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"Bitches," short story excerpt

Monday 4/25/22

I worked at this hardware store once and there was this other guy who worked there, a Puerto Rican, who called himself Benny Blanco from the Bronx. He always said his name that way, a three-parter, and he was likewise a third person guy. “Benny Blanco from the Bronx drank four forties last night,” for instance. “I” was a word used by other people of less distinction or meriting scorn—maybe a he-she, which is what BBftB called trans people. Important types spoke their own name—with the consistency of a man who can load a full bag of potato chips into his mouth, every night.


He’d been in jail for returning fire and killing a couple guys, but was top dog at the store, a trusted employee, this rotund artisan and cutter of shades who wore bedazzled T-shirts featuring the faces of star-crossed rappers I’d never heard of whom I’m pretty sure were important to the cognoscenti in these matters back in the Bronx, and he’d had a son who got shot in the head and was dead, which he would talk about sometimes, minus any emotion. He could bring it up. You couldn’t, or else he’d expatiate—in half-English that was plenty clear—on the Platonic conception of respect as the streets, presumably, had imparted it to him, and threaten you with the kind of threats that were more like save-the-date notes than idle words that might be forgotten.


We were all standing around the door one night, waiting to go home, after the last customer had left, this fifty-something woman who always bought one tin of cat food and five packages of napkins, and whom the employees had dubbed “Fifteen.” You know how it is when everyone’s leaving at the same time for the going of their separate ways after spending a third of a day together. Seeing each other outside of work would be akin to an owl and a rooster passing just before dawn. You’d probably do that move where you pretend to be looking the other way so you wouldn’t have to talk, which you figure is a favor to both of you, but that’s also maybe why you’re not friends or don’t have as many as you’d like.


It was my turn to take the paper towels and wipe down the glass door, the last task someone had to do before we all split, so everyone is both tired and antsy. I’m doing the chore, well enough I thought, when the owner of the store said there were streaks and for me to do it again.


I did, and it didn’t get much better, when Benny Blanco from the Bronx called me a fucking idiot, ripped the paper towels out of my hand, along with the Windex, and said, “Like this, bitch.” He couldn’t read. “Too bad you couldn’t spell it, though,” I said, as he wiped efficiently and the streaks went away.


He asked if I wanted him to kill me, the way people ask a question that should be a joke but there is no way they’re joking. This other employee—a bookish white fellow, who watched indie films and had cut out sugars and dropped forty pounds in an amount of time that did not seem possible; it wasn’t much more than a month—said, “hey, come on, let’s cool it.”


Benny Blanco from the Bronx did this sneer-laugh thing. “In prison you’d be one of the womens,” he said. “One of the bitches.”


He looked like he could have spit on me. But I also kind of felt attractive, or at least fit. One of the other guys who’d also been in prison said they’d walk with me for a bit after we left, just in case, and that was awkward, as we’d never really talked one-on-one before and I didn’t know what to say.