The following is an excerpt from VHS, a literary novel by Pablo D’Stair being released in various e-formats, absolutely free-of-charge (and in limited edition print-editions-by-part through giveaways). Information on the project, including links to what is currently available, can be found atwww.vhsbook.wordpress.com
The store was to be rearranged in an orderly fashion, segmented—when I got in about noon, set to work some oddball ten hour shift with two forty-five minute breaks, the movies in the Drama and Horror and Cult Classic sections had been spined, pushed to the side of each row and Palo was using glass cleaner to wipe the empty spaces, trail of scummy towels following him as he wriggled on his knees, bay to bay.
“Where’s Lauren?” I asked, kicking at his lower back, he hadn’t even looked up to see who was there.
“She’s on some conference call, I don’t know—or, she’s in the back on a conference call, but I don’t know when she’ll be done.”
“How’s it going?”
He squirted some of the cleaning fluid on the ground.
It’d take most of the week to have the shelves cleaned properly, waste of time as it was—I hoped Palo wasn’t able to wrangle out of doing the work, but I knew there was every chance he’d gotten in Lauren’s good graces already, promised her he’d name a character in his book after her if she forced the cleaning on me. In fact, just from the temperature of the store I knew that was going to be it, kind of got me down. On top, everyone who came in would want to know this or that about the store’s appearance and what it all meant, I’d run out of things to say pretty quickly, have to start free associating to keep from numbing myself idiotic with repetition, and this would just lead to even more questions.
I tapped the spines of some of the VHS, spines I didn’t think were ever meant to be seen, titles hardly seemed recognizable without the images.
There were four big boxes filled with DVDs, none of them New Release, these would fill the library—another job this week, likely the one Palo had slimed his way into, would be to sticker and sensor and lock and alphabetize these by category, do some equations to figure out exactly how much shelf space would be need to out face every one, same as the VHS had been. What I’d heard was that the second row down of each library bay would have the VHS for sale, so somebody—I didn’t care who—would be taking all of these VHS out of the store cases and putting them in their proper boxes and using a sticker around the base to keep the tapes from falling out because no way would we have enough shrink wrap to do the whole library and what a waste of time that would be, beside. There would be bins set up in front for the New Release VHS which would have to come down off the wall—someone would have to find extra art boxes in back, for the New Release, that’d be a task, hopefully it’d just seem to much and we’d be told not to worry about it after awhile.
Punched in, Lauren not in the office, so I wandered back over, asked Palo where was she, really, but he just reiterated about the conference call, suggested if that call was done then there would be no way to know where she was until she showed up, again, I could ask her at such time as that, if I was so concerned.
“She’s probably having a cigarette, right?”
“What’s the matter?”
He looked like he was going to say, but then said he’d tell me later, squirted some cleaner on his shoes and wiped it dry with a paper towel wad.
“You want me to clean the shelves?”
“Because I will, it just doesn’t matter, you can deal with customers.”
“I want to clean the shelves.”
He shrugged, then twenty minutes later came up to the register to buy a bottled water.
“I’m just in a bad mood, Des.”
I was handing him his change, but he shook his head, told me to keep it, I gave it to him anyway.
“I got a note from a publisher about a manuscript I sent.”
He told me ring him up for another water, if I didn’t want the money, asked me if I wanted the water while I rang the transaction.
“Yeah, sure. What about it, you got rejected? That happened to all the big shots, though, right?”
“Sure. But this was a publisher I really had my heart set on, I’m a big fan of the guy in charge—he’s a writer, too.”
“He mouthed off at you?”
“He said—or wrote, whatever—that if this manuscript was any example, I simply don’t have what it takes to write and, at best, I might want to try my hand at plagiarism.”
I made a sympathetic face, but thought that was pretty funny, wanted to ask what the guy’s name was so I could go read one of his books.
“So now I hate him.”
“So, that’s a hard thing. But I can’t like him after he says something like that, it’s just going way overboard. I mean, there’s just no way I can still even stomach the fact that he’s real.”
“No, I don’t imagine that’s something you can do.”
“I wrote him a long letter explaining the thousand and one ways he’s an impotent jerk, but after I mailed it it hit me that I put my name on the envelope, so he’ll never read it. So, I figured I could write another note, send it under a different name, but then what’d he care, you know? Some random letter from someone he’d never heard of telling him this and that about how he can take walk. So then I started writing another note and was going to address it from somebody famous and well respected in the world of letters—somebody foreign, to make it sting more—but he’d see right through that and then it’d reinforce his bloated sense of self-satisfaction that someone would go to such surreptitious lengths. It’s hopeless.”
“You can’t get him on the phone?”
“No. He doesn’t take calls and I don’t think it’d have the same impact over the phone.”
“You want me to clean the shelves, you can read the backs of all these DVDS came in?”
“I’m starting to hate DVDs, just like you.”
“I don’t hate DVDS.”
“Everyone says you do, anyway.”
I mumbled something about “everyone” then wandered over to where Palo had left off cleaning, going to my knees, squirting a shelf row he’d likely already finished. I heard Palo chatting with a customer who’d walked in, peeked over the shelf top to see what the customer looked like, resettled into my work, satisfied I hadn’t missed out on some spectacular customer or something.
Palo came over, stood on the other side of the shelf bay I was working on, whispered to get my attention.
“Thanks for cleaning the shelves.”
“Can I tell you something?”
I didn’t say yes or no, so he waited out a properly emphatic amount of time, spoke in a normal tone, hushed, but not affected into a whisper, anymore.
“There weren’t any insects around when I got that letter, but I looked. I was really upset so I hoped there’d be something. Bugs. If there had been, I would have killed them.”
He looked sad about it, so I said it doesn’t matter because “bugs aren’t anything” and that it was an understandable and restrained way to want to handle his aggression. He had his lower lip sucked in, like he was way someplace else in his head, eventually blinked and said that I was right.
“I think it might’ve been the same with anything, though.”
“With anything, what do you mean?”
“I only looked for bugs just because, you know?”
I didn’t, but I said Yeah.