Eddie tended to drift into whatever jobs were available. From time to time, he had done stints as a pizza guy. At first they let him try to take call-ins on the phone, but he couldn’t get the hang of it. Then they switched him over to the register, but he was hopeless there, too. They were about to give up on him and send him home for good when an order came in from an address that none of the drivers recognized. Sure, he said, I have an old buddy who lives out on that road. So when it came to finding difficult addresses, Eddie turned out to be the best one on the crew, the one the manager could always count on. It suited Eddie pretty well, too, to be out on the road with a little wind on his face, away from the blazing oven in the back. But it wasn’t long before a new manager came in. As it turned out, he was ex-military, and he had a way of barking out orders that rubbed Eddie the wrong way. After a week of being miserable under the new regime, he quit without really having anything new lined up.
When he found himself “between engagements,” a friend suggested that he sign up with a temporary agency. For about six months, they sent him on a lot of one or two day assignments, helping someone move across town to a bigger house, or putting new greeting cards in the drugstore displays a few weeks before a holiday. But one day Kayla, the girl at the agency, called and asked if he could work at the Country Club, where there was a job that might last for two weeks straight. He thought Kayla was kind of cute, so he tried to flirt with her a little. “This must be my lucky day,” Eddie said. “Yeah, lucky you,” Kayla replied, as she was hanging up the phone.
What they needed at the Country Club was someone to change out all the batteries in their fleet of golf carts. He had never given much thought to what made a golf cart “go,” but he saw right away why the regular mechanic at the country club refused to do this job himself. A golf cart has six car batteries under the driver’s seat. You had to take out the old set of batteries and stack them up on the loading dock to be hauled away, and then put in the new batch of six batteries. They had 120 carts in their fleet. That’s why it took him ten working days to pull out 720 old batteries and install 720 new ones. Every time Eddie removed the driver’s seat and put it back (eventually he lost count of how many times he had done this) he had a close-up look at the manufacturer’s logo — a crown with six points, and below the crown it said: ROYALE. Eddie took this and Kayla’s rebuff as a sign that he needed to be a little more serious about his search for a real job.
It didn’t take long for his new determination to pay off. He got on with a retirement center as a clerk in their main office. It meant taking the weekend shifts that no one else wanted. Still, the routine was easy to learn, and it looked like there wouldn’t be much stress involved. On Saturdays he put up the incoming mail before lunch. In the afternoons the residents would gather outside the office and tease each other a little before boarding the shuttle bus that would take them shopping or to a special event. They seemed to like it when Eddie took part in their conversation, and he didn’t mind showing a little interest in whatever activity they were heading out to do. Later in the evening he would read a couple of chapters from a detective story and wait for the phone to ring. Middle-aged sons or daughters sometimes called from another state. “I’ve been trying to get my Dad on the phone all day and he doesn’t answer. Can you check and make sure he’s alright?” Usually he discovered that the receiver wasn’t settled properly in its cradle, and he could report back – “Don’t worry. He’s OK. Try his number again now.” But a couple of times he had found the person face down on the floor in their apartment, with the smell of death already heavy in the room. Eddie was supposed to call the Coroner first when that happened, and then call the Director so he could inform the next of kin. After going through that the third time, though, he realized that there would be more days like that the longer he stayed, so he decided it was time to move on to something else.
Eddie was kind of surprised when he landed a new job at the hospital. They had their own in-house pharmacy, and they needed someone to restock the nurses’ stations. Not the controlled substances — you needed a special certificate for that, but the more common IV bags, saline and glucose. In this job he found it was best to take a methodical approach: reading the manifest, loading up the cart, taking the elevator to each of the nine floors, and then using his Staff ID to open the door at each station and complete his delivery.
Still, there were two places where he might linger for a few minutes before returning to the pharmacy and the next batch of orders. One was the Maternity Ward, where he liked watching the newborns through the big window. The babies always lifted his spirits and made him feel like he was participating in something important. And, then, if it was a very slow night in the Pharmacy, he might slip into the chapel.
The hospital chapel was built in a style that you might call “ecumenical,” which to Eddie just meant plain – not like the Catholic churches of his youth, which had stained glass windows and statues of saints. But the chapel did have an open book in which you could write prayer requests. Eddie didn’t have any requests that he could put into words exactly, but he liked to write down a Bible verse that the next person might see and wonder about, as if certain things might still be possible. “Elisha told Naaman to go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and then he would be healed.” Another time he wrote down a verse from Mark 8: “Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” After he had been working in the pharmacy a year, though, the economy took a big hit and the hospital had to lay off a bunch of people, including Eddie. So that was the end of that.
A couple of days later, Eddie found himself pulling another pepperoni pizza out of the freezer. He set the oven timer so that it would be done in time for him to watch Jeopardy. Eddie thought the questions they asked on the quiz show were a lot more interesting than the things people usually wanted to talk about. After Jeopardy he just surfed through the channels, not watching anything for very long. Eventually he landed on a scene from one of the old Star Wars movies. Darth Vader was saying to Luke, “Join me and together we can rule the galaxy. It is your destiny!” Some people do seem to have a sense of destiny, he mused to himself. I just don’t seem to be one of them.
He was still turning that thought over in his mind as it got closer to midnight. Over on another channel they were showing The Hunchback of Notre Dame and it surprised him to see Quasimodo in such ecstasy. He was about as high up in the tower as anyone could go, leaping from beam to beam, pulling the ropes and riding the bells. Eddie found these images strangely comforting. No one else understood Quasimodo or why the bells made him so happy, but it made sense to him. Yes, it made sense to Quasimodo.
Fred Guyette lives in South Carolina, where he works as a Reference Librarian at Erskine College. “Flash fiction seems to suit my imagination,” he says. “A brief moment of insight or compassion for a character, followed by a return to the world we are more familiar with.
–Art by Milton G. (Paradise Found)