one VINCENT part 1

©2022 J.R. Schaefers

THAT WAS THE SUMMER WE DID OUR LAUNDRY IN THE TUB.

Kyle handed over my final check when I was terminated but I wouldn’t get my tips until I laundered and returned my uniform. Never in my history of terminations had I been leveraged to revisit the scene of such humiliation but I couldn’t wait for Kyle, corporate or whomever to dock me for the missing gear and cut me a check.

We did blowout business over graduation weekend and I wanted all that cash, the limp ones and fives colored up to crunchy tens and twenties fanned out in one paw like a game show host when Margaret came home from work and I would announce that I’d been fired.

Fired by fucking Kyle. That born-again son of a bitch nailed me good.

I ran the tub up short of elbow deep. Knelt on the tile and worked bar soap into the salsa stains on my server’s apron. Rubbed handfuls of stiff fabric together and plunged, scrubbed and wrung. Filmy shreds of diced tomato and greenish seeds formed a layer that rocked gently in the bottom of the bathtub like marine life in a tide pool.

I enjoyed a faint trace of something pretty close to job satisfaction when I realized I was Kyle’s first confirmed termination. I’d finally kicked some of the bitch out of that young man during my tenure at PapaTaco.

A month ago he couldn’t find the spine to confront Jenny when he saw her stash a three-gallon jug of PapaQueso in the trunk of her car on a smoke break. Now I had to alert them, let Jenny and the rest of my comrades know that Kyle was done firing warning shots. Kyle 2.0 was a combat-ready model and he would shoot to kill.

I twisted the apron from dripping to damp and pictured Kyle rehearsing my termination speech on the way to work in his champagne Prius. Smiling at himself in the rearview mirror when he dreamed up the masterstroke of sitting on my tips. One of his unicorn-rare smiles that overrode Kyle’s tendency to purse his chapped lips and conceal his adult braces.

The effort required to hide that hardware twisted the rigging of Kyle’s mouth into a dandruffy duckface. A tense expression that gave him a hint of a squint and hitched his eyebrows a bit. Made you think he was about to spit beyond a given point to win a ten-dollar bet, or emphatically pronounce the letter M to correct someone who heard Kyle say N.

I hung the apron from the showerhead and wondered whose proud neck would soon bend under the black cotton yoke as the next member of the PapaTaco proletariat.

The MADE IN CHINA tag reminded me I wasn’t the first flawed link in this fatal chain of events. Some poor fucker on the other side of the world was probably working at that very moment under harsh lighting and the shadow of a brutal overseer, racing to finish another dozen-dozen of those aprons with cramped hands and a sore back before collapsing in a cold concrete dorm rumbling with the echo of coughing restless men.

I put my feet in the tub and sat on the edge, soaped the underarms and collar of my shirt over bare knees checkered with pink and purple floor tile impressions. The craftsman who tiled the building likely worked with sons or apprentices who paid in sweat to serve a master. In return they acquired a lucrative skillset blending precision and creative expression demanding full participation of brain and body.

Before plywood Sheetrock and nail guns reduced home construction to a fast-food process, the average guy could pick up a trade and live well. At least do better than just getting by. Afford to build himself a house or buy one. Fill it with a family and make it a home. Maybe have enough energy left to discover and develop a personal reserve of talent. Water that weird seed that seeks the light of higher forms of human expression. Create something people can’t snap their fingers and suddenly have, can’t beg for or buy in a store.

I missed being on the supply side of that action.

I checked my wrinkled fingertips. Slowly dragged them over my lips to gauge the recession of my callouses. Felt how they’d faded from thick pads to faint patches, more memory than mass now that I’d officially gone soft.

I could no longer say I was a musician. Couldn’t keep pretending to be a songwriter, couldn’t even claim to be an artist working shitty jobs to nobly chase the dream of making my own music. The odd open-mic night at the Beanery was the last time, the only time I felt something close to happiness, standing beside Margaret and putting our sound out there. We hadn’t performed together since Christmas. I’d not written a decent song in years.

Every shift at PapaTaco was another slow march in chains plus tips. That place had captured the last marketable parts of my mind and soul, ground them down to fine powder and now there was nothing left. No Me inside me anymore.

Fuck it. Kyle had won. He was probably on speakerphone with Pastor Mike right now.

part two >

©2017 J.R. Schaefers — all rights reserved.

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One week after Margaret ends her relationship with Vincent, a decade-old video of their performance as a musical duo named Citizen Samurai goes viral. Hired as the opening act for an aging British boy band’s reunion tour, they’re forced to share the stage for one more summer.

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