Punched

January 4, 2012

This week, at MamaKat’s Writer’s Workshop, one of the prompts was: describe something you’ve punched. It was just too good to pass up. For more tales of mischief, head on over to MamaKat!

***

The red smock sticks to my skin, chafing my chest.  My misery is amplified by the noonday sun, glaring through the window. I grab the edges of the polyester garment and fan it out, back and forth, trying to get some air circulating in there. It’s not helping.

“Ugh, this sucks.”

“Hey, at least you’ve got room in there,” Donna says, pregnant belly straining against the fabric of her smock. “Look at my freaking legs.”

I look down at what used to be her ankles, now swollen like sausages. There’s no demarcation between ankle and calf any more. I know I shouldn’t laugh, but I can’t help myself. “Jesus, Donna. That’s gross.”

“Yeah, yeah, stuff it, skinny. I’m going back in the cooler to stock milk. At least it’s cold in there.”  She sighs and wags a warning finger in my direction. “Birth control. Use it.”  She turns and waddles toward the solace of the cooler.

I look at the clock; it’s almost noon. I dread the noon hour, when the summer school kids from Golden high school cross the street in packs,  pillaging the nacho machine and the cigarette cases.  I leave my place behind the counter and plop a dozen hot dogs onto the rotisserie, checking the ketchup and mustard dispensers to make sure they’re full. Just touching the hot dogs makes me gag and I hold my breath as I open the rotisserie, willing myself not to inhale.

I wash my hands and vow to become a vegetarian.

The door jingles open, and the first few hooligans straggle in.  The boys arrive first, shaggy-haired and long-limbed, but I don’t mind them. They at least are sullen and silent, unlike the girls, who snap orders and roll their kohl-crusted eyes and smirk as I ring up their purchases.  The girls are bitches. I look out the window and see them coming, a block behind the boys. Great.

The boys plop down typical teenage fare: powdered donuts, bags of Doritos, Slim Jims, giant containers of Gatorade.  The one in the red flannel smokes Marlboros, so I reach above the counter and place a pack near the register.  The orange-hair chews; I grab a disc of Skoal and place it next to the cigarettes. Several others head for the Slushie machine. The only boy I know by name, Neal, has a Miller Genuine Draft tall boy in his hand.  Today, like every day beforehand, I give him the dead shark eye and say, “Forget it, Neal.”

Neal grins lopsidedly. “Awww, come on. It’s boring as fuck in there. Give a guy a break, why don’tcha?”

I point to the cooler. “Back.”

He sighs good-naturedly and with an exaggerated stomp, returns the beer to the cooler, replacing it with a container of Sunny D. “You’re no fun, you know.”

“I know.”

The door jingles and the girls walk in, breasts threatening to pop out of their tank tops, butts hanging perilously close to the seams of shorts.

The boys pretend to ignore them, but they sneak looks in their direction, unable to help themselves. The girl stalk past, all red talons and attitude.

Donna emerges from the cooler and stands in a corner, arms akimbo, eyes watchful. The girls are known for sticky fingers, especially in the lip gloss aisle. She looks pointedly at the boys and gives a quick jerk of her head towards the door; they shuffle out, grumbling under their breath.

The girls won’t look at Donna but they hurry with their purchases: Snapple, Sugar Daddy’s, Starburst chews. I’ve never seen them buy anything but sugar and cigarettes. I automatically take four packs of Marlboro Lights down from the case and put them on the counter.

They pay quickly but can’t resist a parting shot. “God, this place sucks,”  nose-ring girl says, stuffing her smokes in her purse. “It would totally suck working here.”  They snicker and leave, bell ringing behind them.

“Yeah it does suuuuck working here, but it doesn’t suck as hard as summer school, dumbass,” I say under my breath.

A few stragglers come in afterwards, mostly sweaty kids in the marching band. For some reason, they practice in the middle of the day, when it’s too hot for dogs or crazy people.  They keep us in business just in Gatorade. They’re nice kids, the marching band ones, but for some reason, there’s no in-between: they’re either emaciated or plump as plums. It makes me wonder. What about marching band encourages extremes?

When the band kids leave, Donna heaves a sigh. “I need lunch. God, I’m so fat but so hungry. Being pregnant in the summer is nasty.” She takes off her damp smock and throws it in the back room. “You want anything?”

“Nah, I’m good.”  How can anyone have an appetite with this hot dog smell?

Donna leaves and I prepare for the regulars. I refill my Diet Coke from the fountain area. It’s flat. Fuck. I’ll never be able to replace the Co2 container without Donna. I crunch on a CornNut–my lunch of choice–and hear a jingle. It’s Scooby.

Why they call him Scooby, I have no idea. He works construction and is so tan that he looks bizarre, with his white-blond hair and pale eyes.

Scooby grabs a large Pepsi from the cooler and puts so many jalapeno peppers on his nachos that my eyes water just ringing them up.

“Heh, heh,” Scooby laughs. “This’ll give me the squirts. Worth it, though.”

“Thanks for sharing that, Scoob.”

“Heh. Just trying to add a little levity. It’s dead in here, man.”

“Dead is good Scoob. Dead is good.”

“Later, Serious.” He puts on his Ray-Bans and scoops up his toxic snack.

“Later, Scoob.”

A car pulls up to the full-service pump. We haven’t done full service for six months, but Donna keeps forgetting to remove the full-service sign. The driver sits in his car for a minute, then honks–three rapid blasts of the horn.

I open the door and make a slicing gesture across my throat. “We. Don’t. Do. That. Anymore,” I yell.

Instead of getting out of the car to pump his own gas, the man flips me the bird and screeches out of the parking lot.

Tres Beer Man comes in a bit later. Tres Beer man comes in between 1:30 and 2 every day and buys exactly three cans of Budweiser. He’s got to be pushing eighty years old. I’m intrigued by Tres Beer Man. Why does he never splurge and buy a 6-pack, saving himself the trip tomorrow? He never does, though. Every day, three beers.

I bid him goodbye and try to wrestle the Co2 canister out of the back, but it’s just too heavy. Shit. How heavy is this thing? Donna waddles in, hand on her belly.

“Forget that. Make James do it when he comes in at 3. No waaayy I’m lifting anything right now. Why did I get Taco John’s for lunch? Bad mistake. Bad.”  She pauses, looks around. “Dead zone time?”

“Yeah. Go put your feet up. You look terrible.”

It’s slow but steady my last hour, mostly husky-throated regulars taking advantage of the 99-cent special we’re running on generic cigarettes.

At one point, though, a white van zooms into the parking lot and a short man, overalls stained with paint, dashes into the store. “You got any Ex-Lax?”

His eyes are wild.

“Umm, let me check?” I say. “Ex-Lax?”

“Yeah, Ex-Lax, Ex-Lax,” he says, as if I’m deaf.

Nobody’s ever come in here for Ex-Lax, not on my watch, anyways. How the heck do I know if we have it?

“I need diuretics, too,” he pants, pawing through the Rolaids and Tums. “You got any diuretics?”

Donna smells a rat. She slowly emerges from the back room and plucks a few boxes from the shelves. She hands it to overall man.

“Great. Can I get another packet of diuretics?”

Donna hands him another and he races for the cooler, grabbing three containers of Gatorade. He throws a 20 on the counter and runs to the van, not waiting for change.

I look at Donna, bewildered. “What the heck?”

She rolls her eyes. “Drug test. Idiot.”

“Seriously? Whaaa?”

She smiles wearily. “Ah, young thing. So much you don’t know.”

And she’s right. I still don’t get it. But it’s five minutes until three and she gestures toward the back, taking my place at the counter. It’s time for life to begin.

I grab the yellow card, stick it in the time-clock, and punch.

{ 65 comments… read them below or add one }

pamela January 4, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Your writing is insanely good. I loved this so much. How do you remember these visceral details?? Please be writing a book. Pleeeeaaassseeee

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TKW January 5, 2012 at 7:25 am

Pamela,

I think the sheer misery of it caused it to solidify in my mind. Terrible teenage job!

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Stephane in Alaska January 4, 2012 at 10:56 pm

For a second, I thought you were headed another direction. My eyes spotted “Ex-Lax” right after I read “zooms into the parking lot” and when I scanned back to pick up the thread I’d dropped, the next word upon which my eyes alighted was “stained” . . . Still, between the jalapeno squirts, and the promise of more squirts via Taco John and the Ex-Lax, I’m getting a strong sense you thought that job was the shits!

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Miel et Lait January 5, 2012 at 3:00 am

I second Pamela’s comment – please say there is a book in the works?!!!

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Jamie January 5, 2012 at 5:47 am

Great ending. Great writing. I definitely saw the scene as it unfolded and felt for the characters.

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Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon January 5, 2012 at 6:23 am

I’ve been that girl in so many ways. The one behind the counter. The one from band camp. And the arrogant one that karma will one day kick in the arse. Thanks for the memories Kitch.

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Salad in a Jar January 5, 2012 at 6:47 am

Diuretics and Ex-lax wouldn’t mean much to me either. I admire the cool way you deflected the kid wanting a beer without making him mad or sounding pious. Wish I had that talent. Don’t-wanna-stop-reading kind of writing you have, my dear.

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TKW January 5, 2012 at 7:27 am

Paula,

The first few times he tried, the execution was much less graceful. Then it just kind of became routine. xo

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Tiffany January 5, 2012 at 7:04 am

Your details are so great. Seriously. I thought you were going to punch the mean girls. Or maybe wished?

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TKW January 5, 2012 at 7:26 am

Tiffany,

Totally wanted to punch them. But they’d have eaten me for lunch.

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Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes January 5, 2012 at 8:10 am

Great detail! I can almost smell those hotdogs!

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Peg January 5, 2012 at 8:37 am

That was insanely good! I can smell the hotdogs so much I’m almost gagging! GREAT job!

Stopping by from Mama Kat’s.

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Jenna January 5, 2012 at 9:15 am

Nice job Kitch–your way with words is always a pleasure. And I kept waiting for you to punch a person, heh heh. This held me in tension during the entire story, so punching the time card was a nice surprise (and relief).

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Katybeth January 5, 2012 at 9:28 am

I Love the dialogue between Donna and “Punch.” I think there must be a place like this near every high-school. Could smell the hotdogs and the heat.

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Ink January 5, 2012 at 9:29 am

I thought you were going to punch a person, too! Whew! Wonderfully written, love, as is everything you share.

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Andi January 5, 2012 at 9:40 am

Dana, I love this!

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Jennifer January 5, 2012 at 12:26 pm

I really wanted you to punch one of the girls, but this was an excellent take on the prompt. You write so amazing. I’ll second or third or fourth the book… a mother and daughter growing of age tale. It will be beautiful.

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Arnebya January 5, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Gee, I enjoyed this. Seriously, I could see all the people so vividly. And I can’t stop giggling at the diuretics. Damn dummy.

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Kevin (BBQ Smoker Site) January 5, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Have to agree with Pamela – very vivid detail! @Arnebya – lol… that bit was very funny!

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elizabeth January 5, 2012 at 2:19 pm

God, this is so good–M worked at Wawa in HS/college, and I slung copies and sold handheld postal scales to potheads at an office supply chain.

And now you’ve made me think of summer (hellish retail hell summer), but summer all the same, so thanks for that. :)

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TKW January 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Elizabeth,

As I always say, shitty jobs make you stronger :)

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Bryan January 5, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Excellent writing my friend! I was completely there with you. I am with so many others when you do write that book I will be beating people with a Christmas ham to get to the front of the line and get my copy… you will autograph it for me right?

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TKW January 6, 2012 at 11:46 am

Bryan,

If it’s a pork product, I totally will sign it. You make me laugh!

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Gretchen January 5, 2012 at 3:34 pm

I just swung by from Mama Kat’s and I’m so glad I did! That was terrific. You should definitely get a collection of short stories going. Beautifully written.

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SuziCate January 5, 2012 at 5:51 pm

I really thought you were headed toward hitting one of those summer school biotches! This is truly spectacular writing, Kitch. Your summer (even working there!) was much more exciting than mine ever were!

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TKW January 6, 2012 at 12:03 pm

SuziCate,

Even worse, my dad owned the gas station. So not only did I have to do all kinds of shit work, I had to do them with pride.

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Tina January 5, 2012 at 6:00 pm

I used to think that there wasn’t anything worse than working fast food as a teenager.

I was wrong. You win!

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TKW January 6, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Tina,

I don’t know…my husband worked at Arby’s. He still claims that he reeks of potato cakes. So glad you stopped by!

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naptimewriting January 5, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Thank you for reminding me of the crappy jobs we all work at some point and of why I never ever ever want to work retail again.

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TKW January 6, 2012 at 7:32 am

Nap,

Ah, I had a veritable cornucopia of shitty jobs. They did motivate me to study harder!

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Privilege of Parenting January 5, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Vivid, visceral… right in the zone. I love how the the spirit of place and time, of despair and pettiness and sexual tension and quiet desperation and emerging sweaty miserable keenly observed and felt life pulses through this piece KW. Make it a book, a short story collection, this is real writing right here and now.

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Jane January 6, 2012 at 6:33 am

Love the spin on this. Love it! For all of your snark, your insight and observations and lessons learned are so inspiring.

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TKW January 6, 2012 at 7:33 am

Jane,

There’s a lesson in this? What is it? Don’t handle hot dogs in mid-summer?

Snark aside, thank you for your sweet comment.

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Jane January 6, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Lessons about an honest day’s work, patience with the “lesser beings” (as my husband would tease me) and of course, about scamming the drug test (or not.) ;)

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Barbara January 6, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Diuretics and Ex-lax won’t do much good if the test is accurate. Takes a month to get the drugs all out. But there used to be an herb of some sort that a “head” shop told me about years ago.
Not going to tell you why an old granny like me knew about this. :)

Great story, kiddo. You are some kind of writer!

Happy New Year and let this be a good one!

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TKW January 6, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Barbara,

You are so funny! THC (pot) does take a month to get out of your system, but other drugs clean out faster (not going to tell you why an old crone like me knows about this). Not sure what the poor dork was trying to get rid of, but it was an eye-opener!

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Phoo-d January 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm

What a story! You are so talented my friend. Please promise me that when the crazy stops for a minute you will write a book. You owe it to yourself and the world to get your words out there in print. I’m serious.

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katrina Kenison January 6, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Do you know how amazing your dialogue is??? If not a book, at least a film script. Not sure why you are taking a writing class, for you hit this scene out of the park. I can smell those hot dogs, too.

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TKW January 7, 2012 at 8:56 am

Katrina,

You made my week with those words. Thank you! MamaKat’s Writer’s Workshop is actually an online thing–she gives writing prompts out every week to inspire lazy people (like me) to write something.

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idiosyncratic eye January 7, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I love all the little details that you cram in here, next take on a prompt. :)

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Mama Kat January 7, 2012 at 7:03 pm

WOW!! That was so fun to read, you transitioned from character to character and each one I was like, “okay which one is she going to punch? The snotty girls? Scoob? The honker?” You totally got me with that last line!

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TKW January 7, 2012 at 7:48 pm

That’s why I need you, Mama Kat. Keep the good prompts coming. You inspire me.

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Nancy C January 8, 2012 at 5:13 pm

God. I’m in complete awe. You are such a kick-ass writer. Every moment is perfectly rendered, and true to life.

And funny. Those flailing-armed teens. The jalepeno nachos. Oh, the ex-lax. I was there, thanks to you.

You inspire me to work harder, to write more. You’re so, so good.

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Heather January 8, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Love this! You had me hanging on every single word. What an interesting job… I can’t get those kind of details from my summer gig of walking up and down the street wearing the Wonder Bread costume pushing the local convenient store. Yep, not much action there!

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TKW January 11, 2012 at 9:14 am

Heather,

You wore a giant Wonder Bread costume? Pleeeeease tell me there is photographic evidence of this. Please?

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Renee K January 9, 2012 at 8:34 am

I love this post–and I read a lot of “cr&p.” Thanks for pulling me in for a few minutes on an ugly Monday morning and reminding me what good writing “sounds” like. I can’t wait to read what is next. You have a devoted follower.

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TKW January 11, 2012 at 9:15 am

Renee K.

So glad you stopped by! Sorry your Monday was ugly–we have ugly Wednesday over here.

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SUPAHMAMA January 9, 2012 at 5:49 pm

I could smell the hot dogs. Totally used to work a service station as well. I lived on boiled peanuts and diet coke. Those? Were the good old days. ((Not so much.))

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Txtingmrdarcy January 11, 2012 at 7:33 am

Stopped by from Momma Kat- WOW. I second Renee’s comment above. For a few minutes I was out of my cubicle, enjoying this Wednesday morning. Even though I’ve never “been there”, I immediately wanted to run to the convenience store next to our high school and buy the cashier lunch. Or something. :)

Those mean girls… Sharks, man. Sharks. Good for you for not pulling hair and snapping back.

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TKW January 11, 2012 at 9:16 am

Txting,

You have the coolest screen name ever.

Thanks for stopping by! Off to check you out!

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Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri January 11, 2012 at 9:06 pm

You inspire me to be a better writer. That is all.

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