Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Morning After

This is a story I wrote the VD prior to last. The only changes I've made this time around were to censor some of the swearing. This story was originally released on February 14th, 2006 as part of my annual tradition of releasing a creative project related to Valentines Day.

Disclaimer: This story was written under the influence of Leonard Cohen music and caffeine, which will both probably be outlawed eventually, discrediting my writing by virtue of the author being a 'cheating' substance abuser.

Everybody knows that it's now or never,

Everybody knows that it's me or you,

And everybody knows you live forever

When you've done a line or two

-Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows

I achieved the Buddha state of mindfulness. There was no before, and no after. Just this moment. I knew every card and every figurine on display, every thought in my mind and every hair on the arms of the man who was choking me. Even the sweat on my head seemed to stay exactly where it was, unmoving.

If this moment had lasted forever, I wouldn't have noticed.

"It's all
your fault, you b****!"

I had never seen hatred like that before. I was sure, in my centered detachment, that I had gone insane.

February 15th is one of the slowest days of the year for my store, and it's my most profitable day. I work for a national chain you've probably heard of. I won't say which because you know how things are with the Internet these days and people getting fired for saying stuff about their jobs.

It's a nice, cute little card shop, and lots of people think it's responsible for America's obsession with Valentine's day.

The day after Valentine's is my most profitable because I do something that I would probably be fired for if my employer knew about it. It's not fraud, or theft, but it probably is illegal. Before every major holiday, I buy cards and presents with my own money, and then save the receipts so that I can sell them to forgetful husbands and boyfriends.

The main selling point here would be the receipts.

Imagine it.

A loving, but forgetful husband comes into the shop, looking for a way to make it up to his darling wife, and encounters me. An unromantic, and unattractive twenty-year-old girl who is selling old receipts for a premium. He pays 50 USD plus sticker price, and walks out with a bit of hope in his eyes, and a pen in his hand.

He gets home, and gives his wife the card and other presents, saying he'd hidden them so well that even he couldn't find them. He gets sex that night, and the lawyer gets a call from the wife the next morning saying "Forget those divorce papers."

God, I'm a b****. You get the idea. It's not as pretty as I make it sound, but reality never holds a candle to the commercial.

So, I walked into the store first thing in the morning with my bag loaded up with sappy cards, candy, trinkets, and receipts. Shelly wasn't in yet, so I set up shop, and hid my wares under the sales counter.

At eight, I opened the shop. Shelly still wasn't in. I hate her sometimes. Being married doesn't make a good excuse for leaving your co-workers hanging. Oh, I was so exhausted from having wild sex with my husband last night that I slept in for a whole hour. It was amazing. Save it, Shelly.

My first customer arrived twenty minutes later. I was a little disappointed when the customer turned out to be an old woman. She was probably shopping for a congratulations card for some asshole grandson who would be graduating in two-and-a-half-months-if-he-didn't-flunk-out-of-every-class-this-semester.

I doubt little old ladies are ever late to anything but their own funerals. Whatever she was here for, I was sure I would hear about it soon, with no painful and embarrassing bits neglected.

The old lady browsed through the 'congratulations' section, and I let my mind wander. This job could be really boring at times. It looked like the old woman was going to read every card in whole the store.

About ten minutes later, a man walked in, looking confident and cocky. That was a little unusual for February 15th. With that kind of confidence, I doubted he would be one of my "special" customers. I was very surprised when he walked straight to the sales desk. I thought that he might know what he wanted, and didn't want to spend five minutes looking for it if he could make me look for it instead. I hated those bastards.

"Can I help you, sir?"

"Yeah, I think so. This is the place to buy Valentine's day presents that include receipts from the day before, right?"

Damn, he was one of mine. I didn't know how I felt about helping assholes get laid and keep their wives. That's just the cost of business, I guess.

"Sure is." I pulled out some of my packages to show him. I intentionally chose the receipts and presents that were going to cost him more. If he was going to be a dick, I was going to make some money off him.

"How much for that pile?"

"Seventy-two dollars."

"What?" He was shocked.

"Well, you're not paying for the present. You're paying for the receipt, and I'm the only game in town. Think of it as cheap penance." Yes, I know what a b**** I am.

He got his wallet out and paid in cash.

As soon as he left the store, he was out of sight and out of mind. Sure, he was a little off, but guys were going to be a little weird when they came in here after missing Valentine's. The whole incident ... it should have made me think.

About twenty minutes later, Shelly came in with another one of her stories about how much progress her and her husband were making with the sex therapist and --

Oh god! The orgasms, you have no idea, Kayla!

Exactly, I have no idea. Keep it to yourself.

Sometimes, I wish she would invite me along just so I could say, "No, thanks. It's bad enough you talk constantly about it at work, I don't need the visuals to go along with it."

I wished many times over that it had been Mike working with me that morning.

"Well, I'm going to go do some paperwork. Keep an eye on the front for me, okay?"

"Sure, no problem, Shelly." I was the master of sarcasm. My sarcasm was so mild even God couldn't hear the venom in my voice.

Mornings in general tend to be slow. The only thing that happened for the next half hour was that some middle school boys on bikes rode past the storefront. It took me half a minute to figure out that it was Wednesday, and they were playing hooky. I wanted to join them so badly.

While I was getting sentimental, a man ran up to the door and pulled it open with a stunning violence. The air shift caused by the door opening was spectacular, but I didn't have time to think about it. He ran straight for my counter.

I tried to duck, but didn't get very far before his arms where around my collar, pulling me up to face him. The hate and fury in his eyes ... If people could work up this sort of rage about society, things might change. That just goes to show the power of love.

That was sarcasm, just in case you didn't catch it.

Even now, I'm a b****.

"You f***ing b****! It's all your fault, you b****! She KNEW!" He shook me, and I wondered if that's what it felt like to be a doll in a little girl's hand.

For the first time, I realized who he was. He was Marcy's husband. Marcy was one of our regulars, and she must have seen me sell things to men before.

Fear produces strange reactions in people. It always makes me antagonistic, 'ballsy.' "No, it's your fault, you asshole. If you had actually cared about Marcy in the first place, you would have bought her presents beforehand! But no, all you care about is getting laid and having someone to iron your f***ing shirts for you."

I don't know what made me do it. By the time I said 'bought,' I'm sure he was so blind with rage that there's no way he actually heard what I said.

He was squeezing my neck and shaking me viciously when the little old lady whose grandson was going to graduate soon tottered up, and beat Marcy's husband on the head with her purse. She just kept beating him. It was the most absurd thing I'd ever seen. It was so absurd that I laughed as little black spots and darkness grew in my sight.

"Put her down, you whiny little b****," she said and kept hitting him.

It was so pathetic. He gave my neck one last squeeze, and then finally let go. I fell and hit my head on the chair as he ran out of the store.

"I'm going to call the cops," the little old lady said.

I gasped and stood up. "No, no. That's okay. I think he's had punishment enough."

"Hmm. If you're sure ..."

"Yes, I'm sure." I went from dying to calm-and-confident in seconds. I would have been impressed if I hadn't been too full of adrenaline to notice.

"Well, while I'm up here, can I get your opinion on a card for my grandson?"

"Sure thing, ma'am."

Marcy came in the shop a few weeks later. I was a little worried that she was going to be upset with me, or bitter. She didn't seem that way at all, though. When she walked to the sales desk to pay, I said 'hi' and asked her how things were going.

"Well, I'm getting a divorce --"

"Wow, I'm sorry to hear that."

"Oh, it's okay. Bill never really seemed to care that much about me, and his attitude ..."

I guess Bill had just been looking for someone to blame. That doesn't make me a better person, it just means that bad luck conspired with karma that day.

So, what happened to my side business? If you think I stopped, you don't know me very well.

I figured that if I could live with that incident, I could live with anything this business might throw at me. With that in mind, I expanded my business in every direction. Need a hotel for the ACC tournament? I've probably got a room. Want to surprise your love by taking her to dinner at the hottest restaurant in town tonight?

I've got six tables ... for a price.

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