To get to my job at the Quick ‘n Easy convenience store, I would cut behind the Catholic school, through the Chevy lot where my father used to work, and down the stretch of St. Mary’s Avenue that was squeezed between the old folks’ home and the cemetery.
My shifts were after school and on the weekends. I stocked. I cleaned, and I worked the register, ringing up mothers who bought soft drinks and donuts with food stamps. I rang up fathers who had greasy hands and wore tattered caps, and who bought a case of Piels every night. On Saturdays, they would return the cans, sticky and buggy in big plastic bags, and they’d stand there waiting for their money while I counted their returns.
I took long breaks in the cooler, reading People and Playboy, pretending to be re-shelving the milk. Once, I ran into Kathy, the assistant manager, outside the cooler’s thick, silver door, and after a pause, she pressed me up against the employee bulletin board, the pushpins gouging my back. She unbuttoned her polyester blue smock and moved my hand beneath her tight gray tank top. “This is how I am at home,” she said.
We made a game of it, kissing in the cramped hallway and sometimes inside the cooler atop the plastic crates, where the cool air helped to hide the smells of spoiled milk and Kathy’s smoky breath. Whenever we fooled around in there, I kept my eyes open so I could peer through the slanted shelves of juices and soda, their tapered tops looking like turrets: a fortress through which I could watch for Kathy’s husband to show up, just like he always did on his way home from work.