Jeremy ought not to have left the boxes in a tousled state. It
was bad enough that Bethany had to siphon tea leaves into small, silk sacks,
pull tight their draw strings and then package each assemblage into its
respective, brightly colored box. Having to also sort those cartons by color
Albeit, Jeremy, like Bethany and most of the rest of the crew
worked multiple jobs. His primary employment involved trimming branched away
from power lines. Hers involved changing diapers at an afternoon childcare
center. He labored the evening shift and then went to sleep. She toiled
mornings and then proceeded to her drop-off facility. Throughout the factory,
around the clock, fatigued men and women bundled up twigs and grasses so that
the owner could bask by the pool of his Myrtle Beach home. On most days, that
businessman also played eighteen holes.
Bethany had met Jeremy when she had used her cell phone instead
of her clock for an alarm. Arriving at the compilation hall early meant running
into the mystery who occupied her stool before her. That fellow smelled like
peanut butter on stale crackers and looked, most generously, like an ill-kept
mutt. They exchanged pleasantries.
More importantly, after being introduced, when possible, they
began to cover for each other. Sleep was a small price, in their downturn
economy, for keeping a job.
Months into their arrangement, though, Bethany noticed things.
Gum wrappers, fingernail clippings and bits of used dental floss spotted their
work station. She surreptitiously brushed those items into her waste receptacle
and said nothing to her shift supervisor. Jeremy supported four kids.
A short span latter, Bethany found the photo. That picture
awkwardly framed the head and shoulders of a youngish woman decked in a knit
winter hat. Her face was not visible, but the back of her jacket read
Class of 1996. It was Bethanys hat and jacket.
She considered telling the police, the plant manager and her
therapist. In the end, Bethany only confided to her best friend, and only after
they had had too many rum and cokes. The friend had nodded, had puked on her
own shoes, had cleaned up, and had gone to sleep.
More time passed. The gum wrappers still blossomed, but the
dental floss and the fingernail clippings had disappeared. No further photos
evidenced Jeremys presence. In fact, except for their single face-to-face
meeting, all of their communications had been emails and text messages.
Hence, as Bethany reestablished order among the boxes, piling
yellows with yellows and greens with greens, she found the note. It read
three cans of tomato soup, one loaf of sliced bread and six onions.
Reaching into her jacket pocket for a pencil, Bethany addended, one