Literary Orphans

by Jody Thompson


Jon Kooistra kept a shoebox at the cash register underneath the counter.  No one bothered to ever look in it, but if they did, they would find a few candy wrappers, paint chip color samples, pages he would tear out of science fiction books before returning to the library and a notecard with what he thought should be the top five Eagles songs with notes on the side interchanging the number four and number five spots.  He attempted to sneak in Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer,” but it made him feel guilty.  Jon stood over six feet tall and kept his beard trimmed short so it hugged his jawline.  He left the nails on the fingers of his right hand a little longer than the ones on the left.  The longer nails made it easier to open the paint can lids and to peel the labels off of their epoxy sheets.  When the store was slow, Jon would stand behind the counter and stare out of the store front window.  He would look past the decrypted Buick he drove to work in every day.  He would shift his weight from the right leg to the left and put his hands on his hips and rock back and forth.

Jon had the nervous habit of taking his right fore and middle fingers and scratching the hair below his bottom lip and then smelling the tips for a second or two.  He tended to do this more on the days he came into work hungover, nervous that he would be caught, mostly embarrassed that he could still function after what he could consume in only a few waking hours between each shift.   Every ten minutes or so, Jon would step back from the counter and do a figure eight around the store.  Pushing and rearranging cans on the shelves, mixing up paint chip samples so that there would be something to fix on the next round of walking.  This was how Jon’s days were spent.  In the back of the store, a shelf was home to rejected cans of paint that were either mixed incorrectly, the color didn’t look how it should have based on the chip sample or the customer didn’t like how it looked on their wall so it was returned.  Instead of throwing out the cans of paint, Jon saved them for his friend, Alan, who had an affection for recreating Georges Mêliés movie sets in his garage.  Whenever Alan needed a particular color for a set piece, he would come into the store and select a chip and give it to Jon, who in turn, would recommend it to customers who would come in.  While adding the tint to the bases, Jon would add a bit too much of one compound or another so when he showed the customer the color before putting the lid on, the comparison of the paint in the can and the color on the chip would not match.  This left the customer unsure of the color and Jon with a gallon of paint he couldn’t sell.  The rejected gallon would then become Alan’s and would wait on the shelf in the back of the store to be picked up.

Jon tried to understand why Alan needed specific colors for the sets.  Mêliés filmed most of his work in the 1920’s  and were done so in black and white.  If the silent films did appear in color, it was only because of tinting done in post-production.  Alan would have nothing of this discussion, each time explaining to Jon that he needed the color to feel what Mêliés felt. This was usually the point in the evening where Jon would finish the bottle of gin he brought and Alan would be cleaning his brushes and when they would both realize again and again that they shouldn’t know this much about post production, silent film, the directorial talents of a French magician.  At least two men in a town like theirs shouldn’t know information like this.

On the first Tuesday of every month, Alan would come over after his shift at the convenience store across the street.  He would bring Jon magazines with the covers missing. Any magazines that were left over at the end of the month had to be inventoried before their covers were torn off and thrown into the dumpster.  Alan would bring the magazines in exchange for the cans of paint in the back of the store.  It was a system that worked in its pubescent ways. On this Tuesday,  just like all of the other Tuesdays, Jon flipped through one of the magazines and Alan leaned across the counter, thumbing through next month’s new paint chip samples. The store’s soundtrack came over the speakers, it was ten past the hour and the mangled version of “Boys of Summer” slid through with no treble and too much bass.  Jon put his magazine down and pulled out the shoebox and lifted the notecard of songs and switched the order again, erasing Don Henley’s name.  He would pencil it back in after Alan left, at ten past the next hour.


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JODY THOMPSON is the Managing Editor at Cairn Press and will complete her undergraduate studies in Creative Writing and English at the University of Arizona Honors College. She was awarded the 2011 Martindale Literary Award and has had prose and poetry appear in multiple publications most recently in Persona, the literary journal published annually from the University of Arizona for the past 35 years. She is a Citizen of The Cherokee Nation.

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–Foreground art by Brent Bluehouse
–Background art by Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu