The Nightshift

The story is a building. There’s an elevator from the second floor, all the way to the top, and no one’s concerned with etiquette. They push the button for the floor right below the one you’re going to. Why should they walk? They pay the same amount for rent as you. And they hate it when the elevator’s out of order, which forces them to walk. To walk through the story, up the back staircase and around the plot.

And then they call and leave an angry message for me when they come home from happy hour and find their keys don’t work in the lock that lets her into the Third Act and every time you fix the same damn problem for her she thinks you’re being tricky just to make your life difficult when really, she’s drunk and tried the wrong damn key again.

Just like she was last Thursday. And the one before that. And the one before that, and the one before that, all the way back to the beginning of the story.

Sometimes the toilet’s clogged. It’s usually because there’s some crucial piece of evidence to be revealed in a shock twist ending that was flushed away for safe keeping until the big reveal. It’s my job to keep the plumbing going, so the story can work.

I fix a lot of toilets.

My wife, Karen, wants me to start taking night classes at the Community College. She thinks this kind of maintenance work is below me. That I could do better than walking around in olive green khakis covered in stains with a 10-pound keychain that lets me access every unit in the building.

We’ve been married for 12 years and she still hasn’t realized that I work the night-to-early-morning shift. The Union gets us time-and-a-half for after hours, so I usually volunteer for those. That way, I always paid-and-a-half, and that keeps Karen happy.

Except she’s not happy, because I won’t go to night school, because I can’t go to night school, because I have work nights to keep her happy.

“Maybe I can look into taking classes at the University,” I told her over breakfast one morning after work.

“Why?” she said, and the yolk from her egg sandwich spread like ink over the bleached hair on her upper lip. “You’re not smart enough for a University. You’re just a janitor. Maybe if you worked the day shift, they’d actually treat you with respect there.”

I’m not a “just a janitor.” Sally Reynolds calls me “facilities faculty.” She defines facilities as, “something designed, built, installed, etc., to serve aspecific function affording a convenience or service.” In this case, that services is the stories. Sally lives on the third floor of the building. She brings coffee every day on her way home work and we sit and chat a bit. She tends bar somewhere in Generic Metropolitan Area. Memorizing dictionary definitions is one of her Defining Character Quirks, along with the upbeat hopefulness and crooked smile she shines so well. It definitely works her, the dictionary definition thing. Not everyone could pull it off, and sometimes I have to hunt down the OED to keep the story going, but in the end, it all works out.

The End. It’s my job to make sure that it does All Work Out. So I offer her Sagely Wisdom From A Blue Collar Worker, and she gives me a reason to get through my shift and get back home to Karen. I’d probably ask her out, Sally, but I know that she dies in her apartment on page 287 when the guy that she brings home that night turns out to be the killer. She doesn’t bring me coffee that night, so I go up to her room to check her on and find the body, because the story demands it.

I’ll go home the next morning, especially exhausted, and Karen will probably tell me she’s leaving me because the story demands it and I’ll wish that I asked Sally out after all. But I know that it would never work between us, because I know that’s not the story.

One response to “The Nightshift

  1. Pingback: The Plot Finds a Life | thom dunn

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