A lot of interesting things happened in that store. I met some amazing characters, I got robbed, hit by a guy with a stick, listened to many late night personal confessions and revelations like I was some sort of therapist and counselled a few souls who were beyond counselling - so I figured, what harm could I do?.
I met drug addicts and whores of both sexes, was picked up, tried to pick up, had sex in the fridge and marvelled at the fact 7/11 had their own use by date gun that I could change to any date I wanted and 'use-by-date' any product in the store. (Especially relevant whenever you consider buying a 7/11 seafood roll - could I get sued for saying that? But can they sue me for recounting a practise used in one of their stores... stay tuned to find out.)
About five years ago I started writing a novel and one of the characters starts his working life doing night shift in a convenience store and his career then incorporates most of what I'd seen and experienced in my working life, starting in that 7/11 and then moving on to a career within a multinational media production company.
And it would be wrong of me to tell which company.... so don't even ask.
It's a fiction, it doesn't name names, but the situations are all based on something I saw, heard, witnessed or lived myself - and then I exaggerate them to their most extreme outcome in order to highlight the craziness of something that was looked upon as morally grey and shouldn't have been.
I will be placing it online at Smashwords in a couple of weeks - once I've done another proof read. I'm a terrible proof reader - I get so caught up in the story I forget to actually proof read and before I know it I'm 20 pages further along and haven't corrected a thing. I guess that's either a good sign the story is entertaining - or that I'm a complete narcissist and love my own work.
I thought I'd put some chapters online for people to read - a preview of what's to come.
The story is called - THE LAW OF HAPPINESS AND DIVORCE.
It's about a sheltered middle class guy and the girl he meets who schools him to become more wise about the world. What she can't foresee is his education about how the world really works takes his innocence and changes him into a far less likeable human being.
It's about love, sex, drugs, ambition and the study of the moral questions every person must ultimately confront and answer - questions that determine who we are going to be and what each of us consider to be good and bad - right and wrong, within the world we live in.
I think it's best described as a black dramedy. I hope it makes people laugh and cry, but most importantly - think.
So here are the first two chapters. I'll post a few more over the coming weeks until it's ready to go online. Then I'll post a link and it can be downloaded complete. I hope everyone enjoys.
The Law of Happiness and Divorce
By Scott Norton
ONE − Nightshift and nametags.
Bailey Fairfield’s life was slipping away from him. He worked night shifts at a convenience store and the temporary job had taken weeks and turned them into months that extended into years. The end of his second year was fast approaching, but on this night there was a change from his usual routine; he found one of his regular customers, a transient night stalker, tucked under a shelf trying to go unnoticed and get some sleep. She was like a final flourish to the chip display as she lay curled in a ball. With her dirty toes protruding from her worn flannel nightshirt she looked innocent. The flannel was stretched and disfigured as she tucked her knees inside to give warmth. Her dark hair fell towards her shoulders, the oiliness from days of neglect binding strands together.
"Excuse me," Bailey said softly.
The woman didn't move.
"You can't sleep here."
Bailey lent down and gently rocked the woman’s shoulder. She woke with a look of terror in her eyes and tried to place where she was.
"You can’t sleep here. Not inside the store.”
The woman nodded her head like she understood, but she didn't. She said nothing as she got to her feet, walked down the aisle, out the doors and into the dark car park before disappearing into the distance. Bailey stood watching as the night swallowed her scuttle down the street.
The next time Bailey saw the woman she arrived with flowers picked from a neighbour’s garden. She placed them on the counter.
"For you,” she said with a smile.
Bailey didn't know how to take the gesture. The woman giggled and left the store.
She became a regular visitor after that. Once or twice each week she’d arrive, take some straws, sugar sachets and other free items, then leave. Sometimes she'd bring a gift: an old newspaper, a treasure masquerading as junk or something more significant, like a hand-made card which said hello in a more eloquent way than she ever could. One night, almost unnoticed by Bailey, she began calling him by name. Bailey asked her name.
"Kylie," she said with growing confidence. Bailey suspecting she had a crush on him. She didn’t.
Then one night Kylie arrived at three, looking shaken. She wore her usual flannel nightshirt with bare feet. She had blue markings on each temple, the result of shock treatment delivered by a well-known hospice she called home; a halfway house for Kylie’s mind to catch up with the rest of the world.
She began with small talk and slowly crept towards her treatment at the hands of one of the male nurses watching over her.
“He stuck his cock in me. I told him not to, but he doesn’t listen.”
Bailey stopped stocking cigarettes and looked to Kylie with concern.
“He raped you?”
“They get to control everything; money; when you do stuff. You have to sign a paper that says they can do what they want to you.”
“Not rape. You should report it to police.”
“They’d get mad at me and I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Bailey wanted to help but he wasn’t sure how. He gave Kylie a coffee, a free doughnut and set up a milk crate for her to sit.
“I’ll go with you if you want?”
“It’s okay,” she said.
Kylie never raised the subject again. By the time the sun came up Bailey put the story down to a cry for attention that Kylie backed away from when Bailey offered to help. But the night marked the start of a genuine friendship brought on by the boredom of night shift and a recovering drug addict’s insomnia.
One night a young woman entered the store. Bailey didn’t notice. To him she was just another in a long line of vacant faces, wandering the aisles, chasing a fix for a late night craving. Kylie spotted her glancing at Bailey. The woman scanned the shelves, the chocolates, the biscuits, the batteries, but always came back to a sly glance to the front of the store. At first Kylie thought she was a thief, checking to see who was watching. But she never took a thing.
"She’s pretty?" Kylie whispered.
Bailey stopped stacking shelves and looked. The woman was very attractive and she moved to the counter as Bailey looked her way. She stopped at the doughnut display, gazing at them as if she could make one levitate.
"Are these fresh?" she asked.
"They’re yesterday's," Kylie added. "He’s got the fresh ones out back.”
Bailey looked to Kylie dumbfounded. Kylie laughed and released some red slushie into her coffee. She showed no sign of regret over her betrayal.
"Could I have a fresh one?” the woman asked in a flirting tone.
Bailey went to get a fresh doughnut.
The moment the woman left the store Bailey turned on Kylie.
"She was off her nut! Do you really think she cares if the doughnuts are fresh or not?”
“She liked you, idiot. She kept looking to see if you were looking."
Kylie let go a giggle as Bailey’s annoyed expression left him. He replayed the last few minutes in his head and realised Kylie was right. He mentally kicked himself for missing the signs.
TWO − Nocturnal Clubbing.
With a night off from work, Bailey was ready to enjoy himself. No longer able to sleep with the rest of the world, he lived in a permanent state of jet lag and often headed to clubs as the conservative crowd were thinking of coming home. On the second level of a club called Hades, in the darkness behind the upstairs bar, Bailey stood watching the dance floor. He didn't notice the girl who moved in behind him, but she noticed him.
Bailey looked around to see the extremely attractive young woman sitting on the divide between the booth and the walkway. She was almost completely dressed in black. She wore a cap and had her hair tied back. She swung a bottle of beer on her finger, jammed inside the neck.
“Hi,” Bailey said, desperately trying not to look too eager.
"You don’t remember me, do you?"
Bailey looked at the girl, wishing he did. He smiled, trying to be confident.
"From college, right?” He had no idea.
The girl was enjoying his confusion.
“If I asked you for something, would you lie and say you haven't got it?"
Bailey screwed up his face, confused.
"A fresh doughnut maybe?”
Suddenly the girl's face jumped into context. Bailey was on his third drink and while he wasn’t drunk, he had a buzz going. The next half hour flashed by. They talked about work; they laughed about nothing and danced to any song sounding vaguely familiar. Then the girl's tongue was down his throat. It was still there when the lights came on and the other clubbers ducked for cover as harsh fluorescent lights gave away make-up, age and imperfection.
"So?" Bailey said, urgently searching for a way to continue what they’d started.
“Time to get going,” he said, regretting the words the moment they came from his mouth.
“You could come home with me - if you want?” the girl in black offered. It was the most beautiful sentence Bailey had ever heard.
Minutes later they entered a third floor flat, shed their clothes as they crossed the main room and walked entwined to a bedroom where they closed the door behind them and fell to the bed naked.
As the two lay panting in the afterglow of sweaty, passionate, satisfying sex, Bailey noticed the room for the first time. Hanging from the cupboard at the foot of the bed was a brightly coloured, ‘See how I grow chart’. The rest of the room was equally pre-teen. There were primary coloured toys displayed along a series of shelves and the side of the bed was modelled in wood to resemble a racing car.
"Is this your room?"
"Sort of," the girl said, as she leant over and lit a joint. “It’s my brother's flat, but he lets me use the room when his son doesn’t stay over.”
Bailey nodded as if he was fine with the idea of staining a young boy’s bed sheets.
A bad excuse later and he was hopping around on one leg and slipping his boxer shorts on. Once he’d found his jeans and shirt he headed for the door with only the briefest goodbye. As he walked home, passing suits on their way to work, he began thinking of the girl and that room. He couldn't work out why he’d been so uncomfortable, or why he left so quickly. The girl was beautiful; the sex was great, so why didn't he stay longer? He fished in his pocket for his phone and checked a text message from her that simply read, ‘this is me’. That’s when his heart sank. He’d heard the girl’s name only once and now, after beers, dancing and sex, he’d completely forgotten it.
That night at his store he had a strange feeling in his stomach, nerves, excitement. He was showing all the signs of having a crush on someone and not being sure if they felt the same way. Bailey was a schoolboy again. Every time the door to the shop opened he looked to see if it was ‘that girl’, it never was. By the second night the butterflies in his stomach had cocooned themselves into deep nagging self-doubts.
He chastised himself for the way he left and the coldness he displayed on recognising the child’s room. He berated himself for not remembering her name and he tried to compose a text to her a dozen times, but each time he left it unsent for fear she would discover he’d forgotten her name.
Kylie arrived at three, her usual visiting hour.
“My feet are cold,” she said, as she came behind the counter and sat on a milk crate.
“You’ve got bare feet.”
“I had bare feet yesterday and they weren’t cold then.”
Bailey was in no mood to deal with Kylie’s strange view of the world or her warped logic.
“I could get you a towel to wrap them.”
Kylie nodded and Bailey headed to the storeroom to grab a towel. When he arrived back Kylie was microwaving a seafood roll and helping herself to coffee.
“Hey Kyles, I’ve told you before, the coffee’s okay but you’re going to have to pay for the roll.”
“I’m not eating it.”
Bailey threw the towel on the ground near the milk crates. Kylie took the heated roll and placed it in the centre of the towel. She then wrapped the whole thing around her feet. Bailey looked on in awe. He didn’t have time to list the problems relating to the sale of a seafood roll preheated and used as a foot warmer, so he let it slide and went to do a money drop.
By the time he'd finished, Kylie’s feet were warming nicely and she was happily sipping on her slushie-enriched coffee.
“So what have you been up to?” Bailey asked.
“There’s a rat in my room. I can hear it at night.”
“They say they’re bad, dirty and that, but it went straight for my soap and ate it. If it’s so dirty, why does it love my soap? I told them about it, but no one believed me, so I set this old mousetrap. It worked, sort of.”
“You caught it?”
“Yeah, but then it ran away with the mousetrap on its head like a necklace. It looked really pissed. I think he knows it was me.” Kylie took another sip of her coffee.
“You think rats are that smart?”
“Not smart-smart”. Kylie said as she drank. “Just rat smart, they only ever do what’s good for them and they put all their smarts into that one thing. That’s why there’s so many of them. Hard to get rid of something when they only think about not being got rid of.”
Bailey went to the back office, grabbed the mop and bucket and guided them with the mop’s handle into the main area of the shop. As a slow song piped through the speakers he mopped to the beat, removing a thousand steps taken across the floor over the past twenty four hours. He meditated as he moved the mop in a figure eight, slowly covering each aisle. Kylie never once took her eyes off him.
She watched the way he swivelled the handle in-between strokes. She watched his lips moving as they mouthed words to the song wafting into the air from above. She saw the moments his mind reflected on the girl and checked the door in a vain hope. As he neared the end of his mopping a customer arrived and walked across the still wet floor. Bailey breathed deeply through his aggravation. The moment the customer left he flicked the almost dry mop over the footprints until there was no trace the intruder ever existed.
"Do you think he'll get tired?" Kylie asked. Bailey looked to her confused. Kylie had seen the expression many times before.
"The rat; do you think he'll get tired carrying the mouse trap around on his head?"
"I don’t know, maybe.”
“But he knows. He knows what a trap looks like so he won’t go near another one, will he?”
“I really don’t think a rat is that smart, Kyles.”
Kylie shook her head in disagreement. She was accustomed to Bailey's naïve view of the world.
“I think I'll start wearing shoes,” she said.
Bailey grabbed the use-by date gun and went through the door at the back of the shop that led to the office and storage area. To one side stood a large cold room door, he opened the door and walked into the fridge. He grabbed a box of chicken rolls, ripped open the tape on the box and began to use the gun on each roll before stacking them in the fridge. With every click of his gun he extended the lifespan of the processed rolls as edible food.
And then the girl he’d been waiting for appeared. Something made him look up when she entered. She looked at Kylie, then around the store. She meandered up and down the aisles, looking to the front desk, glancing at the door leading to the back office and procrastinating in the hope of spotting Bailey.
Bailey did what most twenty three year old men wish they could do when confronted by a woman they’d slept with and then forgotten their name, he hid in the fridge behind the chicken and seafood rolls.
"Chicken rolls are good," Kylie called out, as the girl swung around the front of the shop near the counter.
“Just don’t eat them.”
The girl looked confused, but Kylie just pointed a finger to the fridge doors at the far end of the store and Jenna slowly walked to them. She saw Bailey working inside. He was suddenly too busy to notice anything. She gently knocked on the glass. Bailey looked up; doing his best to act surprised at seeing her.
“Hi,” he said with enthusiasm, his words muffled and repelled by the airtight seals on the fridge.
“I was hoping you’d call me,” the girl said with a raised voice.
“Sorry?” Bailey held a hand to his ear to indicate he hadn't heard. The girl opened the fridge door.
“I was hoping you’d call me. You weren’t at the club last night. I almost sent you a message. But I figured, you hadn’t sent me one... so,” she spoke with a disappointed quality.
“I'll come around.” Bailey pointed towards the end of the fridge, he was looking to buy himself time.
When he re-entered the shop he asked Kylie if she’d mind watching the store for a few minutes as he ushered the girl into the back office for privacy. Kylie nodded, took a sugar jam doughnut, placed her lips to the hole and squeezed hard. She was always happy to watch the store for Bailey.
In the back room Bailey considered any number of white lies to get out of this awkward situation. He desperately wanted more from this girl, but he sensed danger. His great fear with relationships was being hurt. In the past he’d protected himself with a string of empty sexual encounters, but this girl was exciting, edgy and unafraid. If he allowed this to become more than a one night stand, she might discover how much of the world he couldn't make sense of and then she'd confirm what Bailey feared; that he wasn’t someone of substance.
In the face of this he told the truth. History had taught him saying exactly what was on his mind was the fastest way to repel a woman. He felt it better to be disappointed now than heartbroken later.
"I couldn’t remember your name.”
The girl was shocked.
“I usually make more of an impression.”
“You did. It was an amazing night, but…you told me your name at the start, and all I was really thinking about was … you know. Then when it did go that way, it seemed a little late to ask again.”
The girl smiled. She liked honest. She hadn’t come across it often. Bailey read the smile as the beginning of the end and jumped in first.
“I'm not sure it's a good idea, anyway, you and me.”
“So you don’t want to fuck again, right now, while she’s out there minding the store?”
Bailey re-evaluated his plans.
“We could do it in the fridge,” he offered.
“My name’s Jenna. Don’t forget it again.” She grabbed Bailey’s hand and led him through the cold room door and towards the back of the fridge. It didn’t take long for the windows facing the store to fog up.
Over the next 40 minutes Kylie rimmed five doughnuts and served three customers. One customer wanted a pouch of tobacco and some papers, one just wanted papers and the third, a middle-aged woman, wanted balloons, two shoelaces, a packet of wooden skewers, and papers.
The milk deliveryman arrived with five full crates of milk stacked and loaded on his trolley. He entered the store with a smile and nodded to Kylie as he passed, heading for the fridge. Kylie giggled to herself as the man wheeled his crates into the back office and opened the cold room door.
The crates came off their trolley.
Jenna and Bailey were lying behind a wall of soft drink boxes so they couldn’t be seen in the shop. But from the main door of the fridge the deliveryman saw everything. Kylie and Bailey had their pants down and a rhythm they weren’t ready to lose, until the interruption. They jumped to their feet and quickly turned away from the delivery man, who was standing with the door and his mouth open. They dressed like they’d been caught by a parent. Still adjusting her top, Jenna strode confidently past the milkman and out into the store. She opened one of the display doors to the fridge as she passed.
“Are you working tomorrow night?” she asked. Bailey was still trying to button his jeans.
“I'll see you then.”
Within four weeks of that chilly second meeting, Jenna was virtually living in Bailey's apartment. The first week she had a toothbrush in the bathroom, the second and third weeks began a slow trickle of possessions and by the fourth week all she needed was an official invitation and she could change the address on her licence.
Bailey's apartment was on the first floor of a red brick building. From the street it had the architectural charm of a standard Russian tenement. Through the front door there was a small entrance hall with a bathroom to one side. The large single room made up the rest of the flat. It had a Japanese futon that stood as a couch during the day and a bed at night. On one side of the room was a television, with CDs, DVDs and various games all neatly stacked in cheap wooden shelves. On the other side, tucked away behind a curtain, was a very small kitchenette. It boasted a sink, a stove and a bar fridge with a microwave sitting on top. It was everything Bailey needed.
Jenna loved it.
“You can stay if you want,” Bailey said, one night in the afterglow of sex.
“I should hope so after that.”
“No, I mean for good.”
Jenna was lying on Bailey's chest. She looked to him with a grin on her face. He looked at her, also smiling. It was one of those ‘couple’ moments, a private memory that can’t be shared with anyone else.
Jenna put her head back on Bailey's chest and listened to his heartbeat. Now it was her heartbeat as well. A smile travelled through her.
The next few weeks were relatively uneventful. Jenna moved in and made Bailey’s flat her own. It took on a distinctly Japanese feel, not because Jenna liked the motif, but because she liked the price of items made out of paper and bamboo. They also seemed to go with the aesthetic of the room and more importantly, they made sense of the futon.
One evening, as Jenna was cooking, following each step in a complicated recipe, a neighbour came to the door. He was around thirty, dressed in dirty denim jeans that probably weren’t bought that way, but had, over time, come to resemble the fashion.
“Hey,” Bailey said, establishing standard first contact between two male neighbours.
“I had a plant on my balcony. It's gone.”
“I didn't see anything.”
“Someone climbed onto the balcony and they had to come from yours to do it.”
“Unless they had a ladder.”
The neighbour was growing increasingly annoyed by Bailey’s attitude.
“Look, you know what I'm talking about. It was perfect, almost ready.”
“I’m not much of a gardener.”
“Do you think you’re smart?”
“What did I say?”
“I think you took it.”
“Come in and have a look if you want.”
Jenna came to the front door.
“What’s going on?”
“There was a plant on my balcony and genius here claims he knows nothing about it.”
“We don’t smoke, sorry.”
Bailey realized instantly what was going on and couldn't believe how incredibly stupid he'd been. The disgruntled neighbour took one last angry look at him, then turned and went home.
“Can you believe that?” Bailey asked, astonished.
“I thought he was going to hit you.”
“It's not my fault I didn’t get what he’s on about. How stupid would you have to be to have it on your balcony where people could see it?”
“I know. I’ve been waiting for it to be ready for weeks. It’s in our bathtub, by the way.”
Bailey stood with a stunned look on his face. He was hoping he'd misheard. But Jenna just returned to the kitchen to work on straining the plant fibres out of gee she'd shortly be using to make brownies.
Bailey opened the bathroom door and drew back the cheap plastic curtain - his mouth fell open. There was the plant, complete in its ceramic pot. It even had the planter tray that it sat on next door.
“Don't turn off the heat lamp,” Jenna called out, sounding like a growing expert.
“Are you insane?”
“If he finds it he’ll kill us.”
“He looked pretty harmless.”
“He’s growing dope on his balcony!”
“He’s not growing dope, he’s saving money. And now I'm saving time and money.”
Bailey shook his head. He knew Jenna wasn’t like any girl he’d ever dated. But she seemed to get him, or at least put up with him. And that's why he was suddenly so happy.
That evening, as the two sat eating brownies and talking about nothing, Bailey discovered more about Jenna. The afternoon’s events made him curious and the brownies made her talkative. As she’d struck her teenage years, symbolised in independence and individuality requiring all friends to dress and act in identical manner, she took to being a Goth.
At a private girl’s school it was difficult, tartan grey being the colour of the uniformed skirt with a white blouse and equally bland grey jumper. But for Jenna, the uniform was nothing but a challenge: the jumper became black, the skirt was concealed by a scarf worn around her waist and her foundation became paler, highlighting the black eyeliner. Her teachers despaired, removed and reported. At every opportunity Jenna and her friends withdrew, reapplied and re-emerged highlighted.
It was at a time when her parents were in the middle of a protracted divorce and neither wanted to say or do anything to suggest either of their children were less than their favourite. It was a world where few lessons were delivered by lecture, and many were delivered by example. Jenna had learnt them all and instantly began using them to negotiate her way through life.
More recently she'd begun studying for a diploma of education, her goal, to teach primary school students. Bailey had known she wanted to teach, but not young children.
“I think I could really do something with kids that age,” Jenna said. “That’s when a person needs someone to help work things out.”
“What sort of things?” Bailey asked, intrigued by the comment.
“Everything. How the world works.”
Bailey was finding new layers to Jenna every day and everything he discovered made him love her more.
As for her, she didn’t feel she knew Bailey any better than when they’d first met. She did of course, but she was making the same mistake others made, assuming he couldn't be as straightforward as he seemed. When he told the truth, it had to be cloaked in some sort of ambiguity. When he did something for the good of someone, he must have seen an advantage in it for himself. Jenna was convinced Bailey’s mind was working through agendas the way a computer works through binary combinations. She was sure he was plotting and evaluating every circumstance, every scenario, predicting a thousand different outcomes and was too slick to be discovered. What she saw was a master of spin delivering a perfectly honed public image of benign innocence. Bailey swore he wasn’t holding anything back, but Jenna didn’t believe him; that would make him an outcast in a world of players plotting many moves ahead. In her mind, there was no way a person could get to Bailey’s age and still be so naïve. She was certain there were sides to his personality he wasn’t ready to reveal. It all added up to an intriguing personal riddle, a riddle Jenna was determined to solve.