short fiction by Christopher Sloce
photography by John Dijulio
Usually I can handle all manners of insult. But everybody has a line, and Dutch crossed mine after he cussed me out for taking a longer than usual cigarette break. I was using my managerial clout for some good for once. So I put a brick through his car’s back windshield.
I made sure I did everything right. During one of my rare Sundays off, I walked around the city and looked for loose bricks, picked one far away from the boarding house Dutch lived in—with the science they have these days, you can’t be too careful—put it in the bottom of my bookbag, and then right as dark went down on the city, I left for my mission.
I went through all the stages of grief while walking through the town. By the time I made it to the back alley behind Dutch’s boarding house—a long stretch with mid-price cars in packed dirt parking spots, stray cats darting around like movie characters in a gunfight—I had accepted that it had to happen. Two houses down from his place, I crouched behind a big wooden fence, put the bag on the ground, grabbed the brick from the bottom, and held it close.
I started walking down that way, only one of his roommates stood on the porch, smoking a cigarette. I dropped the brick and ran up the street and laid down in a pile of leaves. I waited ten minutes and then headed back. I walked back by, saw no one was on the porch. A second later I tossed the brick: the back windshield looked like a vacant spider web and I could still hear the alarm when I called a cab to get me a few blocks up.
The Jamaican cab driver asked me, “Where you going?”
“The bus terminal.”
“But where’s the ticket taking you?”
He laughed. “Man, ain’t nobody go to Biloxi. You gotta be lying.”
I just kept quiet.
During my time at the bus terminal, I drank coffee with grounds so deep at the bottom it was like someone had crushed an oreo with a pestle and threw it in haphazardly. I slept with the bitter taste in my mouth. I took another cab back and got ready for work. I didn’t shower. I just took my clothes off, and put on new ones. I got to the convenience store and stood behind the counter counting small change in the register. I’m no idiot. I wouldn’t put a brick through a man’s windshield if he had the shift after mine. The day went on. I sold bankers lemon cakes and coffee and sold harried mothers cigarettes. By the time my shift was about ending, Luck was coming in.
“You hear about Dutch?”
I counted bills so I didn’t have to look at him. “No, what’d he do this time?”
“Dutch didn’t do nothin’ but some asshole put a brick through his back car window.”
“Oh, that’s a damn shame.”
“Yeah, but you know how he is.”
I crossed my arms. “Yeah, I do.”
Next time I worked, Dutch and I had the night shift. Dutch looked puffed up and ready and tense, like a bear preparing to swat a wasp. He always dwarfed me; now it was worse.
“Can’t believe these assholes.” His voice rumbled even over the line of college kids wearing beanies in sixty degree weather.
“Hey, cool it.”
“No, not the customers.”
“Don’t talk like that up front.”
“Who does that to somebody’s car?”
“Hell if I know, just leave your car troubles at home.”
“I had to take a cab to get to work, and for what?” He pointed to all the chips and cigarettes, the packages of condoms with something called “the American sizzler” included, the grime above the scratch off lottery ticket display. “To stand here in this shit? It’s a bum deal.”
“Look, Dutch, if you wanna complain about it, go get a therapist. Otherwise, just bag up the 99 cent teas for our customers.”
“I’m just trying to vent.”
“Dutch, pretty fucking please, bag the things. I’m taking a smoke break once it calms down.”
“So you’re just gonna leave me to all this?” he said. He pushed his chest out a little more and looked at me, like he would throw me through that window and I’d be smoking a cigarette on my back.
“Just bag it all up.” I could have used that cigarette more than anything. If he took on that bear-chested thing about putting cans in bags, what would happen if he figured out I tossed that brick through his window?
I started taking my cigarette breaks inside of my car. I felt like I was on a stakeout, but at least I could listen to a song or two. Me and Dutch’s relationship became a bunch of co-worker pleasantries, with distaste thick at the bottom.
I worked with Dutch another two times that week. The second time he seemed a quiet kind of begrudged toward everything he railed against: the kids, the condoms, all that. But the third time he had so obviously changed, and seemed a little discomforted but mostly okay with working the counter. We still didn’t talk much, but you could tell.
While I was sitting in the car, having a break, Dutch came outside. I turned down the music. He got right into my car without ever asking if it was alright.
“Yeah?” I said.
“You know, Turner, I been thinking.”
“Good. Why are you in my car?”
“I need to say something.”
“You know how I cussed you out last week and I got mad about working the front?”
I nodded. He reached into a floorboard and pulled up a greasy fast food wrapper from an unknown era. He held it up to me and I shrugged.
“Anyway. I’m thinking, that, sometimes things just happen and they don’t necessarily go my way.”
“Yeah, that’s everybody.”
“So, I gotta really get less angry.”
“You’ll get a hernia otherwise.”
“So, I’m gonna try to be less….mad upfront from now on. Okay? Okay.” He got out of the car, and left me there smoking a cigarette.
I hated him even more then.