Darryl Peers

Late Shift

The alarm goes. I slap the screen of my phone and it stops. Six thirty AM.

I get out of bed and dress. I left my gear out last night on the table next to my wardrobe. I grab my keys from on top of the chest of drawers and go out.

At the gym the car park is almost full. I drive about for ten minutes before I get a space. This proper muncher takes ages to reverse out of the only space left. I honk my horn and they soon get on with it. Probably saw my guns.

In the gym I do the usual routine. Stretches, squats, weights, done.

I’m home and I shower. Wouldn’t shower in the changing rooms at the gym. Might get herpes.

Uni is boring. I only even bothered coming in because they pass round a register and you get hammered if you don’t sign it. The lecturer goes on about some kind of equation but I’ll check the presentation online later and make sense of it then.

I’ve got my headphones in on my walk to work though I’m not actually listening to anything. I just don’t want random jakeys to think they can talk to me. I get a text. It’s my little brother asking to use my car. He can actually fuck off. Bet Dad put him up to it. This is why I need to move out, although I guess Dad pays the car, so maybe not yet. I reply saying no bother. The lads chat is going mental. I flick open Messenger to see what’s going on when I realize I’m right outside work.

I’ll check later then. I get inside and Dave is giving me the eyebrows. I give them back. It’s a thing.

I get to the back and put my bag in a locker before changing my shirt. Loretta walks in just as I thought the place was empty.

“Cameron,” she says. “There’s a bathroom right over there.”

“Yeah, sorry,” I reply.

“What would you have done if I had been Chris? He stares at you enough as it is.”

“I’d let him have a feel.”

Loretta exhales loudly and rolls her eyes. “Don’t come crying to me when he gets too much and you don’t know how to handle it. There’s books need unpacking and your shift just started.”

She strides out of the break room in her Sketchers. She always wears Sketchers. Her red hair flies behind her. I pull on my shirt and make after her too.

She is already knee-deep in boxes when I arrive in the stock room, tearing at cardboard with a Stanley knife.

“Took you long enough,” she calls at me without turning to look. “I left you one—by the door.”

I look over to the ledge to my left and there is a Stanley knife waiting for me too. Looks like it’s just me and Loretta on in the back today. I normally like it in the back. Depends who you’re on with though. Loretta’s the boss and doesn’t talk much. But if you get stuck with Maureen then forget it. Everyone else is pretty decent.

We could only have been going at it for like ten minutes when Loretta announces she has to check something outside. Off she goes, leaving me in here by myself. The door closes behind her and I take my phone out of my pocket to see what’s getting everyone so excited on the lads chat. I scroll to catch up for a minute and basically Mikey accidentally pulled his ex-girlfriend in Institute last night. He was too fucking drunk to notice who it was. She’s been stalking him ever since they broke up. I met her once and she had this mental look in her eyes. Clinically insane in my opinion. She’ll be loving this.

How the hell do you accidentally pull someone? At least he didn’t go home with her. I send a GIF of some girl who looks American saying, “She’s a fucking psycho.” I smirk. I’m funny. I put my phone back in my pocket.

Shit. Look who it is. Fucking Maureen must have shuffled into the room while I was checking the chat. She’s so quiet she’s an actual ghost. Pale as one too. Fuck me.

She sets, slowly, to work on cutting open a box without even saying hello. Loretta must have sent her in to help out. If you can call it help. It’s three thirty. I check the rota on the wall and see I’m not due out on the floor until five. An hour and a half in here with Maureen. Fantastic.

I cut the tape on the boxes, lift the flaps, take the books out and pile them on the trolley by genre and in alphabetical order. I flatten the boxes. I can’t help but notice my trolley is almost full and Maureen’s is basically empty. I try to ignore it. Then I fill my trolley and I can’t ignore it.

“You need a hand, Mo?” I call her Mo. She doesn’t seem to mind.

She mumbles something.

“My trolley’s full. Want me to come help with yours?” I say.

“Um, sure.”

I step over the pile of flattened cardboard I’d made and start to pick up the boxes piled up in front of her. We work on it for a little while. I notice she picks up the pace. Yes, Maureen, that’s the stuff.

I’ve spoken to her like twice before. Pretty sure that “um, sure” is the first thing I’ve ever heard come out from under the hair she wears like curtains. She’s the only one in here around my age but that’s all we’ve got in common. I don’t think of striking up conversation.

She does.

“Thank you,” she stutters.

I think I must look at her with surprise by mistake because she seems to go back behind her curtains as fast as she can.

“Don’t mention it,” I say.

“My mum always says I need to thank people who help me out.”

Not keen. Not keen at all for this chat. So not keen. Why does she think I want to talk about her mum? I never should have said anything. I should have just fake-smiled.

Dave rescues me by strolling in nice and casual. “Any trolleys to go out?” he calls.

“Aye,” I reply, “there’s one over there.”

“Great work, Johnson.”

Dave calls me by my last name. I call him Sergeant because he volunteers with the Salvation Army and when he told me the first time all he said was “I do some work for the Army.”

He goes to get the trolley and begins to wheel it out when I whistle at him. I hop over some unpacked boxes towards him.

“Mate, can you see who’s on here at five and get them in here ASAP?” I mutter close to his ear.

He smiles and his eyes briefly flicker over my shoulder. Of course he would enjoy this. He pretends he doesn’t know what’s going on. “You not enjoying the back today?”

He knows fine well I’m not. “That is not the team spirit I expect of an Army man like yourself.”

He laughs. “Alright. But I think it’s Chris and