Friendship Fiction Romance

Some people said good night or words to that effect. Some nodded their heads as if acknowledging my humanity. A couple of young things smiled, almost shyly, and hurried out. I figured they felt guilty or something that I was there, and would be all night, while they were off doing what young things do. I don’t know, shop, gym, meeting friends. They never got past the nod which was fine by me.

           Most, though, like overwhelmingly most, didn’t bother with a smile, or a nod, let alone considerate words. Most just left and probably thought I was just a schmuck with a lousy job on the night shift and deserved it. I take that back; they didn’t think about me at all. Be that way. I don’t think about you either. Not much anyway.

           I’ll admit it, the job sucks. Here’s this massive office building, buzzing all day, people making tons of dough – high hats, I call them high hats – when I come in at six for a 12-hour stint, they’re home with family maybe, eating a decent meal, having a drink I bet. And sit staring out the glass entrance watching the passerby scurrying to their lives.

           Yeah, I’m bitter and so wouldn’t you.

           I got the job because, you know, the scars. I guess they like the night security to look scary. I get it. Six years of college, haha, wasted. I gave them five 12-hour nights, including Saturdays and Sundays, because I needed the money and what else was I going to do? Walk in the park and scare children. Dogs bark at me! Hell, even I barked when I look into a mirror. You can’t spell scare without scars. That’s almost funny.

           The doors were always open, 24/7. I think it had something to do with a fire law. Whatever. Open, that is except, for four 10 minutes breaks and one 30-minute hiatus for me to use the bathroom. The guy who headed security said it was so I could, “Stank up the can” -- coarse, but reasonable – and eat whatever I had in my brown paper bag. As often as not, there’d be some residuals from a catered event in one of the offices. I’ve had more than my share of slightly old sushi I can tell you with no ill effects. And cookies. And brownies. There were a lot of leftovers. I had to watch my weight and I’m not a small guy. The night cleaning staff would bring it down. Mexicans I suppose. They looked Mexican anyway and spoke Spanish. Good people.

           They’d smiled, avoided eye contact, and leave the goodies behind the front desk. At first, I figured they didn’t want to look at me; I don’t blame them, not at all. But it wasn’t just that. They were shy, a bit nervous, looking down when they came over. Deferential to a guy in uniform. Maybe they didn’t know the difference between some immigration officer and a rental cop.

           I’d always say muchas gracias and offer them coffee from the ever-brewing urn in the security office. They brightened at my Spanish. I brightened at my Spanish. These people, these small, dark, nervous, lonely people, were like the only people who’d speak to me. I laughed at my words. They laughed, too, but would say “Mas, mas! Bueno. Mucho Bueno.”

           One day to a pretty senorita I made the mistake. She asked, I think she asked, why I spoke Spanish so well. Then I went into my old Navy-days diatribe, “Nosotros representamos el gobierno de los Estados Unidos. Nosotros temenos el derecho de su gobierno a embakar su barco. Levantarse sus manos.” Translation: We represent the US government. We have the permission of your government to board your boat. Raise your hands.

           I’m sorry to say that lovely lady avoided me after that. The others, too. So much for the corporate leftovers, but like I said I was putting on weight anyhow. Maybe that was fair.

           When I saw my old amigos, I’d wave, and ask if they needed anything. The response was always a shy shake of the head, eyes on their cleaning carts, and a bit of hurry-up as they pushed the cart along. I guess they didn’t much like people who worked in the government, and I didn’t have enough Spanish to explain we were after drug dealers, not illegals, and even if I could I think the damage had been done.

           It was back to the brown bag and paperbacks and the lonely life of a night guard. I had the iPad and could have watched movies. It was a leftover after one of the building’s occupants, a hedge fund which seems just a way of fancying the name for a bunch of assholes who invest your money, take a big slice win or lose. This one lost apparently. All of it. Except for a few dozen brand-new iPads left in a closet and one of the techies got to work. That was in lieu of a cash bonus, not that they’d ever given one. 

           But I like reading.

           I must have read The Invisible Man a hundred times. And Lord of the Rings. And Harry Potter again and again. It’ll seem trite but I am intrigued by the invisibility thing, you know, the drug, the ring, the cloak. I relate. People can see me, which is the problem, isn’t it? They may look away, they may try to avoid me gazing into the distance as if they’re trying to remember something, or look at their phone – “Hmm, I have a meeting with…” fill in the blank. It’s my face. I was never a Tom Cruise, mind you, but not a Herman Munster either. Then there was the event. We were on a routine patrol, me at the helm, and all of us bored to tears looking for some beaner boat – beaners is what we called Mexicans. Just cruising.

           Then we saw the smoke column coming off the sailboat. How did that line go in Seinfeld? And yada yada. Yeah, well we zip over, I hear a cry, jump in and rescue one, then two, then three people frozen in panic off the deck. One of the ladies screams about her “baby” and I go over once more, into the cabin, and out comes me holding her baby, all 175 pounds worth of him, in my fire blanket. Smoke inhalation. CPR and he’s fine. Meanwhile, what was the mainsail is basically a huge glob of melting plastic and, yada yada, globbed onto guess who?

           The Navy did its best. But burn scars you know can only heal so much. I had this bizarre plastic mask on my face for months that supposedly kept scare tissue down; my buddies from the boat called me the Phantom of the Opera, which was too appropriate. That’s when they visited. Then they stopped. I got a medal, a discharge, and zippo – bad word zippo, don’t you think? - pension because I wasn’t disabled per se, just too ugly for client-facing work.

           The aide at the Congressman’s office couldn’t help with the pension but had a connection with this real estate developer about some building code waiver and, yada yada, I’m on the night shift.

Dorothy joined the cleaning staff on a cold day in November. She didn’t look the part. Too pretty, too young. And, sorry to say, too white for the cleaning staff. She did say “si” a lot. I think that was extent of her Spanish because she never spoke with the others.

           She was different in other ways, good ways. She smiled. At me. Each night. She’d say “Good evening” when she came in and “Good morning when she left.” Remember those goodies the cleaning folk used to bring me? Suffice it to say I was back to watching my diet thanks to this lady.

           “What are you reading?” Dorothy asked. “You’re always so intent.” I told her I like history, American history, mostly…Civil War, colonial stuff, Indians. You know, BORING. She liked historic fiction, so we had something in comon.  We spoke. We exchanged books. She cared less about history but listened when on about events, though she insisted I lend her books on the Salem witch trials. I asked her why and she said she felt sorry for those innocent people caught in a trap. She even teased about visiting Salem someday. I didn’t take it seriously. I didn’t dare.

           “Is it this cold all the time?” she asked me one day. It was, too. They kept the AC up, of course, I guess because those glass windows let in a lot of heat. At night, there was, duh, no sun but they didn’t bother to lower the AC, so the place was like an icebox. That’s why she always wore a long-sleeve sweater. I had wondered about that, but she started in November, so it was cold outside too. 

           I was on a coffee break when stopped over. “Mind if I join you?” she said. Mind? Are you kidding?!? I didn’t say that. I’m not a complete dolt. “Cream and sugar?” I asked.  She said “black,” just the way I liked it, too. “You know,” she said, “there’s so much food around from these parties I have to be careful.” One thing I can say is she didn’t need to be careful.

           She always wore rubber gloves. That’s not odd; all the cleaning staff wore them. They had boxes of gloves in their carts. But on breaks, they took them off. Disposable they were. Sweaty, too.

           We coordinated breaks. We talked about books, the weather, who did what in these offices, and discussed which office had the best caterers. We agreed the hedge funds had the best; the accounting firms the worst by far. But we liked the variations. One night we had leftover deli platters. She didn’t like deli. Who doesn’t like deli? So, I made here a turkey Rueben, a first for her; rye bread, turkey, coleslaw, melted Swiss and Russian dressing. She thought I was some gourmet chef! “I love this,” she said. “Could you make me another? I’ll take it home!” I spread my arms. “You sing and I dance,” I said. She leaned forward, just a little. I thought she was going to hug me. But she didn’t. She moved back, looked down, and just whispered, “Thank you.”

           We still met up during our breaks like nothing happened. What am I saying? Nothing did happen! It was a moment for me, no one else. Maybe she saw the smile on my face and was thinking what I think; Hey Dorothy, it’s me, the scarecrow. I asked if she’d ever seen The Wizard of Oz. Years back, she said, and loved it.

           It’s a date I said. It took us the better part of a week thanks to a few 10-minute breaks and our lunches, an iPad, and some bags of popcorn “borrowed” from the bin at one of the hipster software offices which, by the way, were usually empty because those kids worked remotely.  

           Dorothy was crying a little at the last scene, the black and white one when they’re all back in Kansas. And I had to ask. “Do you think, seriously, that I look like the Scarecrow?” As soon as I asked I thought, whoa, bad mistake, that’s it, it’ll all go pear-shaped, and why didn’t I leave well enough alone?

           She didn’t say anything. She rewound the movie, touching the back arrow with her rubber-gloved finger, to the part where Scarecrow gets his diploma. She looks at the scene, looks at me, back to the scene, and says, “His nose is redder.” And laughed. It was a silly joke laugh. That was the first time she touched my arm then.

           I guess I was crying too, a bit, not much. And snorting a laugh. “Anyway,” she said, “You don’t look that much more like him than I do.” She took off that long-sleeved sweater and those rubber gloves. We went on arguing whether skin grafts looked worse on arms and hands than on faces. Then we hugged. We weren’t in Kansas anymore.

April 23, 2023 12:49

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Jody S
02:23 May 02, 2023

Wow! You had me from the start and I enjoyed the take on the prompt. Your character development was superb! I liked the Seinfeld references too! Perfect!


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Mary Bendickson
18:37 May 01, 2023

Touching. Relieved it was scars and not tracks on her arms.


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Brain Changer
19:29 Apr 29, 2023

Well done. You grabbed my attention and held it. I like this guy. His pain. His intelligence. And nice twist.


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