The Right Thing

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KingMob

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« on: 01:11:41 AM 05/26/18 »
               The Right Thing
                       A Story by King Mob


   I need to tell you a story that I'd rather not. I don't have anyone to really turn to with this kind of thing, and now I'm relying on the kindness of an anonymous community of strangers to unload this burden on. It all begins about a year ago, during what would best be left an unspoken chapter of my life. My Grandmother, whom I lived with as a full time caretaker had just passed away, and I was forced back out into the wide world, penniless, friendless, and jobless to try and fend for myself. Desperate for something to cling on to, I flooded every business in town I could think of with a stream of job applications. Day after day I'd visit each store I applied to, requesting to speak to a manager to discuss my prospects of working. They weren't good. As a soon to be homeless navy veteran who had no job experience in the 10 years since seperation, I can't say I blamed them. One day, after slinking back home after my daily ritual, the phone rang. It was the hiring manager at Wal Mart.
   
   A little background on my town, and the nature of the wal mart that sustains it.  You ever been on a road trip? I'm sure most of you have. You know those unremarkable little highway towns you speed through where the only reason you'd stop would be to refuel, or possibly resupply yourself at the local wal mart? That's my town. A shitty highway wal-mart town in the middle of the Mojave desert. You ever take a moment to think about the people who live in a town like that? No? I don't blame you one bit. It was a vibrant place once, where people owned their own businesses and everyone knew everyone. A dust covered little piece of the American dream. After the wal-mart came, it sucked the life from it's surroundings like a tumor. The shops closed and one by one everybody was forced to apply for work at the open wound that bled their dreams dry, and lucky, lucky me was about to join their number.

   The hiring process went relatively painless. They needed stockers for the upcoming holiday season, and anything i said short of a murder confession would phase them in the interview process. People didn't matter. Bodies did. Paperwork was signed, documents exchanged and after a marathon session of videos and computer tests extolling the virtues of the corporate culture I was given a blue vest, a name badge and was dismissed to find my way to the sales floor without a second thought.

   The sales floor was a chaotic affair, trying to stock shelves in the throngs of the thanksgiving shoppers with no idea of where the product goes was like being lost in an ever shifting maze of increasingly rude meat. I bumbled my way through the churning seas of customers, trying and usually failing to find items as I tried to question my co-workers as to how to perform my job, most were apathetic and barely bothering to acknowledge the "short timers", and others were much like myself, spit out into the churning seas of the holiday rush. So I resolved to continue to push forward through the day in silence, just wanting to get through the day without incident.

   The mid-shift break eventually rolled around and I found my way to the break room at the back of the store and found a seat at an empty corner table to collect my thoughts after the insanity of the first four hours of the day. The few other workers ate in silence, absentmindedly staring at the tv set towards the center of the rear wall. I closed my eyes and cursed to myself, wondering how I found myself in this mess and what gods I offended by simply trying to do the right thing by looking after an elderly family member. "C'mon, it's not as bad as all that, is it?" Said the first friendly voice I've heard since my grandmother's passing. I opened my eyes, startled from my inner pity party to see a lanky, silver haired co-worker making himself to home on the seat opposite mine.

   We spoke for most of the hour break. His name was Len, and he had been with the company for nearly 15 years, using the transfer policy to travel the country whenever he felt the need for a change of scenery. Listening to Len, he'd seen and done it all. Served in the navy for a while during the Vietnam war, worked as a stuntman for low budget direct to video action affairs. Working on an Alaskan crab fishing boat,  You name it, Len had done it. And now that he was "all used up.", as he put it, the only thing he could find to do was work as a door greeter. Welcoming people to the store, as corporate made bank off the tax breaks for hiring yet another senior citizen.    "It's dirty, but it's a living.", he said with a chuckle. I pondered if he meant his situation was dirty, or the store's. The look in his eyes made me think he was wondering the same thing.

   The days went on. Wake, work, sleep, repeat. The increasing desperation of customers buying food for their thanksgiving feasts meant more hours and more hours meant I was at work more than I was home. I found myself more and more increasingly ok with this as thanks to advice from Len I was getting more and more comfortable with the job, finding myself able to nimbly weave my way through the crowds and delivering products to their homes with relative ease. During breaks I'd exchange pleasantries with Len, trading stories over cigarettes and just laughing at the state of our lives that brought us to this point in time. As well as more advice on how to survive the cut-throat time on "The Wal" as we both started referring to it with the wry form of gallows humor that dominated our talks. This became our lives all the way through Thanksgiving, and as Christmas drew closer, I noticed Len was "off", sitting in silence for long periods of time while staring off into space with a lit cigarette burning away hanging, unsmoked, between his lips.

   And then, he told me the story.

   "My mom died back when I was young, Fifteen or so.". He told me, his voice cold and distant "Leaving me and my old man on our own. Dad, well he didn't take it well at. He looked so lost without her. You should have seen him before. A large man, larger than life to me back then. Always laughing, always willing to help anybody who needed it. Family, friends, hell, even total strangers".  I still remember the faint smile on Len's lips when he talked about his dad, finally taking a long drag off the cigarette in his mouth, mostly ash by the time he remembered it was even there.
   "Well, like I said, he didn't take it well at all. And took to drowning his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle. At first it was just a little to calm his nerves, then a little more to help him sleep and then to help him roll out of bed and face the day. The more he drank the more he receded and  the man I admired most was replaced with a clumsy, violent man as quick to swing a fist as he was to crack a joke. The money started running out pretty quick and yet he still had money to drink. Not even so much as a loaf of bread on the table some weeks, but always a bottle of cheap whiskey on his bedside table. 

   "Bastard finally got himself fired from the hardware store he used to work in once the till came up a hundred dollars short. When he slurred out the story of what he was doing home in the middle of the afternoon I finally lost it. I hit him. I reeled back my skinny fucking fist and decked him in the mouth, sent him right to the floor. The way he looked at me after that, that quick flash of fire as his fists clenched. I thought I was dead after that. He must have seen me shrink back from him in that moment and the most profound look of hurt came across his face as he looked down at me. He shook his head and stumbled out the door, out into the streets. I didn't see him for a week after that".

   "I spent my days working in that same hardware store, Pulaski, the old man who ran the place took pity on me and gave me a job. He skimmed my wages pretty hard to make up for what dad had taken, but at least it was something. I spent my days working the counter and my nights crawling every back alley bar in town, looking for my dad. Never finding a trace of him outside of angry stories from the lowlifes that hung out in those places, talking about how he cheated them in stupid bar bets, or when that didn't work, just beating them down and helping himself to their beer and their wallets before disappearing back into the night".

   "Then, on Christmas Eve I finally got the call. The police. Turns out they picked him up previous night, bastard tried pick pocketing a cop and you can imagine how well that went over. They asked if I wanted to post bail, and for some reason I said yes. I scraped together what money I could and made the long walk down to the station, mad as hell but relieved at the thought of having him back at the same time. We made the walk back in silence, neither of us knowing what to say to the other. When we reached the front step to the house, I put my hand on his shoulder and finally broke the silence."

   I looked over to Len, he was visibly shaking, his fingers wound tightly through his thinning hair. "My dad was trembling where he stood. It was so hard to look at him in this state. The fact that I used to look up to this broken thing that used to be my father was sitting sour in my gut. 'Look at you'. I told him. 'Look at what you've done to yourself. You're a wreck! You're a damn wreck and I don't know how, but things have to change'. I'll never forget the look on his face. He had the saddest smile, the saddest damn smile I think I've ever seen. 'I know son, I know. I need to sleep now' he voice was so cracked and gone. He hung his head and clumsily shuffled off into the house. I stayed out on the porch for a long time. Just watching the sun sink down."

   "When I woke up in the morning Dad was dead. Hung himself in the living room while I was asleep". Len turned and looked at me for the first time since he started talking. He looked like he wanted to cry, but forgot how a long time ago. "I spent most of my life on the run after that. Just kept moving, y'know? Doing anything I could to not think about that night. Lied about my age and joined the Navy and just never looked back. Now I'm getting too old, I can't keep moving and the memories" His body shuddered as a dry sob slipped out. "Well the fuckers are finally catching up to me and all I can think about is that night and I keep wondering if I could have changed things, that if I said the right thing that maybe he'd have made it through that night".

   I was stunned, while I considered Len as much as a friend as I considered anyone back then, which, when I think about it was really nobody. I really barely knew the guy. He was a sympathetic ear for my problems, and an encouraging voice when I was lost in the world. I had no idea what to say. Still don't to this day. My hand found his shoulder as I tried to put on the most reassuring face I could muster. "You said what you had to. You said the right things to a man who didn't know what the right thing to do was anymore". My eyes met his, and the tears were flowing after I spoke.

   "Thank you". He managed to choke out, as he rose to his feet. "I've ran from that memory for so long I never took the time to even think about it like that" Shakily he began to walk away from the store. "Tell the boss I had to leave early, you'll think of something. Right now, I need to sleep". I watched him shuffle off through the parking lot on unsteady legs until he disappeared beyond the flickering amber glow of the street lights.   

   The neighbors found Len dead in his home the next day. Hung himself during the night.

   I left that shitty job and all of it's shitty people after I found out. Just worked whatever I could find, didn't matter. I just had to be as far from there as I could. It's been about five years now and the memories of that night have been creeping in little by little. And the more I try to ignore them, the more they catch up with me. When I close my eyes I see the sad, small eyes of the only man who took the time to try and be my friend. I think of the tears in his eyes, the tears of the man who tried to teach me to be a little stronger in the chaotic world I had been thrust out into. I see those eyes and I wonder if I had said the right thing that night. Which is why I'm writing this.

         Please, tell me. Did I say the right thing?   

   
« Last Edit: 03:49:35 AM 05/26/18 by KingMob »

KingMob

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« Reply #1 on: 01:16:48 AM 05/26/18 »
Just a little fyi. This is TheCancerMan on the discord. Going to be moving away from that name slowly. This may not really be the "traditional" kind of story found here, I wanted to go for a more mundane fear story. This is my first time writing in forever and I just wanted to share. Feel free to savage me with constuctive criticism. I want to keep going, and to do that, I need your help. All feedback is appreciated.