The basement office is where Jimmy spent the last hour of his day, not because he was busy filling out all his work orders or safety checklists, but because he knew his boss almost always left after lunch and didn’t come back till morning. So Jimmy’d have the whole basement to himself. He’d go to the small men’s room there, lock the door, and read hunting magazines and Popular Mechanics and try not to think about how unhappy everything upstairs made him.
His cell phone didn’t work downstairs, but that was okay. It felt more like a leash than a tool or toy anyway. He sometimes imagined that the world had ended upstairs, some great apocalypse beyond the brick and cement walls. Jimmy would wander from one storage room to the next and consider what tools or construction cast-offs he’d use as makeshift weapons if he had to bash the skulls of zombies or looters. He liked the feel of the machete and steel axe they had for cutting down heavy brush and small trees. He liked the lead pipe with a makeshift duct-tape grip. He liked the feel of the blue steel wrecking bar with prying tongs. He imagined bashing in someone’s skull, maybe a guy trying to take his last meal, or maybe his ex. An acrid taste filled his mouth. He didn’t like it.
At 5 p.m. Jimmy would take the stairs up to the kitchen and then stand on the porch off the back of the house where the maintenance crew kept their trucks and gear and listen to the howl of the highway through the trees. He took that highway for fifteen minutes to his parents’ home where he lived in the attic loft. Twenty-six and living at home again. The things he’d do with that wrecking bar, that steel axe.
Jimmy looked at his watch and thought about how long it would take the police to find him. He could set a fire and run. He could steal all that pricy gear and sell it to his cousin in Poughkeepsie, then keep going. He could take that machete. He could push the world a little closer toward oblivion. Taste heaven if they’d let him.
A blue Dodge pickup jounced into the lot and Jimmy saw his boss slip from the driver’s seat, then wave. They met at the bottom of the porch steps and his boss laughed about leaving his ledger on his desk, full of contractor bids he needed to review. He told Jimmy he’d done a great job fixing up the rider mower that morning, that he’d probably saved them a couple hundred bucks easy. He said Jimmy was going places. Jimmy smiled and they joked about some other guys on the crew, about that stupid goddamn election, about terrible drivers.
Jimmy had a clean smile, white teeth all even and flat. He wished his boss a good night as he headed to his car. He dug around for his keys and wondered what his boss thought about down there in the basement all alone. Jimmy stood by his car door for a minute, listening to that highway howl again, and he decided to go and ask. His boss was a sporting guy, a good guy, and Jimmy bet they’d find some good use for that lead pipe if they tried real hard.
Jimmy locked the door behind him as he entered the house. He took the stairs down. His mouth tasted funny again, but this time he liked it.
James H Duncan is the editor of Hobo Camp Review and the author of We Are All Terminal But This Exit Is Mine, a new collection of poetry from Unknown Press. His work has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Drunk Monkeys, Five:2:One, American Artist, and The Battered Suitcase, among other publications. For more about his work and to read his reviews of independent bookshops, visit www.jameshduncan.com.