"We cannot suppose therefore that God has made an order of beings, with such mental qualities and powers, for the sole purpose of being used as beasts, or instruments of labour."
He slept with the lights on again. It seemed no matter how much vinegar he put on his bedroom floor and his desk and his door, there were always cockroaches around. Before he went to bed he saw two scamper away when he turned his light on. The light was the only thing that he knew would keep them from crawling on him in his sleep. Without a sleep mask to cover his eyes from the light he had to sleep with an arm over them, which was very uncomfortable. It was around noon when he finally drifted off. He was working nights again, having already worked three eight hours in a row. Now he had three twelve hours ahead of him before his next period of time off.
Marty had slept around one or two hours when he woke again, the sound of drilling blaring upstairs, making the whole room shake a little. The trains he could stand, he had grown accustomed to it already, but this drilling was directly above him and it sounded as if it might as well have been in the same room.
"Geez!" he yelled up at the ceiling. He grabbed his cellphone. "Ah, it's not even three yet!" His shift started at seven. He had to be up and out of the house by six. He texted Ivan's number: "I am sleeping, got big shift ahead of me."
The drilling stopped.
His phone beeped. The text message reply read: "Give me half hour more." The drill resumed. Marty swore under his breath.
He got up and went into the kitchen. Richard was sitting at the table eating a bowl of soup, a mug of steaming black tea next to the bowl. He nodded as Marty waddled over to the fridge.
"You look tired," the Englishman observed.
"Yeah," Marty muttered back, closing the fridge and heading to the washroom. He sat down on the toilet seat, his head buried in his hands, rubbing his eyes, maybe drifting off for five minutes as the drill wasn't quite as loud in this room. When he came back outside to the kitchen he took the seat across from Richard.
"I have a damn shift, a twelve hour shift in a few hours, and I've gotten maybe two hours of sleep so far thanks to this jackass and his drill."
"I am glad I sleep during the night," replied the older man, shaking his head. "Not that that always stops Ivan the Terrible from his projects anyway. It's his house as far as he's concerned. I told you, he wont listen."
"He knew I was a daysleeper, or at least half the time I sleep during the day, when I moved in here," Marty said. "This is bullshit."
"You got money, don't you? If you don't mind me asking, do you have money for first and last rent for another place?"
Marty nodded. "Just barely."
"Then move out," he replied bluntly. "That's what I'd do if I had it. There's no reason to stay here."
"I just got here though, I mean, September has what, one more week left? I might as well at least try to stick it out. I mean, Nicky told me Ivan is away half the time anyway."
Richard shrugged. "True, but when he's here..." he shook his head, not needing to finish the sentence. Of course Marty realized that even if Ivan wasn't home, the roaches always were.
The door to the room beside Marty's opened up and Jordan came out carrying a knapsack. "What's up?" Richard greeted. Marty noticed Jordan wore a black t-shirt with a golden scarab, that symbol of ancient Egypt on it.
"Not too much," replied the other man, smiling. "Nice drill, huh?"
"Keeping me from sleep," Marty said as the noise boomed louder from upstairs.
"I know," said Jordan, having to raise his voice a bit. "Glad I'm getting out today."
"Going to work?" asked Richard.
"Going to the zoo with my son. Today's my day with him," he said.
"Ah nice," said Marty, trying to be friendly to the neighbour he hardly ever saw. "How old is your son?"
"You should see him," said Richard. "He's like a little mini-Jordan, so cute."
Jordan smiled, then left through the door to the little landing.
"I like animals, just not wanting to see them in cages," said Richard when he was gone.
"I thought I heard a kid a few days ago," said Marty, thinking back to the morning he was woken up to the sound of a little voice laughing on the other side of the wall. He had been hungover from drinking with Jimmy the night before, so it really threw him off.
"Yeah, he comes over sometimes. Good kid, really polite to adults."
The drill went on above them, seeming to get louder every minute. A train went by outside, causing the place to shake moreso. Richard grabbed his mug with one hand and his soup bowl with the other.
Once the train was gone Marty sighed. "I have to talk to Ivan about this. It's ridiculous that I'm paying so much, but he's making noise when I need sleep, not to mention he wont do shit about the roaches."
"I told you, there's no point. He wont do anything. Even if you're the best tenant and you pay on time every time, he won't do anything. Trust me on this."
Marty slept on the subway ride to work. He was thankful that Trevor was working this night. Trevor usually let Marty take naps during his breaks if the place wasn't too busy. He usually found a place on the second floor in a lounge space that residents could book during the day for events. There were sofas and big comfy chairs in this room.
As he got out at Bay Station and headed up the stairs to the street Marty started thinking over the matter with Ivan and his drill. He had only had a few hours sleep after the landlord stopped and felt like he was almost sleepwalking to work. The image of Richard telling him to move out kept popping up in his head. It would be easy enough, finding a new place. Marty contemplated paying an extra hundred or two for a more private place, maybe a basement. The only thing that made him hesitant to move was the thought of the greenhouse they had built a week before. He still had to buy some planters, soil and seeds to get started. The thing was complete now, the insulating foam having filled up the inverted corners of the wall made of doors, the plastic shower curtains taped together and put over it like a tent. It felt warm enough, although Marty knew that the real test would come once it actually snowed heavily.
Marty arrived at work, having picked up an extra large double double coffee from Tim's from across the street. Trevor quickly debriefed him once he had gone to the back-room and changed. The day had been slow, nothing new to report really, save a food delivery service that had come by for an elderly resident named Mrs. Whiteshire. Marty hadn't met this old lady in person, but had spoken to her many times on the phone, usually whenever the meal delivery people were late. Even once the meal arrived Mrs. Whiteshire kept Marty on the phone, going on about how her day was sitting in her room listening to the radio by herself. Marty was too polite to cut her off most of the time, only doing so if someone came to the front for assistance.
"Have you met Mrs. Whiteshire?" he asked Trevor once the debrief was over.
"No," his partner replied. "She lives on the third floor though. I just send the guys up there."
"She seems lonely," said Marty.
"Yeah, she talks everyone's ear off. Anyway, so last patrol was done by the last shift at seventeen hundred hours. One of us can go in another hour." Marty volunteered to go first, unsure of how long his miniscule energy could last before he needed a nap. Trevor, as was typical, was understanding when Marty explained the lack of sleep.
"Sounds like you need to move out," he said once Marty had explained the matter with Ivan's drill. "Sounds like you got a pretty shitty landlord too." He looked around, making sure no residents had been around to hear him swear. Bob and the management from the second floor office had many strict rules regarding curse words at the front desk.
He woke up to the sound of drilling, turned to over to his side on his fold-out couch and glanced at his alarm clock. It was two hours before his alarm was set to go off. "Bastard," he muttered, looking up at the vibrating ceiling. If he had paid his last phone bill he would text Ivan, not that he thought it would make a difference anyway. He was behind a month on rent and had to pool the money he had presently to pay that off, as well as use the next paycheque for the first of October.
Richard's t-shirt, the only one he got from work, was hung up on the hook on the room's door. It was a bright red with the store's ugly yellow logo on the front and big white words on the back inviting shoppers to: Ask Me Anything! It was strange, considering that Richard's hired position was in the warehouse and he only stocked the appliance section anyway. His first few days were boring, but he expected that, and he managed to stock mostly everything he had been given by the time the day was over. People were interrupting his work constantly though, asking him where things were. Some of the time the things they were looking for were a few feet away in plain sight and Richard had only to point. Other times it was something that wasn't in his department. He pointed them in the right direction to the aisle. It was a bit frustrating, having people interrupt his stocking duties, but it was part of the job. Richard thought it would make sense for the company to directly hire people whose job it was to walk about the store and help people, rather than making the warehouse crew do both jobs, but he was just hired and made a point of keeping his mouth shut.
"Beggars can't be choosers," he said aloud as he left his room, the drill still booming on above him. He stepped into the washroom, seeing a cockroach scurry off as he entered.
After he showered and brushed his teeth he put on the t-shirt. He had five dollars in his wallet and would be getting some breakfast on the way there. It was a fifteen minute walk. Some days he went eastward to Keele Street and went under the railway bridge, passing by the elephant mural, and at other times he went westward to Runnymede. Either way he had to pass under a bridge where the rail-line ran. Deal-Mart was right in the middle, equal distance from either route, one of many box stores in the Stockyards Plaza.
He left the house, undecideed which way to go for the day. It was a nice, crisp Autumn day, not as cold as it had been lately. Up above a flock of Canada Geese flew away in a chevron down towards the lake.
"Lucky bastards," he said, then noticed someone coming toward him on the sidewalk. "That you, Marty?"
"Hey!" the younger man replied. As he came closer Richard noticed how tired he looked, the dark bags under his eyes making him look older than his twenty-seven years.
"Are you about to crash?" Richard asked.
"I'm not even having a tote before bed," replied Marty. "For me, trust me, that means I'm tired." He laughed weakly. "You going to work?"
"Where else?" said Richard, slowing down his pace as Marty passed by. "I got two days left then it's the weekend."
"Same here, well, I got two shifts left actually. After that I'm sleeping for a day. Maybe we can get some drinks or something?"
"Alright, sounds good," said Richard, waving as Marty turned to go to the front door.
He hadn't had a good drink in a while and the work at Deal-Mart was making him want to drink more than ever.
His second last shift was almost done. The sun was coming up, it's earliest rays beaming on the glass of the Bay Street skyscrapers. Marty sipped his coffee, needing this one boost to stay awake this last hour before turning over the shift to the morning crew. Bob would be coming in soon. Marty shuddered at the thought. He hated seeing his boss.
"Marty, I'm going to do the last patrol now," came Trevor's voice on the radio.
"Sure," Marty replied, standing up from the bench in front of the condo tower. "I'll be at the front in a second." He went inside the west entrance and took his place behind the counter. "Another dead night."
"Yep," agreed Trevor, placing his radio walkie on his belt. "I got one more left till I get some time off."
"Same here," said Marty. "Or well, after this one then I get a bunch of days to myself. I'm going to be drinking, that's for sure. It's payday right after too."
Trevor grinned, then made a quick drinking motion with his hand, and then was off to the elevators to start his rounds. Marty sighed, taking in the relaxing pre-dawn atmosphere, knowing that in less than half an hour the place would spring to life with postal deliveries, management and the morning commuters.
Harvey Franco was typically one of the first people Marty saw leave the building. Every day Mr. Franco seemed to have a different suit, a different coloured sports jacket and a different tie. It wasn't different each day of the week, but literally each day. Usually when he left a lady came in and signed into his penthouse. She was the maid. She was there for two hours almost every time. Erin then left to go to work at around lunchtime.
The radio buzzed. "Nineteen clear."
"Ten-four," replied Marty. The phone rang next. "Front desk, security. Marty speaking."
"Good morning. Is this Bob?" came a weak female voice.
"No, Mrs. Whiteshire, this is Marty. Bob will be in in less than an hour."
"Marty? Oh hi Marty."
"Hi, what can I do for you?"
"Has my breakfast come yet?" she asked.
"No, Mrs. Whiteshire," Marty replied. "It comes at nine when I am off duty, just like every other morning." The first few times the old lady called down and asked him this he was a little annoyed, but by now Marty had gotten used to it. She was quite senile, he knew, and her morning call had become a standard part of the overnight shift on weekdays, the sign that Marty's long shift was coming to an end.
"And my lunch?"
"That's at one on the dot," he answered. "Just like every other weekday. Okay? So we'll give you a call when they come."
"Okay, thank you, young man," replied Mrs. Whiteshire, hanging up.
Marty sighed, smiling a little. He didn't feel so young anymore, especially with this job that wore him down with the shifting schedules, but he knew he was young to Mrs. Whiteshire and that made him feel a little better.
"In a few years I'll be thirty," Marty thought, sighting himself in the reflection of the computer monitor in front of him. The screen was black, with only four tiny blue icons that tracked the elevators and numbers running up and down columns to represent floors. "Thirty years old, a university degree, but working a job I could have got straight out of high school."
It seemed there were so few good jobs around, even for the educated. He could work for a not-for-profit organization, but he dreaded that he would end up canvassing rich neighbourhoods for donations, something he could never do. People hated telemarketers, he figured, so they would hate it more if one appeared at their porches. Marty wondered if Richard Brewer would ever take a job like that.
"Richard to the office," his supervisor's voice rang out mechnically from the speakers. "Richard to the office."
Richard the employee placed the toaster on the counter and left the cart full of remaining appliances in the middle of the aisle. He glanced at his wristwatch as he took a left turn and started making his way along the far wall of the store. It was ten in the morning, five minutes before their first break of the day. As he came up to the office he peered into the door window, seeing both Colin and Derek sitting at the latter's table.
"Have a seat," said Derek once Richard had opened the door.
"Hey Derek," he greeted as he came in. He ignored his supervisor, not even making eye contact with him once he had sat down in the empty chair in front of them.
"Richard," the employer said with a sigh. "There's been word through the grapevine that sometimes at the end of a shift you hang around the punch-out clock a few minutes before the alarm actually goes off."
"Oh yeah, that's just to clean up first," Richard replied. "I hope that that's not a problem? It's only two or three minutes, I just need to wash my hands and take a quick breather."
The two superiors glanced at one another. Richard finally looked at Colin, realizing what the 'grapevine' was and how word travelled through it. "Really?" he thought. "You ratted me to the boss over that? You fucking tool."
"Well, our company policy endorses the cleanliness of our enployees and your well-being and health are our number one priority as employers. But we feel that we pay you because you are assets to us. You bring us prosperity so that we, in turn, can give you some of the prosperity."
"What we mean to say is that we pay you to work, not to clean up yourself," Colin piped in. Richard met his gaze again. Derek nodded his head forward, trying to get the attention of both of them.
"We need you to be on the ball more," he stated. "That's all."
"Okay," Richard said, looking back to the man who hired him. "I will clean up after."
"Good," said Derek, smiling while he leaned back again in his leathery office chair.
"Thanks. Well, I now have to catch up on my work," he said, thinking of how often Colin was criticizing him for stocking too slowly the past few days. Richard stood up, forcing a smile back. He nodded to Derek only, then turned about. The buzzing alarm for break-time went off, the sound shaking the metal walls of the office.
"If you really feel bad about it," Colin called after him, his tone cocky and taunting to Richard. "You can work through the break to catch up."
Richard muttered under his breath as he left the front doors of Deal-Mart at five o'clock. The look of Colin's chubby face with buck-tooth teeth grinning at him kept appearing in his mind. Even the sight of the elephants on the mural down Keele Street couldn't get his mind off it. He was behind on his stocking all day because they interrupted him just to reprimend him for something petty. He couldn't help but think it was personal. Colin was a terrible supervisor. He did nothing, never helped his employees when they were swamped with work. All he did was walk around the aisles to bark at his underlings when they looked too slow to him.
It was his last day at least. He had some time off, a little weekend from work. It was tough, starting out at this new place. Richard hadn't worked that hard in years. He thought of the money and the drinks that Marty had mentioned they would have once both of them were off. In a month or two Richard could be the one who buys the drinks.
As he turned down Dundas he ran into his room-mate again. He had just gotten off of a bus. Richard caught up to him down the street and started walking alongside him.
"Hey man!" Marty greeted. Richard saw he had bags under his eyes again, still looking tired.
"What's going on with you? I just got off work for the weekend."
"Ah nice. I was just coming home from the mall down at Dufferin," Marty replied, raising his arm, showing Richard the plastic bag he was carrying. "Just bought some new books." He picked them out one at a time. Two of them Richard recognized, both written by Charles Dickens. The other ones he forgot as soon as he was shown them. They looked like books on war history.
"Nice," said Richard. "If I wasn't working all the time I'd ask to borrow one. I have no time to read. Are you done for a few days too?"
Marty shook his head. "No, just one more night. I'm leaving in an hour, just wanted to go home to take a shower. You still down for getting some drinks when I'm off tomorrow evening?"
"Bloody Hell, yes!"
The last shift went by smoothly. It was a dead night so he got to read a lot of Charles Dickens. Marty and Trevor had to ask a homeless man to leave the site; he was sleeping in the vestibule on the west entrance. Marty did his job, asked him to leave sternly, but felt bad about it. Later on he was out on the bench in front of the building when the same man passed by.
"Hey," the man greeted, barely standing, likely drunk. "Sorry about earlier, eh?"
"It's okay," said Marty, taking a sip of his Tim's coffee. "It's my job, you understand? We are paid to make sure that the people who live here don't step on people sleeping in the entranceway."
"Of course," said the man. "Can you spare me some change?"
Marty grabbed the wallet out of his left pocket, pulling out a toonie (Canadian two dollar coin) and handing it to the man. The man nodded his thanks, then eyed the ten dollar bill that was visible in Marty's open wallet. Marty closed it and put it back in his pocket.
"I'm really hungry," the man said, gazing now at Marty. "Can you spare a bit more for a meal? I haven't had a proper meal in a week."
Marty shook his head. "I'm sorry, I have bills to pay."
"It's okay," said the man, nodding and heading down Bay Street.
About an hour later, when Trevor was on the last patrol, he got the usual call from Mrs. Whiteshire and assured her that her breakfast would be at the building soon. He saw Harvey Franco, this time wearing green, the colour of U.S. money, leaving earlier than usual. Marty decided to be friendly.
"Good morning Mr. Franco," he called. The rich man ignored him and left through the west doorway. "Lucky thing you're not tripping on some homeless man because of us," Marty then muttered once the pompous penthouse-dweller was outside.
The sun was shining beautifully for a late September day. Marty walked from Bay Street down to Dundas, even going a little eastward to Yonge Street to catch the streetcar. At the Yonge and Dundas intersection, a clearly attempted architectural mini-Times Square, he passed by the gathering crowds at the front of the Eaton's Centre on the southwest corner. They were mostly people crowding around, waiting for the doors to the megamall to open up for the day. Mixed among them were the self-proclaimed street prophets.
Marty passed by one man nearest the street. He was an older white man, looking down at the ground awkwardly and then yelling: "BELIEVE!" as soon as anyone passed by. He had Christian pamplets in his hands. There was also some other man, a younger man with a megaphone, shouting about his former life when he was addicted to crack, but then was saved by religion.
"You've swapped one drug for another," Marty said quietly as he passed by. As he made his way to the streetcar stop on the lane going westward he overheard the man speaking again, going on about the urgent need to stop gays from getting married lest a judgement be placed upon Toronto.
Marty shook his head, then saw the streetcar coming his way. "Thank God," he thought. "Thank God I am off and I can get out of all this bullshit, even if for only a few days. I've paid my time, made my money, now it's time to drink."
He realized then that he wasn't one to criticize others for needing an escape.