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"Whatever Happened to Candy?" by Mather Schneider

I crawled out of bed and went down to the gas station to buy a newspaper and a coffee. Then I flipped through the help wanted ads. Sell tools from home, big $$$$! Laborers needed. Taxi drivers needed, be your own boss! 


Society was complicated. It was filled with people who thought they understood what was going on. The more manifestos that turned up, the more confused I was.


I got ready and went to a job interview. I took the bus. The guy wouldn’t tell me about it on the telephone. I found the address, a little hole of an office building. 3 Mexicans waited in the little entry room when I got there. I peeked into a couple of offices. No sign of life. A McDonald’s food sack sat on a desk in one of the offices, with a packet of French fries to the side. It seemed to me that none of this had anything to do with real life, with the real purpose of a human being, but it didn’t matter. I can’t let it beat me, I thought. Somewhere, a telephone rang over and over.


I sat down and waited with the Mexicans. Finally, a small wiry guy with a gray beard came out of a door and looked at us. He was wearing a black shirt and a tie. The whole thing seemed absurd, but that was business. 


Mr. Graybeard took the Mexicans into an office for an interview. All three of them at once. Then in about 5 minutes they all shuffled out again. They all looked a little happier than before. Then he called out.


“Matt Glasford?”


“That’s me.”


He looked at my jeans and t-shirt.


“Thanks for dressing up,” he said, rolling his eyes.


I sat down in front of the desk and the man in the black shirt and tie vaguely told me about an import-export job. He said he paid cash at the end of each day. Then he told me to come in on Monday, to “shadow” a current employee all day long, to see if I was right for the job. He claimed they imported thousands of items, including toys and knick-knacks. I was supposed to sell them. I was supposed to care enough to try to sell them. The man told me to wear a tie and show up at 9 a.m.


I took another bus to The Golden Nugget. It was early, around 5, and not many people were there. Sally was bartending. Sally was in a good mood, which happens about twice a year.  


“How’s it goin'?” she said, smiling when I sat down at the bar.


“Okay. Why are you in such a good mood?”   


“Because it’s Valentine’s Day, silly.”   


“Oh.” 


Valentine’s Day. Wonderful. How could I have forgotten such a sacred holiday? Sally is dating another bartender who works there, Perry. It’s a cute arrangement, the way they both work at this bar and make all this cash money and are both young and good looking and lazy and kind of stupid and thinking they’ve got it made. They’ve been dating for 2 years. They are envied by one and all. They seem to have everything you could want. Their relationship is like a god damned blue print for happiness.


“I can’t wait,” Sally said, “to give Perry his present.”   


“You buy presents for each other on Valentine’s Day?” I asked.   


“Of course. Jesus, now I know why you’re single.”      


“So,” I said, sipping my drink, “what’d ya get him?”   


“I got him a Ninja sword.”    


“Does Perry like swords?”    


“Oh yeah, he’s really into swords, he’s been collecting them since he was a little kid.”   


“Strange he never mentioned it.” 


I had known Perry for years. I had been a regular at this bar well before Sally ever entered the picture. I had known the bartender that Perry replaced and also the bartender before that.   


“The damn thing cost 119 bucks but it was worth it,” she said.   


“Where’d you buy it?”     


“The mall.”   


She walked away to take care of a couple of new customers. Then she came back. Then she glanced up at the clock. 


“Only ten more minutes,” she said, “and Perry is going to come and pick me up, and we’re going out to dinner, and then we’re going to my house to exchange gifts.” 


Her eyes glazed dreamily. I finished my drink fast so she would have to walk away and make me another.                                       

Pretty soon Perry arrived, smiling and talking with that voice of his that sounds like he took a mouthful of beer and didn’t swallow. He was all dressed up in leather jacket, 200-dollar shoes, hip and slick from head to toe. He kissed Sally on the lips.   


“Hi,” she said. “Look, I’ve got to run home, I forgot to get my camera. Can you wait for me here?”   


“Sure,” Perry said, “I’ll just have a quick beer.”   


She ran in back, got her coat, and left.   


I looked at Perry.   


“What’s up?” I said.   


“Oh, this fucking Valentine’s Day shit has got me crazy. I mean, I hate being pressured into buying a present. And then I never know what to get.”   


“It’s bullshit.”    


“I mean, whatever happened to flowers and a note or something? And candy? Whatever happened to fucking candy?”    


“Good question.”   


“I was at the mall all day today and I just about gave up. And now we’ve got to go out to dinner at god damned Anthony’s and I’ve got to tip those snobs, those motherfuckers, and I’ve got to spend all this money for food that ain’t that great anyway.”   


“Did you buy her a present, or what?”   


“Oh, shit-yes, I got her some kind of back-massager thingamabob. She’s always getting back aches, you know, and she’s always wanting me to give her back rubs, and sometimes, you know, I just don’t really feel like it, so I thought this thing might help take some of the load off.”  


“Good thinking.”  


“The damned thing cost 140 dollars, so she better like it.”   


“She told me what she got you.”    


“Really? Hell, whatever it is, it’s got to be better than what she got me last year.”       


“What was that?”   


“She got me a fucking Samurai sword.”    


“A sword? Why would she do that?”   


“Shit, last year she was bugging me to take her home to see my mother. So I did, and she saw my old collection of swords. I used to collect these swords when I was a kid. It was just a dumb thing, a long time ago. I never even learned how to use them.”   


“A sword, geez.”  


“Can you believe that? Is that anything to buy someone for Valentine’s Day?” 


“I’m not really an expert.”   


When Sally came back to the bar she was beaming. She had done some personal touching-up while she was at home, and the perfume was thick. They kissed again. Then they left. 


After that I kept drinking until nobody wanted to sit by me. Then I called a cab and got one of those drivers that just wants to talk and talk.


At home I called my ex-girlfriend, Jeannie. Don’t drink and phone, don’t drink and phone, I thought. But I did anyway. Luckily she wasn’t home. I left a message on the machine. Happy Valentine’s Day. I miss you.   


I made some eggs. I thought about myself as an old man, cooking for myself, cleaning for myself. Every once-in-a-while I’ll have a little slip in the bathroom and I’ll think: that’s why people don’t want to grow old alone, they don’t want to fall onto the floor and die like that, with no one even to call the hospital. I had a friend who lived alone. He had a stroke and couldn’t even dial the phone because his fingers wouldn’t work. He crawled out of his house, across the yard and lay in the street until someone stopped. He was only 55.


I lay down on my bed and turned on the TV. It was not very late, still prime time. The Olympics were on, the winter Olympics. Salt Lake City. Men’s ice skating was on. Jeannie always watched ice skating and I learned a hell of a lot about it over the years, came to recognize the names and faces and styles. I learned the terminology and even acquired a certain appreciation for the sport. I even found myself enjoying it. The male skater skated around the rink and my head started to spin a little bit from the booze and the food. He was an up-n-comer, I wasn’t familiar with his work. He skated and then went into circles, tighter and tighter circles until he was spinning like a top and I lay there trying to keep my head from flying off. A professional ice skater spins faster than a fan blade. I lay there but I was miles away from sleep. Every time I closed my eyes the world came swooping in.  


The phone rang. I couldn’t stand up. The machine answered it. It was Jeannie returning my call. It was her voice, the same voice I’d heard for 9 years, but sadder. At least that’s the way it seemed. I lay there listening to her talk to the machine. She wished me a happy Valentine’s Day and then waited a second. She said good bye and hung up. It was 9 o’clock. In Salt Lake City the audience was throwing flowers onto the rink and everybody was crying except the judges.


________


Mather Schneider's poetry and prose have been published in many places since 1995. His first novel, The Bacanora Notebooks, was recently released by Anxiety Press. He lives in Tucson and works as an exterminator.

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