I could hear them calling my name from the truck bay. Orders were piling up, the customers, pissed. I often hid out in the loft to write poetry; other times to avoid work. This time was different: I had a rash all over my face and neck. Not just any rash, mind you. It looked more like sores. Large, weeping sores in various shapes and sizes. I was certain I’d contracted some kind of disease, leprosy perhaps, but I couldn’t be sure. Doug said I looked like a character from Star Trek. He was one to talk. I once saw him eat a lit cigarette, and he was known to frequent prostitutes. Doug had spent time in a Baltimore prison for too many drunk driving offenses. To keep from getting lonely, he would steal handfuls of liver from the cafeteria and stuff them inside empty toilet paper tubes. At night he and his cellmate would take turns fucking the tubes, passing them back and forth over a period of weeks until the liver began to rot.
I considered making a beeline for the parking lot and leaving it all behind. I knew that if I stayed away too long, I could be fired for job abandonment. It was a shitty job anyway. $6.15 an hour, no benefits. All day long, loading and unloading boxes of vinyl siding. Soffit, fascia, underpinning for mobile homes. Custom aluminum fencing. Once a week a truck would deliver an entire trailer full of heavy boxes, and we were expected to unload the thing in a timely fashion. The only reprieve was frequent smoke breaks and other times, sneaking away for a joint behind the building. Our customers were mostly construction workers, or do-it-yourself homeowners. Once I saw a lowly field laborer, probably not much older than myself, with a large swastika tattooed on his chest. He’d been sent by the foreman to pick up a truckload of downspouts and other gutter-related materials. As he was backing his truck into the dock I got on the forklift and drove it to the far end of the yard, leaving him standing there confused and emotional like a little lost child.
In a matter of months, I’d be fired for a number of different offenses, not the least being my lack of work ethic. When the boss said I was fired, I told him it was fine because I was planning to quit anyway. A few days prior I’d answered the warehouse telephone pretending to be Donald Duck, and when the voice on the other line said, “Who the hell is this?”, I quickly hung up the phone. Apparently it was the boss’s daughter’s husband, and he didn’t appreciate Donald Duck or having the phone slammed in his ear. Then, a day or so later, I allegedly climbed up in the loft with a bucketful of water and poured it over Doug’s head. I seem to remember wanting to teach him a lesson, but it just as easily could’ve been for no reason at all. It turns out Doug was none too happy about our exchange and went straight to the manager’s office to file a complaint. In the end I denied everything. Sure, I could’ve tried to stick up for myself. I could’ve told them about the time I’d seen Doug sniff cocaine at the company Christmas party, or that he’d been selling bundles of shingles to customers and keeping the money for himself. I could’ve said all these things and more, but I didn’t. I figured Doug needed the job more than me. He was an ex-con with a severe drinking problem. His options were limited in terms of life choices. It was either the warehouse, jail, or death.
I’d had flare-ups before, but never quite this severe. Sometimes a welt would appear in the middle of my forehead or just beneath my eye socket, and for relief I’d rush to the bathroom to scrub at the spot with hand soap. Other times I drank. For reasons I’m still not completely sure of, alcohol was the great rash-neutralizer, and if I drank enough of it, my symptoms went away completely. My girlfriend laughed when I told of her of my newfound cure-all. She said I was probably just allergic to something, and that I should seek medical attention. To hell with that, I said. A twelve pack of beer was a much cheaper option, especially for someone making $6.15 an hour and no medical insurance.
The heat inside the loft only made things worse. It was mid-August; the time of year when the humidity had the power to stifle a person’s breath. I got out my notebook and tried to write a few lines as tiny droplets of sweat ran off my chin onto the page. Doug was down there somewhere, shuffling through the warehouse with cigarette dangling from his lips, work order clutched in his fist. He was waiting at the foot of the ladder as I made my way to the floor.
“Well look who it is,” he said, “Vinnie’s fucking pissed at you. He had to load the last truck by himself.”
“Fuck Vinnie,” I said, “why didn’t you help him?”
“You’ve got a disease, my friend. Holy shit, look at your face.”
“Look at your face,” I said, “you look like one of the Mario brothers on meth.”
“You know who you remind me of?” he said. “I just figured it out. A Klingon. You look just like a Klingon.”
“Just give me the work order,” I said, thinking of all the ways I might exact my revenge.
Eric Lewis is a social worker/freelance writer currently residing in Morgantown, WV. In his free time, he enjoys playing music and foraging for mushrooms in the woods.