My First Night Out Away From Home

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September 13th 2012  |  2  |  Category: Fiction , Satire , Tragedy  |  Author: jenhauff  |  2008 views

“Beef stew is disgusting” I muttered as I peeled the can open and poured it in my bowl. As I placed it in the microwave and pushed the buttons, I heard voices from the other room.
“That little boy peed all over the wall in the fitting room!”
“No! You can’t be serious!”
I recognized the voices as Margaret and Lizzy, two of my coworkers from the clothing department. Margaret was an older woman that was very well off, but when her husband died she started working to stay busy. Lizzy was a bit younger than me, and although we didn’t hang out much beyond work, we got along very well.
I looked over at the doorway just as they entered the break room, and Lizzy looked like she was gagging. Margaret came striding in behind her, looking way too fancy in all her jewelry and makeup to be at a minimum wage job.
Lizzy recovered a little from the news, and asked, “Where was that little boy’s mama?”
Margaret’s face became animated, like she was about to bust from containing this last bit of information.
“I asked him that, too, and he said she was waiting for him in the car!”
I started laughing, and both of them jumped. They had been so deep in conversation that my presence had gone unnoticed. Once they realized who I was, we all started laughing.
As I grabbed my food out of the microwave and they sat down at one of the tables, I said, “That’s some pretty bad stuff there. But is it better or worse than finding a used tampon in the purse aisle? Because that is what happened yesterday.”
Lizzy and Margaret made sounds of disgust, and I laughed again.
Margaret was about to go on a rant; I could tell by the way she started, “What is wrong with people these days? I mean – ”
The sound of a man clearing his throat made us all look up at the doorway. Harry, our assistant manager, was standing there with the same sour expression he always wore. He was a cynical, grumpy man that smoked at least two packs of cigarettes a day. Standing next to him was a girl about the age of 25, and she looked nervous, maybe even a little frightened.
“Sorry to break up this meeting of the minds,” he paused in true Harry fashion to demonstrate his wit, “but I want to introduce you to Sara.”
The three of us said hello, and I waved because I have an annoying habit of doing that when I greet people. Sara stood there with her eyes darting around, lips stretched tight in a line, and nodded her head. There was a moment of awkward silence before Harry interceded.
“Anyhow, Allison, you’ll be training Sara in Menswear today.”
I was about to take a bite of soup, but I put my spoon down and said, “Harry, I’ve never even worked in that department.”
His face became a little flushed, although it was hard to tell – I think he enjoyed his spirits.
Harry snapped, “You work right next to it, and it’s all the same over there.”
Without missing a beat I said, “Do you crap in your boxers, Harry? Because I sell diapers.”
Harry must have recently had a cigarette, because a smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. I had never seen him actually smile, and I think his big bushy mustache helped hide any trace of amusement.
“Just do it you smart ass!” and with that, Harry turned and left poor little Sara standing in the doorway. She still looked terrified, and I could swear there were tears in her eyes.
“You can have a seat.” said Margaret as she gestured toward an empty chair.
Sara stood there, frozen, and whispered, “No thank you, I’ll just stand.”
Lizzy, Margaret, and I made a series of quick glances at each other, silently saying ‘what?’ We were being polite enough not to be obvious about our confusion, but Sara wouldn’t have noticed anyhow because she was staring at the clock.
I’m not one to end a break early – I think 15 minutes isn’t enough – but the scene was intense. As I ate my soup, I was overly-conscious of every little sound in the room. Margaret finally began to talk to no one in particular about how she cooks turkey. I’m assuming she brought it up because Thanksgiving was less than a week away. Lizzy smiled and responded to Margaret, but she’d occasionally shoot me a look of wonder.
I gave up the prospect of a peaceful break, and decided to go back to work with a few minutes to spare. As I rinsed out my bowl, I said, “Looks like we can get to work Sara.” But when I turned around, she was gone.
I looked at Lizzy and Margaret, but they threw their hands up in the air, indicating that they didn’t know anything. I sighed, walked out of the break room to my locker, and put my things away. I found Sara standing by the time clock.
She didn’t look any less nervous than before, but she actually made brief eye contact with me as I approached. I swiped my badge to clock back in, and waited for her to do the same. When she continued to stand there, I asked her what she was doing.
“Harry said I have to wait until two minutes before my shift to clock in. He specifically told me, ‘No sooner.’”
I stood there with my hands on my hips, which I do when I’m thinking, even though it makes me look like an angry mother. I could tell it intimidated her, so I seized the moment by snatching her badge away and swiping it.
“The rule is no sooner than five minutes before your shift. Harry is rude, and he’s trying to increase the store’s profits so he can get promoted.”
I held out her badge to give it back, and Sara’s hand shook as she reached for it. She looked so scared I instantly felt bad for her and said, “I know you’re nervous, but I’m not going to lie to you or get you in trouble.”
She instantly smiled.
The rest of the day was uneventful, as far as retail stores go. I only had one woman yell at me, I didn’t have to fish any used diapers off the shelves, and all the shoplifters must have taken the day off. Or they were extremely good.
All in all, Sara seemed like an okay person. After working with her for a while, she began to loosen up, but there was still an air of anxiousness about her. She spoke in a halting fashion, so that everything she talked about was set up like a suspenseful story full of cliffhangers (and boring finales).
She mentioned that she had a son, but that was as personal as it got. No mention of a boyfriend or family, and since I had just met her, I didn’t press her for details.
When I left at the end of my shift I said goodbye and went home.
The next few days at work were insanely busy because we were getting ready for Black Friday. Sara and I worked overlapping shifts, so she would normally arrive while I was on lunch, and her first break coincided with my last.
All the other women were critical of Sara. I didn’t pay much attention to them, because they acted the same way when I started working there. Yes, she had some weird habits. Sara would buy cheese and crackers, pull the crackers apart like an Oreo, and scrape all the cheese off before eating the cracker. I asked her why she didn’t just buy plain crackers, and she said, “They don’t taste the same.”
When Sara would go on her lunch break, she would choose a seat or booth as far away as possible from the other people in the break room. She would organize all of her things in what I can only assume is a form of feng shui dining. Sometimes, after all that effort, she wouldn’t even eat. She would just sit there and stare at the space in front of her.
One day it was just the two of us, and we were both at opposite ends of the room.
Sara whispered, “Hey, Allison.”

I looked up from my crossword puzzle, surprised to hear her voice. I guess eye contact was acknowledgment enough, because she continued, “do you ever go out and do stuff?”
I had just moved 1100 miles from home, and didn’t do much besides work, so the question intrigued me.
Smiling, I said, “I don’t know anything about the night life here; what about you?”
She immediately answered, “I’ve lived here most of my life, and I know a few good places. Would you like to do something tomorrow night?”
I was excited about the prospect of doing something new, so I said, “Yes!” and didn’t give it a second thought. I was beyond thrilled, and thought she would look that way too, but she only said, “Okay” and went back to spacing off. I sat there for a minute, wondering if I had imagined it all. But when I got up to leave she spoke.
“My shift isn’t over until 7:00 tomorrow, so you want to go about 8:00?”
Again, smiling from ear to ear, I answered, “That sounds great.”
The following day I was taking my first break with Lizzy, and I told her that I was going out with Sara. Lizzy looked very concerned and said, “Girl, don’t go out with her. Something ain’t right there.”
“Come on, Lizzy, she just started here, so she hasn’t had much time to fit in.”
Lizzy continued to stare at me, and shook her head. “I’m telling you, Allison, if you go out with her, you need to watch your back.”
I thanked her for the concern, but told her everything would be fine. It didn’t keep her from telling me the same thing four more times before the end of my shift.
Sara picked me up at my apartment in the ‘student ghetto’ of Gaines ville. We went to a sports bar, but it was really lame and quiet. When the stadium is only four blocks away, I guess most people don’t go to the bar to watch the Gators play.
Sara drank Salty Dogs while I had vodka and fruit punch. Besides the bartender, there were only three other people in the bar. One was a hairy old guy wearing wader boots, sipping on a glass of dark beer. The other two were a couple of old jocks. They dressed the part, and talked like they knew it all, but their glory days were far behind them. They were decked out in orange and blue, and would have appeared younger if not for the beer bellies and receding hairlines.
The younger of the two approached me, said hello, and told me his name was Brad. He asked if I played sports because I was ‘in such good shape’. I knew he was full of crap, and I wasn’t going to bite, but Sara ended any speculation.
“Why don’t you leave us the alone?” she yelled as she swung her barstool around and looked him right in the face.
I was completely surprised by her reaction, and so was Brad. He tried to respond, but all he could do was stammer, and she began to mimic him.
“Bu-bu-bu – Shut the hell up!”
Brad stood motionless, frozen by a mixture of humiliation and shock. Sara turned her attention back to the game on the television behind the bar as if nothing had happened. He backed away slowly, keeping his eyes on her the whole time. If my senses hadn’t been dulled by alcohol, I might have been just as freaked out. But the whole mood suddenly changed when the Gators scored a touchdown and the bartender yelled, “Shots for everyone!”
After we did our shot, Sara asked if I would like to go. I told her that we could get something to drink then go to my place and listen to music. As we left the bar, I swear Sara gave Brad the evil eye, because she simply glanced at him, and he jumped out of his seat.
When we got to my house I blasted the speakers. The neighbors never seemed to mind, and if they did, I didn’t know about it. The guy living in the apartment to the left was some sort of computer genius that worked from home. On the other side lived a couple named Max and Tina. Max went to school full time and Tina was an aspiring opera singer.
I enjoy drinking and all, but Sara was over-enthusiastic. She was slamming one after the other, and I still couldn’t tell how drunk she was. Not even alcohol could soften that stony expression. However, I was feeling it, and I began to think about what it would be like to melt into my pink bean bag chair when Sara interrupted my thoughts.
“I want to go back out.” It wasn’t a question or a suggestion. It sounded more like a demand, and I laughed about it. When she didn’t crack a smile, and I realized she was serious, I slowly shook my head and said, “No, I’m too messed up to go anywhere.”
She looked at me sternly and said, “How am I supposed to get home?”
I was extremely confused, so I stammered, “Uh…your car? A cab? If you want, you can crash here and drive home in the morning.”
Sara stood up quickly, and I actually flinched.
“I want to go back out.” she repeated, this time reminding me of a little child trying to get her way.
She was irritating me, and killing my buzz. I looked her straight in the eye and said, “You can go out if you want to, Sara, but I don’t want to.”
Sara took her glass, chugged the rest of her drink, and slammed it down on the coffee table. She grabbed her purse, so I thought she was going to leave until she pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. She placed one to her lips and began to light it, but I stopped her.
“Hey, Sara. If you want to smoke you have to go outside.”
She actually glared at me as she shoved the cigarette pack into her purse, threw it on the couch, and walked to the door. As she opened it, she stopped, looked at me and said, “I really want to go out.” then went out the door. I sat there thinking of all the things I could do to make her leave. Fake an emergency? Puke on her? I was at a loss. The music had gone off, and I didn’t even notice until I heard the sound of breaking glass.
I jumped out of my seat, and ran to the door. When I opened it, Sara wasn’t on the porch smoking. I looked to the side just in time to see Sara’s lower half wiggle through the window of Max and Tina’s apartment. A burning cigarette sat on the ground next to a broken flower pot. It took a moment to hit me (again, blame the alcohol), but when I realized what she had done I ran inside my house and locked the door. As I looked for the phone to call the police I saw her purse on the couch. I unlocked the door and opened it just enough to throw her purse out on the sidewalk. As I was dialing 911 I yelled, “There’s your purse you freaking nut job!”
Within minutes, the place was swarming with police. The apartment manager was there to let the police in, because Max and Tina weren’t home. After yelling into the apartment, and getting no response, the police entered the building. They followed a series of bloody hand prints up the staircase to the loft-style bedroom, where they found Sara sleeping peacefully in Max and Tina’s bed.
Numerous tenants began milling around outside, most of them in pajamas, trying to be nosy. When the police brought Sara out, she looked dazed – just the expression to have if woken from a peaceful slumber. At the time, a police officer was asking me if I saw her take any drugs, and if this was typical behavior. I shook my head no while staring at Sara. She was bloody and in handcuffs, with an officer on each side. For a brief moment, we made eye contact, but there was no sense of recognition on her part.
As they opened the door to put her in the car, she straightened herself up and yelled, “I did it because the Gators didn’t win!”


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2 Responses to My First Night Out Away From Home

  1. Avatar of unstoppable unstoppable says:

    The characters are very realistic and I love the details:)

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