Job Hazards
  FIVE STORIES by Teresa Milbrodt
  1  Job Hazards
2  Charitable Causes
3  Fat Lady to Marry Skeleton
    Man: Tickets 25 Cents
4  Bodies in Motion
5  On Camera
  About the Author  |  echapbook.com  |  November 2014 Fiction Issue
 
 

On Camera

I try not to think of it as being big brother, or big sister. We’re just trying to prevent fights between high school students, help little kids when they get lost, and stop shoplifting. We also see things we’d rather not, like people at kiosks scratching their unmentionables and teenagers in clusters conducting mating rituals.

When there’s a crowd that looks suspiciously large, I go out in my blue uniform to patrol the food court. I like my uniform—it looks pleasantly official, and there’s no hassle of deciding what to wear in the morning. Getting Mason and April out the door so they don’t miss the bus is hassle enough, and I hate skirts and heels. People disperse when they see me, which is a nice feeling even though I don’t carry a weapon, just a large flashlight that looks like a British bobby stick. I’m five foot eleven and two hundred pounds—couldn’t take the weight off after the kids came—but in this job, size is a good thing. I keep hand weights in the guard room and sometimes do curls while monitoring the cameras. I’ve never had to punch anyone, but Doug says he’s sure I’d have a mean left hook. I could probably crack someone over the head with my flashlight and give them a concussion, but I’d rather not.

On the job I can wear comfy shoes, but the best part of the day is still getting home to my girls and changing into jeans and a sweatshirt before I microwave dinner and read the paper.

 

I guess you could call Doug my best friend by default. He’s the other camera-watching security guy, and I don’t have time for anyone but my kids after work. Their dad has been out of the picture for five years, and child support checks come just often enough for me not to hire a lawyer. He knows how to keep me pacified without getting too mad. That’s another reason why he’s a bastard.

Doug is the other side of the coin, the child support payer. He wants to see his son and daughter more often, but they live with their mother in another state.

“I’ve thought about moving,” he says, “but I like my job and my apartment and my friends here. It’s hard to know if I could have it this good somewhere else, and if I can’t make money I can’t support my kids.”

I nod sympathetically. My girls’ father doesn’t call on the weekends—or ever—and doesn’t send a card on their birthdays. I prefer it that way.

At work Doug and I battle boredom. On really slow days I stand up and rock from side to side so my butt doesn’t fall asleep. They say sitting down for too long is bad for your heart, and like any other single parent my worst fear is my kids being left alone. I want to watch out for everyone’s kids really, though sometimes it’s hard to figure out what to report and what not to report. As the camera eyes of God we see it all. People can get pissed when we err on the side of caution, but it’s better than the alternative.

Once I saw a little girl wandering around alone for ten minutes in the Sanrio store, so I brought her to our office and reported her found over the PA system. When I asked where her mommy was, she said she didn’t know. Five minutes later her panicked mother showed up.

“I went back to the store and couldn’t find my daughter,” she shrieked at me.

Apparently the lady had left her kid there while she went to try on sweaters. I told her Sanrio employees were not a daycare service. She huffed out with her daughter. Doug shrugged at me. I rolled my eyes back at him.

 

I leave at five and pick the girls up from Julie’s place. She lives six houses down the block from our apartment and has two kids of her own. Sometimes I can’t wait for three more years to pass so Mason will be eleven. That’s old enough to let the girls be at home on their own for two hours after school as long as they have Julie’s number. I love Julie, but the extra eighty bucks a week could come in handy.

I keep a change jar, and the girls and I are planning what to save for. Mason wants a pizza stone for the oven, but we’d still probably buy the microwave kind. I don’t have the time or desire to make pizza dough from scratch. I’d like to save enough for a down-payment on a house, a place of our own, but that’ll never happen. The change jar will probably buy a new microwave, since ours has been making funny humming noises and I’m sure it’s about to die with a final beep of resignation.

 

There are a lot of lost people at the mall—lost kids, lost old people, and others wandering around who are probably just lonely, but they look lost anyway. On the camera I see a cluster of girls that looks suspicious—they seem to be ganging up on another girl in the center of their horde—but I can’t make it to the food court fast enough. By the time I get there the group has dissipated and the girl is alone, crying and mad. My heart is in my throat.

I can barely squeeze out the words, “Are you okay?”  

She shoves past me. I let her go.

Later in the afternoon I see a guy sitting at a table with a girl in the food court—don’t ask why my eyes stop on them—but he gets down on one knee and the little box comes out of his pocket. His mouth is moving, asking the big question. He grins. The girl gets up and walks away, leaving him on one knee like a salesman fitting someone for shoes. His eyes go wide and he looks around. No one seems to have seen what happened. Except me.

I see pieces of lives all the time, but I don’t have the background information to explain what happened. Have that girl and boy been dating for six years or six months? Has he been pressing for a commitment and she seemed hesitant, so he figured this would work? Has she been leading him on and he thought now was the time to ask the big question?

If my ex had given me a ring after April was born, I would have said no. He kept telling me he would get serious and be a dad, but the next night he wouldn’t come home. It wasn’t worth trying to change him.

 

I should have been a psychologist. I like working with people but I never cared for school, and there doesn’t seem to be much to being a psychologist other than using common sense. Sometimes people need to sit down and talk and have someone else listen. Most of them can find solutions to their own problems if they take a deep breath and quiet themselves for a moment. Doug and I do that a lot as we watch the cameras.

In our workday therapy sessions, we reassure each other that we’re never getting into a relationship again. Sometimes Doug comes to McDonald’s with us on Friday nights, which is fun. My girls call him Mr. Dougie, which he thinks is cute. When they’re done with their happy meals we watch them on the playground equipment. Doug is my size—tall and heavy-set—so he encourages me to get a hamburger and small fries instead of a salad with my milkshake.

“You need to live a little,” he says. “Skinny women look scary and obsessive.”

This is why I like it when Doug comes out with us. Sometimes we look at each other across the table for a little too long, considering, then we look away.

Doug likes soccer, he’s part of a club that supports the British Chelsea team, and he gets together at a bar with friends to watch their matches. He says they’re a little loud and obsessive.

“I like that aspect to being single,” Doug tells me. “I can stay out as late as I want, and nobody’s at home worrying over me. My sister keeps pressuring, says I need to get married again, but why? I’m happy enough. The problem most people have is that they end up trying to be too happy, then they’re not happy at all. People should be happy with happy enough.”

I eat a fry. I’m happy Doug told me to order them.

 

Doug and I get nervous when there are reports about child abductions on the news. The thing is that most child abduction cases are really pissed-off parents in custody battles, and if we saw that happen, how could we know about or prevent it? It would probably just look like a happy kid walking out of the mall with an ice cream cone, but it would be highly illegal.

“My uncle did that,” Doug says. “He got stupid and took my cousins away from my aunt.” Doug looks oddly wistful when he says that, something I ignore.

I worry about getting home one day and having a confused Julie tell me my girls never made it to her place after school. I imagine the sinking feeling in my stomach as I realize the girls’ father took them in a spasm of paternal guilt. I don’t know where he’d take them, or what he could do. His mood swings were scary. He never hit me, but I don’t know who he might have become in the past five years. He might have cleaned up. He might have fallen deeper.

Sometimes I have a hard time sleeping, my mind clutched by night worries. I’ll wake up and find myself on the couch or armchair, and figure I’m sleepwalking. I’ve heard that some people who don’t have enough dopamine in their brains sleepwalk pretty often. Dopamine paralyzes your body so you don’t act out your dreams, and to cure it you can take a little pill. I don’t want to do that. If I can protect my kids in my sleep, that’s fine with me.

I don’t want to be one of those parents who need to know what their kids are doing at every second of the day, but I’d attach video cameras to them if I could. It would be just one more screen to watch at work.

My ex called the apartment about six months ago, and talked with the girls while I was making dinner. I didn’t know it was him until he hung up and April came into the kitchen to report Daddy had been on the phone. I dropped the spoon into the chili I was stirring.

“What did he say?” I asked, my hands shaking.

“He just asked how we were,” said April with a shrug.

I took a deep breath. “When he calls again, tell me, okay?”

April nodded and skipped back to do her homework. I don’t want to poison my kids, make them as scared of their father as I am, but I am alert to possibilities.

 

This is what I’m thinking about when I see the little boy wandering around the toy store. He’s there for ten minutes, playing with trucks, and there’s no adult nearby. Another employee babysitting incident. I storm out the door without telling Doug where I’m going, and march to the toy store where I find the kid, crouch down, and ask if he knows where his mommy is.

“Shopping for pants,” he says and wrinkles his nose.

“You need to wait for her with me,” I say. “I’ll give you a lollipop.”

The promise of candy makes the kid smile, and he takes my hand. Scarily easy. Back in the camera room I give the kid a lollipop and a book, and make an announcement over the PA system. Young boy found in toy store, blonde hair, jeans, navy blue jacket, please come to the security office if this is your child.

I make sure Doug hears me make the announcement. I make sure the microphone is off. I watch the cameras for twenty more minutes until the mother returns to the toy store. She puts a hand to her mouth. I make another announcement over the PA system. The mic is still off.

I watch the mother freak out across six cameras for twenty minutes, bright and panicked in her pink coat. Enough. I turn the mic on and make another announcement.

When the mother arrives at our office, she’s still freaking out.

“How long has he been here?” she demands, clutching her son who’s on his second lollipop.

“A little while,” I say. “I made two announcements over the intercom.”

Doug nods, backing me up.

“Thanks,” the mother snaps, hauling her son away. I feel very slightly guilty, but I don’t care what she thinks of me, as long as she reconsiders taking her kid along to shop for pants. I have let her into my fears, just a peek, not the full horror film of what could happen.

I slide back into my seat to watch the cameras and avert disaster. Hopefully. When the girls are old enough to stay at home on their own, I’ll have them call me when they get to the apartment, say they’ve had their snacks and are doing homework and have locked the door so no one can get in, even people who sound nice. Especially people who sound nice.

I stand up and do a few curls with my barbells to help me feel slightly more empowered. Tomorrow is Friday, McDonald’s night, and I’ll ask Doug to come with us again so I can have a small burger and fries and we can reassure each other that staying single is the right thing to do.

     
  © Teresa Milbrodt, 2014

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