Today we present Part 1 of Empty Pockets by James Isaac. James has three stories (non-YA) placed in three different anthologies that should be out before the year’s end:
Anabiosis, editors John G. Hartness & Emily Leverett, The Big Bad – An Anthology of Evil (publication and other details pending)
The Edge Between, Soul Reflections, Wicked East Press, 2012 (not yet appeared) e Publications, 2012
Waste Not Want Not, Tales for the Toilet, Crowded Quarantine Publications, 2012
Theme music is “Appeal To Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available at MusicAlley.com.
Empty Pockets, Part 1
by James Isaac
MCG doesn’t notice the young man, clutching a wad of freshly printed CVs, walk past and enter Pound Palace next door. Oblivious to the pattering of rain on the blank shop-awning above, she nods her head to the noises emitting from the over-sized, Monster Soundzzz, studio-quality headphones clutching her ears and scalp. A panoply of charms spreads randomly on the stall display-table in front of her; vacuum packed rabbits feet, horseshoes, an array of styled sevens and twelves. Leaning back on a wooden stool, with her fat-laced trainers up on the table, she maintains a precarious equilibrium. Her stall’s alleged purpose is to entice customers into the shop directly behind. But the last thing MCG expects is to be disturbed by customers. No-one ever enters from the front door.
A few minutes later the pattering rain dissipates and the aforementioned young man, called Dee Jay, exits Pound Palace, a dejected slouch in his steps. With a whirl of his arms he scatters his CVs into the damp air. Watching flashes of black-ink, stating failed exam grades, and the vast canyon-expanse of whiteness below it, equating to his work experience, twirl in the wind he feels rather unfulfilled. Empty CV and empty life, he thinks before mentally debating if he should cheer himself up with a quick burger from the Maccy Ds opposite. But, after a quick dip for cash, he finds empty pockets too.
Aiming a vicious kick at a taunting Maccy D’s bag littering the concrete outside Pound Palace, its soggy paper lining clings and collapses over his white trainer in smears of chips and burger. Nasty, bloody nasty! Thankfully nobody has seen this newest indignity. The street is empty except for a chubby girl pushing a pram and chatting on her mobile, and a little group of kids, shoving each other and spitting on the pavement outside the Maccy Ds.
Then Dee Jay notices the top of a head, tucked away behind that weird voodoo stall everyone avoids. On closer look the head belongs to a girl, bobbing to headphones in such a way as to imply being on the receiving end of outrageous funkiness. She hasn’t noticed Dee Jay’s embarrassing little social misadventure either. Sure, his mates call it a weirdo shop, but nobody ever mentioned the cute girl at the stall in front. One of those sexy mixed up girls, looks like a child of the world, a little bit of every continent wrapped up in a pretty package. Maybe there’s a job going over there?
White crisp shirt (freshly ironed by mum) to impress employers, offset by old-skool trainers to show he doesn’t follow ‘the man’ and hair nicely slicked with extra-hold gel, Dee Jay considers that he looks pretty…slick today. Moving with a swagger, propping up nerves with confident fakery, he approaches the girl and aims his smoothness into one point-blank shot.
“Hello darling. Whacha saying?” Slick Dee Jay. Full of pith and vinegar!
The girl looks up, one hand pulling a headphone away to free an ear. Glaring at Dee Jay, she mutters a “What?” Her voice is loud only because of the music pumping in her other ear. Her eyebrows crease in a v of either annoyance or concentration.
“Um,” dammit, he feels his cheeks blush; all that build-up for a major flop. “Ah, do you have any jobs?” A verifiable age passes and Dee Jay wonders if the girl can even understand English. But then something causes her eyebrows to lift, as if she has just become aware he is still standing there.
“Ooooh. No-one’s ever asked. Wait there, I’ll check with my gran.” She bounces off her stool, bright yellow t-shirt, tight bright-blue trousers. Dee Jay admires the fit.
Just before she passes through the multi-coloured beaded curtain separating stall from main shop entrance, she turns back. “Oh, what’s your name by the way?
“You’re a D.J?”
“Ah, no, Derrick Jones, but I like Dee Jay. What’s you name? Um…please?” he answers, feeling shyness defeating his work-in-progress slickness.
“MCG,” she replies. Instantly Dee Jay worries that perhaps she might be far too cool for him.
“Emcee? You can rhyme?” He mentally congratulates how ‘in-touch’ he must sound.
“What?” Again her furrowed frown, the dipping edges of eyebrows.
“Your name, you know? Emcee? A rapper?”
“I didn’t mean like that. Just like the letters M and a C. Short for Macey. And then a G, short for Guffin. But I don’t like the way it sounds.”
“Ah.” An awkward silence permeates the air, strangling any further attempts at ‘slickness.’ Dee Jay looks at the floor and scratches the back of his head. “About that job, yeah?”
“I’ll go and ask my gran, wait here.” In a fluster she hurries away, knocking a laminated four-leafed clover into a nearby puddle before passing through the beaded curtain. Instinctively Dee Jay bends over to pick it up. But just his luck, at that very moment a white van screeches past, unleashing a sheet of kerb-spray in his direction.
He feels it splashing over his face, in his hair, sending streaks of slimy gel running down his forehead. Luckily his black windbreaker shields everything else. A voice stops him just before he starts on a sprint of embarrassment all the way home. “You must be Jeeday.” Says an old lady, MCG’s gran by process of deduction.
“Look at you, you’re soaked. Come inside for a chat. Come on.” Here goes nothing, my first proper job interview. Dee Jay takes a deep breath and follows the old lady into the building behind the stall, pushing her trail of flailing multi-coloured bead-curtain out of his face. MCG is already back outside and teetering on her stool, lost in head-nodding trance-world.
Inside, the shop reminds Dee Hay of the local supermarket down the bottom of his road after the London riots. Stocked with mismatched bits and bobs here and there, a cartoon of eggs, a box of cereal, a plain packet of plain crisps; the shelves are almost bare. At the back of the shop is a big door with a little bell above; probably the delivery entrance. All in all, bland depression made real. No wonder nobody comes in this place.
An old hand shoves a cloth at him. Dee Jay notices the old lady’s grip is surprisingly firm as he takes it and dries his face. Dressed in a bright-orange woolly cardigan, orange woolly skirt down to her ankles, she is quite unlike any old lady he has ever seen. A little plump, she has the same ‘multi-cultural’ look as MCG. The Orange knitted Tam, out of which tumble matted grey dreadlocks, confirms she is of a certain level of coolness. The only hint that she is even at work comes in the form of an apron, also orange, complete with kangaroo pouch-pocket at the front, worn over her casual clothes.
“You can call me Granny Guffin. So you want a job Jeeday? Well, what would you do?” Straight to business, the old lady is serious, no kidding around.
“Um, I could stack shelves, make tea. I did some business-studies. I know about demand and supply. I’m also good at drawing and stuff.” Is that a good answer? She looks pleased, her wrinkled mouth smoothing over in a smile.
“Such a clever young man. Yes, why not. What we do here is fulfil the desires of our customers. They want a something to do something. We ‘appear’ it from our stock. We always have something that can help.”
“You mean crisps?” Dee Jay scratches the back of his head and looks at the floor.
“Come back tomorrow and you can start. Then you’ll see. I’ll have a nice fresh apron for you. I must say I am looking forward to having a servant.”
“Um, a servant? What about the contract and pay, and hours and stuff?” Dee Jay shuffles uncomfortably.
“So silly of me.” The old lady rustles in the kangaroo pouch of her apron, removing a crisp, flat sheet of paper. “What hours would you like?”
“Uh, any. It’s up to you, whenever really. I prefer not to work evenings.”
“Whenever it is then. What about wages?”
Dee Jay’s only frame of reference is his mate Dapper Dave, in the Maccy Ds drive-through; paid an unfulfilling £7.50 an hour, but better than minimum wage. Try not to undersell yourself, but don’t be greedy; that’s the advice they gave him at college about job interviews. A smile, of what he hopes contains a hint of cheekiness and a dash of charm, etches itself unconvincingly on Dee Jay’s face. “Well, a nice fifty note an hour would be great, but what about eight quid? Um, eight pounds, I mean.”
“On no. Fifty is fine. Here, sign this and I will see you ‘whenever, but not in the evening’ tomorrow.” A pen materialises in her grip from the depths of the kangaroo pouch and Dee Jay takes it along with the contract.
Plain as day, ‘whenever’ is scrawled under the ‘hours’ section and ‘fifty pounds’ is stated as the hourly wage. He can’t quite believe his luck. Perhaps he should have asked for more? Signing above his printed name with a squiggle, details on the contract cause him concern. Nothing about banks accounts, and the printed-type states his name as Jeeday. How on earth did she print his name, despite being wrong, on the paper before he even wandered inside?
“My name’s Derrick Jones and what about my bank account details?”
“Nonsense. Put the money in an empty pocket. All the best things start with empty pockets, empty pockets yearn to be filled else they aren’t pockets at all but just like freshly dug holes.” Well, cash in hand means paying no tax right? A bit exciting, a bit edgy, Dee Jay can cope with that.
“I can work for cash in hand. No problem.”
“And you signed the contract already. Sorry young man, but you have to keep the name Jeeday in this place. Back on your side of the door you can be Dayjee again. Anyway, off you go. Bye bye.”
“I’m called Jeeday, I mean Dee Jay.” Dee Jay feels like he is drowning in craziness. Anxious to get back home, his mum should be pretty pleased he has a job. Who cares what Mrs Guffin calls him as long as he gets paid.
“See you tomorrow,” he says, hurrying through the multi-coloured beaded curtain. The bell on the backdoor jingles just as he leaves.
Outside, as Dee Jay passes MCG, she props a headphone from an ear and says “Goodbye Dee jay”, framing it with a lovely smile.
“See you tomorrow MCG.” He watches her for a moment and their eyes meet. Ask her for her number you dweeb…A moment later, what he can only describe as ‘pew pew’ laser sounds, strikes out from inside the shop behind the beaded curtain. The sound is piercing.
Noticing the puzzlement on his face MCG explains, “Oh, don’t worry. It happens all the time, that’s why I wear these Monster Soundzzz.”
“Whatever.” Having finally had enough of the craziness, Dee Jay turns around, steps over a split Maccy D’s bag, and walks briskly home.
About the Author
James Isaac is a person who exists.
About the Narrator
Graeme Dunlop is a Software Solution Architect. Despite his somewhat mixed accent, he was born in Australia. He loves the spoken word and believes it has the ability to lift the printed word above and beyond cold words on a page. He and Barry J. Northern founded Cast of Wonders in 2011 and can be found narrating or hosting the occasional episode, or working on projects behind the scenes. He has read stories for all of Escape Artists podcasts. Graeme lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife Amanda, and crazy boy dog, Jake. Follow him on Twitter.