Chatter surrounds me. A few coworkers and customers are enjoying their meals and “still feel.” by half•alive is playing throughout the store again for the third time today, and the thousandth of the month. My banana, which was starting to brown, peeled nicely without leaving any of the strings on the part that I was going to eat. I slid headphones into my ears, drowning out the repetitive lyrics with music that was in a range of volume that shut me off from the outside world, but wouldn’t make me need a hearing age at an early age.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” plays straight into my ear drums, turning the noise around me into a wall of white noise that was impossible to pick out just one sound from. My thirty-minute lunch never felt long enough, but I closed my eyes to enjoy what little time I had, trying not to think about what mess my coworkers would leave for me when I got back or how exhausted I was from a week of doubles and not enough sleep to justify it.
The music held me in its arms, rocking me back and forth. Working through the first eight-hours of my sixteen-hour shift was the easy part. That’s when I could still justify working for that many hours in a row, because the money was decent (still not where it needed to be to let me live comfortably) and my temper was held under a sheet of steel that had been reinforced the night before. When the first eight wrapped up, my body and mind tried to shut down because of the traditional 40-workweek that I was used to working before I got laid off, but I had to will it to persevere. I needed the money more than I needed sleep or sanity.
A younger couple that was sitting at the table next to me before I sat down stood up and left. The man was wearing a black polo with the words “Halaxion” printed beneath it in bold orange letters and a pair of jeans that looked to be three sizes to small. His shoes were made of what looked like faux leather, and the fakeness of it was confirmed when I saw his gigantic silver “Dolex” watch around his wrist. It was so flamboyantly large that a rapper could have put it on a chain and slung it around their neck, and they’d look less ridiculous.
The woman was dressed in a pink blouse and yoga pants, the attire of a housewife, but I couldn’t pay attention to any of the other details. I was so transfixed on the way that the woman’s ass shook from left to right as she left for the door. Her yoga pants had one similar trait to the jeans that her boyfriend (or whomever she was sitting with) was wearing; they were three sizes too small. She was wearing a red thong with a heart pattern around the parts wide enough to hold them, and they complimented the shapeliness of her body. Distracted as I could be, I tried to look less creepy by keeping my eyes to the ground, knowing that if anyone saw me staring at her I’d look like a perverted dog, and I needed this job too much to blow it on some random woman.
I picked up the book that I had brought to work with me today and opened it to page 179, where I had left off the day before, and started reading. The first sentence came out in a jumbled mess when I read it. First it said, “No one moved,” but I could have sworn there were four words in the sentence. Skimming back, I read it again, this time seeing, “Not a single one of us moved.” I read the next sentence, trying to push forward through the hazy film that was making my vision blurry, but I looked back at the first sentence again. “None of us moved.” it said, for real this time.
My head throbbed. I closed the book, giving up on reading already and looked around the café. The coworkers and customers that were around me had all been replaced by different faces. In the distance, I saw the woman with the heart-covered thong, but I couldn’t seem to focus on her ass anymore. She was too far away, and I was too tired.
Crunch! Beside me, at the table that the couple had been at only moments before, a hefty man, probably no less than 300 pounds, was crinkling a freshly opened bag of chips, searching for his next inanimate victim. Still trying to watch the heart-thong in the distance, my focus was turned to my peripherals, where I studied the rounded features of the man who couldn’t seem to chew with his mouth closed.
Crackle crackle crunch! He had found his next chip from the obnoxious foil bag and threw it into his mouth, crumbs falling over his lap as he Crunched! another chip into his pie hole. He was wearing a t-shirt that could have acted as a parachute for someone half his size, and jean shorts that were so baggy and long that they covered his entire legs. A belt was holding on for dear life under his extruding belly, the last inch of it creeping as it tried it’s best to hold the massive pants up.
I hadn’t noticed that the song had changed from Nirvana and to “Reptilia” by the Strokes because I was so distracted, first by the woman but now by the man sitting next to me. Cringle crackle! He worked hard to fish out another chip from his unneeded snack. Crinkle! Crunch! Without hesitation, he had thrown the chip into his gullet and smacked his lips together repeatedly. I closed my eyes, trying to distract myself from the beast next to me, but the Smack! Smack! Smacking of his lips and tongue made me lose focus on everything but the nuisance next to me. If I didn’t know what the sounds were, you could have convinced me that it was kids jumping into a puddle at a playground. They were wet and, coupled with the crunching of the chips and the crackling of the bag, felt like a personal attack.
Sleep deprivation and never-ending work had worn away the tolerance for annoyance that I had been wearing through for the past two weeks. His Smacks! and Crunches! were exactly the type of inconsiderate thing that I had been waiting for to ruin my patience.
I leaned my cheek on my hand, creating a physical barrier between my peripheral’s and the man and then tried to focus back on my reading. “None of us moved,” it said. “The vampire and his four wights stood separated from the Hunters,” crackle crackle crackle crackle. I took in a deep breath and let it out. “The vampire and his four wights stood-” crackly crackle crunch! Smack! Smack!
I looked over at the man who had opened another bag of chips to dump into his greasy, crumb-covered mouth. Chest hair was peering up above the collar in his damp white t-shirt. This time, I watched him crackle crackle crunch! on another chip, watching how he pushed his tongue out of his mouth and set the chip on it, then pulled it back inside. He searched through the bag with such incompetence that I truthfully questioned whether or not he had ever actually eaten chips before; certainly, never without a bib.
Crumbs coated his lap in a thick layer. It looked like he had just left the beach and was still sandy. Crunch! He Slurped! his fingers, “cleaning” the chip residue from the tips, even though he still had well over half a bag of chips left. I watched with aggravated curiosity as he crackled another chip out of the bag, the Slurp! his fingers again because the spit from the last time he did it made the salt hold even tighter. With a lethargic, clumsy movement, he wiped his damp hands on his shorts, attempting to clean them, but instead getting more salt on his fingers. He licked them again, then Grunted! himself to his feet, wiping the crumbs back to the floor. He sat down, Phewing! all of his exertion out in one breath, then Slurped his fingers again.
Crackle crackle crackle crunch!
“None of us moved,” I read. The vampire –” Crunch!
I looked straight into the man’s sad face, but he didn’t notice the gaze because he was too busy making love to the chips he was eating. My heart was racing, and I felt warm all over as blood carried rage to every inch of my body.
My knuckles turned white as a prepared for the next Crunch! but it never came. Instead, he lifted the back to his mouth and crackle crackle crackled! it. Crumbs poured into his mouth and onto his lap. Smack! His lips reverberated through the café. The sound tickled my ear drums and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight. I held the increase volume button on my phone until I was sure that my ears would bleed, but I could still her all of the sounds that this man was making. I forced myself to my feet, keeping my eyes aimed straight at the ground. The man was wearing a pair of black Fila shoes and an ankle brace on each foot. My ears hurt as I made my way to the bathroom and sat down in the handicap stall. No one else was in the bathroom.
My heart slowed and I turned down the music. The Smack! Crackle! and Crunch! were gone. I still had fifteen minutes left on my break and I intended to use all of them in this stall, where I could calm down from the hell that I had just endured. My eyes closed as I the coolness from the toilet seat regulated my body temperature. A sigh of relief escaped my lips. The bathroom door opened.
Stomping shook the floor, and through the inch crack between the stall and the door, I saw a large body of denim and cheap white cotton Whoosh! passed. For a second I help my breath, hoping that this was just a bad dream, but when the man let out a loud Phew! as he sat down, I knew it was over. His Fila shoes and ankle braces were staring me in the eyes as he Groaned! and Grunted! his way through his bathroom routine.
I hated this man. I had never even talking to the guy before, but all of the sounds that he made felt so inconsiderate to those around him and I couldn’t even imagine a conversation with someone who was that unaware of his surroundings. As silently and considerate as possible, I pushed myself to my feet and flushed the still empty toilet. While washing my hands, the oaf began whistling an unfamiliar string of notes, pausing only to grunt as he tried to expel his excrement, then, before his breath came back to him entirely so he could whistle again, he hummed the same tune a half step down from where he whistled it.
The volume button on my phone clicked again as I could feel the beginnings of tinnitus set into my numb ears. As the volume drowned out my ability to think, I could have sworn that I heard another loud crackle crackle Crunch! from the stall.
Thinking about going back to work for the second eight-hour half of my day made me sick to my stomach, but the idea of being trapped in the same room as that guy was even worse, so I opted to clock back in. I slipped my cut resistant gloves on, then covered them with cheap latex ones and walked to the deli counter to wait on my next customer.
As my eyes were focused on slipping the second pair of gloves over the first, I absent-mindedly said, “I can help whoever’s next.”
In a lazy, low tone, a man said, “that would be me.”
I looked up to see the disgusting swamp monster from the café and bathroom, took a deep breath and said, “what can I get for you?”
He breathed in through his nose with a whistle from an inconvenient placed booger and Smacked! his lips together, using his tongue to clear the remaining chips from behind his teeth and gums before finally speaking. Q