Folks By Nicholas Arthur
Cindy She teaches high school German. The kids like to learn sexually charged phrases (usually inaccurately) and yell them across the room. Sheâ€™s 27 and easier on the eyes than most of the other teachers. Everyone from the grease-handed auto shop kids to the gangly anime nerds take the class. 95% dudes is a safe estimate. Sheâ€™s always tired. Her dreams spin distant futures of a younger, more attractive teacher being hired; the creepy gazes fading with the passing years. The knots in her shoulders unraveling a bit, the kids halflistening to the lesson plan she spent all last weekend on.
Artie He didn’t like his voice. Its nasal whine buzzsawed through the room and drew stares. There wasn’t much he could do. He’d try to add a deeper tone, but it’s hard to change stuff like that at 30. She had dark hair with blonde streaks like the popular girls from his high school. Community college gave some anonymity, but not much. She looked off his paper and flirted with me to make it seem less obvious. She had sad green eyes and drew anime characters in the margins. He cared about her a lot. It’d be easier if he didn’t.
Lucy The dress was much too tight. It had been her auntâ€™s. Lucy knew she could pull it off. It was a sort of retro floral print. She carefully applied the dark red lipstick. She was Lucy, not Tom. High heeled confident fishnet lover. In control and happy to be alive and free. Moving through the neon fuzz and the sea of headlights. The club where she spent her weekends was full of smiling faces. Hot sweat and beer. Everyone really did know her name. Just like the theme song. She was happy and free, she was Lucy not Tom.
Earl He moved his finger across his teeth until it made a squeaking noise. He focused on the sound. Held his mind there and let the walls collapse around him. The noises melting and bubbling over, warping and slowing up a bit. He lost track of time and lived in the moment just a minute. Just sat there and didnâ€™t try to balance too many plates at once. His breath dried the surrounding teeth, tongue dry in a bizarre daze. Traveling deeper and deeper, allowing himself to travel down rabbit holes. Dirt between his fingernails, dirt caked on his knees.
Adam He wore a purple cape. They would’ve made fun of him for something else anyway. Maybe his acne or his laundry list of food allergies. It had to do with a fantasy novel he was reading. Yeah, yeah one of the ones with glossy illustrations of wizards and elves. But there was more to it. Between those two slices of glossy cardboard was an escape hatch from it all. He’d climb through and tumble into a world where he was accepted. He’d be in a place where he was “normal” instead of just the weird kid with the purple cape.
Joe The train echoed out through the corn fields and silos. He was alone and there was a lot to be done. The medication wasnâ€™t wearing him down as much today. There were books to be organized, knick-knacks to be sorted; memories to be kept or put in the circular file. He worked for hours. A thick layer of sweat formed on his wrinkled brow, mixing with the dust that jumped out of the book jackets. It was nearly four in the morning, but he was nearly done. Now he could rest easy even if no one would see it.
Jill Her and Mary Ann held hands under the jungle gym. The other kids’ light-up tennis shoes stampeded overhead. They didn’t need to sit under the jungle gym during recess. Even if they were caught kissing by someone on the playground it would come with a coy scolding and a barely hidden smile. They were just kids. She wondered when she grew up if it would all be different. If her and Mary Ann would find big strong men to whisk them off their feet. If they’d stop having this warm light feeling in their chest when their fingers laced together.
Don He struck the pack of menthols hard against his palm a few times. It came more from habit than anything. He saw the older kids do it so he did it too. Now he couldn’t help himself before he’d light another one. The machines hummed dull back in the factory. It was raining a bit. He tried again to remember last Thursday. A co-worker had asked him if he congratulated Joey on his newborn son. But he didn’t remember any of the day when he thought about it. He definitely punched in, but couldn’t remember any of it now.
Maurice The over-stressed, working parents finally picked their kids up from latch key. Soon the teachers, finishing up last minute grading, would make their way home. Then heâ€™d be all right. Just him and that lemon fresh aroma. No one to make fun of his lazy eye or his beer gut. Just quiet solitude. The hours of cleaning that followed floated by in mechanized yet loving succession. There was no thought to the routine; just movement. The hum of the mini Zamboni like machine that polished the floor, the whir of the vacuum. Maurice felt all right in the empty school.
Alfred He looked out the window. Her eyes met his from the driveway across the street. He was an indoor cat. This was all they had. Sometimes he pictured her quickly sliding through the open door without any humans noticing. He would keep her out of sight in the basement, roaming the house together when everyone was sleeping. They would start a new life together. Cold white basement tiles and creeping centipedes. They would never meet, but these dreams were better than nothing. There was no way he would leave this comfort for that kind of uncertainty. He hoped sheâ€™d understand.
Sherry Sherry pushed in the shopping carts. Dumbfuck Bill always stared at her in that way. Leering over a body caught in the limbo of youthful, objectifiable lust and old age. 40 was a strange place to be. Just shack up with Bill. Everyone at the supermarket agreed. She could tell. You’re both middleaged lonely supermarket workers. It’ll be cute and something we can giggle about to forget how underpaid we are. She didn’t need Bill though. She didn’t need some young stud with a washboard stomach either. She just needed some quiet. The previous 26 years had been chaotic enough.
William Every year he put the sign up. “FIREWORKS” with plenty of stars and stripes. Everyone would see it from the interstate. He poured some cheap whiskey in his coffee. May was early for fireworks customers. His mind drifted and he was back at school. He had big teeth. “BUCK TOOTHED BILLY” echoed throughout small, rural Creston. Hot tears rolled down his tomato red face as his legs moved under him. When he couldn’t sleep he’d walk down to an abandoned field with the fireworks he’d saved up all month for. All of his torment exploded and faded in that field.
Ernest The fair left last week, fading from the townâ€™s memory like a deranged neon hitchhiker in the rearview. A while back they drank a bit of gin and navigated through the corn maze. They stopped and she started talking about outer space while he thought about trying to kiss her. That seemed more interesting than outer space or corn mazes at the time. Things were good for a few days until he said he loved her again. Someone will cut down the maze eventually. Something will probably be paved over our happy gin soaked ghosts. Hopefully itâ€™s a Taco Bell.
Harold He collects bottle caps. Have boxes and boxes of them. Been doing it for years now. Boxes and boxes. A sea of brightly colored metal doodads in all sorts of languages. He always goes to the video store when you’re working. He’ll ask today. Sometimes he gets lost in dreams of floating in a swimming pool full of bottle caps with you, fingers intertwined. If things go well he’ll have to lose some of these bottle caps. Boxes and boxes sitting on a curb. Most people get uncomfortable when you have this many bottle caps. Maybe he’ll ask next week.
Otis He bought another orange fleece. The one he’s currently wearing will fade, holes growing each day. He could’ve waited. They could get more fleeces, but it wouldn’t be the same. Successive orange fleeces will have added pockets or something. Can’t they stay the same? That’d probably be asking too much of the orange fleece people. Things will get trendier and probably a bit more comfortable. But it’d be nice if, at the very least, they could keep things going for a few years. Just to try it out. That way he could finally stop worrying about buying more orange fleeces.
Jim He talks to strangers at the resale shop. All the employees know him. He talks about the weather or whatever the other person is purchasing. On occasion, he’ll talk about one of his many intricate conspiracy theories. This is when the strangers start to look for ways to break it off. Mary was different. She listened and added her own thoughts. They talked for what seemed like hours. The clerks watched in awe. As he walked back to the closet-sized apartment the night didn’t seem as lonely. The tall buildings didn’t feel as intimidating. The tension began to ease up.
Caroline She hasn’t met their gaze lately. Her feet move quickly as she runs errands. The days run together more. Her family and friends worry. They can’t remember the last time she had a boyfriend. Caroline could give a shit about any of that. She had no interest in it even when she “gave it a try” years ago. There’s a jar in her room she puts stray coins in. When it’s filled, she’ll roll them up and bring them to the bank. This has been going on for years, in secret. She’s leaving this place as soon as she can.
Alice She hated all the catering. All the bullshit niceties that dropped when a white customer showed up. She knew it was because of the color of her skin. Sure, there were times when it was fun to mess with those people. But as more and more time passed, those moments became fleeting. It just seemed condescending. She started to hate going shopping, which had been one of her unabridged passions for years. She loved the feeling she got when she found something no one else could find for a fraction of the cost. She missed that feeling a lot lately.
Connie She rode her bike through the suburbs while everyone was at work. It was overcast. There was no place she could think to go in this neighborhood she knew so well. She just kept peddling and peddling, passing by places where little memories cropped up. It was weird to feel this old at 23. She couldnâ€™t explain it. When she told people about it, especially older people, they just looked at her funny. But she didnâ€™t know how else to explain it. She wondered how people her age felt so carefree. Why she constantly felt like time was rushing by.
Horace And the last â€œrealâ€? tooth was finally gone. He slid his tongue across the rows of smooth gold as he left the dentist office. He kind of liked the look of disbelief on peopleâ€™s faces when they noticed them. Those moments were cherished. He was 94 and not much phased him anymore. No heirs for his wealth, no friends to share a conversation. But he still had his memories, 94 years of them. His joints were always sore. He swore under his breath until he made it back up the steps, sinking into his favorite arm chair one last time.
About Nicholas Arthur is 27 years old and currently lives in Michigan. He is a Wayne State University graduate. Along with poetry he dabbles in music, writing and art. When he is not writing he can be found looking in the bargain bin at the record store, drinking coffee far too late at night, and eating breakfast any time he pleases. He has a cat named Simba.