- Reading time: four minutes
- Word count: 747
- Published: 11 oct 2013
- Author: Matador the First
- Copyright: Matador the First, 2013
You sit down next to the goat, leaning forward like a mother talking to her child. You slide the goat’s engine lever to CHOKE. You push the lever on the handle halfway between RABBIT and STOP. You stretch farther forward to pull the cord. The goat roars and shoots dust from the seams and cracks in the bag that hangs behind its engine. You slide the engine lever to RUN.
You stand up and grab the noise-cancelling earmuffs to hang them back on the handle. The goat is only as loud as a lawnmower, and it never gets louder. All it does is it sucks up leaves and trash off the ground. It eats everything. Just like a goat. Leaves and paper make satisfying whooshing crunches when the vacuum sucks them up. The first time you used it Murray told you to go in rows. “Just like a lawnmower,” he said.
You’ve run this beast so many times you almost think you built it. Every time something on it breaks you know how to fix it. But you never fix anything; you call Wayne in maintenance. He hasn’t been here quite as long as you, but he knows how to fix every thing that breaks—and he’s got the parts.
You nudge the goat forward, walking slow behind it. Your lips (suffocating under the dust mask Murray makes you wear) ooze out sweat. You almost feel like Michael Jackson, except for your nose rubbing itself raw against the edge of the mask.
This isn’t your only job. But this—working in the Union—is easier. You don’t mind it.
No one talks to you when you’re running the goat. This is your thinking time. You stew over working at OfficeMax. But you need two jobs to earn enough so you can at least almost break even. You burn Mark in your brain. Every time he closes, you’re the sucker he picks to stay till two in the morning. That shit doesn’t care that you’ve got to be up by six to get to work for seven. You only ever get two hours of sleep between jobs. You’re not necessarily complaining, but that clown—
You hit the leg of a girl sitting on one of the benches. You thin out your deepish selfswallowing voice and apologize. She flips you off and shouts “Asshole!” before walking off.
You finish sucking up all the trash in front of Moore. Why Murray doesn’t have you going through the rest of the Union, you don’t know. But you don’t ask questions. Go with the flow, you’re living in the Stone Age. You slide the lever on the goat’s handle to STOP. The engine croaks and shuts up and you peel off your mask. You poke the bridge of your nose. It doesn’t acknowledge your finger.
You push the goat past the maintenance office and across the roundabout to a dumpster and empty the bag. Then you walk it to the northern ballroom staircase, where you reach for your keys. They’re not clipped on, not hanging, not jangling. You don’t have them, you lent them to Kyle. You radio him to bring them to you. He doesn’t answer. Dammit, you think. Took an early lunch. Wayne radios back: “Headin’ for your twenty.”
Wayne shuffles through his keys as he walks up to the closet. He looks at you—almost sheepishly, like a child peeking out from the corner they’re hiding behind. “You need the money that bad to be killing yourself at two jobs?” he asks. You must look exhausted.
“You know, you’re working yourself to an early grave.”
“That’s exactly what I need.”
“A grave?” He unlocks the closet. “Everyone’s gettin’ one of those.” He walks off to one of his hiding spots.
You wheel the goat into the closet and wonder where your money’s going. You eat cheap. Nothing fancier than McDonald’s. It’s killing you but it’s keeping you full, keeping you alive. You don’t drink more than twice a year—Thanksgiving, Christmas—and even then it’s alcohol your friends or family give you. All you had to do was show up. You smoke cigars more often—these you buy yourself—but not by much.
You hear it said that people your age are in their prime, whatever a prime actually is—that you’re supposed to be enjoying everything.
All you see is the grave you’re saving for.
And you’re not sure you’ll have even that in the end.