Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

The Enemy Sat Shotgun

Charles Hale


I.

We don’t like it when they stay in their house and follow us around while we work, especially when they are women who take two or three happy pills to start the day. When they are gone we can listen to music on our headphones while we clean their windows, but if they stay home we have to participate in idle chatter and listen to them talk to their dogs. We don’t like hoverers.

II.

There are many squeegees in the work van and because windows come in many different sizes the squeegees are also different lengths. We also have towels, some of which we call burly. Each of us has our own belts, that’s how we show the boss we are serious about the job. There are four of us, including the boss, but we don’t all work at the same time. And because of the seasons there isn’t year round work, except for the boss. There are ladders inside the van and strapped to the top. Once you get used to them, ladders are like jungle gyms for grown-ups.

III.

Sometimes it’s nice when the TV is on, but then sometimes they are watching Fox News. And every once in a while they will say to us “you know, Obama’s a Muslim,” or “terrorism, terrorism, terrorism,” and “Jesus.” Then we have to nod and smile because they are writing the checks. We can’t even flick water on them or tell them how fucking stupid and repulsive they are and chock the life out of them. Inviting us to your church is not cool.

IV.

Lifeforms and burly are part of our own language. Like when we pull into the Huddle House parking lot and look inside to see if there are any lifeforms sitting by the windows. There are a couple of Huddle Houses on our route and when one of the general managers stopped being around we asked one of the other ones about it. “She got caught fucking one of the cooks on the prep table,” he said. “They fired her.” Or when one of us is going to the van we ask the others if they need anything and if one of our towels is too wet we ask “can you bring me another burly?”

V.

They all think their windows are the dirtiest ever. It always makes us laugh, their need to be special. The dirtiest windows we’ve ever seen were orange. A woman sat there all day smoking and complaining about health problems. When she wasn’t talking or puffing she was coughing. Not only were her windows orange from the nicotine but the walls also had an orange tint. We are glad they haven’t called again. Then there were the two older lesbians with ten or twelve little white dogs. Years and years of slobber on the windows caused dry heaving.

VI.

Sometimes the moon is still out when we start work. Like the time we had to drive to Winona Mississippi. Who would ever think that someone in Winona Mississippi would pay someone to clean their windows? Later the man of the house would become known as The Enemy, but we had an entire day of work and a car ride back to Oxford before we discovered that. We knew them because they had a condo in Oxford. Generally speaking we don’t like people that live only part time in our town. Toward the end of the day The Enemy didn’t ask if we could drive him back to Oxford, he told us we would. The Enemy sat shotgun and made idle chatter. He talked about how much he loved Oxford, he was talking about why when he said, “my wife and I can go out to dinner without having to be surrounded by a bunch of N’s.” But he said the actual word like we were all on the same team. Pretty much then is when we stopped talking. NPR was on the radio. Wynton Marsalis was being interviewed about his new record.

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Charles Hale has been published in Noo Journal, Dead Mule, 5th Estate, and others.  His two long running stories in episodes What The Faulkner & Adventures With Pinecone appear in The Local Voice. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi, and works as a window cleaner and at Square Books.

© Charles Hale

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2010