by Jack Mooney
The time passes in here like the sand falling through an hourglass that has been filled with just a little too much sand, not your regular sand, but giant clumpy disgusting sand. Every minute turns into an hour and the 8 hours I spend here a day turn into a lifetime. I’ve lived a thousand lifetimes in this small box, touching various products, making sure everything is perfectly straight and in line with one another. The task is easy yet every day I wake up dreading my prison sentence, not breaking rocks or building railroads for free, something much worse: paid labour. You see, I grew up in this place, WackyBrack; I knew its people, and they knew me. The more time I spent standing behind this till, my impenetrable fortress, my own personal hell, my knees grew weaker. Was it tiredness or the undiagnosed arthritis building up in my young knees? Whatever it was, it wasn’t pleasant and neither were the people of WackyBrack.
The days passed in our tiny little shop and if you were as unfortunate as I, you watched the days change through the window, everyone with their own little quip they feel is original.
“Some weather out there. Not that you’ll see it.”
Yes Tracy I understand you had kids at 20 and got married that same year, now you’re 35 and get to enjoy the sun and a jobless life; we aren’t all so lucky as to get pregnant accidentally. I think this to myself, obviously knowing the power of the absolute mouthpiece stood before me. Having seen her once, she stood only 5 foot, but had a mighty 5 foot complaint to my manager about how little help I was to her when it came to her needing to find that one fucking thing that was right in front of her the whole time. She couldn’t see it, nor could she see the other ten customers waiting to be served and me being the only man guarding the pass. Let me tell you something, this is Tracy’s world and no one else’s. When her son needs and, I mean really needs, a 2 euro box of mini chocolate rolls don’t you ever think there is anything more important because in WackyBrack a singular box of mini rolls could spell life or death for some poor cashier. Apart from the mini roll incident, that in Tracy’s eyes was the funniest thing ever looking back on it. She brings it up every time you scan her ready-made meals to which you smile and nod and say your catchphrase, four tiny words that honestly hold no meaning at this point: “Have a nice day”. In reality I don’t care, in fact I use it to disengage conversations with these people, like Tracy, who plague our little shop like rats feeding on attention of unwilling till boys like myself, only hoping they leave quicker so that I can readjust the eggs that are just ever so slightly tilted that you’ve been forced to look at for hours because a stream of unending people keep putting down their overpriced junk. Who knew eggs could taunt you so relentlessly? They must all be in that tiny carton having a right laugh watching me pack this old woman’s bag, knowing Crazy Dave could take his 10 minute break from napping to come check the floor, not to find an unbearably long line, much worse, to find those mocking eggs and me drowning in the sea of customers; only to look at me with his grim angry face and say “fix those eggs,” before disappearing once more into the darkness of his office, locally known as the nap room.
King of Whispers
Customers come and go in here every day with me saying on average 90 to 100 “have a nice days” with only maybe 4 or 5 holding any actual meaning, the rest being my hollow way of deforming the words to seem like a better employee than I actually am. But as I have my small chit chat with the passers-by of my bar-less prison, you hear many things that people expect you not to pick up on. Some as small as the rash that Paul Keating has on his leg that he thinks he got from a dodgy girl on a night out but more likely so, the cheap pants he bought that he wore for weeks that left everyone with his permanent drone of “they’re retro” ingrained in their minds of every sorry soul he meets, while other things are juicier. Tracy, the foil to my entire cashier career, let slip to her friend Jennifer who went on to tell her friends, Tony and Kim, the divorced but not so divorced couple, over a few pints in the ramblers that Dave went out on the lash four nights ago and did the dirt on his girlfriend with her own mother. My first thought is how does one, let alone two women allow that monster anywhere near them. It must run in the family I guess. My second thought: how am I only hearing this now. I once thought myself a professional eavesdropper; not knowing such a juicy secret has demoted me to amateur status. This is one secret that will not be kept by the tight-lipped cashier, I can assure you that.
Robert De Niro
Not everything in WackyBrack is contained to the four walls of the shop floor; sometimes the insanity spills out onto the streets and hides in your pockets waiting to jump you. In this case, it was an older man pacing back and forth at the bus stop carrying a box with two bouquets of roses in it, sat beside a tin of open roses—some missing from the man’s nightly prowling—to talk about Robert De Niro to unsuspecting victims.
“How was work babe, anything fun happen today?”
“No, not much, we were robbed by a bunch of kids again, but let’s be real that’s every week stuff.”
“How do they keep getting away with that stuff? Surely you can call the police or something on them?”
“I mean we could, but there isn’t really any point. They would just be back in a weeks’ time. I’m not paid to be a bouncer, also missing the muscle,” flexing my noodle arms to no one.
“Got called by work today. They want me to go up for a funeral function to serve food, I’m dreading it. I can’t deal with all the sadness and the comfort-drinking unless it’s me doing the drinking.”
“I’m sure it won’t be that bad, sure they might even tip better than normal if they are in grief you never know,” I joke, making my voice sound higher pitched.
“That is horrible babe, but you could be right.”
“Don’t forget you have to collect that present for your mam from the post office. It’s been like a week since it was delivered they are probably fit to throw it out.”
“Alright, I’ll walk down to tomorrow after work if that’s okay with you.”
“ALRIGHT!” the old man bellows to me at the lonely bus stop.
“Oh, hi I’m on the phone sorry.” I gesture to headphones before slipping my hands back in my pocket out of the cold. The man seemed understanding and gave a nod and continued to pace.
“Who was that babe?” Emma asked, puzzled by the sudden shouting over the phone.
“I’m just at the bus stop now, so you know, there is someone here.”
“Oh, okay well I’ve been meaning to tell you actually you kno—” Emma tries to say before being overpowered by the voice of the stranger at the stop:
“YOU WATCH ANY MOVIES LATELY.”
“No, I haven’t sorry, been too busy to watch stuff.”
“I HAVE BEEN WATCHING A FEW ON THE TELLY THERE THE LAST FEW WEEKS SURE THAT YOKE HAS THEM ALL EVENTUALLY.”
“Ah, yea I know man sure it’s—“
“DO YOU LIKE THAT ROBERT DE NIRO LAD YOURSELF I’VE BEEN WATCHING A FEW WITH HIM SURE HE’S A GOOD LAD HIMSELF I DO LIKE HIS MOVIES.”
Getting a word in with this guy was just as likely as winning the lotto. It’s like he is having the conversation with himself or his roses; whichever it was I didn’t want to be a part of any of it.
“Who even is this guy, do you know him?” Emma asks laughing over the phone.
“Yea I haven’t seen many with him in them, but he’s not terrible. He’s in that new movie the Irishman I think. It’s a mafia movie, you might like that.”
“AH SURE I WOULDN’T KNOW TOO MUCH ABOUT THAT NOW, IS IT ON THE TELLY YOU WATCH THAT ONE.”
“It’s on Netflix. You could watch it on the telly if you want.”
“Do you want me to hang up babe? this Robert De Niro chat seems quite important.”
“No no it’s okay sorry I’m getting on the bus now in 10 minutes so—”
“I WATCHED ONE THERE WHERE HE WAS ON A BOAT BY HIMSELF, AND SURE IT CRASHED, AND HE WAS ON HIS OWN THE INITIATIVE HE SHOWED PUT EVERYTHING INTO THE LIFEBOAT, AND SURE HE GOT EVERYTHING, WATER, FOOD, TORCH, KNIFE, MAP, RADIO, BLANKETS, SURE HE GOT THE WHOLE LOT.” He listed all these things while staring across the street, looking through the church windows just across the way.
“That sounds quite inter—-“
“YOU WOULD WANT TO LIKE DE NIRO SURE, HE DOESN’T SPEAK THAT MUCH AND FAIR FUCKS IF YOU DON’T HAVE A KIP HALFWAY. I DON’T LIKE ROBERT MYSELF MUCH SURE BUT WHEN HE WAS YOUNGER HE WAS HIRED FOR LOOKS FOR HIS LOOKS ALONE AND LET ME TELL YOU THEY ARE GONE SON, I’M OLDER THAN HIM BUT HE LOOKS WORSE FOR IT,” the man says, letting out a small chuckle and a smile before looking out across the road again.
“Robert De Niro hired for his looks? This doesn’t sound right at all, he looks like a pug chewing a bee,” she laughed over the phone.
“Really that’s interesting, didn’t know that,” I lie, too tired from the night of conversations forced upon me in the shop.
“Ask him what its called, this sounds great babe,” Emma says mockingly over the phone, knowing the Robert De Niro rose bandit can’t get her.
“What’s this movie called bud? Might add it to the list with such a glowing review.”
“NO IDEA SOMETHING WITH ONE WORD LIKE ONLY ONE WORD IN THE NAME IF YOU GET ME.”
Our conversation had been taken to another level of meaninglessness by his inability to recall the name. Why tell me about the movie if you can’t recommend it? The man continued to talk as I zoned out, looking at the only saviour I had left: the time table for my bus home. Two minutes, thank god.
“SUNDANCE HE OWNS THAT MAKES ALL THOSE SMALL FILMS NOW SO HE DOES,” the old man says with such confidence only I don’t think Robert De Niro is related to Sundance in any way.
“I didn’t know that, wow.”
“I’m almost positive he doesn’t own Sundance,” she laughs over the phone.
With one minute left on the bus’ arrival time the stop falls silent for the first time since I got here.
“This man has been talking about Robert Redford the whole time,” she cries over the phone in hysterical laughter. The bus pulls up, and I step on tagging my leap card, and with the beep, I knew my conversation from hell was finished.
“ALRIGHT PHILL,” the man shouts to the bus man, staying on the cold platform as the doors close, leaving me wondering was he just there to talk about Robert De Niro to unsuspecting innocents, some aspect of the man’s acting career or was he just like everyone else in WackyBrack; tapped as they come.
It’s been up there the whole time.
The vibrations of the shoddy looking quad bike ran through my body, shaking my bones, ringing them like a church bell on speed. The noise from the different quads was all that could be heard for miles. I assume the camel jockeys in the hill beyond knew we were out on our adventures. The noise of sand and rocks being flung and crushed grew louder as we went deeper into the desert, for some reason in this moment I couldn’t help but think, “if we were to be shot and killed this would be the place to do it.” No sign of civilisation in sight; every direction was a sea of sand with the biggest waves I have ever seen. The brownish-yellow spanned for miles as we drove, twisting and turning one in front of the other as to not get lost in the beauty of nothingness. The sun slowly setting behind the giant red rocks directly in front of us made it look like the sky was on fire; an explosion of orange and red with a hint of deep purple creeping in like a glass of wine had been spilled across it. The sky looked as though it had been painted by someone and left in the sky, left there for weary travellers to marvel at its beauty. The heat quickly killed my awe, it was an almost unbearable 37 degrees in the final minutes of 7 pm. This is not what our Irish bodies are used to; it was so hot it felt as though you could feel the heat crawling on your skin like little fire spirits. A rock shot up from the quad in front, ripping me again from my peaceful thoughts about the sky to a hellish pain. The stone sat in between the knuckle of my pointer and middle finger, heated under the sun to the point where contact with skin made for a very fleshy smell, burning a perfect circle on my hand before I wiped it away, trying to hide the tears in my eyes from absolutely no one; they were all very focused on the upcoming building that seemed overrun with camels honking. As we drew closer to the building, the camels didn’t show any fear. They were the first living things we had seen since we started our trip and the Americans in our group were entranced by them, as if they had never seen an animal before.
An electronic beep fills the image. “Is that everything?” “Have a nice day.”
We were greeted by a small Egyptian man who shooed them off as if they were as average to him as a flock of birds. He sent them all running to the cover of a tin-roofed shelter where they continued to honk for a moment before getting quiet. The man came out towards our quad bikes and shouted in a happy tone something in Arabic and then simply said, “Welcome to my Camel Shack.” And a shack it was. The tiny one-story building was made from cinder blocks and had no exterior paint, with a tin roof the same as the camels’ one. The door had what looked like rebar in a pattern across the front and to the left of it sat two crates of beer, one, missing a few bottles. The windows were also protected by rebar as if to stop people breaking in, but from looking around I didn’t think it would have much trouble with burglars. The place lacked looks but simply being placed in the middle of nowhere gave it its own kind of beauty; it was no contest winner but a beauty nonetheless. The guides and the man shared a few words in a language I couldn’t even hope to comprehend, and then the man started smiling and introduced himself to everyone in the group as Benjamin. I struggled not to laugh; he could barely pronounce it himself. Of course, I never said this, but that didn’t stop someone else in the group from calling him out on it, to which he laughed and said my real name is— I don’t even know how to spell it, so I stuck to calling him Ben.
An electronic beep fills the image. “Is that everything?” “Have a good one.”
One by one tourists got up and down on a poor camel, the only camel in fact that was tied up and forced to walk in circles for the amusement and joy of the people here. I don’t consider myself this huge animal activist, but when you have just driven through the beauty of the Egyptian desert and watched the sunset, seeing how magical nature can be, it just doesn’t feel great to pull up next to a lone shack surrounded by rocks and rubbish and force a camel to walk in circles like some carnival ride for your Dad to snap a picture of you on the defeated beast to put up on your shitty Instagram so your pitiful amount of followers think your life is way better than it is, so I didn’t. I walked to the edge of the little camp type area and watched as the sun disappeared from view and the stars came out. I have never seen stars so beautiful, they filled the night’s sky unpolluted by any kind of light or noise. I watched in silence.
“Pretty cool is it not?” Ben said, walking out from behind me and extending his arms to the heavens, holding a bottle of the undefined beer.
“This is what it’s all about no? You drive one hour from the city into the middle of the unknown to look at something that’s right above you every day, only now it’s special.” He turned, putting a hand on my shoulder and smiling. We shared a moment under the stars before he exclaimed, “Enjoy it while you’re young my friend.”
An electronic beep fills the image.
“Anything else I can do for you?”
I need to get out of this place.
Jack is a third year UCD creative writing student who just wants people to enjoy what he writes and if even one does his mission is complete.