Stanton McCaffery’, author of No Such Thing, has previously published short fiction in Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, Between Worlds, Yellow Mama and Heater. He works in communications for a UN agency and is the Editor-in-Chief of Rock and a Hard Place Magazine.
Bash brought his transparent plastic tub, wash rag, and spray bottle to the booth by the window overlooking the parking lot. There was a puddle of milk on the table and half-chewed mozzarella sticks clinging to the carpeted floor, cheerios wedged into the seat cushions. As he wiped off the Formica table-top he was conscious of his fingers and the 20-something couple at the nearby table staring at them. Across the knuckles on his left hand were the letters “S-T-A-Y,” and across the knuckles on his right hand were the letters “A-W-A-Y.”
He thought about wearing gloves to work but figured that would get looks too and as long as the owner didn’t give him grief about the ink he figured a few sideways glances wouldn’t do any harm. And the owner, a Greek guy with catapillar-thick eyebrows named Yiannis, had been nothing but good to Bash for the four years he’d worked at the diner. He hired Bash soon after his release and didn’t care about anything but working hard.
“Virus is getting crazy,” said Yiannis that evening, looking first at the empty tables in front of him and then out at the desolate highway in the distance. “Continues more, Bash, and I don’t know for how much longer I can keep you.”
After his shift, Bash rode his bike to the grocery store and saw the hordes with their packed carts: all the toilet paper, all the soap, all the hand sanitizer. He took a basket and grabbed some packets of dehydrated soup and canned meat. In the meat department, two women started pulling each other’s hair out over the last chicken breast. He watched for entertainment until the police came and then he checked out and left as quickly as he could because over a lifetime he’d learned there was no such thing as a good interaction with the police.
After his shift, Bash rode his bike to the grocery store and saw the hordes with their packed carts: all the toilet paper, all the soap, all the hand sanitizer.
Yiannis called the first thing the next morning. “We must do takeout only, they say. I am afraid that I do not need anyone to clean tables for right now. I hope you understand.”
Bash lived in a one-room apartment above a hair salon. He loved sitting at his window and watching women go inside, but there were no women getting their hair done now, not in the last week. Watching birds and squirrels on the street, he listened to the news chatter on his TV. They said people were discouraged from going to their second homes. Celebrities were singing songs and talking about how everybody was in this together.
It sounded to Bash like people were having trouble following simple orders and couldn’t come to terms with restrictions placed over their lives. He had a certain degree of empathy for that. His first six months inside he felt like he was being suffocated.
In a way, the virus looked to Bash like an equalizer. Everyone was restricted. Everyone, to a degree at least, knew what Bash had felt like for those ten years. And it felt good to watch them all squirm and know they couldn’t have handled what he handled.
After Yiannis let him go, he ate the way he had when he was first released – going to as many food banks as he could – but the rent, that couldn’t wait, so he hopped on a crew of laborers working for a house flipper. When everyone else was quarantined and watching Netflix, Bash would ride his bike to a job site, work eight hours, and then go to a food bank, carrying a bag of tools on his back and canned food in plastic bags slung on each handlebar.
After Yiannis let him go, he ate the way he had when he was first released – going to as many food banks as he could…
He kept his distance from the other guys in the crew, because of the virus and because of his own disposition. They would congregate at break times with a cooler of alcohol and a few joints. “How come you don’t want none?” said one guy with a blonde fu-manchu mustache.
“Just don’t,” said Bash.
“I think you’re a fucking pussy,” said the man.
Bash took a breath and finished his sandwich of whitebread and spam. He had an ingrown toenail on the large toe of his right foot. While the other guys continued their mid-shift partying, Bash took off his boot and tore the toenail out with a pair of pliers.
That night he ran over a nail with his bike and it ripped a tire open, forcing him to walk. A lifetime of aggravations, injustices, and the general unfairness of it all stewed in his head as he limped six miles home in pain.
He walked past a corner house with a big yard and a deck filled with people drinking out of red plastic cups.
He took off his bag, dropped his bike, and went to the fence surrounding the property. All in this together my fucking ass, he said to himself. Where’s my coronavirus party? He took out his wrench from the bag and hopped the fence. Someone off in the distance shouted, “Excuse me buddy, this is a private party.”
Stretching his arm out, he knocked a cup out of a man’s hand with the wrench. “You’re supposed to be following the Goddamn rules!”
A woman nearby screamed and took out her cellphone.
He ran to her and tried to grab it. She pulled away from him and coughed in his face. He jerked his head back and swung the wrench through the air without thinking, hitting her in the jaw and sending her and a few loose teeth to the ground.
He went to the cellphone that lay a few feet away and smashed it. “All in this together?! Ain’t no such fucking thing.”
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