by David Moloney
In a woeful attempt to find an adjunct job for the Fall, not much established itself as definite. As for outlook, I shot for hopeful, but landed on urgent, so I returned to my old job at a Stateline package store. The store’s sign stood tall overhead for passerby, announcing the tax disparity between Massachusetts and New Hampshire: Low beer/cig prices before you hit Taxachusetts. But the two states didn’t only share a difference in tax code. MAGA hats were prevalent on the northern side of the border, along with Confederate flag bumper stickers, or the actual flags waving above muddy Ford F-150’s. To me, the occupants were driving around in too close proximity to my blue state with their “Old Joe” middle fingers out the windows. But working that counter, selling Rave menthols and twenty packs of watered down beer to customers who shared different worldviews meant the job was just a job. I held no prestige. I couldn’t forbid selling to anyone when I wasn’t the owner. I merely owned tenancy in myself, but so did Wells Fargo and Great Lakes student loans.
Anyways, there was Michelle, a peculiar woman I worked nights with. She first introduced herself, about a month back, as a prophet of the Lord. She entered the store with an air of familiarity: raspy, smoker’s voice, bloodshot eyes, a pooch for a belly signaling years of Budweiser consumption and little Debbie night caps. Not as a ribs-through-robe prophet, with long, silken hair, sandals, and plaintive authenticity found in scripture. She was but of the maddening, contemporary flesh, chubby with a fondness of thirsty Thursday’s on the lake, not something dreamt up by early writers: a calm, preaching of what an all-loving God would reveal in the coming age. There was no direction in her proclamations. She told me, rather quickly into our first shift, that I had demons around me. They weren’t satisfied demons; the demons surrounding me were hungry. You never know when crazy is going to show itself, or what crazy really is. I thought I knew crazy, until I’d seen Michelle, wearing the store’s black button down, a Dunkin Donuts large coffee straw sticking out of her breast pocket, tickling her sun-burnt cheek, explained how when God decided it was the end, giant grasshoppers would be tasked with removing the sinners.
I found her seriousness comical at first. But then, it was disconcerting. Were their demons around me? I pulled packs of blue Parliament and silver Montclair out of the overhead slots, rang up make-your-own micro-beer sixer’s for the bearded (dare I say it) hipsters, exchanged empty propane tanks for fresh ones, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the hypothetical demons hovering over me.
Sure, we all have demons. That isn’t a fresh take on the metaphor. It had come to my attention though, that certain demons were running amuck, ostensibly as stridulating insects, swarming man-eating locusts, but visible only to the new age prophets such as Michelle. Michelle told me that her husband couldn’t see the fanged hoppers, which was a shame, because they only came to him when he slept at night, and he was a restless sleeper. She seemed to believe he would benefit from a sight or two of the demons. It would be a relief; his heavy caffeine consumption wasn’t to blame for his restlessness, nor the sleep apnea, which his fat ass (her words) could use as a crutch. He needed a manifestation of the demon to reveal itself. To him, there was no sense in her ramblings, she said. Her words, warnings, meant nothing. He needed to take sight of what she knew to be true. Because she could see the demons, she argued, she was relieved of the suffering. She could see their hunger, and welcomed it. Everyone’s hunger, she said, was worth satisfying. She could see the gluttony, the alcoholism, the neglect of oneself, the lack of faith, the ones waiting to be fed on, their destruction, as satisfying both God and the demons. God sent her, and others like her, to attempt salvation. The demons just reaped the battles she failed to win.
As she rang up her customers from behind the counter we shared, with a smile on her face, each customer walking up with their vices, paying for their demons, she held her confident smile. There was always that long straw in her pocket, and every so often she bent her face towards it, and rubbed her cheek on the paper covering. I wondered if she knew a majestic comfort in the touch, the wood pulp embrace of the straw covering, that I was missing.
David Moloney is a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University's Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. He currently teaches writing at UMASS Lowell and Southern New Hampshire University.