The coolness of the pillow soothed the aches of the previous night’s events. I was completely content with sleeping in all day and into the night and that would have been the plan if it wasn’t for work. I wold normally work Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, but Joey broke his leg , one afternoon, two weeks ago , riding atop his Honda Civic, drunk out his mind and they were short on people. Its times like that that makes me regret having common sense. It wouldn’t have been that difficult seeing that I was in that car at the time.
If you work with the general public, the word “normality” becomes more or less relative. I work the early shift at a convenience store, so my definition of normality is wrinkles and bloodshot eyes. The shifts I was covering for Joey were the late shift, which mean drunks and ne’er-do-wells looking to make trouble with whom ever was up. It meant stoned teenagers and prostitutes wandering aimlessly through the racks and asking other patrons for spare change. It meant the overpowering stink of cigarettes, weed and urine burning your nose hair and causing your eyes to water and it meant Mr. E.
Mr. E was the name Greg, my fellow cashier give an oddball of a man that would show up at about 11:30 (for want of his actual name.) Mr. E was tall and thin, but he carried himself like a smaller man and always hunched over himself like a human question mark. He looked old and young at the sane time, mainly depending on the lighting he stood under. With the direct light from above the cash register bleeding down his brow and through his whiskers he appeared very old and menacing like how I imagine a man who killed before might look. But under the broad reaching florescent lights he appeared to be a gray haired teenager. Mr. E wasn’t talkative or personable by any degree. He wouldn’t even look you in the eye. It seemed like he was barely conscious of anyone’s presence, treating the world like a fly, he decided couldn’t catch and had to tolerate. He’d come in at about 11:30, load a basket with junk food, pays for it in exact change and sits by the Keno tables, eating and drinking.
No one knew who he was, but you’d hear rumors about him every once and awhile (most of which, you’d hear from druggies, so you wouldn’t give them much weight.) It’d normally be something small like claims that he was someone’s brother, father, grandfather, great grandfather, ex-boyfriend, ex-husband, old boss, old pimp, old dealer, old teacher, old friend, old this or old that. He was always something old to someone. He was always someone they used to know and it always sounded true except if it were, Mr. E would have to be somewhere around 170 years old and 12 different races at the same time. But I had to admit, there was something familiar about him. Before that Friday night, I had never seen him but I felt like I had. He’s name was on the tip of my tongue, waiting to roll off, but as I tried to articulate it I could only say De Ja Vu.
Mr. E spent about an hour slowly eating his junk food and then left to where-ever and Greg would give him a head nod and a Good night, sir.” as he did so, all the while keeping an eye on the man.
“Do you know his actual name?” I asked Greg, trying to sound disinterested.
“No.” Greg replied, ringing in a 2 liter of Coke.
“I get the feeling that I know him from somewhere.” I said almost to myself.
“Hey Gloria!” Greg called across the store. “Tell Josh about your boyfriend.” I looked at Greg with a puzzled look on my face. ‘What the hell was he talking about?’ A moment later, a small, shivering old lady shuffled into view. “He’s not my boyfriend! My boyfriend was nice. He just has my boyfriend’s memories!” Gloria shouted unnecessarily loud. She shuffled over to Greg. “ I don’t like that man, he’s a nasty man.” Gloria continued.
“Okay, Gloria, go tell Josh about him.” Greg said in a slightly dismissive manner. She obeyed and shuffled over to me, all the while muttering “He’s a nasty man,: under her breath.
When she finally got to me, she looked up to me from under tiny slits weighted down by hundreds of wrinkles. “That man,” she said it like it was a swear, “I don’t like that man. I don’t like to be in here when he’s in here. I don’t like to see him; I don’t like him to see me. I don’t even like to breathe the same air as that man. He’s a nasty man.” Gloria said, wagging her finger at me as if I had done wrong.
“What did he do?” I asked.
“That man…” Gloria started. “ I sat down to play Keno and I say hello to that man and doesn’t say anything, So I think he’s being shy or something so I do this.” She gently poked my forearm with her thin shivering finger. “Just trying to be friendly and I say hello again. That man looks at me and says my name . He says “What Gloria?” like he knows me.” I could tell that she was getting more upset and would be getting loud again.
“Did he?” I replied, secretly cursing Greg.
“Yeah, so I ask him if he knows me and that man said, ‘You don’t remember me, Gloria?’ I say ‘no, should I’ and he starts talking about my Daddy’s old car and about how my daddy let him borrow that car on our first date and he started talking about stuff I only told my old sweetheart Caleb. But Caleb died in Korea along time ago.” She stopped herself and just shivered in place. “And then that man said that Caleb didn’t die and that he was him and that he was glad that I thought that he was dead because I had grown old and ugly and crazy and he made me cry. He’s not Caleb. He’s just a nasty man with Caleb’s memories.”
“Really?” I said, not knowing what I should say.
“Yeah,” Gloria said through a long, wispy breath. She stood before me, shivering silently, evidently waiting for me to continue the conversation. I kept my mouth shut, repeating a mental prayer that she’d grow bored with my silence and go back to what she’d been doing. She did, as if the silence had dismissed her, she shuffled off back into the aisles. I could just hear Greg’s restrained laughs.
“I’m not sure that’s all that funny, man.”
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