Sick of being mistreated by corporate America (and under the influence of powerful Change-of-Life hormones), a housewife goes on a vandalism spree that gets serious when she meets a slacker teen on permanent probation at the high school with an interest in high explosives.
Sharon Pocket was in her fifth hour, waiting for the car dealer to finish a twenty-minute repair job. She’d already written out checks for all her bills, and even gotten a start filling out envelopes for Christmas letters, but her hand was beginning to cramp. Though the last three issues of Hot Rod magazine that sat on the table looked pawed over, the only interesting magazine was a year old issue of Good Housekeeping about the royal engagement. Someone with more talent than taste had drawn a bushy mustache and lamb chop sideburns on poor Kate Middleton, however, and given her modest navy dress a thigh-high slit that showed just a peep of pubic hair, so of course Sharon couldn’t even pick up the magazine. She flipped open her phone for the thousandth time, but no one had called.
A rickety white-haired man tottered to a chair across from her and sat down. She smiled at him, but he didn’t appear to see her. Probably couldn’t see three feet in front of him, though it did make her wonder what the heck he was doing at a car dealership.
She checked the phone again. She needed to call the satellite company, for the fifth time in a less than a month, but they probably wouldn’t even talk to her since she wasn’t in front of her computer to do the obligatory dance where she restarted her computer, restarted the modem, and rewired everything to skip the router. It never did any good to tell the support tech she’d tried all those things before calling him. They still marched her through the obligatory dance.
She hated to waste the time though. She could always walk to the bank, see if the deposit had cleared yet. A glance up showed the window streaked with rain though. Her red silk blouse was new, and if the dye bled, it would ruin her last comfortable bra.
With a frustrated sigh, Sharon crossed the curling linoleum to the coffeepot and poured another cup. Her fourth, not that she was counting, and her hands trembled as she shook grains of inflammable, non-milk product creamer into her styrofoam cup. The white granules bounced off the styrofoam lip and spread across the little wooden table.
She glanced around. No one was looking, so she lifted her cup and brushed the grains into the trash, but she brushed against the cup and the coffee sloshed onto the cracking varnish. She slapped a thin napkin into the puddle and wiped it into the garbage with the creamer.
Her cell phone rang, and she started, sloshing a little more coffee. Stupid ringer! Some day, she needed to figure out how to change the ring tone. Anything would be better than the obnoxious, high-pitched whine that came preloaded.
It’s just Paul, she told herself. I can call him back. She set her cup carefully down, noting the fish-bite ripples, and wiped up the mess with clean, meticulous actions that pleased her. When the table was once again pristine (not that it looked any different), she poured an inch of coffee into her cup to replace what she’d lost.
The phone rang again. That Paul! Helpless without her! She crossed the aisle, dug out the phone and glanced at the screen. It was the car dealer.
“Mz. Pocket? Hey, it’s Kerri, at the Red Mountain Chrysler dealer?”
For a moment, she wondered if he was asking her if that’s who he was. But he continued before she could reassure him.
“Yeah, look, we’ve run into a little problem here …” His voice trailed away, though she could hear him distantly speaking to someone else. “Yeah, 30 weight synthetic.”
“Are you in the shop?”
“Sorry, ma’am. Talking to a customer. As I was saying, …”
“Are you in your shop? You do know … I mean, you do realize I’m in your waiting room, right?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The phone filled with an echo. He must have stepped away again.
“Hello. Mrs. Pocket, I’m sorry to tell you this, but they sent the wrong part.”
“What?” She wanted to say much more, of course. She wanted to say — not, to scream, “You said the job would take twenty minutes, and five hours later you realize you have the wrong part? Is this evidence of sheer incompetence or willful deceit?” She sipped her coffee to stop the flow of words, which in her mind always ended with the other person calling her a bitch, but the drink was hot and burned her lip.
“It’s not our fault, Mrs. Pocket. They sent the wrong part is all. We’ll just order it again, and finish the repair next week.”
“And in the meantime, I’m supposed to continue crawling over the emergency brake to the passenger side because your uneducated mechanic can’t tell a door lock from the dildo his wife shoves up his ass?” Sharon could almost hear her voice ringing through the musky building, cutting through the cloying fog of testosterone. “No! That’s not good enough!
What she actually said, however, was, “But … I’m supposed to go to Vegas next week. I’m driving there,” and even she could hear the wobble in her voice.
“Perfect!” Kerri said cheerfully. “We’re actually kinda busy next week ‘cause we’re running a special on oil changes, so the week after is perfect.”
“Just pay Janet at the cashier’s desk. She’ll give you your keys.”
“P … pay Janet?” Sharon didn’t normally stutter. Perhaps the caffeine had affected her more than she realized. “But … but … you didn’t do anything!”
He was gone, and somehow even the words, “Call ended” on her cell phone screen seemed an affront. She stabbed the button to call back, but the screen just spun that annoying little ball until she clapped the phone shut and wilted into her chair.
Across from her sat a wizened old man, nodding in a chair, but he had a smirk that looked suspicious. He was probably faking the whole drowsy thing, and laughing behind her back. Or even worse, right smack in front of her.
To Sharon’s horror, tears began to gather and push against her eyelids. She would not cry. She would not. She took a deep slug of coffee, hoping the burn would dry up the water in her face, but the coffee had cooled. Instead, she bit her lip, bit down hard until the pain threatened new tears, but at least those were tears she could control.
A tall man with thick, curly hair, broad shoulders and a handsome face walked in. Too handsome really, with bright white teeth (probably straightened artificially) and big brown eyes. Handsome men never had to develop character, or learn to be nice to people. That was the one of the reasons she was attracted to Paul when she met him. He wasn’t too attractive, though he did have a very sweet smile. He wasn’t too big either. Sharon was afraid of big men.
The too-handsome man gently shook the snoring octogenarian. “Mr. Snodgren?.” When the old man blinked his bleary eyes, the young one placed a fat key ring in his hand and closed his fingers around it. “We can’t fix the Caddy because we have to order the part, but you can drive this until it comes in.” He helped him to his feet, and held his elbow until the aged driver stopped wobbling.
“You’re a good kid,” the old man said in a creaky voice. “Thanks, Kerri.”
“Kerri?” Sharon leaped up, but the too-handsome man had crossed with waiting room with his long stride. “Kerri!” She hurried after him, but the door swung shut before she got to it. “Employees only,” a sticker read. The tears were gone, replaced by rage. How dare he! He probably was just pretending he didn’t hear her too. She worked her mouth, trying to moisten her lips, and pushed the door open.
It gave onto a long hallway with a series of doors, all of them closed. There was no sign of too-handsome, too-burly Kerri. She let the door swing shut behind her and tried the first two doors. Locked. Probably closets, knowing her luck. She closed her eyes and tried to sense her prey, but all she caught was a whiff of Brut, which frankly, made her tingle in parts she did not want tingling, especially since she didn’t find men like him attractive at all.
She slid back through the door into the waiting room, trying to decide what to do. This was just like the stupid satellite internet company, and the bank that refused to release her deposit because they said they had to make sure she wasn’t laundering money (as if!) and charged a fee for not using her checking account. She stood in the waiting room, listening to the soft thwap of the swinging door behind her. She was sick of being the nice girl her mother had insisted she be — and getting walked all over as a result. Just this once, instead of thinking of the perfect, biting retort, she was going to deliver it.
Actually. Maybe she’d better think it up first. She’d march up to the counter, set down her purse, and demand to speak with the manager — the general manager.
No. Too cliché. She needed something stronger, though if she was actually going to say it this time, it should probably not be too crude.
Perhaps she could start out as if she were going to be reasonable, and then get stronger as she went along? She’d start with “Hi, I’m Mrs. Pocket.” That wouldn’t be too intimidating. Then she’d explain the situation, nice and polite, and insist …
What did she even want? Whenever she was mad a company and wanted to complain, Paul would advice her to decide in advance what she wanted from them. But what she wanted was her car, fixed, and that wasn’t possible. OK, next best?
Sharon tried again. “I was told the repair would take twenty minutes,” she muttered under her breath, but in her mind, the words rang with power and strength from the block walls. “And I’ve been waiting five hours. Now they say they can’t fix it until after next week.” Maybe she’d shrug here, just to show she was a rational human being, willing to negotiate. Yes, she would shrug and continue, “Obviously, I can’t be without a car that long, so if you’d just set me up with a loaner, I’ll be out of your hair.” Yes, perfect! And then she’d smile, a sincere smile that said “We’re just two human beings here, on the same side.” She straightened her back, smoothed her hair and her purse strap onto her shoulders. “Off you go,” she whispered to herself.
Before she could take a step, though, the swinging door slammed into her spine and sent her stumbling into the room, gasping for the breath that had been knocked into the show room.
“Sorry,” Kerri said as he hurried past her, but he didn’t sound sorry at all.
Sharon opened her mouth, and “You bastard!” marched up to her lips. But with no air behind it, it just dribbled out and hung from her lip like drool. She gulped for air.
Kerri stepped up to a young man with pimples who had not been in the room when Sharon stepped out. The boy had a ridiculous haircut, shaved bald on the sides but with long, straight locks on top that brushed against the smooth skin. “You’re good to go.” He handed the boy a set of keys.
Under Sharon’s feet, the ground shivered, and the lights flickered. Magma rose from deep under the surface and spread through her torso and out to her fingertips, spraying fire. How dare he! After making her wait for five flipping hours, he called her on the cell phone? But this kid, who probably still had a graduated drivers license, got face-to-face treatment? This was beyond tolerable.
Sharon took an enormous, raspy breath. “Mr. … Kerri!” she called, and this time, her voice really did ring out against the block walls.
The man turned around, but when he saw Sharon, he just gestured toward the cashier. “Janet.”
He was gone. Again. Didn’t even have the decency to … Sharon picked up her coffee and marched to the cashier’s office to give them a considerable measure of her gray matter.
She stood on the customer side of the counter, peering over. The counter was at shoulder level, and she felt like a kindergardener as she set her coffee down. But she had a mission, a tirade to deliver, and a loaner car to score. She wasn’t going to let an oversized counter knock down her mojo. “Hello?” she called through the window, proud of the brisk, no-nonsense tone.
No one answered. She leaned over and peeked through the half-open glass window separating customers from employees. The cashier’s desk sat immediately behind the counter, at the normal level of a desk, so Sharon looked down on a mostly uncluttered surface. An old, oversized desktop computer loomed up toward her face. No one sat at the desk.
“Hello?” Sharon called again, her voice laced with outrage. No answer. She leaned into the window to search out the room, and her shoulder bumped the styrofoam cup she’d set down so cautiously.
It teetered in slow motion, rocking gently back and forth, but inevitably, the second or third wobble continued, and Sharon watched, unable to move, as the cup somersaulted off the counter and onto the desk.
She grabbed for it, tried to stop the disaster, but her fingers closed on empty air. When the styrofoam hit the computer top, the cup turned over, and the liquid poured through the ventilation vents, a gently babbling brook of steaming, brown liquid. The cup came to a benign rest upside down.
Sharon snatched up the styrofoam, but the coffee was gone, soaked through the wiry circuits in the plastic case. Nothing to mop. As she watched, horrified, she heard an ominous crackling, like flames running along dry wood, and indeed, a thin curl of smoke rose from the computer.
Her fists clenched, crushing the cup, and stared at the rising stream. She made a point of not looking around, to avoid the accusing stares she could feel branding into her skin. She wanted to hide, curl up under the thin cushions of the vinyl sofa, away from the judgment of other people’s eyesight. Instead, she stashed the cup — the evidence with her DNA marked in Desert Rose lipstick on the rim — in her purse. Spinning on one practical shoe (and swallowing fear), she marched away, toward the front door. Each step clicked with the tick-tock of her time running out. Blaming stares gathered in a pack at her heels, but she refused to allow herself even a glance around the room to see if it was empty.
Guilt balanced on her shoulder, like Atlas’ rock, but hers was a car engine Kerri and Janet had placed on the back of her neck, and it pressed her down, pushing her into the concrete floor. Her shoulders ached.
She stepped out the door without incident and walked around the corner of the building to the service department.
“I have changed my mind,” she told the too-handsome man in a haughty voice. She opened her mouth to continue but the lie stuck in her throat. She swallowed and tried again. “I am leaving my car. Call me when the driver’s door works again.” She turned and walked out, her heels smacking on the concrete with every step.
She was half a block away when the first scream of a fire engine ripped through the quiet street.