Authors: Daniel Orozco
“Smells good, huh?” he said. He moved the box to the kitchen counter, lifted the turkey out, and put it back on the table. His father pulled plates and silverware out of cupboards and drawers. The boy took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves. He unwrapped the turkey until it sat brown and glistening on a bed of shredded foil. He gingerly grasped a drumstick and tugged. The turkey had been steaming in its wrapping for some time, so the leg came off easily. He set this on his father’s plate and pulled the other drumstick off for himself.
The older man had since removed his coat and now sat opposite his son. “I’m really not that hungry,” he said. But he began to eat anyway. He used his knife and fork to slice off small pieces, which he chewed thoroughly. His son meanwhile was holding the drumstick with both hands, biting off hunks of meat that hung out of his mouth. While the younger man appeared to be eating faster, it was the father who finished first. He ate at an unceasing pace, methodically cutting and chewing and swallowing until only a naked bone remained on his plate. He sighed and pushed it away. He patted his belly thoughtfully as he watched his son gnawing on his own drumstick. Then he got up and peered into the box on the counter.
“Do you want any of this other stuff?”
His son looked at him and grunted. So he took an opener to the cranberry sauce and candied yams, opened the mashed potatoes and gravy, and dumped their contents into separate plastic containers, microwaving each until they bubbled and steamed. The boy had gotten up and pulled two sodas from the refrigerator. He had difficulty popping the tabs with his greasy hands, and he grappled with these as his father brought all the trimmings to the table. They both began working on the turkey now. They peeled off strips of meat with their fingers and dipped them into the gravy. They spooned sauce and yams and mashed potatoes. They sopped up turkey grease from their plates with hunks of bread. They discovered a mother lode of stuffing within the turkey’s cavity. “Jackpot!” the boy cried. They both lit into it, excavating with serving spoons, then abandoning decorum and reaching into the bird with their hands to pull out the stuffing in gray-brown glutinous masses. They finished two more sodas apiece, then started in on the milk, passing the half-gallon container back and forth. They stripped the bird of its meat, broke its carcass apart, and gnawed and sucked at its bones until only splinters remained scattered on the table and floor.
The window at the breakfast nook was misted from the heat of their activity. Their white dress shirts were spattered with cranberry sauce and gravy. The cuffs of their rolled-up sleeves were dark with grease. Their eyeglasses were flecked with bits of food. Their chins were shiny. They both sat dazed, gaping at each other. “Jesus H. Christ,” the father gasped.
The boy scraped his chair toward the open refrigerator, seated himself in front of it, and proceeded to rifle its contents. His father hobbled over and joined him. They found a foil-wrapped package in the freezer, hairy with ice. “Brownies!” they cried. They threw the slab into the microwave and ate it hot, with milk. They found leftover lasagna in a Tupperware container and ate it cold. They found a fried pork chop and ate it immediately, one bite each. They licked out a mixing bowl of leftover cake frosting. They ate the gluey remnants of an indeterminate pie, the dregs of a congealing ham-and-bean soup, the desiccated remains of a forgotten noodle-cheese casserole. They pushed whatever they could find down their gullets until—engorged at last—they dropped to the floor and undid their belts and waistbands and rolled carefully onto their backs, breathing shallowly through their mouths like wounded animals. A square of sunlight moved over them and slipped up the wall and disappeared into the kitchen ceiling. They gazed for some time into the corner where the light had gone, cradling and stroking their englobed bellies—their comfort against the gathering dark of a new and alien evening.
I Run Every Day
I’m up early. I’m usually awake before my alarm clock goes off, and the first thing I do is get down on the floor and stretch. I start with my legs, with the ankles and calves, then the upper hamstrings and quads. I work the muscles around the hips and the lower back. I work my neck and shoulders last. It’s slow and tedious, but there’s no way around that. I do the same bends and reaches in the same order for forty minutes every morning. This is my routine. This is how I wake up.
When I get outside, it’s still dark. It can get pretty chilly, but I don’t bundle up. Shorts and shoes and a tank top—that’s all I need. I like the discomfort at the beginning of a run, when sometimes it’s so cold you can’t stop shaking, and every breath cuts into the back of your throat. Your knees and ankles crack and give, and the cramps stab hard. But then you find the rhythm of the run, or more accurately, you feel
, slipping into you like it was waiting for you along your route, and its heat spreads through you like a flame flaring up, and then the endorphins kick in and the pain is gone and everything is steady and true. There’s no traffic at this hour. I run through the blinking yellow lights. I go along the boulevard under the freeway, then head into the neighborhoods above it, where the rich people live. A few of them are just getting up. I can hear their alarm clocks beep, see their lights flick on. I can see the steam rolling out of their bathroom windows. I can smell their coffee brewing. I keep going, up where the roads are unpaved and the houses are farther apart, deep in the trees. Except for the occasional yapping dog or the rumble of garbage trucks down below, it’s just me up here—my breathing, the pulse in my neck, and the slap of my feet on the ground.
When I get home, the sun is out and the rest of the city is awake. I have plenty of time to cool down, stretch again, then eat and get to work by seven-thirty.
* * *
I’ve been at the warehouse for ten years. I started out of high school. I work on the stock floor. We’re called Central Supply, and we assemble and ship orders for the county school district, everything from chalk and erasers to lightbulbs and toilet paper and basketballs on up to filing cabinets and desks. I used to be the newest guy until Ruben was hired. But they still call me the New Guy. Some kind of joke, I guess.
Ruben is about my age, and every afternoon he disappears with one of the drivers to smoke a joint out back behind the dumpsters. Ruben is Mexican, and when he first started here, he corrected us when we called him
ben, telling us that it should be pronounced Ru
. From then on everybody made sure to call him
ben, which is what he goes by now.
The rest of the guys have been at the warehouse forever. Dave has been here the longest. Our foreman, Mack, says Dave came with the building—he was seventeen when he started, and it’s been twenty-four years now. In a way I owe my life to Dave. With the exception of Ruben, the men I work with are old and unhealthy. They’re all overweight, and they smoke constantly, even while they eat. Dave is the worst of them. I’ve watched him get older and sicker—he had cancer surgery a while ago—and after a few years he started getting to me. I drank a lot then, nights after work, weekends in front of the TV. You could say I was another person back then. I lived with my folks rent-free. Nothing was expected of me. I thought I had it made. But I started worrying about things. I was afraid the warehouse would be my whole life, like it was for Dave. I counted the cigarettes he smoked and the cups of coffee he drank. I counted the sugar cubes he ate. He grabbed them by the handful and snacked on them. “Sweets for the sweet,” he’d say. I watched him lick the mayonnaise off his fingers from the sandwiches his wife made him. I watched him hop down from the loading dock—a three-foot jump—and then stoop for a minute to catch his breath. I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, and he got annoyed. “Am I making your heart go pitty-pat?” he said. In a way, he was. I started running that night. I went out after dark so nobody would see me. I didn’t even make it around the block before I ended up puking in somebody’s bushes. I thought I was going to die. My folks thought I was nuts. I kept at it, though, probably the only thing I’ve ever kept at.
I run every day now. I dropped forty-five pounds, and I don’t drink anymore. My heart rate at rest is just under fifty beats per minute. I fall asleep every night like that, and I never need more than six hours. When I look in the mirror now, I see somebody who doesn’t disgust me. I see somebody who knows the difference between what he does for a paycheck and what really matters in this life. At work Mack is always telling me to slow down. “You get paid by the hour,” he says, “not by the order.” I don’t argue. So I slack off at work because my foreman tells me to. But I know who I am.
And I know this, too: that I owe nothing to Dave, that I owe nothing to anybody. You get where you are by yourself. There’s no regret in that. That’s just the way it is.
Rejoice in your growth, in which you naturally can take no one with you.
* * *
There was one person I liked. Her name was Dot, and she always referred to herself as “this old broad.” She never said “I” or “me.” She worked in Receiving, and I hated going in there. Receiving is full of middle-aged women, all married or widowed or divorced, and whenever I walked in, they’d stop talking and look at me with these little smiles on their faces, like I’d caught them at something. I liked Dot because when I started running, she was the first to notice the change in me, and not just losing the weight. Everybody noticed that at first. The guys said things like “You look lovely today.” And even the women in Receiving made a few cracks. Dot said they didn’t know anything. The body was a temple, she said, and we could all benefit from sprucing up our temples. She said I seemed calmer, settled somehow, like I’d made a decision I was comfortable with. She wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t know. I liked that she told it to me. She wasn’t making fun of me. When she retired last summer, they had a little party for her, and she said if I ever wanted to pop a few beers with a tough old broad, to come on by. I would have. A few months later she had a stroke and had to move in with her son Phil, who works on the loading dock. Nobody has seen her since, and Phil never talks about her. If you ask him how Dot’s doing, he just glares at you. So we stopped asking. If she died, I’m sure he’d tell us.
Phil’s been stealing from the stock for the past year now. He hasn’t been very secretive about it, and I don’t know why he bothers, because it’s never anything big—a few rolls of film or a box of ballpoint pens. Nobody says anything, and even Mack, who’s kind of a stickler, pretty much ignores it. I guess we’re all thinking the same thing: If they fired Phil, what would happen to Dot?
* * *
I suppose I was friends with Ruben once. When he first started working here and found out I ran, he told me that running was for pussies and that you had to lift weights. It was his way of inviting me to his gym. We went there one night after work, a twenty-four-hour place with a juice bar and music piped in through speakers and mirrors everywhere. Ruben introduced me around. He called me a buddy from work who was a pussy runner, and everybody laughed. I didn’t get mad. I recognized this as a kind of respect. Ruben joined a group of guys around a weight machine. I never liked lifting weights. Half the time you’re standing around with your hands on your hips, waiting for somebody else to finish. And then there’s the mirrors, mirrors everywhere so you could watch yourself, so that everywhere you turned, there you were. One room even had mirrors on the ceiling. I got out of there and worked on a treadmill until Ruben was done. After we got cleaned up, we went out to the parking lot and joined his buddies. They were all drinking beers out of a cooler in somebody’s car trunk. They were talking about the women in the gym, about who was hot and all that. And I guess in all the talk I let a few things slip. It wasn’t the beer. I only had one bottle. So it wasn’t the beer. It’s just that when you’re talking and everybody’s having a good time, when people are talking to you and everything feels okay, you just let your guard down. I should have known what to expect from people. I should have known better.
Later that week, Eugene sat down next to me at lunch and handed me a doughnut and asked if I wanted a moment alone with it. I didn’t get it. Then Ruben slid the whole box over, a big pink box filled with doughnuts and little packs of condoms. They called it the virgin assortment, and they said I had to fuck every doughnut before attempting real pussy. Then Dave put his cigarette down and stood up. They’d cut one of his lungs out, and he was still smoking. He stood up and pumped at the table with his hips, and said the best woman he ever had anyway was a butterscotch custard bar. Mack finally told them to knock it off, and they did, and he changed the subject. But nobody was listening to him. They were all sitting there, grinning down into their thermoses and ashtrays. They were having a great time.
That was it for me. I eat by myself now, out on the loading dock. Mack didn’t like that at first. He said it creates discord. “You have to eat chow with your shipmates,” he told me. But since I still take breaks with them, he lets me eat lunch alone. I’ve got a spot at the far end of the dock where they recharge the forklifts and pallet movers at night. I can catch the last of the noontime sun before it swings to the other side of the building. I like it out here in the fresh air, in the sunlight, away from the smoke and the smell from the crap they heat up in the microwave.
* * *
I’ve lived in this house my whole life. My folks died here. They both got cancer, my mother first and then my father, and I took care of them both and now they’re gone. So the house is mine. I have a brother who wants nothing to do with it. He’s a lawyer for the EPA up in Alaska. We were never close. Lately he’s been calling me once a month or so, out of the blue, to say hello. He doesn’t have to. I tell him that, but he still calls. He says he wants to come down for a visit sometime, to bring his family. He says he wants his kids to meet their uncle. I tell him: “Fine, come down whenever.”