I’m watching this kid outside the brewery. Skinny ginger kid in long white socks. Nike high tops. Tall and rangy. Teenager. He’s smacking a lacrosse stick off the brick. Smack smack. The brick patterns make me think about how everything in the world is built from something. Factories. Bridges. Highways. Mountain ranges. All made by someone. Who made the mountains? God, supposedly. If you look at an object close enough, like through a really good microscope, everything has the same pattern. A dinosaur’s cells look just like an office building’s cells. I’m not sure if that’s true.
I’ve been drinking in this brewery since I left work at Ozzy’s Burger Palace. Around 3:00 pm my manager pulled me into her office and said I was being fired. I thought it was because I’ve been giving away extra chicken nuggets as a way of fighting back. I figured enough free nuggets and the bottom line had to suffer. My act would inspire others. The workers would rise up and kneecap the Fast-Food Empire.
I asked, “Is this because of the nuggets? You’ve been, what–counting my nuggets?”
“No… but we have been watching the cameras. You’ve been smoking marijuana in the freezers. And drinking by the dumpsters too.”
“Oh shit.” I had. Nearly every hour on the hour. “Well, is there a policy about that?”
“Yeah. Zero tolerance.” My manager looked at her feet and I felt kind of bad, because she was nice and I knew she didn’t have the training to deal with people like me. “So, um, we’re going to have to let you go.”
“Well…” I said. “Can I have a free meal? As severance?”
I don’t think she totally knew what severance meant, but she gave me a free meal anyway. A big ass chicken patty and fries, plus a small drink. The chicken was cold. The fries hung limp and spineless. The syrup in my Sprite had gone bad and tasted like seltzer water. It was a shit operation we ran there. At Ozzy’s Burger Palace.
Now, I’m watching this ginger kid. He’s all alone. Smacking that lax stick. Smacking it hard like he’s got a problem with the world. Silhouetted by the setting sunlight, his hair so orange it’s almost translucent. He’s practically glowing. He seems like he needs a friend. A partner. Why not me?
I drain my beer and slump out the door, acting casual, not like a drunk 32-year-old with a Master’s Degree and fryer grease on his fingers.
“Hey bro,” I say. “Where are your friends?”
He lifts his pale ginger face to meet my eyes. “What’s it to you?”
“I’m just looking for some cool guys to party with.” Then, realizing it sounds like I want to molest him, say, “I mean–do you want to smoke some weed?”
“Nah, I’m good.”
I try another tactic. “Listen.” I lean in close. “How about some beer? I could use a drinking buddy. I’ve had a tough day, you know?”
I’m not sure if it’s the desperation in my voice or if the kid really is that lonely, but he nods slowly and says, “Okay. Yeah, I guess.”
Grinning, I tell him to wait while I run inside to buy us a six-pack. The tab’s like 40 bucks, but I don’t care. The Ozzy’s Burger Palace money will run dry soon, I figure, but not today. When I cash out, the tattooed bartender gives me a look like she knows I’m buying beer for the kid outside, so I slip her a fiver to keep quiet and she shakes her head in disappointment.
I hand the kid an IPA and we sit on the bumper of my car. He takes a sip and makes a sour face. I laugh a little, then turn away so he doesn’t see. It’s not fun to be embarrassed. I know this.
“How old are you?” I ask. “19? 20?”
“Fuck.” I let out a low whistle. “I remember being 14. Tough times, right?”
The kid shrugs. “It’s alright.”
“What do you do? Like, for fun?”
“Not much. Lax. Go to school. I’m working on a mixtape.”
“I used to be a professor, you know.”
“But then my dad died.”
“And my girlfriend left me.”
“I started getting drunk at work all the time until they fired me and the only place I could find a job was Ozzy’s Burger Palace. But then they fired me too.”
“Sucks.” He shakes his head. “That sucks.”
“It does.” We sit there for a moment. I wait for him to ask–where are all your friends? What’s wrong with your life? What can I do to avoid your fate? But he never does.
“Come on,” I say. “I’ve got more beer back at my place.”
The kid pops his mixtape into my CD player. The bass goes Bum! Bum! Bum! Then there’s a series of noises I can’t place. Could be a violin. Sounds like a baby screaming, maybe. I’m about to reverse out when I think–drunk kid. In my car. And I’m drunk. Maybe a bad idea. I turn to the kid.
“Ah, come on, man. What are we doing? Get the fuck out of here.”
“You’re a child, dude. I can’t babysit you all night.”
“Well, fuck off then!”
His sudden rage wakes me. The realness of it. The way he throws open the door so hard it slams against the hinges and bounces back, hitting him square in the groin. He lets out a little yelp and doubles over. When I get out to help him, he gives me the finger and spits on the hood. Before he leaves, he says–“I’m a child? Well, you’re a child cosplaying as an adult!” But I think I may have misheard.
Driving home, the pavement keeps coming in and out of focus. My eyes are heavy like wet blankets. I’m swerving a bit, trying to stay on the right side of the road, and when the rabbit jumps in front of the car, I don’t have time to avoid it before–thump!–it’s down under my wheels.
I pull over and rest my head on the dash. I listen to the spring peepers singing in the woods. I smell the wet scent of the valley opening in the nighttime. Everything I touch turns to shit.
I get out to check on the rabbit. I can barely look. Its poor body is ruined. Spotted with blood. A single tire track tattooed across the midsection. The little black eyes are looking up at me, all filmy and terrified, like please bro, help me in some way.
I kneel down and put my hands on the rabbit and pray. I pray so hard I can almost feel my teeth cracking. I pray like I’m rendering the world with my mind, creating entire valleys, continents, galaxies, like I’m starting the universe anew, and when I open my eyes the rabbit jumps to its feet and runs away through the underbrush, suddenly and terrifically alive. I watch for a minute before getting in my car and driving home, stricken, dumbfounded, completely amazed, and I get there without any incident or complaint, the kid’s mixtape playing the whole time, and the music is terrible, oh so terrible, but underneath the awfulness, there might be something good there. If only I can find it.