Jake walked outside, leaving the stone-cold bricks behind him. The building’s shadow was looming over the parking lot. He threw his bag into the backseat of his red pick up truck and drove. He drove through the pounding in his head that reminded him of the tick tick tick of his office clock, through the too tight wedding band on his finger that he would have thrown out the car window if he could have admitted to himself that he didn’t like the way they fought and never made up. The sun was setting beyond him, everything moving forward. The sky was starting to look like his pick up truck and his pick up truck looked like the heat of his forehead and that heat felt like it was coming from the setting sun but it wasn’t and everything was a part of a part of a part. He drove up the I-15 until he made a wrong left turn on purpose, just so it would take an hour longer for him to get home. Just so it would take an hour longer until he would have to face the fact that even though his career was on hold, everything else would carry on. The wrong left turn turned into another wrong left turn and that turned into a wrong right turn which led him to a fast food chain’s back parking lot. He was hyperventilating and sweaty. His mind stung with questions. Your boss wants to go in another direction? Is there even another direction in accounting? I already work eighty hours a week. What do you want me to do about this? His mouth was dry. He loosened his crooked, ink-stained tie and balled the whole thing up in his fist until it was sopping with sweat. The restaurant’s lights flickered and he almost took it as a sign to run in and drop his resume right on the counter and start up working again, right there. Work in fast food, live in his car, in this parking lot, wear sweaty ties, take wrong left turns. He felt himself slam the car door, stumble, paperwork in hand, to the restaurant’s entrance. The aluminum and plexiglass door of the restaurant reminded him of the 100 tons he felt on his chest when he heard the words, “we are going to have to let you go.” It was as dim inside that restaurant as it had been in his boss’s office that afternoon. There was a line of people at the counter, staring at him. They stared at a man who had been rubbed raw by life. A man who was trying go somewhere and right now was going backwards. Jake stared back at the painful normalcy. He pushed his way to the front and slid the papers to the cashier, “Look man, I need to see your manager.”
“I’m sorry sir, but our manager isn’t here today. If you need anything else I’m going to have to ask you to go to the back of the line and wait your turn.”
“Kid, I don’t need anything, I just need a damn job. Can you get that for me?”
“Sir, I’m just a cashier. I can’t help you with that and if you’d excuse me I’m with a customer. Yes ma’am and you said you wanted tomato on that?”
Jake ran his tongue along the plaque of his bottom teeth, kept his eyes on the cashier and walked himself backwards into a booth. It reeked of hot plastic and salty grease and children’s spit. He could feel the buzzing in his pocket of missed calls from his wife, I’m working overtime this week…four new clients…will you get the chicken started? its in the fridge. His fingernails dug into the table. He felt an uneasy disappointment when they didn’t leave a mark.
Alexandra Marino, Age 16, Grade 11, Columbia Grammar-Prep School, Silver Key