Excerpt from an unfinished novel, Wounded:
The new man was there, the welfare man earning his state-sponsored check. He seemed, at first, to be a ratty eighteen-year old, but the longer Elvis watched him, the older the kid got. In fact, about twenty years older. He had a spaced-out look that sometimes substitutes for youth. Stephen was inducting him into the warehouse crew.
"All right, this is the new guy. His name is John Sken... how do you say that?"
"Skentaszic. People call me Squelch."
"Squelch? That's O.K. with you?"
"Yeah, Squelch is cool."
"O.K. Squelch it is."
Stephen pointed to and named everyone in the room, then said, "Elvis, show him the ropes."
Elvis approached. He thought, I know this scene. What you get is drunks. It's street guys they send us. So someone who was scraped off the sidewalk or dumped out of a cardboard box is going to help me manage the stock. That's very good. I look forward to a productive relationship. He said, "How you doing?"
"Elvis. Elvis the Pelvis. Cool."
They walked to the shelving. Squelch was clearly impressed by its height and by the hi-lo they passed. He said, "Wow. You get stuff from way up there?"
"Yeah. That's part of the job."
"No kidding? Looks dangerous."
"Hardin broke his leg coming down the quick way."
"How about that. Hey man, what you want me to do? You want me up there?"
"If you promise not to fall."
"Sure. Sure, I won't fall."
"Good. I need to know that in advance."
Elvis breathed in deeply then went on to the complicated part. "O.K., now here's the deal," he said slowly. "Helen, the lady in the office back there, is going to get orders for this stuff from the lab, from Surgery, from Hemodialysis, from all over hell. She prints these orders to us in the form of a C.I.V. That stands for... I don't remember what it stands for. Anyway, we check that list, and we pull the stuff from here, and we send it on our truck. Torpedo drives the truck."
"Sounds pretty easy," said Squelch.
"So I've been told."
"Hey man, could I go up there? I mean if we were pulling stuff, would you - you know - send me up on the hi-lo to get things?"
Elvis cleared his throat. "Well, you see, we're not supposed to do that. There are rules, all kinds of rules about not climbing, not riding up on the forks or even a pallet that's on the forks, all kinds of rules."
Squelch looked at Elvis curiously till Elvis thought, what the hell's he staring at, and Squelch said, "But you don't pay much attention. You do all that stuff."
Elvis was startled hearing a burn-out read him so quickly. "Damn straight I do. They jam this place so you can't move and then expect you to play like Little Lord Fauntleroy. Screw that."
"So you'll run me up?"
"I'll have to. It's the only way we can get anything done."
"Yeah man. What do they think this is?"
Elvis nodded. "Now listen. Here's the real rules. This is coming from me, not some paper jockey. If you find yourself climbing around up there, think about your hands. What are you holding on to? There's a tendency to think about your feet, 'cause that's what you do when you're on the ground. On the ground you got to think about what your feet are up to or you're going to trip all over some kid's tricycle, the cat, and all sorts of random junk. But up there - even if your feet go - as long as your hands are hooked on something, you're O.K. If your hands go - unless you got feet like a monkey - you're fucked."
"Now here's another thing. Sometimes you're walking on top of a stack of boxes. This isn't something you want to set out to do, but sometimes there you are. Boxes. And you're on top... walking. What you do is you put your feet on the edges - where the edge of one box is pushed against the edge of another. If you step in the middle of a box, there's no reinforcement."
"O.K. Go for the reinforcement."
"Yeah. You step in the middle of a box, there could be something soft in there, some kind of gauze pad or bandage or something, and you're not in control at all. Look at all this stuff. You're never really in control here, so you got to take it when you can. You got much of a memory?"
"One more thing you want to remember: you're not supposed to be jumping down from any kind of height. But if you jump from any kind of height, when you hit the ground, you bend your knees."
"Bend. O.K., man."
"So you end up in a kind of squatting position. If you don't, you will drive your shins into you knee-caps and your spine into your brain."
"Squelch, this is why so many warehouse people are stupid and walk with a limp." At that moment fate sent Torpedo walking past the end of the aisle. He was limping. "See? You don't want to end up like that."
© Ragnar Kvaran 2003