a short story
a short story
“What is it this time?” Michael sat up in the bed, punching the pillows under his head, and pulling her into his arms. “The mall? The duck pond? The corner?”
“No,” she wiped the sweat from her brow, tears from her cheeks, and pushed her hair back allowing him to embrace her, “a place I don’t know.”
“Same dream?” he pulled her close, smoothing her hair out of the growth on his face.
She nodded. “Pow! Right in the back of the head.”
“Joy, it’s just a dream,” he soothed, his eyes drooping because he had another ten-hour day ahead of him.
“Just a dream,” she nodded, “the fifth time in five days. But it’s just a dream,” her voice grew rough and demanding.
“What do you want me to do?” he sat up straighter, loosening his hold on her. “What am I supposed to do about it? I have to work tomorrow, ten hour shifts, remember?”
“Yeah, I know.” She slid out of his arms and across the bed, making herself as small as she could, and gripped her pillow to her chest. “It’s just a dream.”
“It’s just a dream, Joy,” he muttered, falling back into sleep.
“Just a dream,” she repeated softly, her eyes refusing to stay open.
“Someone is looking for Phillip K. Dick – do you know that person or are they just fucking with me?”
Joy lifted her head and her mind from the dream she’d been experiencing for a week. “You don’t know Phillip K. Dick? Why did they give you a job in a book store?”
“Cuz I’m cute?” Emily said, her eyes wide and glanced down at the expanse of thigh highlighted in the carefully frayed skirt.
“Who is looking for Dick?” Joy pulled herself up from the floor where’d she been unloading Dungeons and Dragons game pieces and books.
Emily pointed, and Joy saw the man standing beside the counter. He was tall, wearing a hat, and embraced by a long leather coat. “Do you think you could put these on the shelves?” she asked.
Emily looked down at the box, and then at the hose covering her legs and giving a hint of color. “I don’t want to tear my Leggs – they cost like three bucks.”
“Well, squat or kneel or whatever you have to do, the stock needs to be put out!” Joy said.
Emily sighed, and reached down in the box, shaking her head.
Joy wiped the knees of her pants and went to meet the customer. “Hi,” she smiled. “Yes, we have Phillip K. Dick in fiction. The boss wanted to put him in science fiction, but I insisted that he wasn’t fabricating anything,” she chuckled, and glanced back over her shoulder.
The man, under his hat, smiled.
Joy glanced up at the lights over their heads, wondering if they weren’t strong enough to light his features, or if it was just the hat on his head that left his face in darkness. She led him to the D’s in the fiction area. “Here is all we have of Phillip K. Dick, we also have a cross reference with titles in case what you were looking for was misplaced.” She smiled up at a face she couldn’t see clearly.
“It’s not a dream,” he said softly.
“Excuse me,” she managed as her knees and bowels grew weak.
“It’s not a dream,” he repeated.
“I’m sorry …” she began, but her knees gave out and she found herself on the floor, in the opposite direction, and staring at Belva Plain novels.
“Joy! Joy! What the hell? Where have you been? There is a line and we need help! Are you napping? I’m going to tell Robert.” Emily stood over her shaking her head, the knees of her hose covered legs unmarred.
“What time is it?” Joy sat up.
“Damn near closing, where in the hell have you been?” Emily put her hands on her waist.
Joy stood, using the bookshelf as balance, and straightening the books as a cover as she tried to regain her senses. “I’ve been working, Emily.”
“Yeah, on the floor. That makes sense.”
“Did you put the Dungeons and Dragons material on the shelf?” she asked, gaining strength.
“I don’t understand that stuff, I told you that! What the crap is all that shit about?” Emily took a step back.
“So you left the box on the floor?”
“Customers came in,” Emily defended.
“Well, maybe I’ll talk to Robert,” Joy said, finally finding the strength from her feet, and facing the tall college student in the carefully frayed skirt.
“Don’t do that,” Emily begged, soft tears beginning in the corners of her eyes.
Joy smiled without heart or feeling. “How ‘bout we keep this to ourselves?”
Emily nodded. “We still need help at the counter.”
“On my way,” Joy expelled, feeling heat soaring through her body and leaving drops of sweat on her forehead. She took a deep breath, expelled it and took another. The sweat dried and she went to the counter, checking out the customers, taking their money, and their custom orders for odd out of print books.
She sent Emily away, and her other co-workers, and pulled the gate down that blocked their store from the rest of the mall and extracted the tills. She hit the key that ran out the printout for the days work, she turned out the lights and carried the tills and printout to the back room to settle the day’s work.
She sat in the small room, figuring the numbers, filling out the deposit slip, and sliding the money in a bag with the slip. She locked the small package in the safe, checked the lights again, and let herself out into the catacombs behind the stores. She followed the familiar path to the door, and the parking lot outside, and pushed the door open.
“Gotcha,” a man said, his arm a band of steel across her chest, the cold hollow point of a gun barrel on the back of her head.
“What do you want? I have nothing, maybe 20 bucks in my purse, the bookstore money is in the safe, and I don’t have the combination,” Joy reasoned.
“I got what I want.” He laughed and the gun fired.
“Again?” Michael sat up in bed and didn’t even bother trying to sooth her. “It’s been months, Joy. Months! How long are we going to do this?”
She rolled over on her side of the bed, trying to make herself smaller than was possible, and ran her hand over the back of her head. “How much longer?” she repeated softly, staring at the wall.