Yellow Mama Archives

Chris Rhatigan
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servicesmile.jpg
Art by Jeff karnick 2010

 

Service with a Smile

 

Chris Rhatigan

 

 

When I heard they were going to fire me a few months ago, I really did try to change.

 

I stopped showing up late, hungover, unshowered, and unshaven. Stopped slithering into the depths of the stockroom to fire up a mid-shift bowl.

 

I was even addressing customers with the company line, “Can I help you find something?”

 

But maintaining this front as Christmas crept closer—when shoppers transform from everyday, mildly annoying people to insufferable assholes—became more and more tedious.

 

I’d already had my daily dose of insufferable assholes when I was restocking the sleds. I picked up a few pieces of plastic that idiot parents spend twenty dollars on for their idiot kids and negotiated my way through a herd of chattering consumers.

 

“Excuse me,” a woman behind me said, her voice like a woodchipper grinding up a box of silverware. “I said, ‘Excuse me.’ Are you deaf or just ignoring me?”

 

I turned and forced my muscles to contort into a smile. “Can I help you find something?”

 

“Yes, yes. Well, I most certainly hope you can.” She was the shape of a pigeon and wrapped in a hideous, homemade Christmas sweater. I think it was supposed to be a reindeer flying by the night sky, but it more resembled a turd floating in a black sea. And she was sporting fat, lavender curlers.

 

I couldn’t believe people like her existed.

 

“My granddaughter, she wants one of these dolls, what’re they called again? Punky Girls, I think.”

 

“Spunky Girlz. E19.”

 

I went back to stocking the sleds. I had seven more pulls—giant, rolling carts of product—to dump on the floor before my shift came to a merciful conclusion. With the incessant questions, it appeared I’d be staying late. Again.

 

“No, no, no. You don’t understand.” She sidled up to me. I choked on the scent of Witch Hazel. “You need to listen. Why don’t they ever have good service at these places?”

 

“Listen, lady. They’re in E19.”

 

“But my granddaughter, she wants a specific one. I can’t remember which.”

 

“Well you better find out, ’cause there’s like a hundred of them.”

 

“You need to look through them for me and tell me which one it is. I don’t have my reading glasses with me. I can’t read without my reading glasses.”

 

She clutched at my sleeve, tugging me toward the toys section. I pulled away from her grip and sighed. The thought made me shudder—there would be a million more just like her before the holiday season ended.

 

I noticed there was a boy behind her, probably about ten, entranced with a handheld video game. For some reason, the kid mimicked the exploding sounds the video game made.

 

“Can’t your grandson help you?”

 

“Jeffrey? Oh, no. He’s playing his video games. I can’t bother him.”

 

I dropped four sleds in the middle of the aisle, started walking toward toys. A few people turned their heads and made grunts of disapproval. Fuck ’em.

 

“Excuse me, excuse me, sir.” She was still standing by the sleds. “You need to take my shopping cart over. I’m an old woman. You should push my shopping cart over.”

 

I dug my jagged, chewed-on fingernails into my palms. But I went back. Took her fucking shopping cart, the wheels squealing the whole way. I could see why she had someone else do it—the cart was loaded with a pallet of gaudy ornaments, gallons of cleaning solution, a plastic Christmas tree, a set of luggage, a cast iron skillet, a few pairs of shoes.

 

Every year there’s some goddamned toy that every kid has to have. This was the year of the Spunky Girlz, and we couldn’t order enough of them. The Girlz had their own aisle, which, of course, was trashed—dolls littering the floor, freed from their containers and decapitated by maniacal children. There were at least a dozen people picking their way through the scraps, swearing as they realized the one their kid wanted wasn’t there.

 

“You sure you don’t remember which one it was?”

 

“No. Now read them to me. I don’t have much time.”

 

You don’t have much time? Seriously?”

 

“What?”

 

“Nothing. Here we go. Hollywood Hot. Wet N Wild. Rock Superstar. Animal Lover. Tropical Fun. Iconic Idol. Passion 4 Fashion— ”

 

Her voice came shrill and sudden. “Wait! Wait! That’s it!”

 

“Passion 4 Fashion?”

 

“No, no, no. Not that. I remembered the name. It’s Pop Star Divaz. There are three of them in the set. Oh goodness, I’m so pleased with myself.”

 

The kid filed in behind his grandmother, still pounding buttons and making those horrible exploding sounds.

 

“Pleased with yourself for what? What, exactly, did you do to please yourself?”

 

“For remembering the name. Geez . . .”

 

She squinted at my nametag for several seconds. “It’s Justin. Justin Bieber.”

 

“Yes, Justin, your parents should have taught you some manners. I’ve never experienced such rude service.”

 

I typed Pop Star Divaz into my scanner’s computer. “We don’t have it. Neither do any of the other Bullseyes within a 150-mile radius.”

 

“What? How is that possible?”

 

“It’s the most popular toy on the market. Just get your granddaughter a fucking Barbie or something and call it a day.”

 

“Ugh, so crass. I can’t hardly believe it.” She clutched my sleeve again, coming closer, her eyes bulging, her bottom lip trembling. I glanced at the cast iron skillet and bit my lip. No, no, couldn’t do that. “And I can’t believe you people can’t get her the toy that she wants! It’s all she wants for Christmas!”

 

 “If you’re really intent on getting her that doll, try ordering it on Amazon or bidding for it on e-Bay.”

 

“What are you talking about? Now you’re just making things up. Why can’t you sell me the doll? I want to speak to your supervisor.”

 

I stared at an endcap of on-sale towels and counted to five. It didn’t help. Shoppers had begun to crowd around us, rubberneckers at an accident that hadn’t happened.

 

“Please stop yelling, ma’am. I’m sure we can work this out.”

 

She was huffy, breathless, her face swelling and red like a kickball. “I cannot disappoint Moira! You just don’t get it, do you? I need to speak to your supervisor!”

 

I reached down into the cart. In a single motion, I grabbed the cast iron skillet with both hands and swung it over my head.

 

She had no idea of what was going on until the skillet was a couple of inches from her head. I would sacrifice my paycheck every week to see that look flash across her face—her superiority shattered in a second.

 

I’d bet she cried out, screamed real loud, but I didn’t hear it, just felt the impact of driving those curlers into her scalp. She stumbled back to the metal shelves with a thud, covered her head with her hands as boxes of Spunky Girlz rained down on her.

 

This left her bulbous, ugly mug open. I swung the skillet again, this time like a baseball bat. She collapsed, a river of blood flowing from her nose and mouth.

 

And that fucking grandson of hers was still absorbed in that video game. As I anticipated the satisfying crunch of smashing the noisy little plastic box into his skull, a liberating thought crossed my mind: I had no idea where I’d be, say, a week from now.

 

Maybe I’d be thousands of miles away, at a crummy motel off the interstate, checking in under a false name. Maybe I’d clear out my bank account, hop a plane to Cabo. More likely, I’d be in prison.

 

Didn’t matter. All I knew was that tomorrow, I wouldn’t be at work.

 

 

 

brightgirl.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan 2012

Bright Girl


by Chris Rhatigan


In her head, Dana called him Lump because of the throbbing purple mass between his neck and his shoulder.

The lump had more personality than he did. If she squinted, she could see an eye, a nose, and a mouth.

She overcame exhaustion and revulsion to force a smile. “Any more coffee or dessert?”

“Where you from?”

“I’m not from around here.” She paused. “I’m from Laramie, originally.”

“Laramie? You sound more East Coast.” Did that lump just wink at her or was she hallucinating? “Bet you think you’re a real bright girl, huh?”

“Just the check, then.”

“You know how to a suck a cock?”

Lump rolled chaw from one side of his mouth to the other. Popped an eyebrow like he actually expected her to answer his question. She fought the urge to pour boiling coffee on his crotch.

 

How long had she been in this place? Five days? Six? She had a room at the Super 8 across the highway, but it did her no good. The noise of the interstate or the dripping faucet or the heat or her racing mind always refusing to let her sleep. Eventually she’d turn on the TV and let the infomercials invade.


The rest of Dana’s shift was a fucking disaster—again. She dropped a plate of biscuits and gravy on a screaming child, who responded with louder screams. A migraine jackhammered her temples and a grease-sweat sheen coated her skin.

She slipped out the back door and sat next to the dumpster. Nodded off now and then, shreds of fitful rest interrupted by eighteen-wheelers rumbling into the gas station. The stench of mayonnaise that had rotted in the sun piled onto her nausea.

She felt the desert’s presence beyond, wanted to lie among the scrub brush and the lizards and the moon.

The door clanged open. Dana jumped to her feet.

Lump tugged at his belt buckle. “Well, would you look what I found.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Needed a bit of R & R. Booked myself a room.”

“Break’s over,” she lied.

He grabbed her arm as she tried to pass. Jagged, oily fingernails dug into her skin.

“You’re running from something, aren’t you?”

“Let go.”

The lump pulsated, mimicking its host’s excitement. “C’mon, you can tell me.”

She took a pen from her apron. Stabbed the bulbous growth right in its eye. Pus and blood erupted. She pulled out the pen and kneed him in the balls.


His screams blended with a tractor trailer’s horn. He dropped to the ground, grumbling, breathing fast and shallow.

She wiped her hands on her apron and went back to her motel room. Took a long, hot shower and moisturized. Her headache was gone.

 

For the first since she’d come to this place, she wrote an entry in her journal. She wrote in script. She always liked her handwriting – the curvy letters, little hearts to dot the i’s. The pen was sticky. She wrote until the adrenalin wore off and her eyelids became heavy. Then she dropped onto the bed, wrapped herself in the covers.

 

The traffic on the interstate thundered and the faucet dripped, but she slept as if she were wrapped in a cocoon.

 

smallbites.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan, 2012

Small Bites

by Chris Rhatigan

 

I am across the street from a library.

I think about how the expression “the wind nips at your nose” is very appropriate. I don’t know if that is an expression or not. I’m not sure what an expression is. Is an expression different than a saying?

No one has the answer.

No one can know that.

The wind is content to take small bites from the end of your nose.

It is not greedy.

But it is painful.

I grow aware of the sound of a bell ringing.

This is like when you wake up and, slowly, all the facts of your life tumble into your mind.

And they are terrible.

An old black woman across the street is ringing a bell.

She sits next to a red metal container that says “Salvation Army” on it.

I actually can’t see what it says from where I’m standing, but I imagine that it says “Salvation Army” on it.

I don’t think there are many other possibilities.

The bell ringing is loud.

I may go deaf from it.

My ears are bleeding.

Just kidding. I don’t even know what that means!

They do hurt, like a lot. But they’re not bleeding.

That would be crazy.

If they were bleeding.

It is inevitable that I will go deaf.

What would it be like to be deaf?

Not that much different.

Except I wouldn’t hear the bell anymore.

And whenever anyone talked to me, I could just shrug or say, “Okay.”

That would be preferable.

But I’m not married to the idea.

There’s another expression I like. What a silly concept. (“Marrying an idea” is illegal in this state.)

People in puffy coats keep bumping into me as they cross the street as if I don’t exist, as if I’m a tree or a fire hydrant or a tightly-coiled pile of dog shit.

They would probably respect those things more than they respect me. They would probably worship those things if they could.

Fuck them.

I don’t exist.

But they don’t exist either.

Tiredly, I cross the street.

I see all the woman’s wrinkles up close. Like her face is one big wrinkle and her body, although covered in various, colorful fabrics, is another big wrinkle.

Two wrinkles.

The woman looks gnarled.

I wonder if thinking she looks gnarled is racist.

It’s probably racist.

“Could you stop ringing that bell?”

“Why?”

“It’s going to make me go deaf.”

“What?”

“Stop ringing your bell.”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because the bell makes people feel guilty. Then they will give me money. I mean the Salvation Army. They will give the Salvation Army money.”

“How much money have you made today?”

“None.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Four hours.”

“You’ve been ringing your bell for four hours and you haven’t made any money. But you think you will make money if you keep ringing the bell.”

“Yes.”

“How does the bell make people feel guilty?”

“How much money are you going to give me? I mean the Salvation Army. How much money are you going to give the Salvation Army.”

“Merry Christmas.”

“What?”

I walk away.

The wind takes small chunks out of my nose. I won’t have a nose if the wind keeps this shit up. I could cover my nose with my coat, but that would look ridiculous. 

I don’t cover my nose with my coat.

I go into a drug store. Shiny green and red and silver make me forget.

What was it I was forgetting?

I go up and down the aisles, touching each of the products as I pass by them. I make sure that the “hidden” security cameras in those mirrors see me touching the products. Touching them with love. A love they will never be able to replicate. They must be jealous.

I like touching cosmetics the most. Their containers are round and smooth and pleasing to the eyes and fingers. Those companies do a good job. I should buy some of their products.

I should write them a letter expressing my gratitude. I will write the letter on official letterhead. Official letterhead of my apartment. I will type the letter on a typewriter. I will go to the bank and have it notarized. I’m not sure what that means. I think it’s a stamp. I will sign it with a fountain pen in a style that people will refer to as “distinctive.” Nobody does these things anymore. Nobody gives a shit. They just send angry emails about how things do not meet their expectations.

In the discount bin, I find a red sweatshirt with a fuzzy picture of a grinning reindeer on it. Many small bells are stitched into the fabric. I put the sweatshirt on over my coat. The bells ring as I do this.

I look in the mirror. I smile. I look like a red marshmallow. Or a guy with an ugly sweatshirt over his coat.

I decide to leave with the sweatshirt. We are a team now.

But then I realize someone might think the sweatshirt was ironic. This is a disgusting thought. A cold feeling spreads through my chest.

I’m not sure what ironic means, but I know it is bad.

I pull the sweatshirt off and drop it on the floor.

An employee will have to pick up the sweatshirt later, but I’m not thinking about them.

I’m thinking about them.

I have to admit that to myself.

I don’t care what happens to them. I wish I did. I wish I had a reservoir inside of me. A reservoir of empathy for the world and all of its drugstore employees.

But I don’t.

I rip open a bag of miniature York Peppermint Patties. I count out seven of them and put them in my coat pocket.

Then I take another York Peppermint Pattie out of its wrapper (making it eight, total) and eat it in one bite.

My mouth is cold and chocolatey.

I want a security guard to beat my ass on the way out. Right in front of a security camera. Then I’ll get on the news and everyone will be freaking out about how a security guard beat that guy’s ass just for stealing candy.

I will be that guy.

I keep eating York Peppermint Patties on the way out. I can’t help it. I must maintain the cold, chocolatey sensation in my mouth. Things might go wrong if I don’t.

The automatic doors sigh as they open. Like their job is so fucking hard.

The world is disappointingly similar. Though somewhat darker. The wind is nibbling my nose.

I mean nipping. Nipping at my nose.

That’s much better.

The gnarled woman (I don’t care if it is racist, she’s gnarled, that’s the only way to describe her) rings her bell. As she should.

I’m not deaf yet.

I give her a York Peppermint Pattie.

She looks at it for a few seconds and drops it on the pavement.

I pick it up.

I open the package.

I eat the York Peppermint Pattie in front of her.

This time I take small bites.

 


homecoming2.jpg
Art by Noelle Richardson 2013

Homecoming Dance

 

by Chris Rhatigan

 

 

Sweaty teens bump and grind to the sound of machines in the colored light of machines. Dudes cop feels, girls giggle. Everybody’s drunk enough not to care—not that sobriety makes teenagers care about anything in the first place.

 

Crissy and Amber have staked out a spot in the corner by the punch bowl. The two princesses left their dates to jerk each other off. They have important business to attend to: The judgment of their classmates’ appearances.

 

“Gretchen Moist is looking so not angular.”

 

“I know! It’s like she doesn’t even care about how pneumatic her parallel components are.”

 

“And Livvy McRib? She didn’t even bother to calculate her digital springs. What is she, clinically schizophrenic? Or just bi-curious?”

 

“Ugh, it’s like she’s floating. I’d rather cake my still beating heart in batter, drop it in a McDonald’s deep fryer, then eat it, the blood staining my teeth, gushing over my chin, a single drop descending into my delicious cleavage then sell a tape of the whole thing to one of those fetish sites than look like she does.”

 

“God, I will never be like that. Even when I’m forty-five, I’ll be all 90 degrees this way and 120 degrees that way. You can still do it. Drugs and chronic insomnia is all it takes.”

 

“Maybe when I’m seventy-five. Then I can let myself go.”

 

“Not me. I’m just going to kill myself by eating a bunch of botox.”

 

“Oh, my God! That’s such a great idea. You are just the smartest, most angular person I know.”

 

“Yes, I am.”

 

“Let’s make a suicide pact! We can eat each other’s still-beating hearts!”

“Nah . . . not to be a bitch or anything, but I’m pretty sure you’ll lose your looks way before I do.”

 

“Oh, um, you’re probably right.”

 

Amber is still fantasizing about consuming Crissy’s delicate, black-as-night heart when a stampede of ancient Mongol warriors thunder into the high school gymnasium.

 

At first, she thinks it’s some elaborate, early Halloween kind of a thing, but concludes this probably isn’t the case when the warriors bust out steel blades and decapitate clumps of her classmates.

 

Sparks and blood fly.

 

Genghis Khan is at the head of the pack, laughing maniacally as he draws his longbow and skewers a dubro in the jugular from thirty paces away.

 

He says, “The greatest joy for a man is to defeat his enemies, to drive them before him, to take from them all they possess, to see those they love in tears, to ride their horses, and to hold their wives and daughters in his arms. Or to fuck up a bunch of teenagers at a high school dance because you feel like it. That works too.”

 

Crissy’s pleased with how the barbarian invaders are slaughtering her recklessly fashionless classmates, organs and circuit boards raining down on the hardwood floor.

 

Livvy McRib runs up, soaked in the sort-of-virginal blood of her classmates, screeching like the banshee that she is. “OH MY FUCKING BUDDHA! GHENGHIS KHAN IS GOING TO MURDER US ALL!”

 

Crissy turns, gives Amber an epic eye roll. “It’s pronounced Chinghis Haan. Duh.”

 

 

 

Chris Rhatigan is the editor of All Due Respect. His weird crime novella, The Kind of Friends Who Murder Each Other, is available for free on Smashwords, or as a cheap paperback from Amazon.

In Association with Fossil Publications