Right. The little green light means…
Okay. I’m at work right now, uh. Charles is in the back. I’m… what am I saying?
I’d never had the words to describe my job to people properly, before Jack introduced me to the term “drudgery”. The issue is, most people think they know exactly what it’s like, and it’s really a waste to say anything if I’m not actually adding to their understanding. So now, when they ask, I spent a reasonable amount of time explaining the folds and bumps of the “drudgery”.
“Why does he work at a grocery store?” Some of the more nosy housewives actually approach me as I stack the five different flavors of Oreo’s, asking me what I’m not doing with that fancy college degree. They don’t know anything, why do they even ask? Surely they don’t think that three years of my own education slipped my mind? They’re helping out by reminding me, hey, Chris, that’s a degree showing out of your back pocket! What… what do they really want to know? What are they fishing for? They can’t know anything. I’ve been careful enough.
Sorry… I’m usually less… (laughter) Who am I apologizing to? It’s been getting worse. I was fine for a while when I came back, just looking for a job, sort of, spending some time resting after three painful years, having some “me” time. I sat in my room, I brooded, and that was real nice. I’d still be in there right now, but my parents kicked me out of the house. I just needed time, I told them that, but apparently, six months is all the time they had for their only child. So… here I am, Chris Hicks, proud employee of Goodwick Goods & Wicks. I’ve been working here for three whole months, and it’s somehow made the dreary North Carolina winter even more miserable. It’s cold enough for going outside at night to be a chore, but there isn’t any snow. On top of that, an employer who thinks he’s hilarious and will fire you if you fail to laugh is exactly what I needed to get me out of my… my funk.
Charles Goodwick is the wealthiest middle-aged bachelor in Four Oaks, and it’s not immediately obvious why: he isn’t lanky and thin and unmanly, or fat, or ugly, doesn’t have pimples or sores, he doesn’t smell bad, or leer at women or bite his nails or whatever else makes husband shoppers drop their makeup kit and flee. However, he finds himself unendingly funny, and answers any lack of hilarity from his audience with stubborn confusion, as if he was desperately protecting his firm belief in his jokes. It took me two jokes to learn the technique: look at him carefully when he speaks to you. If the corners of his lips twitch after he’s done talking, laugh and he will laugh along. If you don’t laugh, he’ll dissect the joke carefully and eagerly point at its entrails, showing the exact juncture at which comedy happens with a strange mix of childish innocence and badly concealed anger. He won’t stop until he gets a chuckle, and he pouts until his next joke makes him smile again if he only gets that.
As I removed the green and black apron-like uniform, designed by the one-and-only Mr. Goodwick, and picked my bag out from behind the counter, stepping towards the store’s glass doors, my boss sent me on my way with a final quip: “Hey Hicks, what do you call it when I make a joke and everyone goes quiet?” I turned my head to hoist a smile up my throat and in his general direction. “What?” “A LOL in the conversation!” My chuckles were lost in his roar as I waved one last time and made my escape.
I’m not good at first impressions. I’m generally a careful person, and most people are too short-sighted to appreciate caution. Not Jack, of course, but he’s special. Others, though… I come from a long line of strange smiles. The dentist couldn’t find anything medically wrong, but there was just something about their size or inclinations… I developed a literal tight lip after getting tired of catching friends staring at my teeth, trying to not-literally put their fingers on what was actually off.
My lifestyle and the lack of overt crime in Four Oaks have granted me the fitness and muscularity of a bad walking stick. Jack once told me I looked like an unbaked baguette. I’ve never seen one, so I have to take his word for it. This means, generally, when I meet someone, they have a reaction. Some act overly politely in an effort to conceal distaste. Others smirk faintly, as if they find some tragic irony in my looks. In fact, judging by first reactions, Jack is probably the first and only friend I’ve ever had.
I’m arrived at our place now. I’ll talk some more next time.
Avoiding the notice of my nemesis while making sure to spread my presence evenly throughout the Streets is… complicated. I’ve memorized the specific windows through which the small town’s bored-to-death married women spy on their little world, and devised a special route to avoid their gaze, but there’s only so much I can do, outnumbered as I am. Batman had it easy, he had Alfred.
It’s only been a month since I first used my power to muffle the sound of a mug breaking, and I still hadn’t found the inevitable criminal event that would start my real career. Adjusting the black cloth on my face, which beyond restricting my vision, also makes my cheeks scratch terribly, I run across and through the mean midnight Streets. Under the sun, it was Abbot Drive, and John Street and Garland Road, but cloaked in the shadows, I’m not walking past familiar places. The old lamp post at the corner of Baker and Stanley doesn’t look comically misplaced at night; instead, it’s indestructibly black, emitting a furious and intimidating fatherly light from the top that bleaches the surrounding darkness. The fire hydrant in front of the Post office isn’t a dull, whitened orange at night, and the eye does not pass over it as easily. It’s blood red and ready to blow. As with every other night for the past two weeks, I am struggling for control against an entity which is as much creature as concept: The Streets.
I think I should explain my garb, or at least show the advantages of my choice. More to the point, I need to specify in what ways it’s not really what it looks like: I’m not dressed like a ninja. Just because it’s a black costume, and covers most of me, doesn’t make me a wannabe ninja. Also, this short wooden sword is a perfectly legitimate weapon for a man looking for trouble in The Streets.
Walking past a shop, I see my reflection on a large pane of glass with the words “Goods & Wicks” printed in garish yellow. The street light on the opposite side of the street also reveals a display of wicker dolls.
I intuit where the spare keys to the shop are. It’s important to check inside shops for burglars, I mean, where else would they be? So, I extend my power to drown out the sound of the door chimes as I make my way inside the dark aisles of the store. (door chimes jingle).
The jokes scribbled on price tags are very close to criminal, but there was no way my first big catch was going to be a humor violation. I get behind the counter and begin looking around for hints of fraud. It isn’t murder, but justice isn’t just about life and death. After all, even Al Capone got caught on tax evasion charges. That’s a legitimate crime to catch people for. Somehow, I know exactly where to rummage and what to do. In no time, I’m staring at a history of purchases on the cash register. Although I’m just skimming the spreadsheets of data, a trained eye like me can instantly see something amiss: the frequent cancelled payments, the list of purchases that skipped a number. I’ve clearly struck something.
Suddenly, a loud creaking sound interrupts my investigations. I exercise one of my gifts, the ability to curse completely silently, as I run around the counter and out the door. I’d forgotten to control my sound muffling technique, so I hadn’t heard the first sounds of activity upstairs. For this blunder, I’m rewarded with an angry voice shouting after me as I disappear into the night.
— — —
Hi, Hot pen here. I found this recorder, and I thought the recordings were pretty interesting, so I’ll be writing a transcript and posting it here every couple days. If you suspect this is yours, please message me and I’ll mail it to you.