I work for a financial company.
This sounds all impressive by itself, but really I’m just a construction worker, working on one of the company’s condominium developments. I mow the lawns of houses that will be torn down. Some people are angry, mostly old folk. Nobody cares about them.
When I mow the lawns I dream of my future. I imagine climbing my way to the top of the company and becoming good friends with the head boss, a man named Yorg. I imagine us having brunch together, laughing obnoxiously over our Bluetooth headsets, making fun of peasants, and so on.
I love that I’m required to wear earplugs on the job, because when I put them in I hear a faint popping sound, and then a sock is stuffed in the mouth of the world. Everything is muffled and dreamy. Then I live in fantasy for the day. Some people may think this is sad, but I don’t mind living in a fantasy for eight hours a day. It’s nicer than the alternative.
“HEY!” My boss yells from his car.
Where am I? I look around and remember ghosts of what I did in the last hour. I stop my lawnmower, pull out my left earplug with my sweaty fingers, and look at Carl. He looks back at me expectantly, waiting from his car. I walk over.
He rolls down the window and cold air blows out on my face, sending an icy shiver down my warm back. Carl always drives around with his air conditioner blasted on full. If I do that, I get freezer burn and fall deathly sick with pneumonia in five minutes.
“Hey,” he repeats himself, “There was a break-in at 204.”
“Huh,” I say.
“Get in the car,” he commands.
“I can walk,” I offer, my voice weak.
“No.” He gives me a look that says stop messing around and get in the fucking car. I force a smile and get in.
He drives to a nearby coffee shop. It isn’t lunch time. It isn’t even break time. My boss just doesn’t give a shit.
I remember the day he told me his famous motto. It was my first day on the job. He was sitting in his swivelly chair, working on a laptop in his small garage office. I asked him what time I should take lunch at. He looked at me, shrugged, and said, “Just get the work done and then drag your ass through the rest of the day.”
Inspiring words. His motto doesn’t quite work, because unlike him, I have a thousand miles of lawn to mow every day, and if I so much as take a sip of water, he screeches up in his car and barks at me. The guy is neurotic and a hypocrite.
At the coffee shop, I sit down and bite my nails. My boss makes me nervous, if I didn’t already make that clear. He sits across from me and loudly slurps a cup of joe while reading the paper. When he finishes his coffee he goes to the counter and looks through the glass at the pastries. He buys a muffin and inhales it in three seconds.
“Was it good?” I ask.
“Were your nails good?” He answers.
“No, I was just anxious,” I say. “You ate that muffin fast.”
“Meh,” he replies. “The muffins are from the grocery store. I’ve seen them before. It tasted okay.”
I don’t know why he would buy a muffin he already knew would taste “Meh.” `When we finally get to the broken-in property — 204 — it’s obvious somebody messed about. Both the back doors are wide open. The first thing that Carl says is, “Motherfucker.” We walk up to the door on the ground level. There’s broken wood lying in the dust. Without saying anything, Carl walks past me through the doorframe and up the stairs to the top floor.
“Carl, what will you do if there’s a hobo waiting to attack you?” I call after him as he disappears up the stairs.
“I’ll negotiate with him using my fists,” he yells back. I run up the stairs after him. There’s raccoon poop everywhere. I whistle. “You’re cleaning all of this up,” I say.
“Nope,” he shoots back, “you are, with your teeth.”
“I’m gonna call work safety on you.”
“Then you’re fired,” he says.
I laugh. “Checkmate.”
Carl doesn’t smile. He waddles around the kitchen, his hands in his pockets. He looks like a big penguin. He finds corn dogs and fried potatoes scattered on the counters and floor.
“This fucker had quite the party,” he growls.
I imagine a dingy man breakdancing in the dark of this broken house, munching on stolen corn dogs and potato wedges and having a grand ol’ time. When the sun comes up the hobo carefully leaves the door open so that raccoons will feast on his corn dogs and then poop everywhere. He whistles happily as he skips away into the sunrise. I sort of feel bad for the guy. Everyone needs a place to sleep. But my boss tells me to lock the doors and take all the food with us in a plastic bag. I clean it all up except for two potato wedges that I leave in the corner cupboard.
While we drive back to the office, Carl tells me I have smelly body odour. I ignore his kind critique and tell him that I feel bad for the hobo. He scoffs.
“All he needs to do is stab you with a needle and then you’ve got HIV.”
I think about that for the rest of the day.
The next day I’m instructed to check the doors on house 204 to make sure they’re still secure. When I get to the property, I notice that the window’s open, and there’s a dent on the sill. Maybe Mr. Hobo had a final hurrah.
Walking up to the window, I can see that Mr. Hobo made an even bigger mess this time. I reckon that he got mad because we threw out all his food and locked him out of a house that doesn’t belong to him. I call Carl, and he’s speeding up the street within 30 seconds. I meet him at the curb.
“Our homeless friend smeared raccoon poop on the wall,” I tell him.
“He broke in?” He asks, already boiling with fury in his seat (despite the Mt. Everest air conditioning).
“Yeah,” I answer, “through the window. Looks like he pried the window off with something.”
“That motherfucker,” my boss says, slamming the steering wheel. He sure does love that word. He’s like the fat white version of Samuel L. Jackson.
He parks his car then power-walks into the house, bristling like a porcupine. He screams in rage when he sees the poo on the wall. We spend the next two hours boarding up the house.
The next day, I come back. Everything looks normal on the house, so I start mowing the lawn. It’s when I’m blowing the walkway with the leafblower that I think to make sure the doors are locked. I turn it off and take out my earplugs. The real world is dead silent, save for a creeping breeze which rustles the stiff holly leaves on a nearby bush. I walk up to the top step of the rotting staircase and look at the door. The handle’s broken off.
I gulp. The breeze dances up my spine. I call Carl, and I can barely tell him to come to the house because of my dry mouth. When he comes, I tell him I have a bad feeling. He tells me, “Quit your bitching and finish blowing the goddamn sidewalk,” then marches past through the doorway. I turn the leafblower back on and spray the walkway without my earplugs in. The machine screams and blisters the air.
Suddenly there’s another scream, from inside the house.
I run up the rotten house steps, the leafblower still wailing in my hand. Carl is leaning against the wall with his head in his hands. I wonder if he’s hurt — or worse, crying — but he looks up at me suddenly, his mouth hanging open in shock. In the corner of my eye, something moves quickly, and I a giant pump of adrenaline spikes through my veins. Things move in slow motion for a moment as I reel, horrified…