Jake Sclavus by Stephen Page

This a Short Story and  work of fiction.

Security Guard Badge and Flashlight Stephen Page

Jake Sclavus

by Stephen Page

            My beeper is going off, so I look down to see the number on the display screen.  It’s the grocery store.  I run toward the store, hoping it isn’t anything serious.   This job is generally boring, in fact, deathly boring, but when something exciting happens, it is usually the kind of excitement that sane people try to avoid.  Crossing the large parking lot, I dodge moving cars, scattered shopping carts, and slow‑moving people.  I check to see that my handcuffs are in place on my security belt as I enter the store.  My three‑cell, heavy‑duty flashlight is in my right hand.  The manager of the store tells me there is an “undesirable” walking around, one that has been picked up before on shoplifting charges.  The manager points him out to me and I begin to follow him around.  He hasn’t yet noticed me when he cuts into one of the aisles with some food items in his hand.  When I turn the corner of the aisle, there he is, gulping down a quart of milk.  There is half‑eaten lunchmeat and cheese in his hand.  He has long, matted hair and he is wearing an Army trench coat, old jeans, T‑shirt, and worn‑out tennis shoes‑‑all of which look like they have been worn for several weeks without a washing.   He gapes at me.  A few of his front teeth are missing.  I ask him if he is going to pay for the items, and he says, “Yes.”  I say, “Let’s go then,” and he says, “Fuck you.”  He begins to walk out the door.  I tell him if he walks out the door, I will have to apprehend him.  He says, “You wouldn’t dare.”  I tell the manager to call the police as I follow him out the store.  When we are outside, he turns and bumps me with his chest. I am surprised because his body is hard and wiry, his muscles hard as steel.  A fork has appeared in his right hand, and he is holding it in a menacing manner.  I notice that the sun has gone down and the parking lot has emptied.  There is a slight chill in the air.  The manger comes outside and tells me that the police will not arrive for at least half‑an‑hour.  Then he disappears, ducking quickly back into the store.  I look down at the very sharp fork waving around in the air.  Just then, a police car pulls into the parking lot.  I think they are there to assist me, but it turns out they are headed for the Mexican restaurant located at the other end of the parking lot.  I yell, “Hey!”  They turn their car around and head toward me and the hungry man with the fork in his hand.  They end up arresting him.


            I am walking around the parking lot.  I am bored.  My mind is numb from lack of use.  It feels like someone has had it freeze‑dried, or at the very least, cut off its blood supply.  The only part of my brain that is alive is the motor‑function area, and a minute section of the language area that keeps reverberating, “I’m bored, I’m bored, I’m bored.”  It takes absolutely no intelligence to do this kind of work.  I am trying to figure how a person like me ends up with a job like this.


            It is near closing time.  Three more minutes and I can lock the doors and go home.  I am lazily staring through the glass doors and out over the parking lot.  Suddenly, a man appears in front of me, on the other side of the glass, his eyes are bloodshot and glassy.  I have to let him in because it isn’t yet closing time.  I open the doors and he just stands there.  It isn’t very cold out, but he is shivering.  “I just seen my friend get killed,” he says.  “Over drugs.”  I feel terrible.  Then I remember I’m on duty.  “Was it here, in this parking lot?”  “No,” he says.  “A few blocks away.”  His eyes stare unfocused on an imaginary spot over my shoulder.  His pupils are dilated.  “He was shot, man.  Three times.  In the gut.  He just lay there and bled all over the ground.”  I look down and notice he has one of his hands in his jacket pocket.  There is a bulge in that pocket, and he is lifting the bulge up, pushing it forward, pointing it toward me.  “Sorry,” I say.  “But it’s near closing time.  I have to lock up.”  I quickly begin to close the doors.  He doesn’t move.  He’s still staring at the imaginary place behind me, still pointing the bulge at me.  He looks like he is ready to cry.  I finally get the doors closed in front of him, lock them, and move off like I have something to do.


            I am walking around the parking lot.  My legs are tired and my feet are killing me.  My new shoes are pinching across the tops of my toes and rubbing sore spots on the backs of my heels.  When the eight‑hour shift finally ends, I hobble to my car and drive home.  When I arrive, I take off my shoes and socks and notice the skin is missing on numerous spots around my feet.  I soak my feet in Epsom salts and wince at the pain.  The next day, when I wear tennis shoes, the Sergeant of the Guard chastises me for not having black shoes on.


            A commotion breaks out at the far end of the parking lot.  Because of all the cars, I can’t see what it is, but I can hear a lot of shouting.  I follow the noise until I arrive at the scene.  I find a man and a woman arguing.  A few people have gathered to watch.  Nobody is interfering or saying anything, even though the man is moving toward the woman, gesticulating in a manner that is causing her to walk backward.  The man is about six‑foot‑four, and weighs about two hundred and forty pounds; maybe that is why nobody is doing anything.  I check to make sure my battery‑powered zapper is on my belt.  My ever‑present flashlight is swinging in my right hand.  “Please take your argument elsewhere,” I tell them.  They ignore me.  I say it louder.  They still ignore me.  “I want my baby,” the man says.  “If you’re going to leave me, I want my baby.”  “No,” she says.  “I’m taking her to my mother’s.”  By this time the man has the woman backed up to the trunk of a car.  She looks like she wants to crawl backward over the top of the car.  She is not afraid to argue back though, and keeps the emphatic rhetoric going, all the time eyeing his hands.  I walk up next to them and yell, “Take your problems off this parking lot!”  “Stay out of this,” the man says as he turns his face toward me.  That is all the time the woman needs.  In the split‑second it takes the man to turn his attention, the woman ducks under one of his arms and begins running toward an idling car.  Behind the steering wheel is another woman, holding a baby.  The man turns and takes a step in their direction.  I quickly maneuver around him and stop a few steps in front of him.  He looks intent on tearing me limb‑from‑limb.  His eyes are flashing fire.  He steps up to me and towers over me.  I stand my ground.  He looks surprised.  “You’re only doing this because I’m black,” he says.  “No,” I say.  “It’s my job.  I have to do this.”  The car behind me squeals off, carrying with it the two women and the baby.  The man looks over my head and begins to relax.  “She’s a terrible mother,” he says.  He turns and saunters off toward a large four‑by‑four vehicle, gets in, and slowly drives off.  I relax the tight grip I had on my flashlight.


            Tonight I am working at the local hospital.  It is near the end of my shift, but my replacement hasn’t arrived yet.  I wait, fifteen minutes, half‑an‑hour, an hour‑and‑a‑half.  It is near midnight.  I call the officer of the day and tell him what happened.  He asks me to work a double shift.  They never pay overtime, but I agree.  I drink another cup of coffee, buy a newspaper and check the want‑ads.


            I am working out in the Palomar area, guarding an office building on the midnight shift.  I took this post because I can sit in my car most of the time and study.  I only have to walk around every hour, check the area, and make sure all the office doors are locked.  It is cold here at night.  Whoever said it doesn’t get cold in sunny Southern California never lived away from the coast, and never worked outside at nighttime in the winter.  I have a Volkswagen, so the heater doesn’t work unless I am driving 40 miles an hour.  Since it’s hard to drive around the parking lot at night at 40 miles and hour and study at the same time, I sit in my car and study by flashlight.  The bad light bothers my eyes.  Even when I wear long johns, my legs go numb after ten or fifteen minutes.


            I am sleeping soundly when the phone rings.  It is the officer of the day, asking me to come into work.  I look at the clock and notice it has only been six hours since I left my last post.  A headache creeps into my frontal lobes.  My neck tenses up.  I tell him, “Yes,” hang up, and stumble toward the shower.  As the water washes over me, I remember what I studied last year in American history: at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, business owners exploited their workers to every extent possible.  As I make myself coffee, I wonder what happened to the strong labor unions of the 1970’s.  As I drive to work, I look down at the gas needle.  It hovers near the empty mark.  I think about the one-hundred‑fifty dollar paycheck I received for last week’s pay.


            Sometime around three in the morning, on one of my rounds at the Palomar office building, around the back, next to one of the dumpsters, where the smell of rotting lunch scraps and ink‑smeared photocopy paper mingles with the night air, I find a man sleeping on the ground.  He is wrapped up in a dirty Army‑surplus sleeping bag.  He is snoring.  With my foot, I tap the end of the sleeping bag where his feet are.  It takes me three or four nudges to wake him.  “You’re going to have to leave,” I say.  “No one is allowed on these premises at night.”  “Man, do you know who God is?” he asks.  “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to leave.”  “Do you go to church, man?”  “Look, you have to leave the area.”  “I didn’t think you went to church.  Otherwise you wouldn’t be kicking me out of here.”  I wait as he slowly stands and rolls up his sleeping bag, grumbling all the time about God and church.  I watch as he picks up pieces of food from the ground, wraps them in a greasy piece of typing paper, and deposits the package in his pocket.  I follow him until he walks off the parking lot.  “Go to church, man,” he says as he walks away.


I got this job, finally.  After six months of checking the want‑ads, making phone calls, driving around, pounding the pavement, filling out apps, and getting drunk every evening, I got this job.

Quarto cvr w Jake Sclavus copy

This story first published on Quarto, the literary magazine of Columbia University.


Dear Father by Stephen Page

Dear Father,

I am so pleased that you have volunteered for Meals on Wheels–a noble endeavor to say the least. The driving around and handing out of containered food must surely keep you busy; which as we both know is something you need to do, especially now, at this point in your life.
Here on Santa Ana it is raining, a necessity for all ranches and farms alike. There always seems to be too much or too little of the wet stuff: cows either grazing in knee-deep water or chewing cud in puddles of dust, wheat like reeds in lakes or corn withering and dropping cracked ears. Last week the soy leaves turned from yellow to brown, a worsening state of bad, and the wind–break evergreens ochred the cow-lot borders. This afternoon, after two hours of steady raindrops the size of acorns, the whole ranch and everything on it seemed to sigh with relief; an almost audible sigh like one you hear in a dream as you are waking. The land has blackened to chocolate and the air chilled to jacket weather. Today’s downpour reprieved a two-month bout of ninety-degree swelter that made ill the character of the entire Santa Ana populace, not to mention tainted much of our cupboard tins and racked red wine.
We start the yerra next week–a picnic for us, as we watch while the gauchos perform. The cooler weather will be perfect for it. In a month or so we sell the calves.

I am sure you are happy that you will soon move to Florida after such a cold Michigan winter. Two months of breath-cracking below-zero is enough to make anyone seek guayaberas and daiquiris on the beach. Retirement will be pure pleasure. No more up before daybreak! No more “thru rain and shine!”

I hope your recovery from prostate surgery goes well. A hobby is in order for you to find, as we spoke about, to keep you occupied. Distracted. Don’t be like your father. Your career is over, not your life.

I trust this letter finds you and Mom well.

With much thought,

Your son, Jonathan

PS The jacket you gave me during my last visit, the bombardier with the shoulder insignia missing, keeps me from the wet and chill. I use it on my wood walks.
This poem first published on Foliate Oak. Read the poem there: http://www.foliateoak.com/stephen-page.html

Stephen Page is from Michigan. He is the author of The Timbre of Sand and Still Dandelions. He holds two AA’s from Palomar College, a BA from Columbia University and an MFA from Bennington College. His critical essays have appeared regularly in the Buenos Aires Herald and the Fox Chase Review. He is the recipient of The Jess Cloud Memorial Prize, a Writer-in-Residence from the Montana Artists Refuge, a Full Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, an Imagination Grant from Cleveland State University, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. He loves his wife, travel, family, and friends.