Big Dan at Work and at Home
by John Rossi
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Dan stepped out of the shower and looked across the narrow confines of the bathroom at his scars reflecting in the mirror. He always did his best to avoid looking at them whenever his shirt happened to be off, and he always failed. He was never sure why. He thought it was because he couldn’t really remember how he’d gotten them. He was reasonably certain it was a fireworks accident when he was a teenager. He and his adolescent friends were prone to just as many stupid hijinks as any other red-blooded, American teenagers.
One of their dumber stunts was throwing M-80’s out the window of his old friend Carl’s Monte Carlo. Odd thing was that those few people who had ever seen his scars swore they were bullet wounds, which was impossible, of course. There were two over his left ribs, one on his left arm, three near the center of his chest and three on his stomach right on his overdeveloped abs. Several of them had matching scars on his back.
Most guys with a body like his might take the moment to flex their considerable muscle mass in the mirror; instead he always stared for an uncomfortable moment at the scars that seemed to have always confounded him. He hadn’t gone swimming in years because he hated trying to explain them. He avoided doctors because he was afraid they might insist they were gunshot wounds rather than ugly reminders of youthful stupidity. Despite the fact that they were scars, it was almost as if they had never healed. There was no one he thought he could talk to about them, and his mother and sister had freaked out the first and last time they had ever seen them.
Every time he got out of the shower, there they were, taunting him. Every day they reminded him that some part of his life wasn’t his own. That some element of his past was shrouded for some reason he couldn’t grasp. He didn’t believe in repressed memories, or at least he didn’t believe that he had any. Tonight he would do what he did every night; he would put on his t-shirt and go to bed.
He turned away from the mirror and quickly pulled his shorts on. Then he slipped his t-shirt over his head and turned to face the mirror. There, he thought as he stared at the shirt over his scar-laden torso, all gone. He quickly resolved, as he had every night for the last nine years, that he didn’t have time to worry about it. He had work tomorrow. He had chores around the house to do this weekend with Mom and his friends. So long as the scars didn’t get in the way of what he had to do, they weren’t worth worrying about. He turned out the bathroom light and went to bed.
* * *
Dan knew there was going to be trouble the moment he saw her. She always sat at the kitchen table in that pose when she wanted to lecture him. He absolutely hated it, but it was the same thing she used to do with his father, and he never had the heart to call her on it.
“I cooked you breakfast,” his mother told him as he came into the kitchen.
“You know I never eat in the morning. I’ll get something from the sandwich machine at work,” he told her.
“You haven’t eaten at this table in nine years,” she replied with a pained expression on her face.
“What? ” he asked incredulously.
“Nine years,” she repeated as she stood up and walked towards him, “not since the day it happened.”
“Since what happened? ” he replied.
“Daniel,” she scolded, “you know perfectly well what! You don’t forget something like that.”
“What, the hell, Ma, you said, yourself, that was nine years ago. Why are you bringing it up now? ”
“Because for nine years you’ve acted the same way you did the morning after that day, like nothing ever happened.”
He loved her dearly. He loved all his family. Truth be told, he had never moved out because the prospect of leaving her all alone was too painful for him to bear. Then there was the fact that she couldn’t afford to keep the house without his income. He knew his father would have expected him to take care of her. However there were still those times when she could really aggravate the hell out him.
“What do you want me to do? Should I have an anniversary for my workplace shooting? What are you on about, Mom? You know how much I hate it when you pull stuff like this when I’m on the way to work.”
“I should have pulled stuff like this a long time ago. Your sister is right. I shouldn’t have just let you act like nothing ever happened,” she responded.
“And how do you think you can make me act? ” he demanded in an indignant tone. “Mom, I love you, you know that. But all I’ve done is exactly what I had to do. Go to work, pay my bills and help take care of my family. Just like Dad did. What more should I do? ” She winced when he said that, and he instantly regretted it.
“Look,” he said as he put his arms on her shoulders, “What do you want? Want me to be the kind of guy who whines about being a victim? Go to a psychiatrist, take a bunch of pills for anxiety like...” He trailed off.
“Like your sister,” she finished for him. He sighed and took his hands off her shoulders.
“Mom,” he pleaded, “please let’s not be overdramatic about this.”
“Overdramatic? ” she shot back. “Nine years! You have not eaten a meal at this table with me, or your sister, or Tony or your niece and nephew in nine years! How is that overdramatic? ”
She could see the grim scowl form on his face that clearly indicated he had had enough. Without a word, he turned, grabbed his flannel jacket off the chair and started to leave. It was moments like this when he reminded her of his father. He could storm out of a room without making a sound just like his dad used to. “You’re so cold,” she said softly while rubbing her shoulders where his hands had just been.
He stopped, turned back and demanded in an angry tone, “What? ”
“Your hands are always so cold.” She told him.
“We’ve gone over all this,” he snapped. “Nana had the same thing. The poor circulation thing, remember the time her hand turned blue? ”
“You’ve been telling that story for nine years, too,” she retorted with genuine exasperation.
“That’s it! I’m out! I’ll see you when I get home tonight and I hope by then you’re in a better mood!”
* * *
He was in a bad mood already when he walked to his forklift after the morning group meeting was over. When he saw the new kid getting on his lift, he thought somebody should have told the punk this was the wrong morning to piss him off. The kid had been with the company less than two weeks and he had already been written up once for taking equipment that wasn’t assigned to him. It didn’t surprise him that the punk would be stupid enough to try it again. He stalked over to his lift and before the new kid could turn the key he reached over and pulled it out of the ignition.
“What the hell!” the kid objected.
“Get off,” he growled so menacingly the kid recoiled.
“What’s your problem? ” the kid asked in a much more subdued tone.
“You’re on my lift. It’s assigned to me. I’m responsible for it, and you aren’t operating it,” he snapped back. “So get off.”
Obviously intimidated, the punk just sat there quietly while he tried to seem defiant. He may have been maybe twenty and had obviously only just starting working in logistics. He wore one of those expensive sports jackets. Anyone who worked in a warehouse for any length of time knew you don’t wear nice clothes to work.
“You’ve already been told once about this,” Dan snarled. “Now get off.”
“You gonna rat me out? ” the kid spat back.
That was it. Dan was usually cool, but his mother had really gotten to him this morning. He certainly wasn’t going to take it out on her, but this kid was another matter. Acting as rashly as he had in as long as he could remember, he reached over and grabbed the kid’s jacket at each side of its collar and all but ripped him off the lift. He then held the punk in the air effortlessly, not even letting the kid’s sneakers touch the ground. When it became apparent to the boy that Dan was powerful enough not only to heft him without seeming to try but to hold him off the ground without even straining, he cursed in fear.
“Dan!” his supervisor Kenny yelled. “Put him down!”
Dan was not quick to respond. The punk dangled helplessly, too frightened of the beast so easily holding him aloft to do anything. As he looked down into Dan’s menacing eyes, all his defiance fled, and he hung there in Dan’s angry grasp like a wet towel hanging on a clothesline.
Kenny ran up to them in the row along the fire wall where all the lifts were parked at the end of each shift. “I said put him down.” Dan looked over at his boss and back to the punk he was manhandling, realizing he was placing a job in jeopardy he had held for over a decade. Finally, he begrudgingly put the kid back on his feet.
Kenny knew enough to know what the kid was doing. What obviously worried him was Dan’s response. There had been an incident a couple of years back where Dan had gotten into an altercation. A temp had been bad-mouthing one of their senior employees, one whom Dan had always been fond of. He took exception and a shoving match ensued. The guy had pushed Dan first, Dan then pushed him back, and the temp had landed over six feet away. Nobody had dared mess with him again after that.
His size alone was enough to intimidate most. He was six feet tall and had to weigh at least two hundred and forty pounds of solid muscle. Problem was, Kenny knew the kid was dumb. He was one of those smart assess who had relied on the fact that he was underage all through his youth to keep adults from retaliating against his smart mouth. The boy had yet to learn those days could be over real fast.
“What are you doing? ” Kenny demanded.
“Punk was on my lift,” Dan replied while staring the kid down.
“That doesn’t mean you kick his ass,” he insisted.
“He almost broke my goddamned arm when he pulled me off the lift!” the kid cried. He had become brave again now that a supervisor was present.
“Shut up!” Kenny yelled.“You’re lucky he didn’t put you through the goddamned wall. You were told not to touch anything you weren’t assigned to.”
“You should fire his goon ass,” the kid demanded. “He assaulted me!”
“You’re still walkin’, so you aren’t assaulted yet, Punk,” Dan growled.
“Knock it off!” Kenny yelled as he pointed a finger at Dan. “And you,” he continued, turnng toward the kid, “you go get the pallet jack I told you to use and shut up.”
“But—” the kid tried to protest.
Kenny cut him off immediately. “But nothing. You were told not to touch anything that you weren’t supposed to. So get this: if Dan gets in trouble, then so do you, and you can hit the streets looking for a new job right now. Got it? ”
Realizing that he was stuck between a six-foot beast that could pulverize him and an irate manager that could fire him, the kid finally wised up and walked away. Both Dan and Kenny heard him muttering under his breath. Kenny looked at Dan with an angry expression.
“What the hell was that? ” he demanded.
Dan was not quick to answer. He contemplated a moment before he replied, “Angry stupidity, I suppose.”
“You should suppose that you could get your ass fired in just about any other warehouse for that,” he replied. “I’ve seen you keep your cool with dicks a lot more mouthy than that kid. What’s wrong with you? ”
Dan sighed. “Look, bad day, okay? Can we just forget about this? ”
Kenny quickly shot back, “Two guys getting pissed and exchanging words is something you forget about. You were holding the kid off the ground, and it looked like you were gonna beat the hell out of him. Come on, Dan, he’s like five-nine and maybe a buck sixty. One punch from you would probably put him in Intensive Care. What’s the problem? In all the time you’ve been here you’ve never gone off like that.”
The two men starred at each other for a long and awkward moment.
“No offense, Dan, but if you are this out of it, I want you to go the hell home. I can’t have you driving around here ready to take someone’s head off.”
“I wasn’t going to pound the kid, he just pissed me off. I got into an argument with my mom, except this time she was acting really weird, and it got to me, all right.”
“Well, what the hell did she say? ” Kenny asked curiously.
“Like I said, weird stuff. She was going on about how I haven’t eaten anything at home in like nine years or some such lunacy. I don’t know what the hell she was talking about,” he admitted.
The awkward silence suddenly returned. Kenny looked at him like he had just started speaking another language. Dan had always liked Kenny, even though many in the warehouse didn’t. He was tough but fair, and if you looked out for him, he looked out for you. That’s why it really irked Dan when Kenny looked at him that way, almost like he agreed with his mother.
Suddenly the whole tenor of the conversation shifted almost as though the last few minutes’ events had never happened. “When the hell do you eat? ” Kenny asked. “Because you sure as hell never do it here.”.
“Come on,” Dan objected, “I gotta put up with this from you too? ! Please tell me you’re not serious.”
“Well, what do you want? ” Kenny countered. “You never eat in the lunch room. You never order food with anybody else, even on pizza day. You never eat at any of our holiday luncheons. You stopped going out to the tavern the last Friday of every month with the rest of us. Nobody ever sees you eat or drink anything. That’s why Miss Em says you’re so goddamned pale, because you never eat. Half of the staff is amazed; as much as you work out and don’t eat, how the hell you’re not all skin and bones? ”
“I eat,” Dan stated irately. “You don’t get to weigh three hundred and ten pounds of solid muscle without a hell of a lot of protein.”
“Three-ten? !” Kenny said incredulously.
“Yeah,” Dan stated in a matter-of-fact tone. “You want me to get on a scale and prove it? ”
“Three-ten,” Kenny repeated in disbelief. “Where the hell do you put it all? I mean you’re one big...” Kenny trailed off as he watched Dan’s gaze disappear over his shoulder obviously looking at someone or something else past him.
At the end of the aisle, Larry, the inventory supervisor, was looking at them with his characteristic blank gaze. There was a time when Dan had very much liked Larry, too, but that was a long time ago. For the past several years, Dan could remember Larry had taken to staring at him for uncomfortably long periods at random intervals. He wouldn’t stop until Dan would get visibly agitated and then he would turn and leave.
Dan wasn’t sure how long this had gone on. Because Larry had never been quite the same after that day nine years ago. The other supervisors had told him not too hassle Larry about it. While Dan stared back in obvious agitation, Larry had the good sense to walk past the aisle and head towards his office.
“Why the hell is he always doing that? ” Dan growled. “It’s really starting to piss me off! I did as everybody asked and left him alone, but he still keeps doing it.”
“You know the shooting was hard on Larry. Since that day, he has never talked about it. He also barely ever misses a day and always does his job, and you know what else? ” Kenny challenged.
“No, what? ” Dan shot back.
“He has never spoken a bad word about you.” Kenny retorted. “The one thing he is always quick to say whenever you come up is, ‘Dan’s a good guy’.”
Dan didn’t know what to say. This whole day was just getting weirder and weirder by the moment. He felt as if a dam had broken and everything was just flooding at him.
Copyright © 2020 by John Rossi