Chalk and Lacey, Part III

Chalk and Lacey-11Read Part I, here. Read Part II, here.

Lacey reacted when I told her the news. Her face softened and her eyebrows lifted and she smiled and turned her head, exposing her white teeth and her white neck. She kissed me.

I took the job. Two weeks later I moved into a cubicle. I began re-writing the new employee handbook, which they hadn’t updated in a decade. The waste basket under my desk took a scented liner and nauseated me all day long. Modern offices don’t use chalk.

On one of my first days in the office the day care in the building asked around to see if any background checked government employees could fill in for an hour or two due to some picnic-related injuries someone had suffered. I volunteered, and I admit I was thinking they might have chalk.

I watched six kids, ranging from an Iraqi girl who could recite most of “Who’s on First?” to a remarkable fat boy who fell during a game of tag and actually bounced. I kept one eye on the children and one eye on the supplies closet. At the first opportunity, under the pretense of finding a pink colored pencil for the Persian Vaudeville aficionado, I found the only chalk in the building: sidewalk chalk. I gestured toward my face with a blue piece and took a bite, back to the room. It tasted awful. This wasn’t chalk. Nothing pure and nothing clean about this substance. My heart grieved.

I eventually lifted my eyes to the fat boy. He glanced side to side with furtive eyes and slid something into his mouth. I hunched over towards him and peered. He had a chunk of play-dough in his hand and made good headway on it. I walked to him and he straightened up and swallowed. I took the playdough from him with a disapproving look. As I walked away, I fingered a bit of the stuff into a ball. I ate a small bite as I looked out the window at the cars in the parking lot. So much salt. A salt overload. I took another bite. But still a simple taste. Very direct.

I looked down as a new meter maid moved from car to car, chalking tires. I recalled the white weight of an unspoiled cylinder in memory. I felt the dense squish of the dough in my hand. It seemed like a good time for something new.

Chalk and Lacey, Part III

Chalk and Lacey, Part II

Chalk and Lacey-10Read Part I, here.

My attempt to compensate my employer by writing one premature ticket every day worked better than I would have preferred. My overseers called me in to the office. They told me my performance was exemplary; I was making more rounds, bringing in more revenue, and using more chalk than any of the other maids. “That’s the key,” they said. “Getting as much chalk on as many tires as possible. You can’t ticket them if they haven’t been chalked.” I nodded with enthusiasm and felt a lump of chalk in my stomach. They told me we’d talk again in two weeks. When I put my chalker away in the supply room, feeling good, I stashed two white cylinders in my pockets.

I went to see Lacey. Lacey started doing freelance design and layout work while we were still in college, so she worked from home. She once got the job designing the Fudrucker’s Menus. That impressed me.

I kissed her when she answered the door. “My superior’s like my work,” I said. “Oh,” she said. All of Lacey’s emotions show directly on her face. She can’t feign interest if she doesn’t feel it. She’s preternaturally direct. She swung the door open to let me in. Kip ran up next to her and barked at me. “Screw you,” I said as I took off my shoes.

Kip, I’ve come to understand that I don’t want you hurt in any way. Lacey likes you. That counts. But I can’t imagine a way forward. How do we fix this?

I sat on the couch with Lacey, talking, and occasionally, as the flow of conversation allowed, I would kiss her or she would kiss me. After the fourth kiss she said, “What’s that weird taste?” I thought “Damn” to myself. I’d eaten a celebratory half piece of chalk on the way over. “I dunno.” My expression matched my shrug, probably straining at the edges of believable.

“What’s it like?” I asked her. “I have no idea,” she said. “But I don’t like it. Go brush your teeth.” “I don’t have a toothbrush,” I said. “If you’re willing to kiss me, you can use my toothbrush.” She pointed through the kitchen to the bathroom, but then she jumped up. “Actually, I want to brush my teeth first. I can’t stand this taste.”

She disappeared into the bathroom and shut the door. I decided to have another bite of chalk, since I was going to brush my teeth anyway. It couldn’t hurt. I plucked the chalk from my pocket and flipped it into the air so it did one perfect rotation and came down flat on my palm with a very satisfying “thunk.” Except it’s not just a “thunk.” Chalk rings faintly when struck. So it’s a “thunk-eeeee . . .”

I stood next to the door out of the line of sight of the kitchen. I looked the cylinder up and down. I took a bite. I marveled that it continued to be as good as I thought it was. I heard the bathroom door. I shot my hand to my side. Lacey was almost around the corner. I couldn’t get it back in my pocket. I looked down at my empty shoes. I dropped the chalk and heard it ring from the bottom of the shoe with Kip’s design bitten into it.

“Your turn,” Lacey said from the kitchen. “I will make you a Quesadilla, if you like.”
“You don’t mind cheese on my breath?” I said as I walked toward her.
“Okay, I’ll pour you a lemonade and whiskey.”

I enjoyed the intimacy of using Lacey’s toothbrush, but I brushed quickly. I came out into the kitchen and Lacey handed me my drink. I heard Kip making noise. I looked into the living room. He had my shoe in his teeth. I said, “Kip, let it go.” Kip continued to tear at it.

Lacey said “Be nice” to me and “Let it go” to Kip. Kip looked up at her, but did not let it go.

I stepped towards him, and he turned with the shoe, spilling it. Lacey and I watched as a large piece of chalk rolled onto the floor. Kip dragged his quarry behind the couch and left the chalk sitting there.

Lacey looked at it. “What’s that?” she asked. I said, “A piece of chalk.” She crossed the floor and picked it up. “It has bite marks in it,” she said. “Hm. Maybe Kip did that,” I said.

“Is this the weird taste?” she asked. “Probably not,” I said. She took a tiny bite of the chalk. “Yeah. That’s definitely it. Have you been eating chalk?” I looked past Lacey, hoping someone held a cue card with a good answer to this question. “From time to time,” I said.

Lacey went into the bathroom to brush her teeth again. When she came out I tried to hold her and kiss her. Maybe she doesn’t even care, I thought. But she cared.

“I don’t really care,” she said as she avoided embracing me, “but that’s a weird thing to do. It can’t be healthy.”  She looked at me from across the kitchen as though she didn’t quite recognize me. She poured another drink. “You probably have chalk deposits all over your gut.”

Even though she looked at me that way and wouldn’t let me hold her, her words warmed me. She was thinking about my health. That she felt like she could talk about chalk deposits in my gut — even if she spoke with a hint of malice — made me feel close to her.

“I’ll stop,” I said as I stepped toward her.

“Please do,” Lacey said and she put her hand up to my throat preventing a kiss.

I stopped eating chalk. My performance at work suffered. I shuffled without joy from car to car. I cited fewer perps out of laziness and mercy. I spared the blue Toyota that hated minivans. I felt I could sympathize with someone who couldn’t help themselves, or who couldn’t explain their behavior.

Regardless of my flagging enthusiasm my overseers wanted to move me. My English degree qualified me to work generating and editing internal documents, with the possibility of helping produce text for city mailers and newsletters and things as time went on. “You’re motivated,” they said. “We think we need to keep you interested, so you don’t move on.” I felt a pang.

“Where would I work?” I asked.

“At the Main Street building.” This cut me off from the chalk. I guess my face fell. “Think it over,” they said. “Let us know on Monday.”

Concluded in Part III, here.

Chalk and Lacey, Part II

Chalk and Lacey, Part I

Chalk and Lacey, Part 1I started eating chalk after I got the job as a meter maid. I say meter maid, because meter man isn’t specific to someone who checks parking meters; I might have been a meter reader — a more masculine occupation — but I wasn’t. I checked parking meters. I scratched at tires with the chalker. I checked back. I ticketed. I started the summer after I finished college. When someone asked my girlfriend, Lacey, what I did she would say “He works for the city.” Lacey, your smile lies crooked across your straight, white teeth, and you did not lie when you said that I work for the city. Lacey was relieved when I eventually left the job.

The supply room contains six chalk boxes, twelve pieces of chalk in each, two boxes each of three different colors, white, red and yellow. I approach the box. I smell the chalk. It reminds me of perfect, clean stones under clear water. I open the box of white chalk and look in at the cylinders. They lie there like sardines in a tin looking somewhere else. I remove two of them and hold them. One for me, one for the chalker. I drop one in my pocket and turn to take up the chalker and notice dust on my fingers. I raise my hand to my mouth and then the door opens and I start in a small way. My chalky hand goes to the chalker. I smile at Dale as he enters the closet. Dale drives around emptying the public trash cans. He’s here for absurd, scented can liners. “I’ll tell you what,” says Dale, who usually tells me what, “I can’t wait till we kill this pack of liners and get unscented. I hate the smell.” I agree and I feel sorry for Dale, who has to work with physical objects he hates. There’s no pleasure in that kind of work. He leaves, I finish setting the chalk in the chalker. White dust in the whorls of my finger tips. I lick them clean.

One night over at Lacey’s place, we were having dinner and watching our shows. A commercial for hand sanitizer – set in a classroom – came on, and I followed the blackboard in the background, watching for the chalk. The teacher ended the commercial by writing the name of the sanitizer on the board, and I felt pleased. Chalk doesn’t make it on TV very often. I like to see it represented. My hand went to my pocket, and a nub of chalk I planned to eat on my walk home. I got lost looking forward to the walk home, when I would walk, listen to an Audiobook of “The Sun Also Rises”, and eat chalk, and then noticed too late as Lacey’s dog, Kip, chewed an obnoxious Scandanavian pattern into my leather shoes by the door. Kip, Lacey loves you, but I do not. I would feel no loss if you fell out of the window of Lacey’s third story bedroom and yelped at the sudden contact with cement. I would not waste the chalk necessary to outline your body on the ground.

Most people do not understand that chalk is a perfect taste. It boasts no complexity. It functions on one level of taste, a clean, flat taste. The complexity of chalk exists in its texture. The texture moves from crunch to dust to paste, and I love that transformation.

The first time I tried the chalk, I didn’t think I’d ever try it again. From my whole experience I’m convicted that you need to respect most social boundaries. Tiny transgressions lead to bigger. Once you lick chalk off your fingers, it’s easy to nibble a crumb, and once you’ve nibbled, you’re going to have to try chomping into a whole cylinder. You just shouldn’t ever start.

I didn’t like that I stole the chalk. That weighed on me. But no other product approached what I could get at work. So I stole it. But I found a way to compensate. I started writing one premature ticket every day, for someone who was within 15 minutes of their deadline. The tickets cost the perps 30 dollars a piece, and I don’t know how much chalk that buys, but I’m guessing a good amount, more than I was taking. 30 bucks a day, five days a week, 150 extra dollars a week. I picked this sad blue toyota pretty often. It had a bumper sticker that expressed a strong opinion about people who drive minivans, and which got at least a ticket a week anyway. The car didn’t seem to learn its lesson and I didn’t feel bad at all.

This idea worked better than I expected.

Continued in Part II, here. Concluded in Part III, here.

Chalk and Lacey, Part I