“Cool,” Nile said, energized by his first day of employment after being laid off early in the Great Recession.
“Work hard and you can take home one thing a week,” Kurt said. “Call it a bonus.”
“Is that legal?” Nile didn’t want to risk losing even this minimum wage gig. They could continue to scrimp by on Leslie’s paycheck—especially if she got the promotion—but things remained a little tense, even after he’d cleaned out the basement and staged a garage sale netting almost six hundred bucks. He’d noticed the Help Wanted sign at the thrift store while dropping off the leftover kitchenware, stained bedding and old clothes. This figured for a good interim thing, and working for a charity felt like a donation in itself.
“Like I give a shit about legal.” Kurt’s jaw bulged rhythmically working his gum. “Know why the only hair on my head is eyebrows?”
Nile examined Kurt’s egg-smooth scalp. “Alopecia?”
“Alo-what? Fuck no. I don’t have time to take an honest crap. First of every month I slather on that Nair shit.”
“Wow.” Nile admired those who burned through their lives like an acetylene torch through tinfoil.
* * *
Nile offloaded a U-haul full of clothes, skis, snowboards, stereo equipment and video game consoles, the driver watching with leathery arms crossed. “My boy’s in jail for dealing,” she said. “I’m moving and he’s nuts if he thinks I’m hauling his crap across the state.” Later, Nile discovered a baggy of weed in a zippered CD storage case.
“Sure. Take it,” Kurt said. “Spoils of war.”
* * *
“No thanks,” Leslie said. She hadn’t smoked in years, though she’d been a stoner in school. Nile suggested it might help her sleep, a problem since even before her promotion. “But knock yourself out.”
“I will,” he said, her lack of enthusiasm rendering him lonelier than ever.
* * *
A station wagon pulled up crammed with books. Not the usual dog-eared detective/mystery/sci-fi paperbacks, but leather bound volumes with deckle-edged pages, titles foil stamped in gilt. Homer, Melville, Plato, Hardy, Poe and names he didn’t recognize.
“My dad read all these,” the nervous grey-haired man said. “Pretty much ignored me and mom, but a hell of a smart guy. I don’t read books myself.”
“I always meant to,” Nile said. He asked Kurt about the books.
“They take up a lot of room and don’t sell for shit,” Kurt said, his head a tennis ball fuzz. “Take’m.”
“You said one thing a week?”
“A load of books is one thing.”
* * *
Nile radioed Kurt to help lift a treadmill from the bed of a pickup, while the driver sat with the engine running, belly molded like foam around the base of the steering wheel. “You don’t shut off diesel,” he said, leaving without a tax receipt.
“Christ, I hate exercise equipment.” Kurt scratched his wolfman beard, hair radiating skyward.
“I could take it home?” Nile said. That week alone, he’d offloaded two elliptical trainers, a ski machine, three stationary bikes and numerous ab exercisers. “Get in shape?”
“Go for it, cowboy,” Kurt said.
* * *
That night, Nile smoked a joint, propped a book on the treadmill console and jogged 1.7 miles before throwing up the Doritos he’d had for dinner. Leslie didn’t come back after the argument. His attempts at self improvement were a little behind schedule.
* * *
Kurt came to say goodbye, fired for allowing employees to take merchandize. His recent depilation lent his face the appearance of perpetual alarm. “I’m not surprised,” he said. “But you’d best lay low.”
Nile bit his lip to avoid tears, still devastated by Leslie moving out. With the dope gone, he’d intended to put the books and exercise equipment up on eBay, his timing defective once again.
“We’ll be fine, cowboy,” Kurt said as they shook, gum on pause, grinning.
* * *
Nile sat in his director’s chair making no sense of Plato. Donations had slackened as the economy reached new lows. Philosophy made his head hurt.
A restored cherry red convertible, top down, pulled into the bay. The driver lingered with hands on the wheel listening to the throb of the engine before killing it. He stepped out of the car and dangled the keys between thumb and forefinger. “You take cars?” he said.
“Sure.” Nile put down the book and stood on legs sore from the treadmill. He caught the keys.
The man withdrew a title slip from the inside pocket of his distressed leather bomber jacket. “The wife says my midlife crisis is over. I got a few tickets, stayed out late—hell, she doesn’t know the half of it.” He chuckled and raking fingers through his comb-over. “I just can’t stand to sell my ride, you know?”
It looked like he might cry. Nile stilled his gum chewing and grinned. “I’ll take care of it.” He exchanged the title for a blank tax receipt. Maybe they actually did take cars. “All set.”
“Life’s a bitch sometimes.” The man stood still.
“Yeah. But you’ll be fine,” Nile said. “The bus stop’s around the corner”
The man glanced back every few yards until the tire shop obscured his view.
The vinyl seat felt cool against Nile’s back. He smiled, turned the key, igniting the engine. A bronc ready to buck. This donation would disappear without a fuss. LS