This week’s Free Fiction Friday story from UnWrecked Press is “Comfort and Joy.”
UPDATE: Now that the free week is over, you can read the rest of this story by downloading an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords. Then you can read it on your laptop, desktop, Kindle, iPad, Nook, iPhone, or whatever device you use to read ebooks.
This story was first published in The Raleigh News & Observer’s Sunday Reader, December 2002.
Comfort and Joy
Two things, and two things only, kept Lew Zimmerman from quitting his job at the toy factory. The first was driving Marty Thier to and from work.
The second thing that kept Lew from quitting was his desire to get under Marty’s skin during their fifteen-minute trip through their sleepy hometown before and after work. So far, after over two years of riding together, Lew hadn’t even come close to denting Marty’s round, peaceful exterior.
On a cold mid-December morning at half past six, Lew pulled up in front of Marty’s parents’ house with a warm box of a dozen donuts resting next to him. He looked through his mostly-frosted-over windshield at the peaceful midwestern streets around him, grinned, and pressed the horn of his ancient Malibu. When Marty appeared in the doorway, Lew cranked up a heavy-metal version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” on his car stereo to accompany Marty on his way down the sidewalk.
Good morning neighbors, Lew thought, grinning madly. I bring you hard-rock tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.
Marty dropped into the passenger seat and clicked off the radio without a word. Lew knew Marty hated the start of the work week, especially in the winter, so there had been donuts waiting every Monday for over a hundred weeks. The box would lie empty on the floor of the Malibu by the time they rolled up to Plastico Toys.
“How’s the wife and kids,” Marty mumbled at last, pushing long black hair off his forehead as his breath turned to smoke in the cold Malibu. It wasn’t really a question; it was just talk, a simple way to pass the time on the way to work. Neither man had a serious girlfriend, much less a wife and kids. Lew considered himself ahead of Marty, having recently found an old house north of town to rent. In a few weeks, by the new year at the latest, he’d move out of his parents’ place at last.
Lew took a deep, icy breath.“Baby’s sick, junior’s got the runs, Momma ain’t talking to me, and the dog’s got a funny look in his eyes.”
Marty pushed the hair out of his eyes and inched up the corners of his mouth. Not bad, Lew thought. Usually Marty’s face was a mask of indifference all morning.
After rolling through a stop sign and making two more turns, they were there at the entrance to Plastico Toys. Lew gunned the oversized engine of his Malibu, hating the sight of the faded blue building with the big “P” painted on its side.
Whistling tunelessly to try to raise his spirits, Lew huddled inside his winter jacket and followed Marty into the high-ceilinged factory. Gray snow surrounded them in piles, like forgotten, unwashed laundry.
Once inside the factory, Lew pulled up short. He felt like his ears had popped. He paused for a second, and then strode through the double doors leading to the assembly lines. At the time clock area, people in jeans and sweatshirts and workboots stood talking lowly, casting glances at the time clock. As Marty approached it ticked to seven o’clock with an audible click.
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