There's a sign in the window - "Help Wanted, Apply Within".
He's seen it for a few days, finally made up his mind to go inside and see if...
He's wearing his best shirt, button-down denim, and his best pants, the jeans that don't have holes or stains and the zipper still works fine without help from a safety pin.
His hands are clean, his hair cut and combed neatly, no dirt under his fingernails. He trimmed his beard and shaved his stubble this morning. His face is carefully set in an expression of pleasant neutrality - if he is hopeful, it does not show, nor does the weariness that has dogged him for the last few years. It's just an application, nothing more. He keeps telling himself that.
Before coming here, he drove around the area, checked out the nearby neighborhoods and businesses. He has to be careful that there are no churches, daycares, schools, parks, bus stops, playgrounds, or other amusements, businesses, or attractions for children within so many feet of the business.
He takes a steadying breath and walks in. With the economy still in the tank, he figures there will be plenty of people lining up for a job, but he's the only one in there at the moment. There's a man at the register, looking bored. There are motes of dust floating through the air, tiny glinting reminders that the sun is still shining in the world. Sometimes he's surprised by that light, as if the shadows that envelop him must surely have devoured the whole world by now. When they part and let the brightness in, it is almost painful to his dark-adjusted heart.
"Help you?" the man at the register asks?
"Saw the sign..."
"You able to do heavy lifting?"
"Yes, sir." He is always polite.
"You able to work weekends?"
"You have transportation? Can you be on time?"
Okay, then..." he waves a handful of paper in the air before slapping it on the small counter. "...fill this out."
It's the usual thing - name, date of birth, tax information, work history, on and on. He wonders, as he always does, about the thirteen year gap. Will they notice? Will it matter?
Then there's the question that he dreads most on job applications. "Any felonies?"
He is honest. It's a matter of pride for him. Plenty of people lie, and some of them don't get caught, but he won't do it. He writes "Yes", signs the application, hands it to the man at the counter.
Sometimes they look over the application right away. Sometimes they say "We'll call." Sometimes they do call. Usually they don't. This time, the man looks over the papers while he stands there. He pauses and looks up.
"Long time out of work."
The man at the counter finishes, looks up again.
"Got a felony?"
"Sex offender." He doesn't give details. They never care.
"Sorry, can't hire you. Wish I could, you're the best applicant we've had, but there's a home daycare one block over."
That's it, then. Another waste of time. Maybe there's really a daycare, maybe not. The man at the counter seemed genuine, but you never can tell. They've lied, before, to avoid the awkwardness or because they don't think he deserves the courtesy of the truth. He's not sure what's worse, the ones who look him up and down and purse their mouths like he's dragged some kind of stink in with him and they want to block the smell with their upper lips, the ones who lie and don't care he can see they're lying, or the ones who are honestly sympathetic.
He used to try and get jobs in his old field. He's educated, skilled, should be a good hire. No one was interested, though, when they saw the felony staring at them from the paperwork. He looked for work in other fields, other industries, crawling down the ladder until he reached the bottom, always hoping that someone would give him a chance. He's had some odd jobs, a few cash-under-the-table things, some construction clean-up and floor sweeping work, but nothing steady, nothing that pays the bills when they need paying or feeds his family. He's taken up, and then quit, drinking several times. It's an expensive habit (although cheaper than many others), one that helps kill the hurt and resentment for a little while, even as it fuels them.
Sometimes a friend or family member will tell him about a job, a place where they hire ex-felons. He applies, but there are so many men and women like him, it's like one drop in the ocean hoping to be noticed.
Fifteen years ago, he made a bad decision. He was young and high and she was flattering with her attention and admiration. He knew she wasn't adult, but he didn't know she was considered a child by the law. She looked like that in-between age that isn't quite woman, isn't quite girl, that age when they're legal, just. She liked his attention, like touching him and the response it engendered, and he liked the way she looked up to him and made him feel strong, capable, and even wise. When she asked him up to her room, he didn't think about it, just said okay and let her take his hand, lead him up the stairs and into a shrine to the years between child and adult, a place where adolescence is just beginning to give way to more grown-up things.
Fifteen years ago, he was caught with a girl who was not, it turned out, seventeen two weeks ago. Her parents came home early, saw his truck in the driveway, walked in on them cuddled on her bed. So what, he was fully clothed and she was mostly dressed? So what, they never got to anything more than a few tentative touches, a little exploring? So what he was little more than a kid himself, four years older than she said she was? So what? No one cares.
No one cares that he isn't interested in children. No one cares that he would put a child molester under the ground in a heartbeat. He's lumped in with the rest of them, top of the list every time a child goes missing or is found harmed or dead in the area. DNA sample, fingerprints, and has to prove it wasn't him, he's never again innocent until proven guilty.
He climbs back into his old, beat up car, cranks it up, prays he can find a job before he needs gas. Someone, somewhere will see more than that "SO"...won't they? Before he gives up entirely and lets himself sink into the quagmire of drugs, alcohol, and self-loathing that is always there, always happy to suck him in and hold him under...
Quote of the day...er...week...umm...hey, look, a quote!!
"...besides love, independence of thought is the greatest gift an adult can give a child." - Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One
For old quotes, look here.
For old quotes, look here.