I'm going to admit right now that the theme probably won't be obvious in here, but every time I thought of it, this scene kept popping into my head. I think it's because of a conversation I had about store clerks with a friend of mine. She told me how important it was for the managers to make sure all the products were in straight lines with the labels pointing out at the customers.
Arrogant though it may sound--and I certainly don't mean for it to be--'the Devil is in the details' fits my writing in general (though I've always said 'God is in the details'). To me, details are what make the story: the tiny, ephemeral things that can nonetheless do so much for setting and character. I love adding them in to my writing. And there are a lot of details here.
This is another scene from my Pape and Danforth universe. More Gills will be forthcoming (or is the redundant?) but the scene I have in mind is long and currently I don't have the energy to tackle it. Hopefully at some point next week.
But I really like this Pape and Danny one. I hope you enjoy it as well.
(brigits_flame link, because I know you were waiting for it.)
Mike was stealing from the aisle shelves again.
Charles finished stacking the last replacement tin of canned chicken onto the metal shelf and quietly watched Mike casually grab a second tin of tuna out of the box and slide it into his pocket. Mike was wearing his parka, which he said was because it was freezing cold in the stock room in winter. It was, but Charles figured Mike really wore it because he'd have nowhere to hide anything he stole otherwise.
"You shouldn't do that," Charles said.
Mike jumped a little, then just looked at Charles and grinned. He had surprisingly nice teeth, considering he smoked even more than Gloria did. Mike reeked of cigarettes all the time, and his skin was kind of yellow, brown between his fingers.
"Whoa, you scared me," Mike said. He glanced up and down the aisle, but the only customer was an old lady examining tins of beans. She reminded Charles a lot of the lady on the park bench, the one with the miserable dog, so he hadn't been looking at her much. "For a sec there I thought you were one of the customers, and I was going to get fired."
"You'll get fired if Marjorie finds out," Charles said. He pressed the blade out of his box cutter and started sawing the cardboard lid off the box of salmon. Cutting into boxes was the only part of his job that Charles really liked. It was something about the straight lines, how the lid would come off all at once if it did it right.
"Yeah, but she won't, eh?" Mike said. He put the rest of the box of tuna onto the lower shelf, then used his own knife to saw another box open. He was wearing dark green finger gloves, ratty with loops of material coming out of them. Mike's fingers were rough and blunt, with cracked nails that were always stained with nicotine.
Charles kept forgetting to buy finger gloves, and his hands were always red and chapped in the winter. He started stacking the tins of salmon, labels facing straight out the way Marjorie liked it.
"You shouldn't steal things," Charles said.
"Tell that to all them greased pigs that own all the grocery stores," Mike said. He shook his head as he put more tuna on the shelf. Charles kept an eye on him, but Mike didn't try to take any more of it. "Did you know that the company that owns this piece of crap store is called 'Worldwide? Can you believe that?" He kept shaking his head, like calling a company that was worldwide, 'Worldwide' was impossible to understand. "How arrogant can you get?"
"It is kind of presumptuous," Charles agreed. He opened another box, this one full of smaller display boxes holding packets of dried fruit. For some reason they were always put next to the canned meat, but Charles kept forgetting to ask what the reasoning behind that was. He would have put it with the canned fruit, at least, or maybe the baking stuff. The apricots on the bag looked really good. Charles wondered if he should buy some on the way home, if anyone would like them. Josh got weird about food sometimes, and Gloria only ate one meal a day or something. The apricots were kind of expensive, anyway. "But just because the parent company's got a bad name doesn't mean you should steal from them. Stealing costs everybody."
Mike snorted. "You sound like a public service ad on the TV."
Charles made sure to keep his eyes on the dried fruit pouches, so Mike wouldn't see him scowling. He pulled out the empty box that had held dried apricot bags, then replaced it with the full one. "It makes the prices go up," he said, thinking of the apricots. "It makes it harder to buy food. Like tuna."
"You're so naïve," Mike said. He grabbed the now-empty canned meat boxes from next to Charles' feet and began flattening them, taking forever. "Do you really think a company as big as 'Worldwide' is going to give a rat's ass about two lousy tins of tuna? They use it as an excuse, that's all. So they can raise prices as much as they want." He waved an arm, taking in the whole of the cramped, narrow aisle. The old lady glanced in their direction, then glumly put the tin of beans into her basket and started shuffling away. "They don't care about us, breaking our backs here for shit wages. They just want more money for themselves."
"But if you didn't steal stuff, they wouldn't have an excuse to raise prices," Charles said. He wasn't really sure why he was arguing. It wasn't like Mike would change his mind. Mike never did.
Mike snorted. "Like I'm the only one who does it." He leaned a little closer to Charles, as if he was sharing a big secret. Charles could smell the cigarettes on his breath. "I've seen Marjorie taking cupcakes out of the bakery. Whole boxes of them." He nodded knowingly. "You seen how much weight she gained, eh?"
"I think she's pregnant," Charles said.
"She's still fat," Mike said.
"You shouldn't say that," Charles said.
Mike shrugged. "Who you going to tell? Besides, it's true."
Charles slid his teeth together, feeling them grind. He stabbed another box lid and started sawing. "What would you do if I told Marjorie what you think of her? Seriously."
Mike shook his head, lips pressed into a thin smile like he knew something Charles didn't. "You won't tell her. Just like you never tell her that I take stuff." His smile curved up, and he tapped the side of his head with the yellow pad of a finger. "See, I know you better than you do," he said. "And I know you won't say nothing, eh? You're a bystander."
Charles blinked at him. "What?"
"A bystander," Mike said again. "You know, you stand around and watch, but you don't get involved. Like the rubberneckers at car accidents."
Charles kept standing there, hunched over the second box of dried fruit packets. He realized he wasn't doing anything and started sawing again. "I do stuff all the time," he said, thinking of going out to make sure Josh hadn't been beaten to death; the old lady with her dog.
"No you don't," Mike said, like Charles was lying. "You just stood there and watched me put two tins of tuna in my pocket and you didn't do a damn thing. And you won't do a damn thing. You know what your problem is?"
"I'm a bystander?" Charles asked, angry.
"You got no commitment," Mike said, as if Charles had really answered the question. "You come here and unpack boxes and go home, but you're not here, eh? Me, though," Mike tapped himself on the zipper of his parka, "when I come to work, I'm working." He waggled his fingers next to his head. "My mind's not somewhere else going 'la la la' or nothing, I'm going to do a day's labor, right?"
"You're not working now," Charles said.
"Sure I am," Mike said seriously. "I'm telling you how you need to live, here. And you got no commitment. If you were committed, you'd go and tell Marjorie about me, instead of just mouthing off about it." He went to poke Charles on the forehead. Charles flinched back. "But you're not. You're just going to cut your boxes and do nothing."
"I don't want you to get fired," Charles said.
Mike smirked. "Like you give a shit. But me, now I'm saving it up, eh? One day Marjorie's going to step too far, and then I'll tell the store manager about all them cupcakes. And she'll be out on her fat ass. You'll see." He nodded knowingly. "That's why she don't cross me. She knows I know about her."
"I think Leslie likes her better than you," Charles said. Leslie was the store manager. He liked Leslie better than Mike, anyway.
Mike shook his head. "Nope. I got commitment, eh? She knows. Leslie can see that. That's why Marjorie stays out of my way."
Charles sighed. He finished cutting the box lid off and putting the dried fruit on the shelf. These were bags of dried figs. Maybe he should buy some of those.
"Do you even like tuna?" Charles asked.
Mike shrugged. "It's free."