Claude Marks was a man down on his luck.
He lost his job as a gas station attendant a year ago and paradoxically seemed unqualified for any work which could support even his meager lifestyle, such as it was. Claude was a man of simple tastes and ambitions. Not a terrible looking fellow, Claude had a strong back and mostly unremarkable features, a mop of dirty blond hair which defied a style which would give his round face any gravity. He bore his dullness with poor grace and was often thought to be an angry man by most people who knew him.
Eventually his fall would cost him his apartment at the edge of his city’s poorest suburb. With nowhere to go but down, he would take up residence in a daily hotel because he had already exhausted the kindness of the few friends he possessed. Having the wit to hock his possessions, he was able to keep himself out of the drain while his quest for work continued. His persistence paid off. A job as a stock boy in a local market gave him the ability to avoid the indigence he was headed toward and for a moment, Claude breathed a sigh of relief.
But the daily hotel he lived in was still a far cry from comfortable. He found himself bone tired after work but his hotel room had all the comfort of a prison cell. A dark and dingy hole, barely lit by the forty watt light bulb in the center of the room, the pseudo-kitchen with a gas stove and half refrigerator was where he might store a few perishables. The half bathroom without a respectable shower, aging toilet and a mysterious smell which rose from the commode when the wind blew in just the right direction over the century old structure.
The worst part of his room was the bed. A mattress which rivaled the hardest bedrock, sheet covers as thin as a butterfly’s wings, and a nasty collection of vermin which plagued Claude ceaselessly. Nothing he did ever seemed to alleviate the horrors waiting in his bed. The hotel had already given up their struggle against the bedbug and considered their failed efforts due diligence. Nothing further was or could be done, so it wasn’t. Claude was left to his own devices to find a way to endure.
A few weeks into his new job, Claude noticed the back of the store where they dumped the wasted food from the kitchen, broken cans, and other products past date. Ever so quietly he would take the edible resources from the large trash cans. Those things only mildly past their date, or cans which had lost their labels were subject to his predation. No one noticed or seemed to care and Claude considered this a changing of his luck, with a meal thrown in for good measure.
Unfortunately, the neighborhood being what it was, had others who might leave things in the store’s dumpsters since it was one of the places which got regular service, rain or shine. On a dark Wednesday, Claude found a television with a broken antenna whose case while a bit dinged and nicked from the vicissitudes of life. Finding an antenna attachment in the hardware section, he carried his ill gotten gains home and plugged it in hoping for a distraction from his life.
The image required some work, but after an hour of tweaking the antenna and moving it around, Claude was satisfied with the quality and began cooking his dinner. This was a good day, food, a bit of television, a shower and sleep. Settling in for the night, the television rested on a dilapidated chair in front of his bed just within arm’s reach so he could change the channel. What else could he ask for besides a remote?
And just as quickly he thought, a candy bar would be nice. Claude hardly had a sweet tooth, but remembered eating the occasion chocolate bar at the gas station in his previous life. And of course, a candy bar ad flashed on the screen to make his longing complete. As he faded off to sleep he reached out to the screen and touched the bar and promised himself one tomorrow. He could afford it, it was payday.
When he woke in the morning, he felt refreshed for the first time in months. He jumped up noticing he was just a little later than usual. If he rushed he would be able to be almost on time. Scrambling around and getting dressed he was almost out of the door, before he saw it under the bed next to his shoes.
It was an unopened candy bar.
The same candy bar he had not been to the store to get. Yet.
He could hear the bus coming down the street and if he missed it he was going to be late. The last thing he wanted to hear was Mahoney’s mouth.
He grabbed the candy bar and ate it on the run toward the bus stop. Best thing he ever ate.
“You’re late.” Mahoney’s vodka laced breakfast wafted across the doorway as Claude rushed in from the winter cold.
“So dock me. I’ll be in the loading bay.”
“Unload those three beds and all is forgiven.”
“Screw you, Mahoney. It’ll be done by noon.” Mahoney’s face tightened and if one looked close enough, you might imagine steam rose at his collar. Mahoney hated Claude. He was always late, very aggressive and insubordinate on a regular basis. After writing him up two times, the senior store manager suggested Mahoney try to look at Claude’s hard work ethic first and his attitude last. Mahoney still hated him but work was done first and Mahoney took the credit. Win-Win-Lose for Claude.
Mahoney was going to be breaking in a new girl today and he fancied this one. A pretty youngster, barely twenty with this being her first work experience, made her prime pickings for an experienced Lothario like Mahoney.
The choice of young and nubile staff members was a perk of the job as far as he was concerned. He looked around expecting her to be coming from the changing area. Where was she?
She watched Claude as he unloaded the truck, his arms flexing with just a light coating of sweat. He wore a short sleeved shirt and his hands were covered with rough workgloves. She stood in the doorway watching him work for a few minutes before deciding to introduce herself. Her co-worker had mused on the way out, she could do worse. He was the hardest working man at SafeCo. She had a weakness for a hard working man. “My name is Camille. Call me Cam.”
Momentarily startled, he pulled his headset down to his neck.”I’m Claude. I’d shake your hand but I’ve got stuff all over ’em. You’re new here?”
“Yes, I was supposed to start this morning. Couldn’t get into the changing room until another lady let me in.” Cam wore her hair in braids pulled back and the work apron of a SafeCo cashier. She was shapely and wore no makeup. Claude found himself mesmerized by her simple good looks. Her smile was glorious. He could look at it for hours. Only the nasal bellow of Mahoney could ruin it.
“Camille!” Mahoney’s Brooklyn accent played havoc with her name.
Claude whispered as she turned and walked back into the store. “Watch his hands. He is a very handy fellow.”
“I’m sure. He’s wearing Old Spice. He wasn’t wearing it yesterday. I’ll keep an eye out. See ya, big boy.” She smiled and intercepted Mahoney before he could mangle her name again.
End of Part 1.
Within Arms Reach © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved