I’m in the local convenience store—Allsup’s—buying some beef jerky and a 7Up. It has been a long, stupid day. To tell you the truth, they’re all long, stupid days, these days. I hate my job, I hate my life, I hate the world.
I’m scanning the candy aisle, wondering if I want to drop the extra cash on a candy bar tonight, and I see the trucker looking at the little truck on the bottom shelf. It’s one of the worst toys I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s a scale replica of the delivery truck that delivers shit to this convenience store. It says ALLSUP’S real big on the side.
I can’t imagine a kid wanting this thing, not when there are places like Wal-Mart that sell toys like G.I. Joe or Lego’s. The trucker grabs a candy bar and heads up to the counter.
I step up behind him, and wait while the cashier bends the wrapper over so that she can scan the Snickers bar that the guy has decided on. She’s having all sorts of problems, which is absolutely no surprise. Night after night I’m in here, and night after night, I watch her fumble around, trying to understand how the barcode scanner works. She’s been working here for over four months.
As she tilts the candy bar up and down, the trucker turns and almost collides with me. “Sorry,” he says. “Excuse me.”
“No sweat,” I tell him, and stand to the side. He grabs the toy delivery truck from the bottom shelf and places it on the counter.
“This, too,” he tells the cashier. She has finally managed to scan his Snickers, and has even managed to ring up his coffee. She picks up the box that contains the toy, and it scans immediately. She sighs happily and reads off his total.
The 7Up is getting warm over in the passenger seat. It’s moving towards autumn, but the weather is still warm enough to make the sweat form on the side of the bottle. I don’t care.
I’m thinking about the guy, the trucker. Buying the toy truck. It’s bothering me more than it has any right to bother me. Although there are probably a million reasons for him to have bought that truck, I can only think of two:
Either he’s trying to buy his son’s love—a missed birthday, or perhaps there was a messy divorce and the father’s job keeps him from seeing the son as much as the son would like—with a completely shitty toy; or he really loves his son that much, that when he sees a toy in some random place—even if it’s just a crappy toy delivery truck in some back-ass convenience store—he has to buy it.
I find both options terribly disturbing.
I imagine scenarios in which the father shows up, bearing the gift, and the son smiles sadly, recognizing the gift for what it is. I imagine other scenarios in which the son loves his father so much that any gift is spectacular.
I feel like bawling, but I’m too tough for that, whether I like it or not.
Crying is shameful, and when I slip up and do it, I always regret it for months—sometimes even years.
There’s a darkness inside me, and it’s been there for a long time. I don’t know what it is, exactly, but it’s bad. Not quite a cloud on my heart, because that’s so melodramatic that it’s laughable. But something. Something heavy and painful, and something that makes me hate myself.
I go home—to the house that I have recently sold to my mother. She’s sitting on the couch, reading.
“You okay?” she asks as I walk through the front door.
“No. I don’t think so.”
“I don’t know. This life. It isn’t working out for me. I’m not sure it’s ever going to get better.”
“It will,” she says. “It may not seem like it right now, but it will get better.”
I nod, unconvinced, and smile, hoping that she’s too into her book to notice that I don’t believe her at all. Because it doesn’t feel like things are going to get better. I walk into the kitchen, put my 7up in the refrigerator, and my beef jerky on the table, and I go back into the front room.
My mom glances at me as I slump down into one of the chairs. “Something has to change,” I tell her.
And then the dog starts barking.
And then there’s a knock on the door.
I look at my mom and she shrugs. “The timing’s weird,” that shrug says, “But somebody still has to answer the door, and you’re closer.”
I answer the door.