This is a short story I wrote for an assignment with the Long Ridge Writer’s Group. Unfortunately, for reasons I cannot openly discuss, my assignment was rejected and now I have to write a new story. In the meantime, I have a perfectly good piece of work up for perusing and comments!
I don’t know if this story will go anywhere, but if you know of any magazines I should submit it to, let me know.
ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL
It took me thirty five years to come to the conclusion that my wife wasn’t handicapped. I laid my life down for that woman. Sacrificed every goal I had from playing pro hockey to owning my own warehouse to meeting Pink Floyd, for her. Sure, we had the handicapped parking permit, but she really wasn’t handicapped enough not to work. I guess I was just a glutton for punishment.
I rinsed the shaving cream off my hands and glanced at my reflection in the mirror. Hazel eyes with flecks of green stared back at me emotionlessly. It was roughly four a.m. and like clockwork I was awake. I slid my name badge off the counter and clipped it to my front pocket. It read: Kenny Wick, Special Projects Manager. As I trudged down the hall to pour myself a bowl of cereal I thought of reasons to call in sick. Migraine, stomach flu, arthritis flare, heartburn, spontaneous combustion . . .
Blindness. That was a good one.
I was sure the wardens at Galen Grocers would appreciate that excuse.
I’d begun as a forklift driver at nineteen, and my life quickly became the pursuit of appraisal. I based my confidence on promotions and raises, and eventually I was the Inventory Control Manager. I had the position just below every part owner of Galen Grocers. And I made a fraction of what each of them raked in every year.
They made countless promises to initiate me into their circle of top earners, but every promise they made, they broke.
Their company policy manual had an outline of bonuses given to employees who had been with them for years. It said that after five years they gave out a platinum ring and a $2000 holiday bonus. It also said that after thirty years they gave out a new car and a $20,000 holiday bonus.
Thirty five years later and I was still waiting on that ring.
What had I done with my life?
I poured the Raisin Bran into the bowl and topped it up with milk. I slumped into the kitchen chair I bought in 1989 and took a bite of the grainy cereal. Kimmy forced me to eat this stuff because it had fibre and it was good for me. Some days I would have killed for a bite of Lucky Charms or Captain Crunch.
I had been married to Kimmy for as long as I had worked at Galen Grocers. She was the girl with the handicap, an amputated leg and arm. They had been replaced by artificial limbs care of War Amps.
When I met Kimmy she was the girl not willing to let her disability strike her down. She played sports, volunteered part time after school and had big dreams of getting married, having kids and moving to Arizona. She always said she wanted to work with children, but when she got pregnant with our first and couldn’t walk for seven months, she never followed that dream. Doctors told her afterwards that there was a good chance she would end up in a wheelchair.
To Kimmy a wheelchair was a death sentence.
And so she took it easy and didn’t work, all to conserve her health and to stay on her feet.
Thirty five years later and Kimmy had never worked a day in her life. She took care of the kids, cleaned the house, and cooked the meals. She achieved all of her personal goals, and even got to spend my money for me. She used it to do home renovations, new couches, new drapes, new carpets. She bought an exercise machine when she saw a pot belly growing on me. She told me to look after my health.
She might have to get a job if I died.
Twelve hundred and eighty three was the number of sick days I had taken since I began working at Galen Grocers. It was the same number of days I had thought of telling the owners to take all their promises and shove it.
But Kimmy wouldn’t let me.
When I was fed up she would cook me my favourite meal and tell me I had to go back. We needed to pay bills, we needed to dig ourselves out of debt, and we needed to put the kids through university. There were too many responsibilities hanging on my shoulders for me to quit.
I finished my cereal and brought the bowl to the sink. My hands rested on the ledge of the stainless steel basin as tears escaped my eyes. These days I had trouble remembering the names of the new employees. Some days I forgot my boss’s name. Last summer I ordered the same order twice.
I hadn’t told Kimmy that I had been demoted to Special Projects Manager in the fall because I continued to forget things.
I hadn’t told her that I couldn’t remember her middle name.
My Dad suffered from early onset Alzheimers, and at fifty four, not only was I forgetting things, but I had a full head of gray hair.
I never had enough money to send my kids to university. Never had enough to buy back the ’67 Corvette I sold for a Voyager Minivan in 1985. Never had enough to go to Pink Floyd’s The Wall Tour back in 1981. The closest city they were playing at was Long Island, New York.
Tears splashed into the sink and I wiped my eyes with my hands. I was too old to play hockey, too in debt to own my own warehouse, and too late to meet Pink Floyd. They didn’t tour anymore.
I sighed and opened the fridge. My peanut butter and jelly sandwich was sitting next to my box drink and granola bar on the top shelf. I grabbed it and put it into the plastic gray lunchbox I had bought in 1982. As I snapped the clips shut, I paused.
Kimmy had always wanted to move to Arizona.
It wasn’t my dream, but it was the only dream she hadn’t fulfilled. I would have preferred to stay in Winnipeg for the kids and grandkids, but since I was going to forget them all in a few years anyway, there wasn’t a lot tying me to the place.
I so badly wanted to tell Galen to go fuck himself.
I smiled, and then I beamed.
I ran downstairs and grabbed our suitcases, the same ones we’d bought in 1989 for our road trip to Saskatchewan. When I burst into the bedroom a little out of breath, Kimmy woke up and looked at me.
“What are you doing Kenny?” she muttered as she pulled the blankets over her head.
“We’re moving to Arizona,” I replied. I slapped the suitcase onto my side of the bed and turned on the walk-in closet light.
Kimmy sat up. “When?” She rubbed her eyes.
I was sick and tired of waiting for my life to begin. Everything around me was a bleak winter storm and I was letting the pain of imprisonment consume me. I did the quick calculation in my head and my mind was set. If we sold the house to the bank, we would have enough to move to Arizona. We could both get jobs out there. I would work as a grocery store clerk or a sales associate if I had to. We would start over.
I looked at Kimmy who wasn’t moving. “What about the kids? The house? Your job?” She had an alarmed look on her face.
I smiled and grabbed my cell phone. Her reflexes weren’t quick enough. I dialed Galen’s home number. It rang a couple times before a groggy man answered the phone.
“Galen, this is Kenny Wick. I quit.”
“Ken! What do you mean you quit? You can’t quit! What about the new warehouse? You’re helping me open that place.”
I sucked in a breath as Kimmy glowered at me with her arms crossed. “Galen!” I screamed for the first time ever. Galen went silent on the phone. I almost lost my nerve when I heard a song wafting from the jukebox in the kitchen. I always had it on Power 97, a classic rock station.
“All in all you’re just another, brick in the wall.”
It was Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” from their 1979 album “The Wall”.
“I’m not just another brick in the wall!” I shouted. I never shouted, this was so liberating. “I won’t work for your measly pay and your empty promises and your lack of respect! In thirty-five years I’ve never received so much as a thank you for making your warehouse number one in Canada. I’ve never received a holiday bonus or even a Christmas card! All you’ve ever done is use me for your own success.” I paused to catch my breath but both Galen and Kimmy were paralyzed with shock.
“I don’t care that you have a new warehouse opening, or that you have eighty tons of groceries that need to be received, organized and catalogued in the computer. You . . .” I trailed off, my air supply and my nerves wearing thin.
“I can do it myself,” Galen whispered.
I nodded and choked back tears as Kimmy moved off the bed and escaped into the bathroom.
“If you can stay a month, I’m sure we can work something out,” Galen tried.
I fumed and stalked out of the bedroom and down the hall to the kitchen. “No more promises! I want my last cheque and then I’m leaving the country.”
Galen thought for a moment as I whacked my lunch kit off the table. I braced my hand on the back of the kitchen chair, waiting for my boss to say something. The kitchen clock ticked loudly, and with every tick I tightened my jaw, hunched up my shoulders, squeezed my fist.
“Can you come by at around noon? I’ll have your last pay cheque back dated to include all the bonuses we failed to pay you.”
I trembled and did the math in my head. It came to roughly $70,000. My jaw dropped.
“I’ll be there at noon,” I stuttered.
The phone went dead and slipped from my hands. I felt so dizzy that I leaned over and put my head on the chair. All this time I had been the obedient employee who never complained. I had been the husband who never raised his voice. I had been the father who always gave the kids treats they weren’t allowed to have. I could have coached my son’s hockey team. I could have signed my daughter up for singing competitions. I could have told Kimmy to get a job. I could have seen Pink Floyd in 1994 when they came to Winnipeg, but I thought the tickets were too expensive.
Kimmy leaned against the doorframe of the kitchen and crossed her arms as she glared at me. “What was that all about Kenny?”
I realized I didn’t want to go to Arizona. All I wanted to do was stand up for myself, let myself have the things I always thought I could never have. I straightened up and looked at her. “I’m going to play hockey this morning.”
“You really quit?”
I looked at the ground and hid my grin. Before I said anything else, I went to the front door and grabbed the newspaper off the porch. It was too cold for November. I put it on the table in front of her. “You should look for a job.” I wasn’t about to tell her about the money so she could confiscate it.
She stared at the newspaper as I entered the back foyer and put on my boots and jacket. I came back to grab my lunchbox and she seemed catatonic. Guilt was about to force me to apologize to Galen, but I swallowed hard and escaped into the garage. I threw my hockey equipment into the backseat and began driving to the indoor rink.
I would shoot a few pucks around the ice, deposit my last pay cheque, and sell the house to the bank. After that I wasn’t sure what I would do, but I didn’t need any education, I didn’t need any thought control, all in all I didn’t need to be another brick in the wall.
*This story is copyright of Rhiannon Paille, it may not be copied and pasted anywhere without my permission.