Stonework is published by Houghton College, a Christian liberal arts college located in New York’s rural Genesee Valley. Stonework seeks a diverse mix of mature and emerging voices in fellowship with the evangelical tradition. Published twice a year, the journal reflects the arts community at Houghton College where excellence in music, writing, and the visual arts has long been a distinctive.

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  • Issue 6
    Poetry by Paul Willis and Thom Satterlee. Fiction and interview with Lori Huth. Essay by James Wardwell, and student poets from Christian campuses.
  • Issue 5
    Poetry by Susanna Childress and Debra Rienstra. Fiction excerpt by Emilie Griffin. Art from Houghton's 2007 presidential inauguration and a forum on women writing.
  • Issue 4
    Matthew Roth--new poems. Diane Glancy--from One of Us and an interview. John Tatter-on gardens and poetry. The Landscapes of John Rhett. Stephen Woolsey--on the poetry of Jack Clemo. James Wardwell--on Herrick.
  • Issue 3
    Poetry by Julia Kasdorf, Robert Siegel and Sandra Duguid. Fiction by Tom Noyes. The portraits of Alieen Ortlip Shea. An anthology of Australian Poets
  • Issue 2
    Thom Satterlee - Poems from Burning Wycliff with an appreciation by David Perkins. Alison Gresik - new fiction and an interview. James Zoller - Poems from Living on the Floodplain.
  • Issue 1
    Luci Shaw — new poems with an appreciation by Eugene H. Peterson & Hugh Cook — new fiction and an interview

Monday, December 12, 2005

Everyone Wants Something I Guess

By Mari Lamp

So there we were, a few hours after Sam’s little blow-up and Charlotte and I were keeping well clear of that mess. I was kind of wondering how things would be when I came in for my 2-to-8 shift, it being just him and me poking around behind that register. He didn’t say much of anything though, which figures. He was always some kind of statue back there, writing on his clip-board and wheeling the new shipments in from the back door. The canned goods are to be moved to the 3rd shelf down Carey, or Why don’t you and Charlotte get those invoices filed before break? And that’s about all we’d get from him.

That afternoon though, when the truck was late and some ladies were all riled about there not being any baking soda and then the display of cereal boxes fell over out of the blue –I swear it wasn’t me- man oh man, you could hear that yell rising up out of him like a cat with its tail on fire.

It’s not like me and Sam and Charlotte have it in for each other, though, we’re all pretty good most of the time. Sometimes Sam likes to pull rank, him being older and Head Manager, but we all know that Lane’s isn’t big enough to have much of a Head of anything, and so mostly the Head Manager and the two cashier girls pretty much do the same things. We're a kind of little grocery store with a few booths and tables for drinking coffee and reading the paper. Mostly we get local kids and commuters 'cause we’re out next to the highway, just before the turn onto Regal Dr., which takes you right downtown. Not that’s there’s that much of a town, Billings is more of a pit-stop in between Calliham and South Cornish, but we do have a library and that big Presbyterian church.

I got the job last year when I graduated from Central. My best friend Jenny, who tells everyone to call her Jen now, is going to college at Cornish Community, but most of us took up jobs around here, waiting around for the next thing I guess. Charlotte goes there, studying Business I think, and wants to move to some big city and start her own company or something. I didn’t know her before I got this job but she’s from Billings and has been here working for the past few summers so I’ve seen her around. She’s great to work with, but doesn’t say too much and of course I don’t either so it’s pretty quiet.

I was thinking about going to college once too. I had this teacher, Miss Taylor, taught English grade 10-12, says she wish I’d study writing. Her class was the only one I ever really paid attention in, actually it was mostly just that I did the reading we were supposed to. I liked her class a lot but never was much in school.

So anyway, it was a couple days after Sam cursed real loud at the ceiling and took off out the door, which wasn’t any better for his punching it as he went. Me and Charlotte were taking our noon break in the little booth right inside the front window. We usually sit in the back room even though Sam doesn’t like it –says he doesn’t want us smoking back there but I think it’s ‘cause he doesn’t want us hanging around his stuff.

But today we were keeping clear of him and all things that would piss him off even a little, so we sat in that crusty orange booth looking out at the highway and smelling gas fumes. Charlotte had her latte and I already gulped down a cup of black coffee by that time. Usually me and Charlotte don’t say too much when we have our breaks together, but today she was all fidgety, kept shifting around and looking into her cup and sighing a little.

Then she asked me,“Carey, do you think I look alright?” Now, at first I didn’t know what to say ‘cause of course she looked alright, she always looked alright. I have this thin, limp hair, dyed too many times my mama says, and I’m kind of dumpy all around, but she has that long blond hair that goes all flippy at the ends and make-up everyday that I ever saw her. She wears white button-down shirts with straight collars and little denim skirts, sometimes with beads and things sewed onto the pockets. Yep, Charlotte is definitely the pretty one, which is why I was so surprised when Sam gave me head cashier over her.

“Well, yeah I guess. There’s a mirror in the store room you know, you might not want to trust my opinion of it.”

“Well, I mean.. do you think I, you know.. look pretty, in general?”

She didn’t say anything else but just kinda sat there looking at me with this look, and I thought I should probably not say something dumb like I usually do.

“Well, sure you are. I mean, I think you are. Always looking nice ya know? The professional kind of look I guess.” Truth is, I didn’t really know what to say. Charlotte never asked me anything, not even where to put the new stock of cake mixes if she didn’t know.

She was quiet for a long time and didn’t answer me, so I thought maybe we were done talking about it, but then she set her cup down and said, kinda in this sad voice, “Well, I don’t know..sometimes I think maybe it’s all just delusions. Like I’ll graduate and go somewhere and find out that I’m not really worth anything. And I’ll say, what did I do all this for anyway, ya know?”

Well then I really didn’t know what to say and was kinda scared of saying anything at all. But I was thinking, why is she telling me all this? So I just kinda sat there and then she stood up, saying “Ok, well never mind,” and went back to work even though we had 10 minutes of break left.

I sat there for a minute seeing her go back around to the big fridge to add the new cartons of milk. I mean, it was weird but I could see it coming from her too. Charlotte was always wanting to go somewhere and do something extra like be the smartest and prettiest I guess. I didn’t ever really care about that. Well actually I did probably, but I knew it wasn’t gonna be any use really.

So I was sitting thinking a little about all this, but then I didn’t have anything to do, so I got up and went back to work too. Sam stayed in the back for a good long time so I sat behind the register and flipped through a couple home decorating magazines that were lying around.

Sometimes when I'm bored like that I write a few things down, just little verses mostly. Once I showed some to Miss Taylor and she seemed to like ‘em a lot, but maybe she was just being nice. She said Carey, this is very good. Have you ever considered studying writing in college? I said that I hadn’t really thought about it and wasn’t really planning on going to college, that I had this job at Lane’s all set up. She kinda gave me this look and said So, what do you think you’ll do after you work there? Then class was starting so I kinda walked away and got out of that one.

After that I didn’t really know if I wanted to talk to her much. I mean, I kinda still did, it was nice to have someone to show that stuff to, but I didn’t really want to see that look again. But next class she didn’t say anything, just gave me this book of poems by a man called Edgar Lee Masters. It’s this thing where he wrote about a whole town’s worth of people, a little poem for each person talking about their life and stuff. It’s pretty interesting to me I guess, I like thinking about the names actually being people, alive and thinking all these secret things to themselves. Sometimes when I’m stuffing things into my green corduroy backpack in the morning, I shove it in there and read a little when things are slow during the day. So when I was sitting there wondering when Sam was gonna come back, I got it out and found a part I like. It goes like this:

At first you will know not what they mean,
And you may never know.
And we may never tell you:-
These sudden flashes in your soul,
Like lambent lighting on snowy clouds
At midnight when the moon is full.

That’s not the whole thing, but I like that part best. Like keeping a secret from everyone but then getting to tell it after you die. Sometimes I think about what it would be like to write a letter to the whole world so that everyone would read it. That’s pretty scary though, to think of all those people all over the world reading and me not being right there to tell them what I really mean. I was thinking the other day that it’d be nice to talk to Miss Taylor again, just show her a few things I’ve been doing. Maybe when she comes back for the start of school I can ask her if there’s any places around here that might teach some writing. I shouldn’t think about it too much though, I can just hear my mama saying Now don’t you go getting your hopes up about things like you always do.

Well, I’d been working since 2. It was now 7, and Bill walked in all regular on the dot like he did. Bill comes in most nights. He sits down at the table next to the register with his old brown bag and he pulls out 2 or 3 thick books and a mess of loose papers which fly around and half the time end up on the floor.

Bill’s been coming in here as long as I can remember, even when I was a little kid buying ice cream after school with Jenny. He comes in with his khaki field coat and stringy hair gelled back onto his half-bald head looking something like a dressed-up professor, which is what he likes to call himself. The little private school outside of Calliham told Bill he could teach one class each semester called Local Field Biology or something. I wouldn’t remember the name except he’s always talking about it. Seems like he doesn’t do much else beside that class and coming in here. From what I gather, he mostly drags the students around to fields to look for birds and some kind of moss or something. Bill is our only regular at Lane’s and we can’t really kick him out ever ‘cause he’s been coming her since before any of us worked here, before I was born maybe.

Sometimes when Sam’s in a good mood he sits behind the register and talks with Bill a little. And sometimes Sam teases him about not being a real professor, and then Bill says Now don’t start that, you know I have as much natural training as any of them wrinkly-faced academics sitting in the second-floor offices. I’ve traveled the world looking at birds and fossils and grasses. So Sam asks where did he go in his world travels, and Bill says he went on two trips to Germany. Sam pries in further though, and finally we get it out of him that it was about 30 years ago with his great-aunt’s touring group. He still has a notebook he brought with him though, marking down notes and little doodles of things. He showed it to me one night a couple weeks ago. That was after Sam left for the night, I was closing, so I know Bill didn’t want him to see it. I thought that was real nice of him to show me since it was so important to him. And I thought maybe sometime I’d show him my little book of verses too.

Well, this was the second week of August so things were really starting to pick up, I guess with school starting in a couple weeks, folks were starting to gather around back in town. Things felt different too. Instead of 13-year-old boys coming in for Gatorade and whatever little thing their mamas had sent them for, it was more professional business as Sam calls it. Teachers and some businessmen come in just looking like something’s going on, like things are about to start up and leave behind anyone who’s not paying attention.

So about this time Sam’s been telling us not to slouch and for God’s sake stop reading those magazines, which he never did before so how’s I to know he was going to get all paranoid all of a sudden? And Bill's getting all fidgety too, shuffling papers all over three tables and muttering about schedules or something. Finally Sam, who was back and doing his normal sulking around by this time, walks over there and tells him to go make a mess somewhere else.

Anyway, so things were considerably more busy, and somehow I didn’t even notice when Miss Taylor’s cousin Edie comes in, must have been right behind that group of moms on the way back from their evening walk and talk. I was working the register like crazy and missed my break, so when Charlotte comes in I tell her to quick cover for me so I can go to the bathroom. I was just coming out of the back room when I see Edie with her head inside the freezer door. I stopped and looked around real fast, thinking maybe Miss Taylor’s around somewhere too, considering she lives with her cousin. I didn’t see her, but was thinking that doesn’t mean she not behind one of the aisles I can’t see, me not being too tall. The fact of the notebook in my backpack lying there close by comes in my head. I looked over at the register and Charlotte seemed to be doing ok, so I stayed where I was, pretending to rearrange a pile of potatoes until Edie comes walking down the aisle toward me.

“Why hello Carey!” she says, with this big smile and I think she really did mean it.

“Hello” I say, trying to figure out how to ask what I need to know. She said a couple other nice things that I forget now, and then there was one of those pauses that means I should say something like how I need to be getting back to work. But instead I said, “So, how’s Miss Taylor doing these days?”

“Oh, she’s doing real good. I don’t know if you’ve heard or not, but she won’t be coming back to Central this year. She got a job in Burkett at the prep school, so she’s already up there for beginning-of-the-year meetings. But we’re all real happy for her, I think she was looking forward to a change.”

“Oh yes,” I said, just staring at that big lipstick smile.

“But you’ve graduated haven’t you, Carey? I’m sure high school is ancient history to you now. I remember Susan always said you were a bright star in the class, wanting to be a writer was it?”

“Yes, a writer.” Then I didn’t say anything else, with her just looking down at me.

“Well, I need to be getting back to work now.”

And then I turned around and walked straight back into the backroom, where Sam was sitting at his desk looking at some papers. Oh Carey, I need to talk to you he says, kinda half over his shoulder like that. I need you to work tonight. I have to run up to Duncans to talk to the organic guy and Charlotte says she can’t. Well I just got so mad, I don’t even know why, but I knew I had to get outta there. So I mumbled something about feeling sick and walked out the back door into the parking lot, where the air was thick with that August heaviness. I didn’t really have a plan in mind, just walked out there and kept walking down the street and I was thinking about how it seems like everyone wants something they don’t have. Bill and Charlotte and maybe Sam even, I don’t know. And me.

So I walked until I was past the gas station on the right and got to the highway and just kept walking down it, even though I usually don’t like walking out there. So I walked for a while and in the end just stopped thinking about anything. And sometimes a car would come down the highway and I could see it coming from a long way away and feel it coming closer until it just passed me all of a sudden. It kind of made my heart jump every time that happened, but it was exciting too. So I walked and waited for the cars to pass me and kind of liked it out there, all alone walking and knowing no one was going to stop and ask me questions about why I was doing what I was doing. And I don’t know what that was either, besides just walking.