Gice plunges the mop into the yellow bucket, squeezes it, slaps it on the linoleum. Today he shoves his mop across the floor with gusto. It’s that steam orchid. She’s a knockout: three feet tall, with blonde and red petals. That Epipactis-- man-oh-man.
But there was a slight droop in her stem when Gice left. She needs to be outside. Hell. That’s understandable. Eight hours sweating under fluorescent light, inhaling disinfectants and wiping toilet bowls? That isn’t natural, either.
From the hall, Gice flaps his arms at the security guy in the booth: a mouth-breather named Hernandez. Hernandez is spooning strawberry ice cream into his blank face, staring at a slew of monitors.
Gice pounds the glass and mouths “done.”
Hernandez nods. Shovels another spoonful. The spoon looks tiny in his hand. Gice pounds on the glass again.
Hernandez yawns, scrapes the bottom of the ice cream carton with his spoon.
Gice glares, balls his fists, digs his fingernails into his palms. The lower the pay, it seems, the more bullshit. He inhales, exhales, snatches a pink brochure off the rack.
“Computational Physics at Los Alamos National Freakin’ Laboratory,” Gice says, reading at the top of his lungs. “A career in X-CP Division...”
He reads the pamphlet until Hernandez waddles out of the office, keys jingling.
“There he is,” Gice says, from the other end of the hall. Waving the brochure as if it were a magic wand, Gice presents the damp black and white checkered linoleum.
“Yeah. I always get the bathrooms.”
“Boss lady bitched me out,” Hernandez says. His mouth is a straight line. “You get the trash?”
“Yes,” Gice says, through his teeth. “Always do.”
“Not last night.”
“Yes. I did.”
Gice’s eyes narrow into slits.
“If you dumped your trash in mine...”
“Gice,” Hernandez says, over his shoulder. “You forgot. Again. Just check the ladies’ room. Make sure--”
“I already checked!”
Gice throws his mop down and it clatters across the floor. He marches after Hernandez, grey sideburns bouncing, velcro sneakers squeaking. Hernandez turns. Gice squeals to a halt, looks up. Hernandez’s breath is hot strawberries. His face is at once gaunt and flabby, like two faces overlapping, flesh hanging from thin features.
“Said I already checked.”
“Got shit to do,” Gice says.
Hernandez raises a bushy eyebrow.
“My orchid,” Gice says. “Needs to be potted.”
Hernandez laughs, his stomach wobbling over his belt.
“You and your damn flowers.”
“Orchids,” Gice says.
Shaking his head, Hernandez buzzes Gice out the door, grabs the PA.
“Elvis has left the building.”
Outside, stars shimmer like change at the bottom of a fountain. Gice twists the key in the ignition. The engine stalls. He pounds the dash. On the next try, the truck whirrs to life.
On the drive back to the desert Gice wonders about Epi. He left her in a glass bowl, her roots curled up at the bottom like a bowl of spaghetti. He wonders if she’s hungry for some soil. Gice’s stomach growls. Spaghetti’s not a bad idea, he thinks. He could stop off at the supermarket and buy some noodles, a bottle of wine and soil. Yeah. A candlelight spaghetti dinner with Epi. That sounds like just the thing.
published 2 October 2013