By Alexander Perez
When his supervisor walked up, he was busy scraping chewing gum off a library table. Pink, blue, and green blobs were stuck to the underside. He used a putty knife to pry off the dried, rubbery goop. He imagined taking one of the globs and chewing it before throwing it into the bucket. Would it still have a hint of blueberry or wintergreen?
His supervisor interrupted his progress along the long line of tables against the library windows. The supervisor had prosthetic metal legs and looked as if she was about to topple over. Most of the workday the supervisor spent in the office downstairs, texting. No one was sure how the supervisor lost her legs, and he didn’t want to ask. He had to stop his rhythmic scraping to listen to what the supervisor said. He could tell the supervisor didn’t know his name because she obviously read it off the small, oval patch sewn into his shirt. “Roget, I have good news. Time for you to take a vacation, old dog.” Roget wasn’t really his name, and he wasn’t an old dog, he was only twenty-three.
He didn’t care that his name was misspelled. He liked the name Roget. ‘Roget’s Thesaurus’ was also written on one of the books in the library and that made him feel smart, like he had written something important. When he took the book down and tried to read it, though, he was confused, because there was no story about a dinosaur. He looked for pictures and wanted to know who Roget was and how he came to own the thesaurus. Unfortunately, it was just a book of words. Pretty senseless unless you had a lot of free time to read a book about words, which he now had since his supervisor was making him take five days off. Five days he would miss cleaning the library. There were shelves to dust, bathrooms to clean, gum to scrape. Who would vacuum up the stray leaves that blew in from the outside when the automatic doors opened back and forth every time a patron entered or exited? Strapping the portable vacuum to his back, holding the nozzle in his two hands, he pretended it was a flamethrower and the library was under attack by deep state agents who wanted to steal all the books on 9/11. He would smoke them.
There was only the supervisor and him to clean the library and the adjacent town hall. The supervisor couldn’t tear herself away from the phone. It seemed like the supervisor was always frantically tapping away on the phone, perhaps arguing with her boyfriend, or girlfriend. She did have very short hair and muscular arms. What was Roget going to do at home for five days alone? He had one friend, Big Ray, but he and Big Ray only got together every once in a while to watch the bass tournaments on Sunday morning television. Big Ray lived in the village with his wife and two kids, Little Ray and Regina, and drove a municipal truck and was usually too tired and broke to go out. Roget’s only other companion was his pet frog. The frog ate lots of worms and Roget had to go out at night to keep up the supply. Roget would pound the ground with a stick and worms rose from the muddy floodplain of the river. He would hold twenty or more at once in his hand in a tangled ball because he liked to feel them squirming in his hand. It tickled and reminded him of his mother circling her finger on his palm when he was a boy. There was only so much time you could spend with a pet frog, however entertaining that frog was when it would sling its tongue out of its mouth, stick a worm, and suck it back into its waiting mouth.
Why couldn’t he just tell his supervisor that he didn’t mind losing his vacation days? If not, maybe he could hide in the library at night and somehow sneak out in the morning. Then he could clean until midnight with the lights out. He’d run his rags over the spines of the books that reminded him of the vertebrae in his mother’s back when she lay dying from lupus. It may be dark and awfully quiet, but he could replay the sound of the school kids as they came in for their afterschool programs, laughing and teasing one another. What would he do for five days at home but watch cable news and fear for the future?
He went back to scraping gum. He picked off a black piece that might have been mixed with chewing tobacco. It smelled like a teenage boy’s sleeping mouth. He remembered the smell from when he was a teenager, when he didn’t brush his teeth for a couple days and he would catch a whiff of his breath when he rode his bike across the village, picking spare bottles and cans out of his neighbor’s trash. In five days and five nights, he could return to the smells of freshly shampooed carpet and deodorizer. He will have to tell his supervisor about the friendly librarian who says, “Morning Roger,” and then goes to the bathroom to vomit up her breakfast. The toilet will need to be cleaned every morning.