VOICES FROM THE FIRE: Harry McNabb

I Want to be a Pet

I slept on the floor of the lettuce room.  It was wet.  My pants were wet because whenever my clothes are wet, I shiver out a small allotment of fear-pee.  I had no choice.  My father had given me a knuckle sandwich when I’d said I needed a place to live.  That knuckle sandwich was not a tasty sandwich.  It stunk of mint and was made from the knuckles of an unclean race.

The walls were black.  Made out of the same plastic that they make garbage bags out of.  But they were smooth.  What light there was reflected off the lettuces and into the black walls, where, if you pushed yourself, you could see what should be stars, but weren’t.

I rolled over onto the t-shirt I was using as a pillow.  Why do they think lettuces needed this much water, I thought.  It seemed like a waste.  I imagined that I was on a surfboard lolling in the waves and with a significant amount of trouble, went to sleep.

I woke up to a lady yelling “homeless person!”

“Homeless person!” she yelled.  It was weird.  She was smiling.

“Homeless person!” she shouted again, with a smile on her face.  The people shopping for lettuce seemed more put off by her shouting than by me sleeping under the lettuce trays.  Jacie had forgotten to wake me up.  I was in trouble.

“Homeless person,” she shouted again, still smiling.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry, I – “

“Homeless person!” the lady shouted again.

She appeared to really like saying “homeless person.”

I saw my manager, Casey, come walking through the door.  He looked annoyed.

“Homeless person!” said the lady.

“I’m the manager, ma’am,” said Casey, “can I help you?’

“My lettuce is bad!” the woman shouted.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” said Casey, “we have some very fresh lettuce over here that I can show you, I- “

“My lettuce started to go bad when I started coming to this store.  Now I know why,” she said, looking at me.

Casey looked at me too.  The muscles below his eyes contracted slightly betraying the fury underneath his customer service persona.

“Homeless person!” the lady shouted again, pointing at me.

“He is not a homeless person,” said Casey, “he’s been on break and he took it in the wrong place.  I assure you ma’am; he is not the reason that your lettuce has been tasting bad.  But, since you have been having issues with your lettuce, we will supply you with a bunch of our finest lettuce for free.”

This appeared to mollify the woman.

“I’ll take your lettuce, but I’m not coming back here,” she said, “this place is filthy.”

Casey escorted her to a tray of our most expensive lettuce.  I put on the apron that was where I was sleeping.  I put it on and tied it in the back.  I also picked up the t-shirt I had been sleeping on.  I had a massive headache from tiredness and laying my temple down on that wet, hard surface.  I hastened towards the breakroom, through the bright-eyed shoppers who had probably gotten good night’s sleeps last night. 

I came into the breakroom and hid the t-shirt behind the couch.  I sat down and massaged my head.  There was a blanket next to me.  I put it around me, trying to warm up, or at least soak up some of the moisture.  Jacie came in.  She was wearing her overcoat.  So that’s what happened. She was late.  She was carrying a basket.

“Hey,” she said, “I’m sorry I didn’t wake you up.”

“I’m probably going to get fired,” I said quietly.

“What happened?” she said.

“This lady saw me sleeping and basically threw a fit and Casey saw too, so he’s going to be on my case.”

“Casey on your case,” said Jacie.

“That’s right,” I said, brightening up a little, “Casey on my case.  What’s new.”

I looked at her basket.  It was filled with rubber models of whales and submarines.

“What’s with the toys?” I said.

“Oh, they’re my son’s,” she said, “for some reason, when he was a kid, he was obsessed with whales and submarines.”

“Yeah?” I said.

“He would always draw pictures of whales and submarines,” she said, “once he got good at drawing them, he did nothing but draw pictures of cyborg whales that were half-whale, half-submarine.”

“Half-whale, half-submarine.  That’s really cool,” I said.

“Yeah, you’d probably like the drawings.  They’d be right up your street,” said Jacey, hanging up her coat, “these days all he draws are naked men.”

“Naked men?” I said.

“yeah, well,” said Jacey, putting on her apron, “he’s a teenager and he’s gay, so he’s just into naked men right now.  My parents keep pestering me to send them some of his drawings, but I’m afraid to send them these pictures of naked men, so I keep making up excuses.”

“There are plenty of images of naked men throughout art history,” I said, “look at Michelangelo’s David.”

“I know, but he always draws the men masturbating, or sticking butt-plugs up their asses,” she said, “anyway, I’ve got to go tell Casey I’m sorry for being late.”

“I’m surprised he doesn’t draw pictures of naked men sticking those whales and submarines up their asses.”

“Yeah, I don’t know,” she said, “why don’t you spread those whales and submarines around the room, I brought them in to try and brighten up the place.”  She left.

I massaged my head and looked at the basket of whales and submarines.  Even though I felt the pain on the top of my head, I knew that root of the pain resided in my temple.  Rub rub.  Rub rub.

There were some shelves that no one ever used, so I decided to put the whales and submarines there.  The whales stood up on their own, but the submarines fell over when I tried to set them up.  I started thinking of whale-submarine hybrids.  What they would look like.  How they would be able to fire torpedoes. 

Casey came in.

“What you did today just can’t happen again,” he said, “we’ve told you couldn’t sleep here when you asked, and that hasn’t changed.  I’ve talked to Mike and we’re taking you off the schedule.”

I nodded.  I took off my apron.  I wondered why I had put it on to begin with.  When Casey left the room, I took a whale and submarine for myself.  I wished that I could combine them and make a subwhale.  Maybe someday in the future whales would learn how to equip themselves to fight humans and, hopefully, win.

I left the store.  Maybe if I begged my dad, he would let me live with him.  I would eat his knuckle sandwich like crow.

I walked down the street to the bus stop and waited.  When the bus came it was empty.  Except for the driver.  He was a really weird driver.  He was really skinny with slanted eyes and two snakebite piercings below his lip.  The snakebites looked like fangs and his appearance suggested a snake.  He looked at me like I was trash and that pissed me off.

How do those lucky people afford the luxury of viewing other human beings like trash.  We’re all just trying to get along.  Seriously.  I can’t stand those people. 

I went to the back of the bus.

For a few minutes, I slept.  I was going to miss my stop.  I didn’t care.  I would take another bus.  I needed sleep so bad.

I woke up to a sound of whirring electricity.  We were not in Kansas anymore.  The bus was in a nebula of some kind.  A red nebula.  I thought that it must be a dream, but I had the clarity of wakefulness.  Perhaps it was a lucid dream.

The snake-like bus driver was standing in the middle of the bus looking at me.  He gestured his hand towards me, and a gaseous red orb appeared between us.  I got up because I was nervous.  Then I realized I was not the same height as I had been before and that I was shrinking.  Oh lord.  It was like that movie Honey I Shrunk the Kids.

I shrunk to the point that the bus resembled the Grand Canyon.

The giant bus driver waved his hand again and I found myself imprisoned inside the red orb. 

“You will make a nice pet,” said the bus driver.

“A pet?”  I thought.

Then, I thought: “A pet!”

“Oh my God,” I thought, this was exactly what I needed.

“Thank you,” I said to the bus driver.  “You are about to go on a journey, auxiliary to mine,” he said.  “You will never have to worry about having a place to sleep or needing food ever again.”

“What will you feed me?” I asked.  I didn’t want to eat dogfood.

“You will be able to eat pasta, pizza, hot dogs, and steak,” said the bus driver, “and in the afternoons when I get home from driving the bus, I will stroke you while you nap on me.”

With what felt like electric honey coursing through my nervous system, I asked the bus driver, “can I fist-bump you?”

The bus driver smiled.  “You may,” he said.  And he fist-bumped my tiny little fist. This was the start of something great.

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