Take Me Apart
The interviewer skimmed my application with his white-collar serious face. “Most of this is meaningless, except for the criminal stuff. You’re not a felon so we’re good on that front. I only have one relevant question: Do you have thick skin?”
I pinched my forearm. “I’d say it’s normal skin.”
“No, can you take verbal abuse? Do your feelings get hurt easily?”
“My bad. Yeah, I’m a hunk of steel. Nothing bothers me.”
“Fantastic. You can start Friday morning.”
They set me up in a booth at the new outlet mall, supplied me with a leather recliner, white plastic table, and a carafe of coffee. Sugary snacks like jelly beans and butterscotch candy sit in a box in the corner. A sweet gig.
My first customer was a suburban Eddie Vedder in shapeless cargo shorts. He wore red hipster glasses and stood across from me.
“If you were my supervisor, I would filet you with a trowel, peel your eyelids off and staple them to your elbows. I would dip you in heating oil, flick a match, run you over with my SUV, then cook you in a stew and ladle you out to the homeless on a Friday night.” He went on and on, his face leaking repressed childhood issues all over the place as he unleashed his outrageously violent fantasies. His boss didn't appear to be the kindest of human beings and I said nothing in response. I was attracted to his derangement, to be honest. There was perceptible movement. He tossed me a twenty and walked away.
The trim lady in a beige pantsuit spoke in a clipped, ferocious whisper. “Fuck you. Fuck your canned beer. Fuck your fantasy football. Fuck your flip flops. Fuck your mustache. Fuck your insistence on doggy style every single time. Fuck your DNA.” It took everything I had not to laugh. She was adorable in a homicidal librarian kind of way. Her marriage seemed unwell.
The sad brute in a grey work uniform reminded me of my father. He was chubby with a receding hairline and smelled like wasted potential. Doppelganger Dad slammed the table with elephant ear fists, his fingers like exhaust pipes, said he knows I’ve been cheating on him with Frank. Called me Waffle House because my legs never closed. He wished Dengue fever upon me. I remained silent to his bizarre and hilarious insecurities, just like mom did years ago.
All day long they came with unhinged bloodlust. All races. All classes. They purged, they sprayed hate, they rampaged. All of them damaged human beings. But, most importantly, damaged human beings with generous wallets and purses.
It was slow on Friday morning. I was daydreaming in my chair, feet on the table, when a southern accent snapped me awake. “Abuse me. That’s funny.” She was pointing at the sign on the table.
The lady was young, brunette, and tiny. A tornado tattoo on her neck. Pale everything. “Is it? How so? I’m Nick by the way.”
“Caitlin. I work here too, on the east wing. I give abuse. That’s why it’s funny, you eat their shit, and I feed them shit.”
“Right, right. We are both sides of the same coin. Take a seat, let’s chat.” My heart was somewhat intrigued. “So you beat folks up verbally. They just sit there and take it?”
Her smile rivaled the resurrection. “That’s the point, they pay me to destroy them. I don’t know, it’s kind of insane most of the time. It’s almost always a guy. They want me to tell them how ugly they are, how they aren't real men, couldn't satisfy a ladybug in the bedroom and stuff like that. They usually just tossed me a dead inside smile and asked for my number after. A bunch of creepers.”
“Yeah, I had this one lady who screamed at me about being colic, said she would strangle me with an extension cord if I didn't take the bottle and go to sleep. But she was like 80 or something. I figured she killed her kid back in the day. Tipped well, though.”
“At least we offer them an outlet for their dysfunction. And it beats working in a bar or restaurant. Anyway, I have to get to my station. Later, Nick.”
“Have a drink with me tonight? I like talking to you.”
She hesitated a beat “Do you? A beer sounds good. Meet me in the parking lot at closing time. I’m parked by the flower bed. Silver Toyota.”
I was sipping a cup of coffee early Monday morning when she found me.
“Are you kidding me? No phone call, no nothing? Get some and get gone? You are a disease, Nick. I want to break your face with a five iron. And just to be clear here, you fuck like a member of the high school math club. Thirty seconds? Pathetic ass.”
I wanted to get down on bended knee right then and there. Slide a cubic zirconia on her finger. Recite a sonnet. Offer her a cache of butterscotch candy. But years ago mom had taught me the art of indifference. I just stared at her, through her. Give it to me, Caitlin. Take me apart.
Chris Milam lives in the bucolic wasteland that is Hamilton, Ohio. His stories have appeared in Lost Balloon, (b)OINK, Jellyfish Review, WhiskeyPaper, Ellipsis Zine, Rabble Lit, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter @Blukris.