Wednesday feels like Monday.
Monday feels like Thursday.
I drive Ashleigh to work.
I take Ashleigh to work.
I drop off Ashleigh at work.
It’s a two-lane road.
The speed limit seems to change every half mile.
It’s 35 and then it’s 55 and then it’s 25 and then it’s back to 55.
I drive about 70 the whole way there.
And still there’s a car tailgating me.
I’m not going fast enough.
Sometimes I get stuck behind a school bus and I say, “Fuck you, you fucking school bus.”
Because the school bus isn’t going fast enough.
And Ashleigh needs to be at work on time.
I drop her off and I come home.
I smoke a cigarette on the back porch because I’m anxious about money and Ashleigh is at work and my grandmother died a few days ago because she had a tumor in one of her lungs—I forget which one—probably as a result of smoking for most of her life, although, who knows, because these days everything gives you cancer.
Ashleigh’s neighbor is blaring the Beatles from a speaker in his garage.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
I go inside and sit on the couch.
My sister calls.
She says, “Mom and I went through Ema’s things.”
We call our grandmother Ema because she didn’t want to be called Bubbe.
Ema means ‘mother’ in Hebrew.
My sister says she looked at a lot of her photographs.
“Ema sure is smoking in a lot of them,” she laughs.
“Do you still smoke?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she says. “I need to stop.”
“Me too,” I say. “Every time I smoke, I think about her.”
“What have you been up to today?” she asks.
“I’m trying to write something.”
Our connection cuts out and I go upstairs to look at the modem in my room.
I unplug it and plug it back in.
My sister calls me back.
“Will you put me in it? The thing you’re writing?”
“It’ll be hard,” I say. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Well, I call you. Don’t make me sound like a bitch.”
I’m lying on the yellow shag carpet in my room.
I play with a piece of thread.
“I took some of her jewelry,” she says.
“Oh yeah? Did you already pawn it all off? Make yourself sixty-seven bucks or something?”
“Yeah,” she laughs. “I pawned it off. No, it’s mostly costume jewelry.”
We don’t say anything for a few seconds.
I hear her eating chips.
“I’m sorry, I’m eating chips,” she says.
“That’s okay. I want to eat some chips, too.”
I think about the chips in the cupboard downstairs.
“Do you want a piece of her jewelry? Just to have something of hers around you?”
I imagine myself wearing one of my grandmother’s necklaces or attempting to cram one of her rings onto one of my fingers but it won’t fit.
“There’s this watch you could have.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Okay.”
I tell her I love her and that I have to go and I hang up my phone and I lie flat on my back on the carpet.
It’s hot in the room because the air conditioner doesn’t work upstairs or it only works sometimes or sometimes it blows hot air.
So we keep it off.
And then I hear a loud buzzing and I know it’s a wasp because I see them outside on our porch everyday and I saw that they’re building a nest in the doorframe of our front door.
The wasps are trying to take our house from us.
But the wasps don’t pay rent and we do, so it’s not fair.
Or Ashleigh pays rent and I will once I find a job.
Then I see the thing and it’s big and it doesn’t look happy so I get up off the floor and go back downstairs.
I sit down on the couch.
I open up my laptop.
And then I hear the buzzing again and I see another wasp or it’s the same wasp and it followed me downstairs because it’s lonely.
I stand up and take off one of my shoes so that I can kill the wasp but then it flies behind the living room blinds and stays there and I don’t want to break the blinds.
I put my shoe back on and go upstairs with my laptop.
I don’t see a wasp.
But I’m about ready to give up.
I’ve killed a handful of wasps since I’ve lived in this house.
And they keep coming back.
They want to live in this house with us and it seems like they’re willing to die for their cause.
And I respect that.
Because there’s not much that I’m willing to die for.
Or maybe that’s not true.
Maybe I’m willing to die for anyone and everything.
But it’s a big question and it doesn’t matter because I need a job because the balance in my bank account was four digits long and now it’s only three.
I’m worried about this.
It’s not funny.
A few weeks ago I applied to work as a cashier at a CVS Pharmacy.
It took forty-five minutes to fill out the online application.
The hardest part was a survey where they tried to make sure you didn’t care about power or money or art or being an individual.
I put Ashleigh’s phone number on the application.
And a few days later, CVS Pharmacy called and left Ashleigh a voicemail.
When she saw it, she showed it to me and we both jumped up and down.
We were excited.
They were calling for me.
I might become a cashier at a CVS Pharmacy.
We listened to the voicemail.
They were calling to let Ashleigh know that her photos were ready.
And I should’ve known that’s what they were calling about.
I was with Ashleigh when she dropped off the disposable cameras.
And of course they weren’t calling for me.
No one around here is calling for me.
So I’m not a cashier at a CVS Pharmacy in Murfreesboro, North Carolina.
I’m just a guy at a desk in a hot room and I’m afraid of wasps.
I check my email and I see that Ashleigh has emailed me another list of job openings.
The most appealing one is a position packing peanuts at a peanut factory.
Standing in a factory, putting peanuts in little plastic bags, making sure they’re sealed.
It sounds nice.
I think about the drawbacks.
I’d have to wear a hairnet and no one looks good in a hairnet.
The pay is probably low.
But it can’t be any lower than the pay I have now.
I’ve only worked one shitty job and it was a couple years ago.
It was a job as a line cook at a hotel restaurant.
I had no experience in kitchens but they hired me on the spot.
They made me sign papers.
The papers said that I could not write about my time working in the hotel restaurant.
So this part of the story is fiction.
Gwen was the head chef.
She wore a bandanna and I forget what color it was.
On my first day she criticized my shoes.
She wore Crocs and she told me that I needed to wear more comfortable shoes, shoes like hers.
Then she handed me a knife.
“This is the sharpest knife in the kitchen,” Gwen said. “Don’t cut yourself on the first day. You’ll cut yourself eventually but I don’t want you going to the ER on your first day.”
She pointed to a bucket of vegetables and she pointed to a cutting board.
“Chop those vegetables,” she said.
I started chopping the vegetables.
I chopped the vegetables for hours.
My hand hurt.
It cramped up.
It was numb and cold and white.
But I couldn’t tell anyone how bad my hand hurt because I’d seen people in the kitchen doing more difficult jobs than cutting vegetables, and I didn’t want to do those jobs.
And I didn’t want them to make fun of me.
I finished chopping the vegetables.
“I’m all done chopping the vegetables,” I told Gwen.
I offered her the knife.
She told me to follow her.
I followed her into a freezer.
She pointed to a large box.
“Bring that into the kitchen,” she said.
I brought the box into the kitchen.
“Open it,” she said.
I opened the box.
Inside were thirty decapitated, skinned chickens.
They looked like rubber toys.
Gwen grabbed a chicken body.
She took the knife from me.
“We’re doing chicken for dinner tonight,” she said.
She showed me how to cut off the chicken breasts.
She showed me how to cut the legs and break them off.
She showed me how to cut the wings and tear them off.
She showed me all of this in about thirty seconds.
And then she handed me the knife and pointed to the box.
I was to cut off the chicken breasts and cut and break off the chicken legs and cut and tear off the chicken wings.
But I’d already forgotten how to do it all.
And Gwen was gone.
She was preparing something else to cook.
I was too afraid to ask her to show me again.
Her husband came in from behind the restaurant.
He was a cook, too.
He was skinny and short and half the size of Gwen.
He was from West Virginia.
He smelled like cigarettes.
He was always going out back to smoke.
He watched me dig the knife into the chickens.
He watched me struggle.
He watched me tear and rip and pull and saw at the cartilage and bone and fat.
“That chickens kickin’ your ass, boy,” he said.
He whipped out a knife he had dangling around his belt.
And in a few minutes, he finished chopping up all of the chickens.
And the next day, after nine hours of tearing apart lobsters, I quit the job.
And I don’t have a lot of patience.
And the only jobs I’ve ever kept were jobs in bookstores.
And I didn’t even keep those for very long.
But maybe I will get this job in the peanut factory and keep it.
I write down the address from the listing.
It’s in Franklin, Virginia.
So I drive to Franklin to fill out an application to work at the peanut factory.
It’s a forty-five minute drive and when I arrive at the address from the listing I don’t see a factory.
I see a three-story brick office building and a parking lot.
I park and go inside and there’s a front desk but there’s no one at the front desk.
There’s a sign that says to go to the third floor if you need help.
I don’t hear or see anyone in the building.
I ride the elevator to the third floor.
I walk around the third floor until I hear a woman’s voice coming from behind a glass door.
There’s an office behind the door but I can’t see who’s in it.
I open the glass door and then I get nervous and I close it.
I’ll just drive back to Woodland.
At least I made an effort today.
But then a woman comes out of the office.
She opens the glass door.
“Can I help you?” she says.
“I’m here to apply for the peanut packing position,” I say.
“Oh, you’re looking for On Time Staffing. They’ll be on the first floor. Suite 101.”
“Thank you,” I say.
I ride the elevator back down to the first floor.
I walk down hallways.
I see a dark cafeteria and a couple vending machines.
I don’t know what this place is and there’s no one here.
And then I find Suite 101.
It’s down a hallway near the front desk.
“Hi, I just wanted to apply for the peanut packing position.”
“Okay,” she says. “I need to see your driver’s license and your social security card.”
I give her my driver’s license and I email her a picture of my social security card because I don’t carry it around with me because I don’t know where it is.
She hands me two packets and I sit down at a small desk in her office and fill them out.
It takes me twenty minutes.
No, I’ve never been convicted of a felony.
Yes, you can contact my former employers.
I’m a problem solver.
I’m a creative thinker.
I’m a people person.
I hand her the packets when I’m finished and she flips through them for a few minutes and then she hands me a time sheet.
“I’ll call you tomorrow and let you know what time the factory needs you. At the end of the work week you’ll fill out that time sheet and bring it to me,” she says.
So I guess I got the job.
I got the job packing peanuts at the peanut factory.
“What’s your availability?” she says.
“I’m pretty flexible,” I say. “Are they open on weekends? I travel some weekends for my side job.”
“What’s your side job?” she says.
“I’m a writer. So sometimes I have to do readings on weekends,” I say.
I don’t want to work weekends.
“They aren’t open on Sundays, but everyone has to work on Saturdays,” she says.
“Okay. I can make it work. The only thing is, I have to go to my grandmother’s memorial service in California next weekend,” I say.
She moves her mouth around like she’s thinking.
“But other than that,” I say.
“You can’t take any days off if you take this job,” she says. “Everyone has to work Saturdays.”
“I have to go to this memorial service.”
“Hampton Farms won’t be able to hire you if you can’t work that Saturday,” she says.
She gives me a sad smile.
So I don’t have the job.
I had it for about a minute.
“I can call you about loading trucks in Suffolk. But the hours will be from 6:30pm to 2am. Would those hours work for you?”
I think about driving Ashleigh’s car an hour to Suffolk every night.
And driving back every morning.
It’s her car.
It’s not mine.
And I don’t think I can do that.
“That might work,” I say.
“Okay. They don’t need anyone right now. But I’ll call you when they do. I have all your information.”
“Thank you,” I say.
I backpedal out of her office.
I leave the brick office building and I sit in Ashleigh’s car in the parking lot.
I text her: hmm.
And: well the thing in franklin is kinda fucked up.
And then I drive back to Woodland.
By the time I get back to the house it’s time to pick up Ashleigh from work.
I park in front of her office and I wave and smile to the receptionist who walks out with her.
Ashleigh gets in the car and she says, “Remember we have to pick up Mama from the pharmacy.”
Her mama works at a pharmacy one town over from the town where Ashleigh works.
Mama’s car is in the shop.
I drive to the pharmacy and we wait ten minutes for Mama to finish her shift.
When she’s done, she climbs into the backseat.
I start driving us back to Woodland and Mama says, “Can we go to the Grapevine?!”
The Grapevine is the only restaurant in Woodland.
“No,” Ashleigh says.
“Why?!” Mama says.
“Because I don’t particularly like the food there, Mama.”
“Well, I don’t really have anything at the house,” Mama says.
Ashleigh shakes her head.
“I knew you were gonna say that,” she says.
I bite my lip and try not to smile.
“Has anyone called you back about a job?” Mama asks.
We’re driving through Potecasi.
“No, not yet,” I say. “But I applied to a few more today.”
We drive by the Potecasi Baptist Church.
“Maybe I’ll become a preacher at the Potecasi Baptist Church,” I say.
“Is their preacher leaving?” Mama says.
“Oh, I was just joking, Mama. I’m sorry.”
“Oh,” she says.
We’re almost to Woodland.
“Look, Mama, you can come eat at our place if you want,” Ashleigh says.
“What are y’all fixing?” Mama says.
Her voice is wary.
“Pasta,” Ashleigh says.
Everyone is silent for a moment.
I’m driving 70 miles per hour in a 35 zone and I’m waiting to hear Mama’s decision.
“I think I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at home. But I don’t know if I want that,” she says.
Ashleigh doesn’t say anything.
I keep driving.
And that’s the end of the discussion.