I was a housebreaker, but definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time, a neighborhood get-together. All the residents were paying visits to one another. It took me awhile to catch on to this and to realize that the sooner I left, the better. I escaped onto a back porch, trying hard to conceal a couple of small items I had stolen. I was greeted immediately by an elderly lady who said, Oh, do you live here? I was just admiring your flowers.
She painfully bent over to smell a rosebush near the porch, then asked me to show her around. So I started to take her into “my” home. From within came a friendly greeting: Hello, who’s there?
He’ll show you around, I said, and fled quickly.
I am cleaning up a beach area, hosing off tables and umbrellas even though other workers stationed there do next to nothing. I am told by the manager, whom we all call “Mother,” to find a rake, which I do. It isn’t the best tool for the job because a fine mesh covers the sand. Only later, after scraping against the surface with the rake and accomplishing nothing, do I find another tool with plastic teeth like something used for cat litter. It pushes the sand back through the holes in the mesh. But then I press too hard and crack the handle. I am wearing sunglasses and a floppy hat: my late teen self. Next to the beach is a DJ stand where partiers wait impatiently for us to ready the area.
My partner and I were Depression-Era drifters traveling from town to town looking for any work we could find. We stopped at an open pit area, where our job was to get a box 1’ by 6”, fold it, label it with a number, then take it to the pit to fill with dirt.
Once filled, each box became a brick in a wall designed to keep unwanted immigrants out. We decided to quit once we discovered this wall: twelve feet high, three feet thick, decorated with a large skull.
angel in the house
Babysitting a young nephew. He was a toddler and acting up, apparently because he no longer fit well into his pants. So we went searching for another pair.
Then I was trying to finish reading some essays by Virginia Woolf and needed to find a quiet place. A crowd of people were hanging out in the kitchen. I took my book, spotted a bottle of gin, and thought I would sneak both back to my room. But en route, there were so many stray dishes and glasses lying around that I couldn’t help becoming the Angel in the House and clearing them.
I am a black preacher-civil rights leader dressed in a dark coat and a wide-brimmed hat. Coming out of an assembly, I lose sight of my driver. So I begin to walk the few miles home.
It is a drizzly day, and I pause at a diner for shelter. There, I am accosted by a man wielding a knife who is on the verge of slashing me in the face. But the proprietress opens fire with a shotgun and the man’s head explodes over my clothes.
I arrive at my job as a factory janitor. The day shift still hasn’t left; the place is full of workers in a festive mood, singing and playing guitar. In one area is a line of short Hispanic ladies being judged in a beauty contest. A gruff foreman approaches and warns me I am improperly dressed for my shift. I tell him I have a change in the duffel bag I carry and proceed to get ready. Then I am handed a pay envelope with little doughnut stickers glued onto it to reflect all the bonus hours I have worked. But I have never been paid, and most of the rings have fallen off.
Only a poor professor, I found myself on the verge of being driven to prostitution to pay for an operation for a friend. When a student heard of this, he wrote me a check for $15,560 to cover all costs. In return, I took a vow of chastity and swore to become a monk. Twenty years later, I had many followers. Some even tried to buy me out of my vow!
M.V. Montgomery is a professor at Life University. His short story collection Beyond the Pale will be released by Winter Goose Publishing in May 2013.