street he could see that the bedroom light was off, one of the few
things on his checklist that assured him he could safely squeeze through
the night without sharing words with the woman in his bed.
Andrew preferred to coast
down his street with the car off, so not to wake the family. He got out
of his car carrying his weekly paycheck and watered down drink. He walked
a few steps, and again twisted a key in a lock. There were no bells this
time, but silence that he hoped not to disturb. In the kitchen, Andrew
tore open the envelope that contained his paycheck and read the digital
print by the gray moonlight. As he placed the check on the table for his
wife to cash and spend as needed, he thought of what a great husband he
was. He could almost picture god smiling down at him. He paused at the
kitchen counter and downed the last gulp of Coke. Andrew browsed his memory,
but couldn’t recollect a conversation between his wife and himself since
the last five or six paychecks he had left her. He dropped the cup in the
trashcan, kicked off his shoes, and his socks brought him silently down
The bedroom was lit by an
angle of light spilling through the bathroom doorway. The soft sixty-watt
bulb above the kitchen sink was blinding in contrast to the soaking black
of their apartment’s hallway. As his fingers, deadened by seven years of
freezing temperatures at work, fumbled with the buttons on his pinstripe
shirt, Andrew followed the slice of white light with his eyes. It outlined
a piece of the floor, then cut to the bed. The light came to a point on
his wife’s motionless body. She looked the same every night, like a few
sacks of potatoes bundled in a white comforter aged to an antique brown.
Twisting his torso, he reached into the open closet to hang his shirt,
embroidered with the “Shop-Rite” insignia, amidst its dozen or so freshly
laundered identical counterparts. His eyes fixed on the pocket of the first
shirt. There was a corner of pink notepaper staring right back at him from
the pocket. Andrew removed the note from the pocket, angling it toward
the bathroom door so he could catch the light.
I’ve laundered the last batch
of your shirts.
I’ve read our daughter her
last bedtime story.
I’ve waited for you too long.
I loved you.
A wave of warm numbness came
over Andrew’s body. He contemplated pleading with her, but she had threatened
to leave him before. As long as nothing changed, it would be okay. Note
in hand, he walked toward the bathroom to shut off the light. He almost
began to think about the meaning of this note, but instead imagined he
was at work, where the humming of the fans inside the freezer filled the
gaps in his body where emotion should be. The bathroom sink was filled
with three empty, transparent, brown pill bottles. He crumbled the note,
and with no emotion, swept it into the trashcan along with the pill bottles.
Andrew Kelley folded his six
and a half foot body into bed, a bed that was far too small for anyone
of his stature. Once in bed, Andrew counted the seconds as long as he could
until his eyes closed, his brain shut off, and he could stop worrying about
having a conversation with those he was supposed to love. His dreams were
prayers that he would quickly see the end of this night, or this life,
whatever came first.
Joe Giachero's short
story appears here with his express written permission and cannot be reprinted
or otherwise used without his express written permission.