Karen Hemmerle’s short story “The 24 Hour Intimate Position” is the winner of the Stories on Stage writing contest for the September 13, 2014 show.
I have what’s called “a spotty work history”. It started when I was in college and all my friends had waitress jobs. I thought, “How hard can it be bringing people food?” So I got a job at that Greek place by the University, Nick’s. I’m sure you know it. Remember the story about the waitress Nick fired in the middle of the lunch rush? He chased her out of the place with a meat cleaver? For the record, it was just a big knife, not a cleaver.
My next job seemed much more promising; Sales Buckaroo at Pet Rodeo in the mall. Seriously. That’s what they called us; Sales Buckaroos. We wore red bandana shirts and cowboy hats, and had to call everyone “pardner”. As the newest Buckaroo, I was assigned to corral duty, which sounded great until I found out it was actually puppy poop duty. But I held my nose and scooped the poop because the puppies were cute, and I could waste at least an hour a day playing with them. My puppy love didn’t last long, so the boss promoted me to Budgie Wrangler. That’s Rodeo-speak for parakeet clerk. The parakeets weren’t nearly as loud as the puppies, and the poop was significantly smaller. And it didn’t smell.
What happened really wasn’t my fault.
Apparently, one night the cage door was mysteriously left open. By morning, all the parakeets were out of the cage. Okay, not just out of the cage. Out of the store. The Rodeo just had a steel bar gate to close it off from the rest of the mall. So once the ‘keets had made their initial cage break, it was easy to slip between the steel bars and complete their great escape into the mall. You can still see a small flock of parakeets buzzing mall customers from time to time. I hear they nest in the rafters.
After the Rodeo, I tried some other mall jobs, but they didn’t work out. Oh, and just so you know, the Ear Piercery doesn’t always sterilize that piercing gun. And don’t even get me started on the Food Court.
I was getting pretty desperate when I remembered Uncle Jeffery. Now Jeffery isn’t really my uncle, but he’s known my family forever, and he likes me to call him uncle. He also likes to check out my ass when he gets the chance. Lucky for me, he’s the manager at Winstons Department Store in the mall. After checking out my backside, Jeffery told me how he’d always sensed a bond between us. Then he winked and said that since I really needed the money he had something for me. That’s how I ended up in the 24 Hour Intimate Position.
It’s not what you think.
24 hours a week, I’m a sales clerk in Winstons’ lingerie department. My co-workers are an interesting group. Rosa is from Venezuela. She’s 6 months pregnant, which looks more like 11 months to me. I like her and she’s offered to teach me Spanish. On the flip-side, there’s Carol, a totally OCD bitch who spends way too much time refolding the panties. Pete is, well, a guy. He’s straight, he sells ladies’ undies, and I don’t want to know anything more than that.
The department boss is Trudy, short for Gertrude, the German dominatrix. Or so Rosa says. Rosa has a theory that under Trudy’s mid-priced, neutral color suits, there’s a leather corset and garters. I told Rosa I bet it’s actually cotton day-of-the-week undies, which meant I had to spend the next 15 minutes explaining to her about weekies. She asked what would happen if someone wore a pair on the wrong day. I’ve wondered about that myself.
The work is pretty easy, and mostly consists of running the cash register. Not many women need help picking out a bra or panties. If someone needs special attention or a fitting they see Trudy, since she’s a certified intimate apparel professional. Rosa has a theory on that one too. Most days are fun, but if we get bored, someone will accidentally knock over a table of panties, so that we can watch Carol do her “Rainman” thing while she refolds. Some days, we get the pervs who come to fondle the lingerie. They may say it’s for a girlfriend, but they usually buy in their own size. Rosa has several theories on these guys.
The funniest day was last Thursday. Pete was ringing up some two for one, tummy-slimming panties when a parakeet landed on the counter, cheeped at him, and flew off. When he asked if I had seen it, I just looked at him like he was a crazy man, and asked how a parakeet could possibly get loose in the mall.
Like I said, most days are easy and fun. Today was different. First, Carol and Pete had the day off, then Rosa left at noon with pre-baby back pain. Trudy was in a foul mood for some reason, and by mid-afternoon was seriously in need of a sanity break. I told her I’d be okay alone, so she took off for a while.
There were a few customers, no one worth mentioning, except this girl lurking among the bras. She was about my age, with really cute short hair. She didn’t seem to be a shoplifter; but I couldn’t figure out what she was doing. As it turned out, she was looking for Trudy, and started to leave when I said she was on break. But I told her I could help with anything she needed. I mean, I do know how to measure for a bra.
She said her name was Tina, and she needed a mastectomy bra. I didn’t even know women my age could get breast cancer. But I did know what to do, so we went to a fitting room to take some measurements.
I really thought I was okay, until Tina took off her shirt and there in the mirror were her one perfect breast and her one angry red scar. We just stood there, both of us staring at the scar in the mirror, like it was some trick of the light, or a mark on the glass. She was just like me, and she had cancer. And I didn’t know what to say or do. She smiled at me in the mirror, and I started to cry a little. She said it was okay, then she turned around and put her arms around me. And she started to cry too.
I don’t know if I was crying for Tina, or for me. But we stood there in the little fitting room, arms around each other, her one perfect breast and her one missing breast pressed between us, crying our hearts out.
And that’s what Trudy saw when she came in. The look on Trudy’s face was impossible to read. She told me that she’d take over for me. That I should clock out and go home.
At home, I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I cried some more. I’d finally found a job I liked and was good at, and now I was going to be fired. And girls like me get cancer.
I wasn’t embarrassed about how I had acted with Tina. I wasn’t a cold dominatrix in leather. I was a girl like Tina. And girls like us get cancer.
I didn’t feel much like eating, so I put on my cuddly jammies and got into bed to read. But my mind kept drifting back to Tina and the scar and the look on Trudy’s face. My technique may have been flawed, but I knew my heart was in the right place. At 9, the phone rang. It was Trudy. The ax was about to fall. She told me how shocked she’d been when she walked into the fitting room. In her thirty years as a certified intimate apparel professional she’d never seen such a thing. She said she’d talked to Uncle Jeffery about my job. I felt the ax on my neck.
Then Trudy told me how proud of me she was. She said the most important part of the job was helping people like Tina. And Tina had told her how much it meant for someone her own age to acknowledge what had happened to her. Trudy said Rosa would be starting maternity leave in a few weeks. Then she asked if I would accept a full time intimate position.
I said yes.
Karen Hemmerle is a writer living in Denver, CO. She is a produced screenwriter, and has written several spec scripts. She co-wrote and co-produced the 2008 documentary Dandy Kids, which screened for the U.S. Congress, at their request. She is a screenwriter, screenwriting coach, script doctor, essayist and monologist. In 2013, she wrote a series of articles for seniorcare.com about living with and caring for an elderly parent. Her monologue “A Love Story of Sorts” was featured at the May 2013 Stories on Stage show “Love Stories and Other Disasters” at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.
Karen is currently writing the forthcoming book, Goodbye to the Fat Girl, about her experiences losing both her physical fat girl, and the inner emotional fat girl that causes so many to regain the weight they lose. Visit her Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/GoodbyeToTheFatGirl and her blog about the book at http://goodbyetothefatgirl.wordpress.com/.