A Space for Dale

Source

My friend Dale came storming over at nine in the morning, knocking on my bedroom window.“I need your car!” Dale shouted through the pane. “I have an interview!”I nodded, though this confused me. Dale was thirty-four and had been ardently against getting a job for as long as I’d known him, which, granted, was only a few months. Dale had become my neighbor when I moved back in with my parents in the suburbs after losing my job. We lived in a neighborhood of parents, me with mine and Dale with his. Dale had on a nice pair of black slacks, but wore only a gray t-shirt on top “Is that what you’re wearing?” I shouted back through the window.Dale threw his hands up. “I don’t actually want the job, stupid!”In the car Dale explained that he was only attending the interview to please his mother. He had left the house looking completely professional but had stuffed his dress shirt into a storm drain on the way over.“Won’t she notice that it’s gone when you return?” I pointed out.Dale considered this for a moment. “Shit.”Dale showed me the drain he crammed the shirt in and we got down on our hands and knees, feeling inside. Sure enough the shirt was still there, now fairly dirty.“I’ll have to wash this at your place afterwards,” Dale said.“Okay,” I said.Dale threw the shirt in the backseat of my car and we took off. Our hands had gotten pretty dirty, too, and Dale rubbed some of the mud off on his nice black slacks. Driving out of the suburbs at this hour, I could have been going to work. I pictured myself arriving at an office and sharing banal greetings with coworkers. The fantasy had its pros and cons, but the acceptance from others that it involved felt great.~Dale was interviewing for a parking lot attendant job. Retrieving his dress shirt had set us back a few minutes and we were a little late. I suggested we could just go to the mall or something and he could say he’d been at the interview, but Dale said it felt better this way, telling his mother he went, if he had actually gone. I assumed I’d be staying in the car for the interview, but Dale didn’t share this expectation. “It feels weird, you just sitting here and waiting,” he said. “You’re not my chauffer.”“But it’s your interview,” I said.“But it’s not like, a real one.”So I got out of the car and followed Dale in his t-shirt and mud-stained slacks. The interview was being held in a booth in front of the parking lot. The woman interviewing him seemed to be in a slight daze when we arrived, and didn’t notice our presence until Dale tapped on the glass. She started and chuckled as she opened the small door inside the booth.“Sorry,” she said, “It’s been one of those mornings!” I smiled and nodded in a way that suggested I too was having one of those mornings.“We’re late,” Dale said amiably.The woman introduced herself as Sandy. Once she determined which one of us was interviewing, Dale went into the small booth while I leaned on the glass and listened.“Could you start by telling me why you want this job?” Sandy asked.“I don’t,” Dale said. His tone remained affable. “I’m just here so I can tell my mother I went.”Sandy laughed. “I see,” she said.“It wasn’t a joke,” Dale said.“Are you sure?”“I am.”Sandy made a note on her clipboard and groaned. “But, like, you definitely don’t want the job? I need to make this hire today and it’s basically just sitting here a few nights a week.”Dale nodded. “Pass.”~Back at my parent’s house Dale and I hung around in my room while Dale washed his shirt and slacks.“I think maybe you should have taken that job, Dale,” I said. Dale stood in his t-shirt and underwear, looking out the window at the neat, quiet cul-de-sac. Dale made my parents nervous and they were watering the grass from an unusual distance to avoid his field of view.“The hell are you talking about?”“It sounded like a pretty good gig,” I said.“It’s still a schedule,” Dale said. “Still a cage.”“Yeah, but like, isn’t this life we’re living kind of its own cage?”Dale said nothing. It was then that I had an idea.“Say Dale,” I ventured, “What would you think if I went for that job?”Dale chuckled. “You disappoint me.”~I wasn’t sure Sandy would be interested in hiring me, but she seemed relieved when I called and told me I could start Monday. I hung up the phone and felt proud of myself for being such a go-getter. His clothes dried, Dale left without saying a word, and I hoped he wasn’t too angry with me. I’d come to value his companionship.On the first day of my new job, Sandy gave me my work vest. It was an outfit I had seen on countless employed people throughout my life, but never imagined I would wear myself. Sandy got her things and wished me luck. “Most days I won’t even know if you’re here.” She said it as if she hoped I would take advantage of the fact. Two hours into my shift, not one car had entered the lot. At one point a sedan had looked as if it was about to pull into the lot, and I was retracing my thoughts through the protocol Sandy had gone over with ticketing: they give you five dollars, you give them a ticket, but then the driver changed their mind and kept going down the street.It was a little after midnight when Dale showed up at the lot. He was wearing his black slacks and dress shirt, all buttoned up and tucked in, and his hair was combed back nicely.“Hey Dale,” I said. “Check out my vest!”Dale studied my uniform, then huffed in a manner that suggested he was not impressed. “Kind of cool I guess,” he said. He cleared his throat and ran a hand through his hair. He’d put a remarkable amount of gel in it. “Listen, I’ve been thinking, and seems to me like I deserve a cut of your earnings.”“No way,” I said. “Get out of here.”“A finders fee,” Dale insisted. “You wouldn’t have even known about this job if it weren’t for me.” As Dale spoke, the first car of the night pulled up to the booth. It was a big ol’ semi truck, faded with dirt from the road. I held up a finger to the driver like, just a second, as I considered Dale’s argument. It was true that I would not have come to know of this opportunity if not for Dale.“Okay,” I said. “I hear you, Dale. Maybe 10 percent?”“25,” Dale said. “Else I walk.”“Walk where?”“Away from this friendship.”“Excuse me,” said the truck driver, “I’d like to get this bit over with.”“Please sir,” I said. “Just a moment.”“Guy needs to mind his own business,” Dale said.“What’s that now?” The truck driver gave Dale a look.“I said you’re a nosy Nicholas!” Dale shouted.“My name is Tom,” said the truck driver.“Then you’re terrible,” Dale said. “Terrible Tom.”“I don’t think it has to match up with the person’s actual name,” I said. Tom got out of the truck and came to stand by me and Dale. He took his hat off and began kneading it. He looked sweaty and tired. “I think you meant terrific,” he mumbled, looking down at his hat. “Terrific Tom.” I could tell that Dale could tell he’d hurt Tom’s feelings. After an awkward silence, he stepped forward and gave Tom a light pat on the shoulder.“No,” he said. “I meant tremendous.”“Tremendous Tom,” I added from the booth.Tom smiled and gave us a nod. “Tremendous Tom,” he echoed.“That’s you,” Dale said.After more nods and smiles, tremendous Tom got back in the truck and gave me three dollars for parking. I said that it was actually five and he grumbled something and backed out of the lot. It was just me and Dale again, surrounded by all those empty spaces. The parking lot looked very much like how I imagined my life would look, if you considered it metaphorically.Dale sighed. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s make it twenty percent.”And I agreed, because I wanted a guy like Dale in one of my life-spaces.

Timothy Day poses as an adult in Portland, Oregon. His fiction can be read in The Adroit Journal, Barren Magazine, Dream Pop Press, and some other cool places. You can find links to his other stories here: https://concretetrampoline.wordpress.com/published-stories/. Follow him on Twitter @TimothyYay.

Leave a Reply