Stabbing at the dirt, he hoped Katherine would be moved out before he got home. He wanted to drink when he got back; and he knew she’d just bitch, driving her departure deeper into his side by going on about it as if he hadn’t heard her all month. The reiteration more a last desperate grasp than an reinforcement, as if he might say all the right things suddenly and make some promise he cared to keep.
The crowd across the path started breaking up: his cue to fill in the hole.
He clocked out early, anxious to see what Katherine thought is hers. She’d been kind. Most of the stuff missing belonged to her. He noticed a few kidnapped DVDs he would have to repurchase, but figured, “Fuck it. It’s all going Blu-Ray.” One or two knick-knacks, sentiments she’d either smash or throw out when they rotted bitter, vanished along with her. Those and a few books he never planned to read. Unscrewing a bottle of whiskey, he fished around the fridge for a can of ginger ale. Finding nothing, he cracked open a beer, filled a glass, poured in two shots, and plopped down in front of the couch.
“At least it’s quiet,” he told himself.
The next morning he got called into Darren’s office.
“You wanted to see me,” Toby tried to sound cordial, but the hangover lurking behind his eyes growled.
“Yes, yes.” Darren waved him in, offering a chair. Toby took a seat and lit a smoke. None of the other employees would dare light up in the boss’s office. However, you beat a guy up enough times in high school, and he’ll never really be your boss. Darren started politely, “How are you?”
Toby made a gesture, “Meh. What’s this about?”
“Always to the point. That’s what I like about you, Toby.”
‘Ah shit,’ Toby thought. Somewhere along the ladder, Darren picked up the understanding that saying a person’s name made employees feel personal with the boss. It probably belonged in one of the dozen books Darren thought he hid so well in his desk. Toby could imagine the chapter title, Personal Not Personnel. The only reason for this mock intimacy meant criticism.
Darren went on, “We had some complaints from the, uh.” He shuffled some papers, pretending he didn’t already know, as if the complaint didn't mean anything to him, “The, uh, Williams funeral.”
“Was this yesterday?” Toby asked. Darren furrowed his brow, nodding as he checked a completely different sheet. “What’s the problem?”
“Mrs. Williams said she saw you smoking dope.”
“It was a cigarette.”
Darren folded his hands on the desk, “Your eyes are bloodshot.”
“I was up until six.”
“May I as…”
Toby cut him off, “My girlfriend left me.”
“Oh.” Darren seemed surprised. Though to Toby, the look resembled a kid at Christmas getting a gift he wanted but never expected.
Rising to his feet, Toby said, “We done? Because I‘ve got a lot of holes to dig and then fill.”
As his hand grabbed hold of the doorknob, Darren informed him, “You know… if you need it… you do have a couple sick days left. And they don’t roll over.”
“You telling me to take time off?”
“Paid time,” Darren said, as if it made the matter any better. But Toby figured, today being Thursday, he could take the time off until Tuesday.
“You’re the boss.”
“How the fuck do you get so lucky?” Joey, the bartender, asked.
“Some guys just have it,” Toby said, sweeping the dice back in the cup, “You want to go another round?”
“Nah. Five bucks is my limit.”
“Pussy.” Toby smiled. Joey made a motion like shaking his dick at him.
“Maybe Ottis’ll be along,” Joey said, refilling beers and rocks glasses down the bar.
“He should. It’s pay day.”
“Damn right it is,” Ottis called from the door. Before Toby could turn in his seat, he felt an arm around his neck, hugging him kindly albeit rough. Ottis wasn’t his real name. He earned the nickname in high school. His mother developed the habit of saying, “Oh, tis-tis,” whenever her son got out of hand. Nowadays, it's about all she can say.
“Line ‘em up. Right here.” Ottis slapped the bar, “Me and this muthafucka got words to handle.”
“Indeed,” Toby grinned, sipping his whiskey. One last high class whiskey before he needed to curb the spending. Because he needed the money to buy Katherine… the thought eluded him. He didn’t owe her anything anymore, anniversaries considered. So he drained the glass, ordering a refill of the same on top of Ottis’s shots. They scorched their throats on high octane then exchanged cigarettes -- Ottis always liked to experiment with his brands, and Toby often sampled the selections -- before moving into serious business.
“We coulda used you on that Baker job,” Ottis said.
Slapping his shoulder, Ottis asked, “How you know?”
“That fucking tree. I know my shit. It was going to be a problem the minute they wanted him planted there. Like he needs the shade.”
“Ah, you know. It’s a way for folks to do for themselves.”
They drifted through conversations about sports. It being baseball season, the two could care less, however, they never tired of discussing football from decades past. Sometimes Joey drifted into the equation, often settling disputes about statistics by lighting up his laptop. Ever since Mickey G’s got Wi-Fi, sports debates became more easily settled.
“It’s Peyton’s year, man,” Toby said his seventh rye sending warm ripples up his spine. He felt like a liquid looking for somewhere to flow.
“Fuck you, and your safe bets,” Ottis chimed in, “I’ll be putting money on the Bears.”
“And losing it,” Joey grimaced.
Ottis cast a dismissive wave, “Yeah, yeah. So let’s be real, man. How long’s Katherine been gone?”
Toby frowned. He knew it would come up, but it didn’t taste any less sour. “It’s Friday. So this is day two and a half.”
Toby shrugged, “I’m doing all right.”
Ottis swallowed the last of his beer, “You would know.”
Down the road, another group clustered around a box destined for a hole. Toby kept an excessive distance. He didn’t want to chance upsetting anyone. They didn’t look like people from here. They looked like a smear of colors, black predominant but nothing detailed. Katherine used to say he needed glasses, but he felt he could see just fine. Besides, he had better things to spend his cash on. “Like what?” she used to ask. “Like you,” he would say, grinning. Then they’d kiss, or she’d nuzzle into his neck, or… it didn’t matter anymore. He dug at the dirt. The rainy July left the ground gummy. It didn’t add to the effort of digging, but he hated the clean up afterward. But such things are for later. For now, he saw the crowd breaking up and another hole that needed to be filled. The routine would carry him along.