After months of drought, rain comes, a trickle of water from a pale grey sky. We all expect more, staring out from the dusty side of the warehouse door, shocked and dismayed at the wet's paltry relief. Barbara, with her hair trimmed to a half inch, steps out, holding up her palms as if to catch a drink, the pellets of the brief shower striking at her face and eyes as she grinned. Around her, distant thunder moans in answer the quick blue flashes of lightning.
She is gallant gal, but lonely, an 18-year old growing up in a generation of lonely people, good naturedly teasing Martha from the clothing department with the resigned grace of a wall flower at a dance -- Martha perpetually prodding her to talk more openly to boys.
``I love the rain,'' Barbara says and stares back in at me, curling her forefinger as invitation for me to join her. I shake my head. I am not afraid of getting wet, or what the boss will say if he catches the three of us dancing in the rain instead of working. I am afraid of Barbara and her teenage crush on me. Why do all girls her age find older men like me attractive? I do not advertise myself or push myself on her. She seeks me out, while a frustrated security guard named Rich glares. His vicious crush on Barbara scares me. While I'm afraid to hurt her in rejecting her; I fear more the rebound that will send her into his arms instead.
Like many men entrusted with an ounce of power, he's grown warped. He likes to push people around, especially the clerks, reminding them that he can get them fired if he wants. He's made noise from time to time about becoming a cop, though he strikes me as too stupid to pass the entrance exam.
Barbara, silver dots of rain clinging to her hair, steps back into the warehouse, clutching her side as she sits down on one of the packing crates.
``I'm all right,'' she says waving me and Martha off. ``This happens all the time. It's just stitches.''
But Barbara has a habit of getting hurt. If she doesn't report some form of injury twice a week, the warehouse manager starts to worry, saying Barbara is due for a whopper. Sometimes, the manager will send Barbara home. In the year since starting work, she had broken two fingers, sprained three ankles, pulled out her back five times and come back in the morning with more bruises than anyone cares to record.
Rich worries her, too. She's often hidden from him after work to avoid his ritual attempt at seduction. When she is less careful, he screeches up in his Chevy, leans out the window, and offers to drive her home. Only once did she ever take him up on the offer. Once was too much. She says he pulled the car over to the side of the road half way to her house.
``I thought he wanted to rape me when he reached across,'' she says. ``But all he did was pull a gun out of his glove compartment. A big silver gun that he sort of petted a lot, blowing on it when his fingers left marks on the barrel.
`` `I only keep it in case someone gives me trouble,' he says to
'' she says. Me.
But we all know Rich and know who trouble always seems to find him, and how he roves through the store in the afternoon, his gaze searching out the faces of employees he doesn't like. I'm a particular target. The company raised the bounty on thieves. Last week, he got a clerk fired for taking a packet of gum. He would love to get me fired. I tell him off routinely just to watch his face grow red. He's even stopped me at the door, demanding to search my bag. He's always disappointment when the only thing the bag contains is books -- books with titles he's too stupid to recognize.I guess Rich is lonely, too. But he's not the wallflower kind. He doesn't celebrate a sprinkle of rain, and I see him in the shadows staring outside, scowling at the clouds, his gaze saying he'll likely have to rewash his car. He seems to hate the rain as much as he hates the rest of us. But the rain's safe. What's he going to shoot at? The sky? And what good will that do? It certainly won't make Barbara go out with him.