Self Negation

Dane lost his job before the lockdown for punching his manager. Luckily, the guy fell between two fry vats and not into one, and the shift was vocally divided over who started it, so the police weren’t called in, which to Abby had the bright aura of a blessing because Dane’s parole officer never heard about it.

He was slow to find a new job, but Abby knew the perfect job for him would come along soon. In the meantime, she took a second job as a waitress at a local steakhouse. It wasn’t as nice as a franchise steakhouse, but she got to meet all kinds of people and it made a nice change to be walking around after sitting in a call centre for ten hours. It didn’t pay much, but the tips were good. Customers, most of them, appreciated her cheery demeanour at 1am when she brought them the small bowl of stale french fries they needed to order if they hoped to see a beer.

Despite all the positives of her two jobs, she was happy when the corona hit. First the steakhouse shut and then the call centre, it handled complaints for a national airline, sent everyone home.

“Baby,” she said, moving as close to Dane as she could without pushing on him, stroking his leg carefully so she wouldn’t mess up his game play, “we get to spend so much time together now. Just the two of us. Staying home. Being safe. We are so blessed.”

Dane grunted. The corona had wrecked his exit strategy. And so had the soft face of that asshole, Brian. Riding him all the time. What did he expect? Now Abby was going to be hanging off him all the damn time, breathing on his face, smelling like chicken.

“Great. Just great. Get me some hot pockets, baby?”

Time passes.

For three days it felt like a honeymoon. In her mind she called it the “homey-moon”. Just the two of them on the couch. Dane playing video games. Her watching Netflix on her iPhone 5, or lovingly opening beers, affectionately microwaving hot pockets. At night, if he wasn’t drunk enough to coax into sex, when he began to snore she would settle, gentle as fog, against him, lower an arm across his chest, inch her leg over his, until he was fully and lovingly within her grasp. Then she would fall asleep, smiling, not minding, even enjoying, the swirl of toothpaste mint and beer he exhaled over her.

Time passes.

“They’re my friends. What I’m going to do? Tell them to sleep on the street?”

“But it was just the two of us.”

“It’s still just the two of us. And them. They’re cool.”

It was the right thing to do. She felt good about that. She could think of nothing worse than sleeping on a piece of cardboard on the sidewalk. Saving Dane’s friends from that warmed her heart.

Poor Bryce had been left homeless by rampant infidelity. His girlfriend had pressed his fingertip against the button on his phone while he slept off a drunk. When he woke up its shattered remains were in a cardboard box with the rest of his stuff. Keith was kicked out of where he was living, accused of selling the light fittings and a couple of the doors.

“They can’t prove it was me, but they don’t care.”

Time passes.

She couldn’t sit on the couch anymore, but it was nice to see Dane so happy, flanked by Bryce and Keith. The three of them smoked weed, drank the beers she fetched and the snacks she microwaved. Their happiness was contagious and, despite the discomfort of the wall in her back and the thin carpet on the floor, she often found herself grinning along as they crowed over their virtual victories or cursed their defeats.

Time passes.

“We’re going to do a supply run,” announced Dane.

“Be careful out there,” she said. It was very brave of them to risk infection.

They wrapped t-shirts around their faces and thought it was hilarious.

“Let’s go knock over a bank,” said Bryce.

They made finger guns, turned them on their sides like gangsters, and pretended to shoot each other as they headed out the door.

They returned a couple of hours later with cases of beer, bottles of whiskey, bags of microwavable food, ice cream, a large bag of weed, and a single six pack of toilet paper. All they had robbed was Abby’s bank account. Keith had taken the card from her wallet where it sat, unprotected, in her purse in the top drawer of the dresser. She found it the next day in the pocket of his jeans while she was doing the laundry.

She stared at it. Then she checked her bank’s app. There must be a positive to be found in the situation. She would be eating some of the food? If he had asked she might have let him use the card? Maybe? There was no warm glow. She could not even fan up a feeble firefly worth of light in her heart.

Dane dismissed it. “We’re all eating it. We’re in this together, baby. Now how about you shoo so we can watch some movies.”

“Can’t I watch, too?”

“You won’t like these movies.”

Time passes.

She leaned over the counter in the kitchen watching Netflix with the volume up high in her earbuds so she couldn’t hear the groaning, the over-moistened rhythms. It’s what keeps the human race going, she told herself. Or a part of it. She wasn’t a prude. Everyone just looked demented instead of loving, passionate. Dane came up behind her and grabbed her butt, except it wasn’t Dane, it was Bryce and in the moment she turned her head and connected the dots he’d already moved his hands between her legs. She pushed him away, and when he came back in, a stupid grin on his face, his arms out, imploring, she kicked him in the groin through his sweatpants and left him whimpering on the floor as she ran up to the bedroom.

Time passes.

What had been a lack of light in her heart was now an excess of darkness. It was a queer sensation. She didn’t like the darkness, but at the moment trying to scratch up even a tiny spark of light was like trying to find the end on a roll of Scotch tape after you’ve been chewing your fingernails. Maybe she needed some help. She wasn’t getting any from Dane. He should be the first to be defending her, but after their movies ended and she went down there and called out Bryce, he said it never happened and Dane had just looked at her and shrugged.

So she put on her happy face and cracked open the whiskey. They liked that. They liked her attentiveness. How she kept their drinks filled. If it was the steakhouse she’d be getting a big tip at the end of the night. As it was, after they got too drunk to play video games and too stoned on top of that to stay awake, the only tip was to the police. Parolees aren’t meant to be found sitting in front of bowls of weed.

Time passes.

The first little glow was finding out Bryce and Keith were also meant to be keeping clean. That was fanned by the silence and the empty living room. It was past two, but she tidied up anyway. It would be so nice to wake up to a clean house in the morning. The light in her heart had returned. She was sure that Dane and his friends would learn important lessons from this unfortunate turn of events, just as she had. She couldn’t help but hum as she gathered empty bottles.