Awful People A One Month At A Time NaNoWriMo Challenge

3 (Nov.2)

(interlude)

 

“Good morning. Here’s a look at your weather. In Charleston, things will start and end a little cloudy, but the middle part is going to be beautiful.

Expect early morning fog in the low-lying areas and near the river, which will burn off before noon.

After that, though much of the state, sunny skies into the late afternoon with temperatures climbing into the lower 80s.

Toward the north, however, we’ll be seeing some rain by mid-afternoon, as a storm system moves through the region. Highs in the upper 70s and lower 80s.

Rain tonight throughout the state, with most of it hitting the northern and eastern panhandles as that storm system sweeps east.

Overnight lows around the state should be in the upper 50s or lower 60s.

Tomorrow, rain through the first half of the day and some cooling but clearing before nightfall. Highs for the day around 75.

For WVPB, I’m Bill Lynch in Charleston.”

 

Chapter 3

There’d been two cars waiting in the parking lot when Rose arrived. At least one of them had been waiting for a while.

Standing arms crossed, next to a pump, a man in a plaid flannel shirt and WVU ballcap muttered, “You’re late,” as she was getting out of her car.

Rose turned her pregnant belly toward him and scowled.

The man looked down, put a hand to his furry face, aghast, and said, “Sorry.”

Rose nodded and then walked slowly and with great, even exaggerated, difficulty to the entrance, where she turned on lights and got the pumps working.

The man in the baseball cap got his gas and left.

As she was counting her drawer and making coffee, customers blew through on their way to who knows where, grabbing chips or cookies for breakfast as they went. They noticed her about as much as she noticed them, exchanging good-mornings and how are yous automatically.

Sipping a mango colored can of Monster Energy, Rose dully marched through her day. From the beat-up stool parked behind the counter, she decided she wasn’t doing jack today. She wasn’t even going to pretend it had anything to do with being seven months pregnant.

“Crap rolls downhill,” she muttered, took a swig and felt the unpronounceable chemicals from the can bounce around inside her blood.

The baby liked it, too.

No, Greg could up the boxes and sweep up after he got in at two. He’d whine about it, but he’d do it. At least, he didn’t have to come in on his day off, his weekend off.

Still, Rose knew this could be much worse. The neon sign above the glass door that read “Open 24 Hours” reminded her.

Rose had never seen it lit. Matt put that thing in long before he hired her two years ago.

Originally, when he and Marge opened the Shopaminit, they intended to compete with the Pilot station just up the road that was closer to the highway, but overnight traffic this far off the main road never amounted to much after about 10 at night.

Matt and Marge had a hard time finding people willing to work through the night at the pay they were willing to pay. They had a hard-enough time finding people willing to work for what they paid during the day, but after the Pilot station added a Subway, Matt gave up on trying to compete for highway traffic or make any money on the strays looking to save 2 cents a gallon more on their gas.

There was a switch under the counter that lit the sign, but the switch was taped-down and no one was supposed to touch it.

“It would probably burn the place down,” Matt had told her.

She’d asked him why he didn’t just have the thing taken out if he thought it was dangerous.

He’d just laughed and told her, “It’s on the list.”

Matt said that often. Somewhere in the back of her employer’s nearly empty skull, there was an imaginary list he kept of things he should do and things he should fix, like the water heater for the bathrooms or the self-serve air pump at edge of the lot.

You could drop quarters into that thing all day and never get enough air to fill a soap bubble –but no refunds. Not many people tried that any more –maybe one or two a month. The pump looked kind of rough. Some customer had taken a bat or a stick or something to it at some point and dented the thing.

Still, about every other month or two somebody would pull on the lot with out-of-state tags or a slightly bewildered look on their face –a stranger. The visitor would park their car by the pump and spend a dollar or so trying to get it to work before coming in to the store to complain or inform whoever was on duty of “the problem.”

They’d want a refund, which was against store policy. Matt’s logic was that since they couldn’t verify whether or how much money had been spent trying to get the pump to work, they couldn’t refund it.

Half the time, whoever stomped out of the store and drove off, looking for actual, legitimate service. The other half, they stood there at the counter looking all sick and sad.

Staff was told to direct these customers to a nearby display that included Fix-a-Flat and a couple of foot pumps.

By mid-morning, the stream of customers into the Shopaminit had slowed to a trickle. Rose made a microwavable burrito and had a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup for the protein. Then she stood outside the front entrance, watched the cars pass by the lot and smoked her second cigarette of the day.

She meant to light a second one after that, a treat for having to put up with all of this, but then Ryan Seacrest pulled up in his beat-up Dodge Neon; heavy metal bleeding through the sealed car door windows.

“Oh hell,” Rose spat, saved her cigarette and went back inside.

She hoped he just needed gas.

Ryan Seacrest was the manager at the Pizza Hut 25 yards down the road and across the little bridge. Before the past couple of months, Rose hadn’t thought much of him, except that she felt lucky to not have to wear that kind of uniform to work.

He hadn’t paid much attention to her, either, which seemed like a good arrangement.

Since Rose got pregnant, since it became apparent to everyone that she was pregnant, Ryan stopped in almost every day, sometimes twice a day, sometimes more than that.

At first, Rose thought it was cute. The Pizza Hut manager would come in, buy something small and then chat with her for a minute, ask her how she was doing, ask her about the baby.

At the time, this was kind of nice. Rose and her boyfriend, Jake, had just broken up. He’d told her he wasn’t ready for fatherhood. She’d tossed a lamp at his head and told him he could go live in his car.

A few days later, Jake called and told her he wanted to talk, maybe work through things. Rose told him there was no point. She’d already burned all his things in a barrel out back, but he was welcome to sift through the ashes and look for his X-Box, if he wanted.

Not having Jake around meant there was nobody even nominally concerned with her well-being or the well-being of the life growing inside of her. Nobody she knew asked how she was doing or if she was taking care of herself. So, it was nice to have someone to lie to again and Ryan was easy to talk to because she didn’t care that much about what he really thought. It was just good to speak the words “I’m doing great” out loud.

After a while, Ryan’s interest took a turn. It stopped being enough for him to just stop by, get a package of Nutterbutter cookies and ask her if she was drinking orange juice every day, like she was supposed to, because it was good for the baby. He started wanting to know if she needed any help around the house or if he could come over sometime to make her dinner.

There were plenty of women, Rose knew, who would see someone like Ryan as a golden opportunity. Rose’s mother would certainly think so, but she’d been wise enough not to mention it. Otherwise, she’d never hear the end of it.

She hadn’t even told her mother she was pregnant. She thought she might bring it up over Christmas.

Rose understood that her circumstances were not ideal. She was seven and a half months pregnant and without anything approaching a husband, boyfriend or reliable partner to help her get through the next couple of months or beyond that.

This was not to say that Jake would have been much help, but he might have been convinced to turn off his stupid video games long enough to watch an infant while she showered.

Ryan seemed friendly and attentive. He wasn’t bad looking. He had his hair, and despite working at a place where melted cheese was the main attraction, he wasn’t fat. He also had a job, which wasn’t always the case with the men Rose occasionally paired up with, but she didn’t like Ryan.

In better times, Rose didn’t think she’d even bother to make eye contact with him.

 

(to be continued)

 

 

 

 

2 (Nov.1)

Chapter 2.

 

The menu left much to be desired and Skip didn’t know what to make of the waitress.

He was accustomed to the tattoos, the piercings and the occasional ritual brand. Those turned up more and more these days, but he still hadn’t wrapped his mind around the deliberate scarring. He couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to sear the logo of some rock and roll band on one’s flesh.

It sounded like a form of torture, but he understood that someone might feel very affectionate toward a particular type of music.

Skip liked music as much as the next man. He enjoyed the Mills Brothers and The Freshmen –classics.

He was also fond of young Frank Sinatra’s repertoire, the stuff before all that business with the mob, John F. Kennedy and Cubans. When the mood struck him, he could listen to a Wayne Newton record, but could not see himself fixing a permanent likeness of the singer’s face on any part of his body.

He had no taste for that type of adornment, nor did he care for the beards so many men were wearing these days –long and stringy or just plain shaggy, like a prospector from an old serial western.

What absolutely baffled him was that while neatly trimmed hair was back in style. Men paired it with everything from Don Johnson cast-off five o’clock shadow to Yosemite Sam beards and Walrus mustaches.

Still, fashion was fashion. He could not deny it and while he might not approve of the particular styles, he believed very much in freedom of choice in one’s appearance. What was it to him if someone wanted to look like they worked at a carnival?

Skip just didn’t know what to make of the silver horns poking through the black hair of his waitress or the woman’s blood red eyes –contacts, obviously, but disturbing.

After he’d been seated in a booth and the woman had come to pour water and take his drink order, he’d almost checked his watch to see if it was, perhaps, Halloween –or nearabout that.

No, his Rolex Submariner told him it was October 13. That seemed a bit early for the restaurant to be celebrating with a dress up day for the staff and who was there to enjoy it?

It was mid-morning, after the usual pre-work breakfast rush, but before lunch. There were only a couple of other diners in the room.

“Maybe I’m in Hell,” Skip chuckled, but no, the television was on in the next room, over the bar. The noise of the television competed with the piped in pop music in the dining room, mingling the two in a weird auditory sludge, but he could still make out the idiots on CNN talking endlessly about the president.

If he listened closely, he could hear them squirm.

No, Hell would have been a third term for the previous fellow, “he-who-should-not-be-named,” but even the fiery pit would not survive that socialist.

So, Skip wasn’t in Hell and it wasn’t Halloween, but his waitress had fiery eyes, metallic horns and more line drawings on her arms showing than a brand-new coloring book.

This was something to consider. He had a long drive ahead of him and if he didn’t somehow address, thinking about it might be like a burr under his skin.

She brought his coffee, along with a handful of single serving creams and sugars he didn’t ask for. That suggested a kind nature, a good trait in a waitress or anyone, really.

He watched her hands as she poured and slowly took in her appearance, stopping on her nametag. In the bewilderment of the eyes and horns, Skip had missed the woman’s name.

The nametag read Lulu, which was uncommon.

“I’m sorry, Miss. Your name is Lulu?”

She nodded, suspiciously.

Skip smiled and said, “It was my mother’s name, short for Lucinda. Lucinda, I hear from time to time, but very few people go by Lulu these days. It’s kind of a treat for me to see someone using the name again.”

The painted black lips of the waitress parted in bleached smile.

“That’s sweet of you to say,” she said. “What can I get you today?”

Ah, the reason he was here.

Skip picked up the thin, paper menu purposefully and told her, “I read about this place online from several foodie websites. I don’t like to think of myself as a real ‘foodie,’ just a little adventurous. The websites mentioned a cornmeal ramp casserole that sounded very tasty. I’m not from,” he paused to say the word carefully, as not to offend, “App-uh-lah-chu and I understand that ramps are best found here.”

Lulu nodded.

“They’re not on the menu,” he added. “I’ve scoured this document several times, but the ramp casserole is not to be found. Is it, perhaps, a chef special?”

The waitress cocked her head and hip to one side. She frowned.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” she said, sounding genuinely apologetic. “That’s a seasonal item. We only get those only through the spring. Sometimes, a few might show up into June, but not much later than that. You would have to come back in late April or May to have ramps, but I would say that it’s worth the trip.”

“Oh,” Skip said.

He thought he’d checked the restaurant website. He could have sworn it was on the menu. He was disappointed, but still game to sample something exotic.

“Might there be something else I could try?” He asked. “What about something with paw paws? I hear they’re kind of like a banana.”

She shook her head.

“You just missed them, hon. We get those in season sometime in August and we don’t get much.”

“Dear, I see to be having no luck at all.” Skip took a deep breath and asked, “What would you suggest? I’m looking for something with a local, regional flavor, something I haven’t tried before and something that might be difficult to get anywhere else –or someplace like Chicago or New York.

“Do you have anything like that?”

He waited.

Lulu leaned over him and looked down at the menu.

“I don’t know,” she said. “We have a very good apple dumpling, but that’s usually for dessert, with the lunch and dinner menu.” She frowned again. “No one hardly ever orders dessert for breakfast. I don’t know how long it would take to make one or if the breakfast cook even knows how.”

“Is there nothing?”

By now, Skip realized he sounded pathetic.

A little pained, Lulu gave him what was probably the company line. The ingredients for everything was local and fresh. The eggs and milk came from nearby farms. The cheese was sourced from a dairy only eight miles away.

Skip managed a brave face and said, “Then let me have the buttermilk French toast then with bacon, not sausage.”

“I’ll take care of that right away,” the waitress said and collected the menu. “And I’ll ask the owner about the apple dumpling. He’s in the back, I think, doing payroll. Maybe he could make one up special.”

“Please, don’t go to any extra trouble,” he told her. “The French toast, I’m sure, will be delicious.”

“No, it’s OK,” she said. “I want to ask.”

Skip smiled and said, “You’re an angel.”

Lulu laughed. The joke wasn’t lost on her.

“I’ll see what I can do,” she said and off she went with his order.

Easing back in his booth, Skip took out the phone in his coat pocket.

Lulu seemed nice, he thought. It just goes to show that you can’t tell a book by its cover.

He looked up the Squash Blossom Bistro in Louisville, Kentucky and yes, indeed, the breakfast ramp casserole was right there on the menu.

That should have been removed. He’d come through Louisville, specifically, to try that casserole.

Skip sipped his coffee and decided that if the owner made good on Lulu’s offer of the apple dumpling and it was as wonderful as she said, he’d leave the waitress a nice tip and go on his way. He might even try back in the Spring, if business brought him this way again.

If the dessert was only so-so, Skip decided he’d probably just put a bullet in the man’s knee and leave a lukewarm review on Yelp. That seemed about fair.

If the owner declined to make the apple dumpling, Skip hoped whoever inherited the restaurant would keep Lulu on. Horns and all, she was an excellent waitress.

1 (Nov.1)

Chapter 1

 

Rose blinked and watched the red numbers change –57 became 58 then 59 and 00. It was 4:00. She felt restless, annoyed and uncomfortable. There was no getting back to sleep.

She needed to be up in another half an hour anyway. What was the point of even trying?

Resigned, Rose fumbled for the cheap, metal lamp. She went through these things pretty regularly; knocked them on the floor, tossed them into a wall as the occasion merited it.

Rose’s swollen fingers spidered over the neck of the lamp, searching for the switch. Her thumb snagged the button. She pressed and flinched from the impact of the harsh, yellow light.

Rose resented the hell out of having to get up on another Saturday. She really did. Matt had promised.

“I know what I said,” he told her over the phone, half an hour before midnight. “But we’re short-handed. You know that.”

An accusation.

They were short-handed because Rose fired Craig and Kelly on Tuesday. The dipsticks stole beers out of the cooler and were seen drinking those beers while working.

“But we only took a couple. We were going to pay for them.” Kelly had put on his best puppy dog eyes and pleaded, “Come on.”

Craig hadn’t said anything, didn’t need to. He’d just looked at his hands and waited. They were busted, but he probably didn’t need the job as badly as Kelly.

Kelly didn’t have that many chances left, at least not in Kanawha County.

If it had been up to Rose, she’d have never hired him. She’d gone over his employment application, which read like a dollar store mystery novel –crimes had been committed but figuring out whodunnit wasn’t all that hard.

Kelly’s work history was as long as a snake. He’d bounced from one job to the next with a predictable rhythm, seldom lasting at any one place longer than a couple of months. A few places he’d listed had only suffered him for several weeks.

In his interview with Rose, he had admitted to some trouble on his part.

“Personality clashes,” Kelly had told her, but he also acknowledged some immaturity on his part. He liked to party, stayed out too much and yes, that had become a problem once or twice.

“But I’m over all that,” he’d promised. “I moved back in with my mom to help her out, and I don’t want to rock the boat. I’m looking at getting into a welding program next Spring at the vocational college and I just need a job to help cover my day-to-day while I do that, you know?”

His wild, unreliable days were all in his past, Kelly had said. He’d just needed to get that little bit of lingering high school restlessness out of his blood.

Kelly had a boyish quality to him. He was tall and lean with bright blue eyes and a nice smile. He was also 35 and didn’t or couldn’t drive.

Rose hadn’t been impressed by him, but Matt said hire anyone who showed up sober, capable of speaking in semi-complete sentences and who didn’t openly admit to having a criminal record.

“Also, no neck tattoos,” he’d said. “That’s just as bad.”

In theory, the application for Shopaminit stated the company might perform a background check and require a drug test, but those things cost money and Matt thought giving somebody a dime an hour raise after six months was extortion.

He didn’t pay overtime, either.

The best Matt would do was to let employees help themselves to a snack or two from the candy or chip aisle every once in a while, as long as it didn’t become a problem. They could have all the coffee or fountain drinks they wanted, provided they brought their own cup, and he didn’t mind if they took a pepperoni roll once a week.

Matt’s wife brought down a new batch to the store every Monday morning for them to sell at the counter. It was a popular item. Margie did a good job.

Of course, Matt preferred employees to wait until the end of the week to take advantage of the company perk.

Customers first.

Honestly, Rose didn’t blame Kelly and Craig for stealing beer, but the pair had been seen polishing off a six-pack of Natural Light by the wife of a sheriff’s deputy. Tina Perkins had called Rose at the house about it and now her hands were tied.

Tina was 100 percent going to tell her husband, if she hadn’t already, which would not end well if Craig and Kelly stayed on the payroll.

Kelly had begged and pleaded for a second chance.

Rose told him there was nothing that could be done.

“Just turn in your work uniform and your nametag,” she told them.

“This isn’t fair,” Kelly complained.

“Oh, just shut up,” Craig said, finally. “I was stupid for going along with you, a complete idiot for taking one of those beers and a total moron for losing my job over a stinking light beer.”

He tossed his nametag and shirt on the desk in front of Rose and then glared at Kelly.

“You can find your own ride home,” Craig said.

Ten minutes after Kelly walked out the door, Rose began looking through applications and calling phone numbers. It would take a couple of days to replace the two men, which wouldn’t have been much of a hardship, if Becky hadn’t broken her collarbone after she fell off the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle.

That left the store with 50 percent staff and then Derek called Matt. He was just done, told Matt he got an offer to go work in the kitchen at Olive Garden, with the promise that he’d be trained to work the front of the house as a waiter.

Derek started Monday and was taking the weekend to get himself mentally prepared to wash dishes and boil pasta.

Somebody had to open Saturday morning.

“Matt, I worked a double yesterday,” Rose had said, almost in tears. “I’ve already put in 60 hours, this week. I need my time off.”

Matt had promised her if she took the management job, she’d get a pay raise and two weekends off a month, plus one three-day weekend every other month. So far, she’d seen one weekend off a month, no three-day weekend, but lots and lots of extra hours on her feet.

Maybe she could ask Derek to put in a good word for her at the Olive Garden, not right away, of course, but later. They’d always got along.

“Rose, we need you to go in Saturday,” Matt told her.

“Matt, I’m not going to do it,” she said, at the time surprised at how angry she felt. “I’ll quit. I swear to God, I will. You can’t use me like this. It’s just not good for me. It’s not…why can’t you and Margie pull a shift? When was the last time either one of you worked a Saturday?”

Rose hadn’t been able to remember. A couple of times every week, Matt would come down to the store, hang out in the back office and looked at his phone for a couple of hours, but that wasn’t actually work.

Margie just dropped off the pepperoni rolls but would sometimes stop in to fill up her tank for free.

Matt listened to her rant, but then sighed heavily and said, “Rose, we can’t. Margie and I are in Gatlinburg. We’re supposed to tour a timeshare place tomorrow morning. We got a free two-night’s stay just for coming down.”

“Wait,” Rose said. “You’re not asking me to work Saturday. You’re telling me to work Saturday and Sunday.”

“We’ll be back Sunday afternoon,” he promised.

“You can’t do this to me,” she said.

“Think of it as extra money,” Matt said. “It’s going to come in handy, you know it will.”

Rose hung up on him. Matt didn’t call back, but he didn’t have to.

With a huff, she tossed back the blankets and swung her feet over the edge of the bed and to the floor. She sat up, reached for her cigarettes and lit the first of the day. She took a drag and felt her belly flutter.

Rose put a hand on her swollen stomach.

“Hush, baby girl,” she said. “Let me get through this weekend and I’m back on the wagon, I swear.”

It was probably a lie, but kids will believe anything.

 

Welcome

Welcome to “Awful People,” my little National Novel Writing Month project for The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

It’s been a while since I’ve run a proper blog. Please bear with me as I get used to the controls and whatnot.

This blog will begin November 1. Posting of new episodes/chapters/whatever may turn out to be fairly consistent, but then again, maybe happen at random points in the day, based on my schedule.

Please check back often and maybe bring coffee.

Comments will be enabled for this post only –at least during the active writing part of the novel. As much as I love a good literary discussion (and there’s no reason to believe that what I’m writing will lead to one), firing back and forth will probably give me a great reason not to work.

If anyone wants to, we can talk about what I’ve written December 1.

As a NaNoWriMo book, “Awful People” is bound to be full of all kinds of errors. That’s to be expected. Only Joyce Carol Oates seems able to write fast, be eerily accurate with every single phrase and maintain a good story. If this book becomes too much to get through, check her work out, but expect to be traumatized a little.

That’s all I have for now.

See you on the other side, hopefully.

-Bill