James W. Hritz, 1/20/2014
Current Occupation: Reporter
Former Occupation: Instructor II
Contact Information: James is a Northern California author who is eager to make the next great leap in his work. Previously published fiction can be viewed at So It Goes (A Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut), Southpaw Journal (Editor's Choice selection), Blood Lotus, The Fabulist, Stone Highway Review, Foliate Oak, Crossed Out Magazine, Microliterature, and Stanley the Whale. His poetry can be enjoyed in Psychic Meatloaf, The Monarch Review, and Breadcrumb Scabs.
Rebel trees still wearing autumn colors in the New Year. Streamers of AM fog wicking off the windshield. Moon and sun chatting at the shift change. The window visor was shaking but it was doing the job right. My passenger was uncommunicative and in my blind spot behind the driver’s seat. I was on the clock.
It had only been two weeks after being fired from my previous job on Xmas Eve for something I wasn’t responsible for. It wasn’t my fault the computer system got infected. It didn’t have an anti-virus on it ANYWHERE!
Applying to every ad online and in the newspaper, I had an interview with a nonprofit profit program that supported developmentally disabled adults living locally. Suddenly I was a van driver, transporting clients to work, school, doctors’ appointments, grocery shopping, and more—I was promised Giants games might be also possible in the summer.
In the rear, Faye, my passenger, started shuffling and rumbling.
“You okay, Sweetie?” I asked. She didn’t respond, nor did I expect her to. Faye is so deeply autistic that she only communicates when she is at her emotional extremes. Screaming when in pain. Grunting when uncomfortable. Crying when everything’s wrong. Clapping to approve. Laughing when all is right. Otherwise generally bouncing to the rhythm of the road (or her heart, I suppose)—riding in her seat like a cowgirl.
I looked back and she was taking off her coat.
“Getting hot?” I asked, turning down the heater, noting that the rising sun was hitting her window full force.
Then I felt something slink over my shoulder that was too light to be a coat.
“Sit back in your chair, Sweetie.”
Being so high-energy, I was increasingly used to Faye’s sundry items joining me in the front seat. Often she reached for me, grabbing onto my arm or shoulder. I expected her to be looking at me from only a few inches away when I turned around, so I reached back to nudge her hand from me.
But Faye was already back in her seat. What was hanging on my shoulder was a blue and gray sports bra.
Vague figures from the abuse seminar I had attended my first week reminded me that eighty-percent of the developmentally disabled population had been sexually assaulted in their lives. I didn’t want to add Faye to those stats, or my name to the prison rolls, so I pulled over hastily, skidding on the gravel, and rung up my supervisor.
Looking back at it now, I probably would’ve just put her clothes back on and pretended like I didn’t see anything, because when I recounted the incident, my supervisor laughed, hard. I’d gone to high school with the guy and he treated me like we were long lost friends, even though we barely know each other.
“What do her tits look like?” he ungraciously asked.
“What? I’m not answering that!”
“Fine… You can tell me later. So, what exactly do you want from me?”
“Um… What should I do?”
“Duh… Just put her clothes back on.”
“Should I put on gloves or something?” Again, another class clipping my initiative, hygiene this time. Protect yourself. But protect the client too. Sterile with germ, sterile with your reproach.
“If that makes you more comfortable.”
“I’m uncomfortable about the whole situation!”
“It’s part of the job,” he said through laughter.
“That may be true, but still…”
“Just get it over with, then put it behind you.”
“I’m just going to throw her shirt on over her,” I said finally coming up with an idea of my own, certainly unable to get anything productive from my supervisor.
“And the bra?”
“No… I can’t.”
“You’ve seen tits before, haven’t you?”
“Of course! My fair share, certainly, just never at work,” I said aggressively. “Well, there were a couple of Wet T-Shirt contests at the bar I bounced at in college. But I didn’t have to flop the winner’s baggies back into her bra afterward.”
“So she’s got a decent set, eh?”
“Not at all… They look… They look sad. They look like basset hound jowls.” I immediately regretted playing down to my supervisor’s level. But I was far from familiar with my duties and looked to humor to flank embarrassment.
“Holy shit! That’s hilarious!”
“Not on this end of the line…”
“So put her shirt on already! You’re going to be late to her day program. Tell someone what happened and they’ll deal with it. Lord knows they’ve dealt with it before!”
I hung up, undid my seatbelt, and went in search of Faye’s shirt, which ended up being in the trunk area of the van.
“Okay, Sweetie, let’s get this shirt back on. First, over the head. There, that’s good… Now let me see one of those arms…” As soon as I had sat next to her, Faye smiled mischievously. “There we go. Ugh… Well, that wasn’t so bad, eh?” Faye smiled wider and winked. She’d scored one on me. “Let’s never do that again, okay, Sweetie?” She laughed shrilly and clapped her hands. The bra I dropped into her backpack like I was putting evidence into a hermetically-sealed bag.
When I pulled into the day program parking lot a longtime staff was waiting. I relayed the info and she laughed heartfully: “That’s our Faye.”