portion of the artwork for Misti Rainwater-Lites' fiction

$5.25 an Hour
Misti Rainwater-Lites

The day was broiling hot and I was not happy. I didn’t have a boyfriend to fuck. God, how I wanted and needed a boyfriend to fuck in a cold lake in a cold apartment in a walk-in freezer on the clock with the cooks grumbling, “These plates are getting cold. Where the fuck are those fuckers?”

I did not have it like that. I was solitary. I needed to make some money so that I could buy instant coffee and tampons.

My employer was Better Than Your Mother Cleaning Service. I lived in San Marcos, Texas. It was the summer of 1998. I had returned to college after failing at various entry-level jobs, Job Corps, the Army, and motherhood. I was going to eventually become a kindergarten teacher, marry a brother in Christ, have four children with Jewish-Irish names, and live Tupperware party to Avon party in a blissful small-town bubble of smug piety. I was war torn and bitter. People sucked. Men, women, girls, boys. Babies sucked. The world had not done me any favors. The world had fucked me up the ass one time too goddamn many with a poisoned carrot. I was in no mood for any amount of bullshit.

I entered the rent house with my co-worker and mentor. Maybe her name was Betty. I don’t remember. She was an older single mom who looked like someone who had smoked and drank for decades. She taught me how to clean with efficiency and attention to every detail. No shit specks in the toilets. Not on our watch.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” I muttered.

I followed Betty through the house in a stupor. Two or three fraternity guys had abandoned the house, the owner informed us. They had left a black labrador retriever tied up in the backyard without any food or water. The dog had run free through the house at some point, leaving healthy turds on the ratty cheap carpet. There were piles of trash in every room. The freezer and refrigerator were packed with rancid rotting meat. I thought of Texas Chainsaw Massacre as I eyed the streaks of blood. I gagged. I ran out the back door and gulped fresh air.

“Um. I’m not breaking my back in this hell hole for $5.25 an hour,” I told Betty.

“This is our job. We’ve got to do it,” Betty said.

I had walked out on many jobs and been fired from many jobs. Thanks to my parents and grandparents I was never homeless. I could not afford to lose this job. I clenched my fists and gritted my teeth. I kicked the wall.

“Fucking assholes. Spoiled rich white boys with mommies to wipe their asses every fucking time they fuck shit up,” I ranted.

“No doubt. Well, we can keep anything we want. Except for the furniture, of course.”

I spied a framed Beatles poster and an 8-ball. I also found a spiral notebook filled with notes scrawled by girlfriends. Hmmm. Interesting. I carried my treasures out to my truck. When I walked back into the house I eyed the suede beanbags with longing. There were three of them in the shit-strewn den. The colors, camel, chocolate brown, and cerulean, would look amazing in my apartment.

“Do beanbags count as furniture?” I asked Betty.

“Yeah. People sit on ’em. Come on. Let’s get this job over with,” Betty commanded.

That was the hardest I ever worked for an American dollar. I felt righteous blue-collar pride course through my boiling blood as I sat on the back stoop during my lunch break drinking a Budweiser longneck. I looked forward to a long cold shower. I finished my beer and drank another. Then I said, “What the hell, I’ve earned these fuckers,” and drank three more. Betty eyed me with disapproval as I wove my way back into the house. She had taken a short, beer-free lunch break and was breaking her back scrubbing the kitchen floor.

“Are you drunk?” Betty asked.

“Oh, no. I’ve got an extremely high tolerance. I’m Cherokee and Irish,” I assured Betty, pulling down my jeans. I squatted down in the den. Betty’s eyes widened in horror.

“What in the hell are you doing?” Betty asked.

“The toilet is filthy. I should’ve pissed outside. Sorry. Too late now.”

I pissed a puddle on the carpet then stood and pulled up my jeans. Betty was too shocked to do anything. I didn’t want the job that goddamn bad. Sears was always hiring. I grabbed my favorite beanbag, the cerulean one, and ran to my truck before Betty could gather her wits.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 32 | Spring 2011