THE SHINE JOURNAL

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Three From Benjamin Nardolilli

 

Health Food

 

 

The job’s not too bad.  I have to stand behind a counter all day and wear annoying neon pastels to go with the tropical theme of the place, but it’s really not so bad.  Though my legs can really ache sometimes.  But overall I can get through the day, telling myself that I’m dispensing a healthy product: I could be wearing an equally foolish uniform and stand around for an equally painfully amount of time and serving nothing but greasy cakes of meat and shreds of potatoes to equally greasy customers.  Plus I would go home smelling of fat everyday. 

 

Here I am surrounded by smells of berries, bananas, pineapples, sorbets, and milk, all of it Nature’s goodness.  The pay isn’t bad and you know that sine the customers are all health nuts, wanting some protein shake or vitamin drink enough to come out here, they’re usually pretty well off.  That makes the tip jar overflow nicely, since they want to put in a dollar or a few coins to get in good with me, so I can put that extra spoonful of sugar into the drink and silently nod at them, telling them that it is okay, committing an employee error that accidentally satisfies their sweet tooth.

           

Part of my job is to work the cash register, take orders, and when they’re done, to hand them to the customer.  I’m on a first name basis with all of them, it’s company policy.  When their drink or whatever is done, I call their name, and they come running with receipt in hand like a flag of surrender and I give them their frozen prize. 

 

 It can get busy.  We only have one register and two people in the back who make the drinks, cut the fruit, and manage the blenders.  I think we have more blenders than people in the place.  It can get so busy that the orders get backed up and I apologize for the delay when I call the customer’s name and hand them their goods.  Usually they understand and can see how everything is chaotic in back of me, orange slices, juices, peels, ice, and milk flying wildly around me.  Sometimes I get an evil stare, but never an evil word, everyone is in anticipation of their drink.  No one wants to get on bad terms with me, they worry about what I could do to their “health food.”  Now yesterday I had an odd experience with a customer, the only real response I have gotten to one of my apologies other than some form of “I understand,” or “No problem.”

           

This gentleman was a little bit older than most of the people who come through and wait patiently.  Most of our crowd are twentysomethings looking after their health to attract a mate, settle down, and then let themselves go.  This customer was different, he was probably trying to get back into shape, or maybe he honestly liked the taste of our frozen drinks.  I had seen him a few times before here, always near the end of my shift, so I think that whoever is after me must have seen and interacted with him more. 

 

But yesterday he came in earlier than usual and I served him a Very Merry Berry drink.

 

He ordered the largest size possible, which for some requires two hands to carry. Well of course things got backed up and his drink took quite a while for the people behind me to make.  It was embarrassing because it made me look incompetent, when I had done everything right and the actual making of the fruity beverage was not my business, I only serve, I do not make.  Well the thing was finally made and I apologized to the man, giving him extra napkins to compensate for the lost time, but he just took his drink and smiled.

           

“It’s alright, I’m in no rush, no rush at all.  I have an hour to waste and I’m in no real rush to get home,” He put the drink down to slide his change into his wallet, “you see my wife’s been having an affair with my, our, next door neighbor, and I don’t want to get home too early and disturb them.  No I’m going to wait an hour or so and then pay them a visit.”  He looked up at me and I smiled nervously. 

 

The people in line behind him were oblivious to what he was saying, their eyes were on the big board of blends and smoothies, or on the ceiling while they waited for drinks already ordered.  The man opened his coat and I could see the white handle to a revolver sticking out.  “I’m going to wait an hour and then disturb them, I think two shots to his chest, one shot to her heart should do it.”  The man buttoned up to go outside and left me at the counter, with a pile of drinks that now needed to be distributed.       

 

 

 

My Fifteen Cents

 

 

I was sitting at a deli, overlooking a park and some Greek revival townhouses when I saw a homeless man asking people outside for change.  He passed in front of me as I drank my hazelnut coffee and chewing on a bagel loaded with copious amounts of cream cheese.  The man then turned and entered the deli asking for money for a sandwich.  I didn’t know where he was throwing his voice and so kept my focus on my meal, choking on the great globs of cream cheese oozing between the pieces of severed bagel that I was stuffing into my mouth.

 

The homeless man spoke louder and I turned around.  He mumbled something about respect and I tried to apologize to him but I wasn’t able to, due to my inability to swallow what I was eating.  He “just wanted a sandwich,” and thought my being a college student living on a fixed income made me willing to help him out. 

 

 In my pocket I had some change from my recent purchase. I wanted to save the quarters for later, they would help me get a bagel or croissant from a street vendor, but I also had a dime and a nickel, 15 cents that I was perfectly willing to give to this man so he could go and buy himself a meal.  I knew I wasn’t going to use it. 

 

As I started digging, a look of disgust filled his face and suddenly he didn’t want anything to do with me, or my 15 cents.  “No man put it away , I don’t want it if you’re gonna be like that…” he then stumbled out and walked down the street, heading towards Union Square.  At first I shrugged, “Well, it’s your fifteen cents…” I don’t know if he heard me.  As he escaped the last of my sight I wondered what the problem was and if I should exit from the deli through the other door and loop around the block to avoid him. I decided against it.  That would have been cowardly and there was no reason to be afraid of the beggar, who for some reason was too proud to accept money from me once asking for it. So I left the deli and noticed that despite what conclusions and resolutions my mind had reached, my body was heading out the exit that would lead away from the path of the homeless man.

 

Fate thwarted my body however.  As soon as I was outside and standing before an old gray stone building, there appeared in the sky a dazzling display of flailing mist.  It sparkled like drops of gold in the air.  At first I was drawn to it, thinking naively it was snow, then I pulled away in fear that it might be something flaking off the building, finally I was unimpressed by it, watching the droplets fall and soak the street. I changed direction and walked up to Union Square, following the man who had rejected my 15 cents.  Turning the corner I found myself in the middle of the Labor Day art bazaar lining the streets and setting up.  Painters and sculptors and weavers were setting up canvases and statues, flowers and cityscapes, traditional and abstract, solemn and nude, in front of me.  I felt lost in a jungle of broad strokes and solid lines.  The man was nowhere to be seen.

 

As I walked a few more blocks and saw Union Square coming into view, hearing its traffic and flow of people, I managed to let the sound of another beggar shaking a plastic cup come into my ears, and then I paused to look at him huddled in a corner covered with the ruins of posters and past graffiti.  I decided to let him have my fifteen cents, to see if there was something about me personally which all disadvantaged people could find despicable and make my generosity feel like a theft. So I stopped before the man and began digging in my pockets for the dime and nickel which had been seen as dirty money only minutes before.  The homeless man took it happily and blessed me. I could not have gotten a more heartfelt benediction from the pope himself. 

 

Perhaps as in all things it was about location.  One disturbed me while I was trying to have a private moment in front of the City and the other gave me something to do while making a trip.  I suppose my facial gestures and attitudes supporting it, the tone of my voice and the positions of my hips and shoulders, the angle of my neck, were different.  Or maybe the first beggar hated nickels and dimes as much as I do.          

 

 

 

 

 

On the Chase

 

 

 

Fortunate enough for the bank, there was a bakery right next door. Even better still, there was a parking lot in front of it that faced out towards the entrance of the Merchant’s Bank of East Pockleton.  When the founder of the bank built the branch there years ago, he could not have known how good his foresight would be, for when it was robbed one lazy May afternoon, there was a police car sitting across from the scene of the crime.  Inside was officer Malcolm, who was busy trying to reset the radio stations that officer O’Malley had attached to each of the buttons. O’Malley’s taste in radio was centered too much on music and not enough on news, and sports, which Malcolm thought were essential listening when on the job.

           

His head was perched over the glowing numbers of the dial, his eyes squinting in the shadow of the bank building, trying to figure out which reprogrammed station belonged to which button. O’Malley was in the bakery, getting an assortment of pastries for the two of them to share, with the leftovers going to whoever was left in the office at the end of the day. Just as he was sliding the white paper box with his baked goods across the counter, a shot rang out at the bank.

           

It was merely fired to scare the customers in the bank and keep them on the floor, to buy time for the two criminals who had just held it up. However the shot broke the silence of the street and O’Malley and Malcolm were now in charge of finding the source of the gunfire. However, Malcolm did not get up quick enough. All he saw was a car speeding away, leaving a phantom of exhaust behind.  He immediately contacted headquarters for instructions and to alert them to what was happening. They needed more details, and that was where O’Malley was wanted.

           

O’Malley had seen the two men running out of the bank, taking off their masks, jumping in a car and speeding off.  He had tried to reach for his gun, thinking that waving around a firearm would calm everyone down. Yet his hands were busy holding the package of pastries and he didn’t want to damage them. Instead he ran over to the car, the box firmly held by both his hands. 

           

He sat next to Malcolm and was ready to help him. Malcolm had seen little yet he was better at talking to the higher ups, his voice was firmer and he never paused for effect as O’Malley liked to do.  Malcolm believed that there was one thing he knew, and that was the fact the car was red, it was bright and caught his attention. It wasn’t yellow because the color didn’t hurt his eyes or green, because it was his favorite color. He could see it easily through the haze and assume that it was the same hue as a rose, a slab of raw meat, or blood.

           

“I repeat, suspect is fleeing in a red car.”

           

O’Malley interrupted him. “I don’t think it was red.”

 

“…fleeing in a brightly colored car.”

 

“No, it was orange, the car was orange.”

 

Orange worked for Malcolm but it was a strange color to paint a car. He contested it with his partner.

 

“Yes, I’m sure, well maybe something in between, maybe the kind of orange you see on traffic cones, and not the fruit.”

 

“No, it was brighter.”

 

“I think it was just shiny, maybe it was copper...I want to put out an alert for a copper colored car.”

 

“Copper? Who would want their car to look like a penny? The most worthless coin of them all? What’s the status in that? The car was something else, amber.”

 

“Change that…look out for an amber car.” Malcolm turned to O’Malley, “Amber? What the hell is that?”

 

“It the color of those rocks made from dried up syrup. The ones with the dead bugs in them.”

 

“Well I’ve seen dried syrup at the diner and the car was brighter than that, it had to be like a burnt orange.”

 

“Pomegranate,” O’Malley banged his hand on the pastry box and almost brought it to collapse. “Jesus Christ, it was pomegranate colored!”

 

“I’m going to go with rust. Okay, the car…was rust colored, not rusty, but rust colored.”

 

A voice came over the radio speaker. “Make up your goddamned minds! Reddish Orange the car was reddish orange, Christ! Did you get the license number?”

 

O’Malley thought for a second, then told him it began with a six. Malcolm told the men back at the head office the information. O’Malley interrupted the tale end of the relay, talking loudly to himself so everyone could hear him.

 

“On second thought, maybe it was a nine.”  


©Benjamin E. Nardolilli

BENJAMIN NARDOLILLI shares...

BIO: BENJAMIN NARDOLILLI lives in New York City, where he is looking for work. He has had poetry published in Nurit Magazine, Penman Lounge,Word Slaw, The Eloquent Atheist, Houston Literary Review,Perigee  Magazine, Canopic Jar,  Lachryma: Modern Songs of Lament, Thieves Jargon, The Oklahoma Review,and many others. He is the poetry editor for West 10th Magazine at NYU and maintains a blog at mirrorsponge.blogspot.com.


MOTIVATION: To tell the truth.

Health Food - I wanted to tell a story of a everyday worker who is given the flash of a seedier, crazier world, but only a flash. Nothing that draws him in or anything, just a brief terrible glow that leaves him back where he was, with nothing changed around him, but a knowledge of chaos and trouble that is otherwise hidden.

My Fifteen Cents - Based on an actual set of encounters I had. I thought it was an interesting little vignette, and so I wrote it down. I had some change, one person appreciated it, and another did not, and it made me wonder why.

On the Chase - I wanted to do a little story about two people arguing over the perception of things, especially over subjective categories such as color. I figured by making cops the center of the story, it would give the argument more substance.