Below is one of the first short stories that I ever wrote, about 8! years ago. As I mentioned in an earlier post or two, I have built many, many stories around a character that I call Georgia. She is now 65 in my mind. But, as I say, this story is from 2004 and she is about 57, give or take a few years. I completely gutted and re-editted this story about a year ago and it is stronger than when I first wrote it. Writing absurdity in fiction seems to be my strength and writing sardonically. I’ve since written I’d say at least 15 or more Georgia stories and the situations she finds herself in and the people who surround her become more and more absurd.
I didn’t like the character very much when I first started writing her but now I have a definite sympathy for her. In fiction, I’ve limited myself to writing stories about Georgia, mainly because, to be honest, I find it quite difficult to step out of that. I greatly admire short story writers and next to creative non-fiction, it is my favourite thing to read but I am not a great short story writer (not fishing here people) but it is Georgia who keeps me going on that front. I also write a little creative non-fiction but in a more serious style I’d say. My writers’ group has grown quite attached to Georgia and tell me that I need to read her aloud because it is in the reading aloud that she really comes, well, alive. Over the years, people in my group have either really liked her or really really haven’t and I’m okay with both of those responses. Anyway, I’ve posted this before but on my old blog I think. This is called, “Squeeze.” If my wee wee wee fan base wants, I can post more once in awhile. But if you don’t like it, that’s okay too. Really. I can’t grow as a writer unless I am critiqued. Anyway, enjoy. I have italicized it to distinguish it from I guess everything else. Georgia is part me, part someone I used to know and part my imagination.
Oh and in cutting and pasting lots of words got stuck together for some reason. I tried to fix that but I’m sure there are many left in there.
Georgia has just arrived for her first shift and is surprised to learn that she does not have to wear the blue Zellers smock.
Erica, her manager and trainer, greets her in the staff room and seems taken aback at Georgia’s idea.
“No, no,” says Erica, “You are the Charmin lady. Even though you are working at a Zellers store, you are technically a Charmin employee. So, no smock. I guess I failed to mention that in the training. “
The relief temporarily pulls Georgia out of a mid-level stupor that has escalated from a chronic mild depression in recent weeks. Georgia attributes this to the loss of yet another ESL teaching job. No savings, an EI processing backlog of unknown duration and an economic recession has broughtGeorgiato seek employment wherever she may find it.
“Here’s your name tag and button,” says Erica.
Oh, thinks Georgia as she pins on a yellow smiley face. I have never worn a smiley face in my life.
“I’ve never worn a smiley face,” she says.
“A little surprise,” says Erica.
“Oh,” says Georgia. The smiley face makes her frown.
Erica leads her to the booth by the front door.
“Everything’s all set up for you, just like I showed you the other day.”
“Diane will relieve you at 11:30 for your coffee break. Good luck, you’ll do fine.”
Georgia watches her leave with more than a little trepidation. She looks to the giant cartoon cut-out of a grinning Charmin pillow for comfort.
It’s ok, she tells herself. I’m 57 years old. I have a Masters degree. I can do this.
Her education both helps her to feel superior to the Zellers masses but also nauseous and a bit dizzy. Georgia, despite being an atheist, comes from a strong Protestant work ethic and won’t allow herself to go on social assistance. Growing up in an evangelical church, she learned god hated sloth above almost everything else, except homosexuality. She dumped the doctrine in her twenties but was still loathe to go on welfare. Employment Insurance she could rationalize.
In the last two years she has been let go from five English-as-a-Second-Language teaching jobs and it is November now, a deadly dark time for schools that cater to international students.
She is pondering all of this and fingering her chin hair when a man approaches.
“Hi,” he says and smiles at Georgia. She thrusts her hands to her sides and studies him. He looks to be in his early to mid- fifties with a big round face, glasses and a bit of nose hair.
Georgiahas not had sex since she seduced a drunk German tourist four years ago. She desperately wants it but won’t go trolling in the bars or online. Her life was full of fucking in her twenties and thirties but dwindled as she got older. For a long time she was more selective, turning down offers here and there. She wonders if her quirkiness – her need to be in bed by 9:30, her more hermit like existence – has had something to do with her long dry spell. No matter. She’s out of her shell, in a big box store and feels desire for this man squeezing toilet paper.
She looks at his hands. No ring.
Not a ring in sight.
Hallelujah to the king, thinks Georgia.
“Oh hi,” she says. They look at each other. “Hi, there.”
“So how are you today?” he asks. She notices a large gap between his two front teeth.
“Good, good. You know, I’m not really a morning person.” She laughs, “But, really, who is?”
“So,” he says.
“So,” she looks away, feeling new sweat in her armpits. Please sacred earth, don’t let this perspiration stain my shirt, she thinks. A white blouse was a requirement of her job. “It’s de rigueur,” Erica had said. “Then it’s not actually required,” Georgia had replied. “No, no, it is,” Erica replied. “Wrong expression I think,” Georgia commented. “Just wear white,” Erica said. “Oops,” thought Georgia.
“Can I squeeze?”
“Squeeze,”Georgias ays the word as a statement, “Oh, oh, oh, of course. “ She has returned to herself. “Absolutely. Go ahead.” She motions to the rolls of tissue surrounded by cardboard.
He touches them.
“Which one is, um, softer?” she asks him.
“Well now, I’d have to say this one here,” he points to the one on the right.
Lord have mercy, thinks Georgia. Christ have mercy.
“That’s correct, that’s the Charmin.” She pauses and then – oh yes – she holds up the Charmin logo. “Congratulations.”
“Wonderful, wonderful. Do I get a prize?’ He winks at her. Georgia feels a weakness in her calf muscles.
“Unfortunately, no. Nope. I’d like to give you, uh, some, but the uh, Charmin is on sale this week right over there.”
“I’d better get some then.”
“Oh, okay, why not? I use it myself, everyday.” Georgia’s low-level depression, now mid-level stupor, has not affected her libido. She is always at least a little bit horny. On weekends she is extremely horny. George Clooney and her former co-worker, Norm, send her over the top, off the scale. Ageism be damned. She wants sex. She wants emotional intimacy. She wants a penis in her vagina. In front of her is a man who is not at all like Clooney but more than a little like Norm, the same unibrow, the same cadence to his voice.
“I use it myself everyday. The toilet paper. Well, lots of times a day really. I mean not too many times. Not more times than the average person, ” she says.
He looks at her. His eyes convey intelligence and depth, she thinks.
As he reaches over for a 12-pack of toilet paper she notices a small pot belly and white socks with black shoes. This does nothing to stop the vibrations she feels in her stomach and her groin. She senses a connection to this man and she knows that makes her a bit crazy. She doesn’t care, something that surprises her.
A flash of this man on top of her and then her on top of him – despite her bad knees – wallops through her mind.
He is looking at her again. “Hey, so am I allowed another squeeze? Just for fun, you know, a double blind test would you call it?”
No, Georgia thinks and deflates; it would not be called that. “Well, actually, a double blind test is when no one knows which the placebo is and which is –” She stops herself.
“Sure, why not? Let me just change the roll here.” He deserves a fresh roll, thinks Georgia. His forte may not be science, she decides, but many other areas of expertise remain.
“Okay, go ahead.”
“Thank you. Let’s see. His hands take awhile as he fingers the products.
“Well,” he says and sighs, “I pick this one.”
“Very good. Right again.”
“I am good at this,” he says and laughs. A beautiful laugh, thinksGeorgia. Loud and boisterous but very attractive.
“I guess I’ll get going.”
“Oh. Yes, come again. I’m here Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. From nine to three, except when I’m on break. It’s a fifteen minute break only and lunch is half an hour, unpaid.” Georgia knows she is babbling and puts her hand over her mouth.
“I will be back, maybe even later today.” He walks away.
Maybe even later today, thinks Georgia. Karma. No, no, kismet. Kismet is what I mean. She is so flustered and excited that the rest of the morning goes by in a blur of women squeezing and leaving. When Diane comes to relieve her, she is tired but doesn’t want to go.
“I don’t really need a break,”Georgia tells Diane, “I mean this is not that difficult. Well, my back is a bit sore but I’ve been managing to stretch out a bit. Really, I could stay here and just leave, you know, a few minutes early. This would be fine.”
Babbling, realizes Georgia.
“Take a break,” says Diane, “These rules are made for a reason. Go have some coffee or a muffin. Relax, honey, you deserve it.”
Honey. She wonders if this is a condescending honey or a habit honey. She hopes the latter and is vaguely comforted by it.
Mommy, she thinks. Fuck, she thinks.
She returns from her break five minutes early and later decides to spend her lunch half hour looking at the nearby linens while eating her peanut butter sandwich. She wipes her hands with a yellow towel in the sale bin.
The afternoon slinks by with few customers.
Well, that’s that. Georgia thinks at the end of the day as she fills her backpack with some of the squeezed rolls. The rest she puts in their proper place in the staff washroom.
Wednesday a bout of diarrhea keeps her at home. Saturday she is back on the job, trying to remove something from between her teeth with her fingernail when he comes back and stands in front of her.
“I’m here,” he says, smiling his gap-toothed grin.
“Oh, hi!” says Georgia, loudly enough that the cashiers turn around. She waves at them but looks down. She thinks she can hear them tittering. Dammit. She lifts her head to look up at the man again.
“Doing some more shopping?” she asks him.
“Yes, yes indeed. Doing some errands. I live alone so there’s always something to be done.”
He lives alone, he lives alone, he lives alone runs through Georgia’s mind.
He must be gay, he must be gay, he must be gay, trots behind.
Maybe not, comes another thought.
“I have two roommates myself,”Georgia says. “Bit of a hassle really. I’d rather live alone of course butVancouveris so expensive. Well, I live in a good location, just a twelve and a half minute walk to the skytrain.”
I’m blathering, she thinks, but realizes that that is keeping in check what she really wants to say: fuck me blind, double blind, up against the wall, anywhere at all.
“I don’t mind the skytrain,” he says, “My name’s Fred, by the way.” He stretches out his hand and she gives him hers and they shake.
A strong handshake, thinks Georgia, and big hands.
“I am Georgia. Georgia, like the state. Not that I was born in Georgia. I was actually born inVirginia but my parents had a soft spot for Georgia. I came up to Canada during the Vietnam War. I would have been a conscientious objector had they started to draft women which they – “
“Nice to meet you, Georgia,” he cuts her off and motions toward the tissue.
“I’d love to squeeze again.”
Georgia freezes for a moment, noting a pink velour suited woman standing behind Fred.
“We’ll just be a few minutes,”Georgiasays to her, “If you’d like to look around and come back.”
“Oh, well, I’d like to take the test,” says the woman, “And I’ve got to get going soon – “
“Perhaps you can come back another day?” imploresGeorgia.
“Uh, well – “
“We also offer the squeeze test at our three other locations in the Lower Mainland.”
“Oh, sheesh, okay,” says the woman..
“No, no,” says Fred, “I’ve got all day, you go ahead.”
He has all day, thinks Georgia. He must be retired with a nice pension – a former doctor, lawyer or politician.
“So what do I do?” asks the woman.
“Oh, yes, well, just put your hands on each roll and feel them. Then pick the softest.
The woman picks the generic brand.
“Oops,” says Georgia, “You picked the wrong one. But that’s okay. No problem. Bye now.”
The woman leaves. Thank Christ in a cake.
“Wow,” says Fred. “I can’t believe she chose the wrong one.”
“It happens,” says Georgia, “it’s all part of my day.”
“Well, let me try,” says Fred. Georgia notices a distinct glazing over of his eyes as he touches the tissue. He is caressing it.
“Yeah,” he announces, “This one.”
“Right again. Excellent job.”
Fred returns on Monday, Wednesday and again the following Saturday. She doesn’t ask her co-workers whether he’s been in at other times. She doesn’t want to jinx whatever is going on. During these short encounters, Georgia tries to reveal a bit more of herself; her love of Hitchcock films and of walking through Stanley Park at sunset and the time she broke her left foot by stepping on it with her right. Fred listens, smiles, guffaws, squeezes, guesses correctly and then leaves. By the start of her Saturday shift,Georgiai s feeling downright hopeful. In the washroom she applies lipstick and re-combs her short red hair. She has had her eyebrows and upper lip waxed at the salon in the strip mall next to the store.
“You seem really happy these days,Georgia, almost bubbly I’d say. That’s good to see. Oh and please remember not to overuse the rolls, we seem to be running out up pretty quickly.”
Oops, thinks Georgia, who has been stuffing rolls into her backpack at the end of the day. She thinks about Fred. Her latest fantasy was of him and her in a bubble bath strewn with purple flowers.
She would ask him out to a movie,Georgia decides as she heads for her booth.
At 11:30 a.m. she sees Fred walk in the door. As she takes a deep breath, she notices store security and what looks like a police officer approach him. The three stop and exchange words. Georgiafeels her heart skipping what must be essential beats. The trio head out the door, Fred flanked by the two men.
She begins to sweat and grabs some Charmin to wipe her face.
A minute later, Erica walks up to the booth.
“Elisha-May will relieve you,” she says. “Please come with me to the back.”
Georgiawalks with her, feeling unsteady. Is Fred a spy? She wonders. Or is he working undercover for the, for the cops?
They sit down in the staff room.
“We have an issue with a customer,” says Erica. “You may have noted that a man was taken out by the police.”
“Yes,” says Georgia, “He is a regular customer.” She begins to worry that she is implicating herself in something but even more concerned that Fred may not be back and absurdly, that he may have killed someone.
“What happened? Was he stealing? Has he murdered someone? Or is he undercover?” she asks.
“No, he hasn’t killed anyone. Did he say something like that to you?”
“Oh no, no,” saysGeorgia, “We didn’t really talk at all really.”
“Actually he’s accused of – there is no other way to say this really than just to say it. Quite simply, he’s been defecating in our customer washrooms and smearing his feces with the Charmin tissue that he purchased. It took the police a little while to ascertain that it was him.”
“What?” says Georgia, “He, he seems so nice, he lives alone, is a retired politician . . .”
“A politician?” says Erica. “Hmmm. You know a lot about him. Anyway, the police may need to talk to you at some point and I just wanted to give you the heads up.”
“Huh. I don’t really know anything. He never bothered me. I was going to – “Georgialeans forward, feeling faint. The stolen tissue in her bathroom at home, purple flowers and Fred gallop through her head.
“Oh, Georgia. You are a sensitive soul. I’ll tell you what. This is disturbing news. Would you like to take an extra fifteen minutes for your lunch break? Maybe go now?”
“Could I go home?” asks Georgia, “I’m not feeling that well.”
“Really?” says Erica, “I guess so. That’s a bit of an inconvenience of course but um, okay.”
Georgia takes the bus home and after the walk from the skytrain goes directly into the bathroom. Not stopping to close the door, she throws off her clothes and steps into the tub. She doesn’t turn on the taps and sits there for an hour until one of her roommates comes home and walks in on her.
The next day Erika phones and says they will no longer require her services.
“Sales are down,” she says, “And to be honest, we can’t afford all of the toilet paper we are losing.”