DECEMBER 2008

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Let It Snow
By Ravi Mangla, Nov 06, 2008

“Where the hell is my bonus, Roache?”

“Quarter.” Roache is signing pay stubs. He doesn’t even look up at me.

“Hell isn’t a curse.”

“Quarter.” I groan and put two quarters in the Christmas cookie jar on Roache’s desk. It changes from season to season.

“Where’s my bonus?” The holiday bonus comes on the first of December every year—today is the third. Roache sets down his pen and looks up at me with those big, insect-like eyes.

“It should have arrived on the first. Everyone else got theirs,” he says. I snatch the two hundred dollar gas card from my wallet and brandish it in front of him.

“If this is your idea of a joke, Roache, it isn’t funny. This isn’t my bonus.”

“It is.”

“I want my bonus.”

“I can’t help you. The change is company wide. Every full-time employee in every store got the same bonus.”

“I take the bus to work. What in God’s green earth am I going to do with a gas card?”

“Give it as a gift to your bus driver. Frankly, I don’t care what you do with it.” Roache goes back to signing pay stubs.

“You’ve got to be kidding me, Roache. You have got to be fucking kidding me.”

“Quarter.” I drop a quarter in the jar, which now tallies seven—all belonging to me. He says he gives it to the Salvation Army at the end of the week, but knowing Roache he probably just pockets it with the rest of my bonus.

“I want my bonus, Roache.”

“I can’t help you.” He doesn’t look up at me. I shove my hand in the jar and take the quarters. That gets his attention. But he doesn’t fight me, knowing perfectly well the bonus is bullshit and the quarters are mine anyway.

* * *

On Sunday, I come in from smoking a cigarette outside. Joanne is reading a book on the couch.

“It’s frightful out there.” I shake off my boots and unwind the scarf from around my neck.

“But the fire is so delightful?” She smiles. I don’t. Christmas is killing me slowly and painfully, I swear to her. She tells me to relax and kisses me on the neck. I tell Joanne that if it wasn’t for her I’d go crazy.

Monday. Roache has us turn in our blue vests. He hands out candy-striped red and green ones from a box on his desk.

“You have got to be kidding me.” The sentiment is shared among the other employees as they inspect the new vests with mortified faces. Roache doesn’t give a rat’s ass.

Christmas CD #395898504 plays for the next hour followed by Christmas CD #389409392, and they alternate back and forth for the rest of the day. I spend the evening with track two from Christmas CD #389409392 stuck in my head.

A new disc enters the mix the following morning—Christmas CD #399932057. To break it in, it plays on loop until close. The day is a perpetual hell.

Christmas is going to be the end of me, I tell Joanne. She cooks my favorite dinner to cheer me up—roast beef and mashed potatoes. We stay up late watching old movies, curled tight on the couch. It isn’t a bad night.

Wednesday kicks off with Christmas CD #389409392 followed by Christmas CD #399932057, which cycles a few times. I tell Terry that I’m going out for a smoke and to cover my register. I don’t return for over an hour. Roache is at my register when I finally come back, but I just ignore him. He watches over my shoulder with his ugly, bug eyes for the next twenty minutes, tapping his foot along to Christmas CD #395898504.

Christmas CD #389409392 returns on Thursday. I do an inventory check in the back. The stockroom is a concrete prison and the acoustics are better in there than in the store. The music is louder and crisper. I ask Monty, the stockroom manager, how he stands it.

“What?”

“How do you stand it?” He plucks two balled tissues from his ears.

“Stand what?”

I ball up tissues and stuff them in my ears, but when I get back to the register I find I can’t hear a darn thing the customer is saying. I don’t mind it, but they don’t seem as pleased.

There is one thing I can hear, as crisp as an Aisle 5 potato chip: the weekend marching around the corner, banging hard on its snare, trumpets booming, coming down that home stretch, a crowd of eager faces holding their breath. A day and a half, I tell myself. Twelve hours of music. So that’s about sixteen CDs, with roughly twelve tracks a CD. I figure I’m one hundred and ninety-two tracks away from the weekend, give or take.

Roache wears a tie with gingerbread people on it, hands interlaced. He’s in a good mood and opens the store up one minute early. Roache is in a good mood, so, in staying consistent with the third law of emotion, I’m in a shit mood. With good reason too, I woke up with a twinge in my lower back and it’s only gotten worse. I can feel the vertebrae rubbing together like cold hands.

Monty’s out and I take a nap in the stockroom with tissues in my ears until Craig takes over for me, and I go back my register.

Christmas CD #399932057 orbits once again—for the fourth time.

“This music is lovely,” an old lady says to me, while I’m ringing up her thousand cans of soup. It’s track seven. Every idiot loves track seven for some reason. “Do you by chance happen to know the name of the CD?” I wince.

“Is something the matter?”

“Nothing.” I continue bagging her things. She hums along to the chorus. I stop bagging and slog back to Roache’s office.

“Turn off that God awful music!”

“What?” He has his feet up on the desk.

“I want the fucking music gone!” I swipe the jar off Roache’s desk and it shatters in a dozen pieces on the floor. Roache reaches for the telephone, but I swipe it off the desk before he can grab it. I pin Roache up against the wall, his scrawny little body doesn’t put up much of a struggle. He goes limp in my arms and closes his eyes expecting me to sock him one. But I don’t. I let the son of a bitch have whatever sliver of dignity he has left. He scrambles on the floor for the phone.

“Don’t bother,” I say. “I’m leaving.” The Salvation Army bell tolls outside. It’s cold, but it isn’t frightful. No, it isn’t too bad.

Ravi Mangla lives in Fairport, NY. His short fiction has recently appeared online at Hobart, Pindeldyboz, Wigleaf, elimae, and DOGZPLOT. He keeps a blog at ravimangla.blogspot.com.

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