VENDING

Sign of the Times-238 Image by Mark Renney

After being out of work for almost a year Douglas had at last found a job at the local supermarket. He was a shelf-stacker and so, one at a time, he placed a particular item in its correct place. All the cans and cartons, the boxes and bottles.
Douglas found the work invigorating and that it was enough. After being idle for so long, after compiling so much, so many thoughts, he needed this and it felt like a break, like a good clean snap.
He threw himself into the job, arriving early, and was always the last to leave. Douglas wasn’t out to prove anything, certainly not to himself and so why was he so concerned about what others might think and worried about what they might say behind his back.
The work was tiring and Douglas wanted to be tired, to feel numb. He had gotten soft from sitting at a desk in an office. His body ached, his legs and his back were stiff and after a shift his arms felt longer than they should. But this weariness helped and Douglas felt as if he were a computer with a hard drive and could wipe himself clean. Through repetition and graft he could forget his failures and his loneliness and yes, for now, it was enough.

As often as was possible, Douglas worked the early shift. Increasingly he was becoming more and more anxious about working when the store was open. He dreaded running into someone he knew and in this small town, where he had lived for all his life, this was inevitable.
He was becoming accustomed to the work, to the bending and the lifting, and didn’t tire so easily. He tried to work harder and needed to work for longer and as the weeks progressed he was forced to enter the busy store more and more often. Keeping his head down he avoided interaction and contact with the townsfolk.
Scanning the aisles, whenever he noticed someone he knew, from school or a colleague from his old office, reeling around with their trolleys, he would scurry off in the opposite direction. Douglas was convinced that they were laughing at him behind his back and as he scuttled away he was ashamed of himself for not turning around to see if it was in fact true. And if they really were smirking and pointing at him then of course he should confront them, and if not then why couldn’t he simply say hello and pass the time of day.

Despite his erratic behaviour Douglas was left to his own devices and somehow he managed to get the products and the produce onto the shelves. He was able to tire himself, enough that he could sleep but he wasn’t able to achieve that former weariness and he couldn’t forget.
He was losing something. It hadn’t ever been more than an idea of who he was. And as he attempted to burrow unseen through the bright and busy store, Douglas was deeply and profoundly disappointed in himself.

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14 comments

  1. chrisnelson61

    You have captured the sense of trying to hide from oneself perfectly here, Mark. Who, at some point in their life, has not wished to drown their thoughts in ‘menial’ work?
    That is not supposed to sound snobbish or elitist, by the way;I’m a bit more Left-Wing than that – everyone is equal and all work is equally important. Enough. Great writing!

    • markrenney1

      Thank you Chris. I know exactly what you mean. I was going to use the word drudgery but changed it to repetition as I felt uncomfortable with it, probably because of my own Leftist sensibilities. Regards Mark.

  2. Miranda Stone

    Another spot-on character description, Mark. I think many readers can relate to Douglas’s struggle to let go of what formerly defined him and accept his new life.

    • markrenney1

      But how sad it is that we may fear the lack of acceptance from our peers. Thank you, Miranda, for another insightful comment, regards Mark.

  3. field of thorns

    Mark, I have such compassion for Douglas. The tide could change at any moment for any one of us, through no fault of our own. The gyrations that the mind puts itself through, wrestling between self-confidence and self-doubt, seems to be universal. The character that you have created is one of great depth, and very human. Excellent, always wonderful writing!

    Warm wishes,
    Pepperanne

    • markrenney1

      What you say is so true, Pepperanne. The control we have over our lives is less than we may believe and that you see this in Douglas means much to me. Regards Mark.

  4. Pam Huggins

    I want to hug Douglas. His self imposed isolation is destroying his perceptions of others. Of course, I relate. Beautifully written. You capture what many of us feel at times. We are not alone after all.

    • markrenney1

      Yes, I agree – we are a part of the same world but apart from each other. Thanks a lot for commenting, regards Mark.

  5. Tony Single

    I feel like we can never truly lose ourselves. We try and we try and we try… but we’re always there, haunting ourselves into obscurity. Beautifully written, Mark. I was hoping to see more from you soon, so thank you. 🙂

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