“I’m not paying you. You’re useless. Go home,” Charlie barked, his white shirt already proudly displaying vicious sweat patches.
“I’d rather be here.”
“I’m not paying you to be here. Like I said, you’re bloody useless.”
Sam wanted to reply but the words got caught somewhere between his lungs and voice box and there they stayed, lodged in his chest, bringing tears to his eyes. Before he could stop it one escaped and rolled triumphantly down his cheek.
“Jesus Christ – go home,” Charlie’s bark was a little less biting as he handed him a tissue.
Sam hated his job. He had been planning to resign the very moment he started. But she had told him it was only temporary and she had meant it. Then. Of course she had meant it.
The fluorescent lights flickered and hummed. He watched a determined moth knock itself senseless against the plastic light fitting.
“Look at that little guy,” he said to no one in particular. He was always doing that; talking to no one in particular. It used to drive her insane, she had told him as much with that you’re-embarrassing-me-we’ll-discuss-this-when-we-get-home look he knew only too well.
Charlie, on the other hand, simply stared at him blankly.
“Jesus Christ, go –” but before Charlie could complete his somewhat predictable sentence the ding-dong customer alert chimed from the sliding doors.
Charlie sat up like a meerkat.
The ding-dong customer alert could be misleading at times. It had a tendency to be temperamental and cruel – raising the hopes of desperate salesman who felt sure this would be the sale they’d been waiting for only to learn it was just the wind. Sam liked to imagine it wasn’t the wind but ghosts who hadn’t yet realised they were actually dead going about their daily business, shopping for furniture, wondering why the sales assistants were ignoring them … He had mentioned this to Charlie who looked at him strangely and told him there was vacuuming to be done. Sam was always vacuuming – he felt more like a cleaner than a sales assistant.
The ding-dong customer alert continued to ding-dong and alert as the young couple stood, confused and unsure, in the entrance to the store. Charlie fixed his tie, popped a mint in his mouth and grabbed a clipboard. “Nothing in it but it makes you look important. Customers respond to that sort of thing. It is all part of my technique,” Charlie had told him on his first day.
Charlie stood up and tucked his shirt in; his ever-increasing beer-belly clearly took offence to the constraints of business wear. His sizeable belly constantly pulled his shirt away from his pants, burst belt buckles, popped buttons. He blamed manufacturing, the drycleaner, his wife but never the beer, fried food and copious amounts of cream and jam donuts that filled his morning tea ritual. Sam would push out his belly at home and warn her that he too could look like that one day. She laughed that laugh and told him she would love him no matter how fat he got and added it was only a temporary job anyway, he wouldn’t be there forever. He didn’t tell her but he had noticed his pants were getting tighter and his face a little rounder – he quietly did fifty sit ups every night when he thought she had drifted off to sleep.
Charlie took up his suit jacket from the back of his chair and slowly put it on. Sam quite enjoyed watching Charlie’s pre-sale routine. “You don’t want to appear too eager,” had been another pearl of wisdom Charlie had kindly shared on Sam’s first day. Unfortunately customers were becoming an endangered species at Crazy Charlie’s Furniture Emporium and the mantra you-don’t-want-to-appear-too-eager often meant losing customers before eye contact could be made. Sam blamed the fluorescent lights; Charlie blamed the economy, the competition, himself.
The ding-dong customer alert continued to ding-dong – happy that it had the opportunity to announce real customers rather than those pesky ghosts who persisted in shopping for furniture despite the fact they were dead. The young couple scanned the store from the comfort of the welcome mat (Charlie said customers respond to that sort of thing, it made the store welcoming because it said as much on the mat) and then whispered quietly to each other. It looked as if they were plotting their getaway.
“I’ve got to grab them. Just – just …” he flapped his arms uselessly as he trotted over to the couple, all minty-fresh, clipboarded and tucked-in.
Sam knew what the flapping arms meant: Stay away from the customers. He’d seen those flapping arms on numerous occasions, predominately in his first month of employment when he was forced to wear the condescending ‘in-training’ badge and laugh uproariously whenever a customer attempted witty repartee about his ‘name badge’.
“Where’s that from?” they’d ask with a smirk.
“Excuse me?” he would feign confusion.
“Your name,” they’d point to the badge to emphasis the hilarity of the joke, “In Training.”
They’d always put on some dreadfully insulting accent – French or German or something – Monsieur Entrainin, Herr Intraining. Then he would laugh and they would beam at their cleverness and continue to “just browse” and leave with a “see ya Mr Training” but no sofa or coffee table or five dollar throw cushion which was an absolute steal but no thanks not today … He hated customers. He had told her he was not cut out for customer service and she just laughed that laughed and told him it was only temporary.
He watched Charlie convince the couple to extract themselves from the welcome mat and take a wander around the store. Charlie would be their guide. Their friend. Their assistant. “Never call yourself a sales assistant,” he had told him, “it puts people off.”
The couple looked as dazed and confused as the moth who continued to knock himself against the light fitting. Sam wondered whether they too had simply been drawn in by the fluorescent lights.
He remembered visits to stores like this. He remembered feeling overwhelmed, wondering why they needed to buy a new sofa at all when the one he had picked up from roadside collection was quite adequate and a perfect example of lowering one’s carbon footprint and recycling and affirmative action for the environment because, after all, she was the so-called environmentalist and how could she buy into that Western wastefulness, that Capitalist greed … He sighed. Why could he only remember the fights?
Sam watched as the couple contemplated the queen-sized mattress. They looked like oversized dolls, lying shoulder to shoulder, shoes on, arms by their sides, stiff and disinterested as Charlie pointed out the miracles of the foam, the springs, the stitching. Sam watched as the woman took her partner’s hand. Sam watched as the man gently brought her hand to his lips and kissed it. Sam watched as she cupped his face. Sam watched as Charlie, in discomfort and politeness, referred to the clipboard and cleared his throat. Sam watched the tender scene unfold whilst the moth thumped against the fluorescent lights that hummed overhead. Sam watched as the woman told the man they were being watched. Sam watched as the woman pointed him out.
“What are you looking at?” the young man shouted from the mattress.
Sam remembered how she lay like that; she had looked like a tiny, porcelain doll upon the mattress, arms by her side, stiff and disinterested. He hadn’t expected it, her, to look so unnatural. On their backs, shoulder to shoulder, arms by her side he had picked up one of her delicate hands and kissed it, he had cupped her face in his hands, he had called her name, he had stroked her hair, he had called the nurse, he had said goodbye. He had known it was coming even though she had insisted, every step of the way, that it was only temporary – the hair-loss and the injections and the vomit and waiting rooms …
“Hey! Retard! What’s your problem?”
Sam didn’t know where else to go so he had come to work; his temporary job.
The young man stormed towards Sam. The young woman sneered. Charlie flapped his arms uselessly. Sam continued to watch and blink and breathe and listen to the dull thump of the hapless moth.
“He’s still going for it. What a determined little guy,” he said to no one in particular.
Unfortunately there was someone in particular who assumed Sam was speaking to him.
The man moved in close to Sam, his warm breath smelling like fast food and sugary energy drinks. Sam watched the man’s lips that had, moments earlier, kissed the young woman’s hand suddenly curl and contort into a barrage of insult. The young woman appeared at her partner’s shoulder and pulled him back. Sam watched the woman’s hand that, moments earlier, cupped the young man’s face suddenly twist into a finger sign.
The ding-dong customer alert sounded and they were gone.
Charlie stood on the welcome mat, flapping his arms uselessly in time with sound of the ding-dong. “Jesus Christ. Sam. Jesus –” Charlie put the clipboard back in the drawer, returned his suit jacket to the back of his chair, untucked his shirt and exhaled for what seemed an eternity.
“I know, I know. I’ll …” He considered going back to the house. Usually as he pulled into the Crazy Charlie’s Furniture Emporium parking lot all he could think about was turning the car around and heading back home.
The moth fluttered and faltered around the light above him.
Sam’s job usually included spraying the moths with fly spray or inducing a fatal blow with the rolled up newspaper. Not today. Charlie watched as Sam stood on the desk, reached up to the light and gently cupped the moth in his hands. He watched as Sam slowly made his way across the store with the moth cradled in the cage of his hands. He heard the ding-dong customer alert as Sam tenderly released the moth into the parking lot.
Sam stood, a lone figure on a welcome mat, and watched the moth flutter and fly until he could see it no more.
“Come and have a donut,” Charlie called.
Sam wiped his feet on the mat and returned to his temporary job.
Making myself keep up with this blog with the help of The Daily Prompt Weekly Writing Challenge – Dialogue