Working 3rd Shift, I have experienced horrors: Walking security rounds at the apartment house of the Hissing Woman; listening to the 2 am dead voices at the burnedout Lincoln Mill Building; the shrieking in the basement men’s room of the Arab Head Building in downtown Providence.
When I got hired to work a 1st Shift sorting room job at the Christian Army building on the East Side of Providence, I thought I was leaving such experiences behind. But I learned differently the afternoon a woman at sorting table two started screaming about opening the trashbag of human body parts. You’d think a Christian institution would be less prone to horror. However, the CA is not Christian. It’s a business masquerading as a religious organization. Maybe that’s why Dora Kyle found the pieces of her dead son, or thought she did, and embarked upon her oneway trip from sorting room to Butler Hospital. I don’t know.
I got the job at the CA because I needed cheap furniture for my new apartment. I stopped by the CA’s second hand store on Central Ave. in Pawtucket. On the door I saw this sign: Help Wanted. Truck Drivers & Sorting Room. My night vision and depth perception don’t allow me to drive a big truck. Sorting room? Well, I enjoy flea markets. I told the hiring manager during my job interview the following week. She laughed and explained the sorting room was where they dumped out the bags of donations onto wooden sorting tables and separated the cloths from the shoes and the books from the toys.
She asked if I wanted to give the job a try. I said sure... and regretted it.
(To be continued...)
The Haunted Cabaret
Sitting here at the security desk on third shift at the apartment complex. The elevator dings, the doors open, and out into the lobby rides Marine Bob on his motorized scooter. He takes a turn around the lobby, and pulls up next to the security desk.
“I’ve got cabin fever,” he says.
I don’t. I just got here an hour ago. “Those were good times,” he says, continuing a conversation nobody started. He looks at me.“This was down in Texas, back in the late 50s. The ranch foreman had me supervising this black work crew. He told me to make sure they called me Mr. Bob, and for me not to talk to them. You wouldn’t believe how they talked to their black workers down there. So one day I go to the store, and he sees me coming out with five sodas. He says, ‘I knew it! You’re talking to the blacks!’ Only he didn’t say blacks. You wouldn’t believe what he called them. And this was like 1958, 1960. So he says, ‘You’re staying here.’ Meaning right here at the ranch house. He puts me to work painting the ranch house.
“Now they have all these toads down there. I got bored painting the house so I started painting toads white. Pretty soon there’s all these white toads hopping around.“That night the ranch foreman says, ‘You got to get out of here!’ Turns out the family that owns the ranch is from Texas, but they originally came from New Orleans. All these white toads hopping around are giving them a fit. Something to do with Voodoo. They believe in black magic and all that stuff. They’re really superstitious...So between that,” Marine Bob concluded, “and me taking advantage of the Sheriff’s 15-year-old daughter, it seemed best to get out of town.” He waited for me to ask about the Sheriff’s daughter. I didn’t. Eventually he said goodnight, and piloted his motorized scooter back onto the elevator. Don’t worry. It doesn't matter that I didn’t ask. I’m sure I’ll be hearing the story of Marine Bob and the Sheriff’s daughter very soon.
For the third time tonight I turn the corner and she’s there, glassy eyes bulging. The staring thing. Shuffling forward in green slippers and black nightgown along the stained carpet of the third floor hallway. She stops when she sees me. The right eye sees. The left eye is filmed over, like an Edgar Allan Poe story. She hisses deep in her throat. I wait until the reptilian sound fades. Finally she stirs herself, and speaks. From a dry throat, without much apparent practice at human speech. “I don’t know what’s the matter. I can’t sleep.”
Speaking, she becomes the non-supernatural resident of room 307 here at the Blessed Name apartment complex, where I work security weekends, 3rd shift. Doreen Lange. 85 years old. Lucky at Thursday night bingo. A bummer of change for the washing machine. With a strong resemblance to the dead woman in the bathtub in Kubrick’s version of The Shining.
On nights she can’t sleep, mind locked in semi-dementia, she plays scare the bejesus out of the security guard with me as I make my occasional rounds through the quiet corridors. I’m walking along, thinking of music, or sex, or maybe calling Domino’s for a pizza. Minding my own business. She likes to meet around corners.
Did I call these hallways quiet? I guess usually they are. But I’ve told you before about the noises in the small hours of morning. The voices raised in whines and pleading. Other voices raised in cadenced prayer. Not in a language I can understand, it’s not English or Spanish or Portuguese. A Russian friend stopped by long enough to tell me it wasn't Russian, then left in a hurry. “I’ll tell you: better you here than me,” he said. “You couldn't pay me.” Well, he has a pension. I need the money. Besides, it’s just old people in the hell of senility.
What do people in hell pray for? I wonder in idle moments. Eight hours of idle moments, sitting in the lobby staring at a reinforced glass door locked against the outside world. I make my round, come back to sit and
stare again. Thinking about what waits around corners. Staring like her. But at least I blink.
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