Melvin’s Evasion – Teddy Engs
September 20, 2021
Big surprise, Melvin’s not here. It’s gotten so bad that Vince gives him a two-hour grace period before he calls. I listen in as Vince dials him on speaker, he picks up on the millionth ring.
“Where are you, big guy?” Vince says.
“You’ll never guess what happened,” Melvin says, yawning.
“Rats chewed through my brake cables.”
“Yes, rats. It was disgusting.”
“How did rats get in your car?”
“My neighbor smashed my window and tossed his garbage bags inside.”
“To get back at me for blasting music over the weekend.”
“Why did you blast music over the weekend?”
“It wasn’t me, it was LeAnne. She got blackout wasted because her uncle died in a moped crash.”
“A moped crash?”
“Yup. That reminds me, I need Saturday off.”
“For the funeral. It’s her uncle, Vince. He basically raised her. It’s super important that I’m there.”
Vince pulls at his chin beard, deliberating. He’s going to acquiesce. I can just tell.
“Alright, Saturday’s fine,” he says. “But you need to be here tomorrow.”
“Tell that to the rats,” Melvin says.
“I’ll be there, relax.”
Vince hangs up. I wonder if he’s aware that he just thanked Melvin for requesting another day off, on a call originally meant to punish him for no-call-no-showing. He turns to me in a way that means he’s going to ask if I can stay late.
“Can you stay late?”
“I guess,” I say. “But what about Saturday?”
“Saturday’s my day off.”
He just stands there, looking ashamed.
“Do you need me to cover,” I say.
He nods solemnly. He knows he’s screwing me via weak leadership.
We all know Melvin lies, but there’s not a lot we can do about it. What you learn pretty quickly is that if someone wants to lie, they’re gonna lie. And trust me, we’ve tried it all. We’ve called BS, we’ve screen-shot text messages, corroborated them with damning Instagram stories, for a while we went along with his lies, hoping that without resistance he would lose the urge. Boy were we wrong. The one thing we can’t do is fire him—we’re criminally understaffed—and even though he calls out a lot, he doesn’t always call out. Would you rather stay late every day? Vince asks whenever I bring it up. And he’s right, we’re a care facility, we make jack, it’s not like people are lining up at the door to work.
It’s 3:07. Only another six and a half hours. I sweep and mop and fold and cook. I try to avoid clocks. I fail often. When the sun seems low enough I feed Gavin. Then I bathe him and put him to bed. Gavin’s the resident. He doesn’t do much other than sit at his window and stare at the peeling eucalyptus outside. Recently Vince installed a motion sensor in his room because Melvin claimed he fell while sleepwalking. Sleepwalking? I thought. Gavin’s eighty-three, knees like pudding, he can hardly stand with his walker. You want to know what I think? I think Melvin forgot to set the bed rail guards, and Gavin rolled off.
I stand at the kitchen window and wait for the headlights of Bev’s Camry to flash from around the bend. 9:30 comes and goes. 9:44. 9:57. Bev finally shows up at 10:06, her eyes bloodshot to hell. I thank her for coming in. She doesn’t respond. I clock out, zip home, and jump straight into bed to get my six hours. According to the internet, anything less basically guarantees Alzheimer’s.
The next day Melvin calls out again. This time it’s his neighbor’s cat. Apparently it fell out of a window.
“How exactly does that affect him?” I ask Vince.
“His neighbor wasn’t home. He was the only one around to take it to the vet.”
“Is this the same neighbor that broke his car window and threw garbage inside?”
“Why would Melvin help him?”
“A wounded cat,” Vince says. “Who wouldn’t help a wounded cat?”
Vince turns, preparing to ask it.
“It’s fine,” I say. “I’ll stay.”
Vince presses his hands together and bows, mouthing thank you.
Melvin proceeds to call out the remaining three days of the week. Car trouble twice, dead grandma once. If I remember correctly, this makes his third dead grandma this year.
“It’s not impossible,” Vince says. “If you consider divorce and remarriage.”
“At what point do we consider, you know, letting him go.”
“Not to be a stickler, but we don’t consider anything. I’m the one with the authority to make those decisions.”
“Fine,” I say. “When will you consider letting him go?”
“He’s grieving. I can’t fire him for grieving.”
“You don’t actually believe him, do you?”
“No. Well maybe. It’s hard to say.”
“Vince, he’s a proven liar.”
“Proven’s a tricky word.”
“I don’t think it is.”
Vince flaps his lips. “What if this time he’s telling the truth? What if this time we’re wrong, how would that make us look?”
“Us?” I say. “I thought you were the one with the authority—”
Gavin’s motion sensor beeps. He probably dropped a pillow, something innocuous like that.
We both sit there staring at each other.
“You gonna do your job?” Vince says. “Or should I find somebody else more willing?”
It has now been eleven days since Melvin has been to work, and every day it’s a new elaborate excuse. Vince and I are debating whether or not Melvin knows that we know he lies. I am of the opinion that he does not, and that he is fully delusional. Vince thinks he does know, but just doesn’t care.
“Isn’t that worse?” I say.
“I wouldn’t say that. Being delusional isn’t exactly a sought after state of mind.”
“But what if it’s a genetic thing. Like pathological. Take Gavin, for example. He’s delusional, but we don’t blame him for it.”
“Gavin has dementia,” Vince says, pointedly.
“You know what I mean.”
There’s a knock at the door. I look out the window. Melvin’s Mustang is gurgling in the driveway.
“No way,” I say.
Vince purses his lips, widens his eyes.
“Didn’t he say he had to take his mom to the hospital?”
“Maybe he already did.”
I go to the door and eye the peephole. It’s Melvin alright, sun-shade clad and middle-finger brandished. I can’t help but feel excited he’s actually here.
I open the door and say, “Come round here often?”
“Don’t blow your load,” he says. “I just need to pick something up.” He waves me aside and makes for the office.
“Pick what up?” I say, following him.
“My check. Then I gotta take LeAnee to the hospital.”
“LeAnne? I thought it was your mom?”
Melvin stops, pivots, looks at me like I just hexed his first born. “I’m taking LeAnne. She has a tumor on her pancreas. It could be cancer.”
“Oh,” I say.
“Oh,” Melvin mocks.
Melvin struts into the office and closes the door behind him. The last thing I hear is Vince say,
“Melvo, my man, how you been?”
This has gone too far. If Vince isn’t going to confront him, I will. I march out to Melvin’s Mustang and stand there with my arms crossed. It’s hot out. Heat rises in little ribbons from the driveway. Through the window, I watch Vince and Melvin gesticulate cordially. Finally, Melvin saunters out munching on a green apple—Gavin’s apple, most likely.
“You like the whip?” he says, motioning the apple towards his car.
I turn and feign appraisal. “It’s nice, but I—”
“Check it out,” Melvin says, opening the driver’s door. “The interior’s all leather. I even had my initials engraved on the steering wheel.”
I lean in, admiring it, but then I snap to. This is how Melvin wins. “I need to talk to you,” I say. “I need to talk to you about all the calling out.”
Melvin looks me dead in the eye with arresting sincerity. “Of course, man. What’s up?”
“It’s just that, well, whenever you call out I get stuck here. And it’s starting to catch up with me. I haven’t been home in almost two weeks.”
“You haven’t been home? Jeez man, where’s Bev been?”
“Well, I guess I have been home, just not during the day.”
“Oh, phew,” Melvin says, his voice soft and thoughtful. “I was about to say, I might need
to have a talk with Bev.”
I want to say more, but argumentatively I feel disarmed. I watch a globule of sweat drop from my nose and sizzle on the pavement.
“Alright, well I have to go take care of this whole tumor dilemma,” Melvin says. “You working tomorrow?”
I nod yes.
“I’ll see you then, buddy.”
I can’t let him walk. Not yet. “Will you actually?” I ask, pointedly.
Melvin turns, eyebrows contorted. “I’m on the schedule, aren’t I?”
“I mean yeah, but—”
He puts his hand up, stopping me. “I’ll tell you what. How about I come in early, just for you. You seem a little, what’s the word—aggrieved. How does noon sound?”
Melvin chuckles. “Yes, noon.” Then he plants his feet shoulder width and extends his hand. His hand is small, and the thumb is hitchhiker.
“Bet,” he says.
I take his hand.
“Bet,” I say.
As he’s backing out of the driveway he sticks his head out the window. “If I’m not here by noon, you have my permission to call the cops, because something seriously fucked up will have happened.”
I look down, blushing, then wave.
I wake up in a spectacular mood. All morning I fantasize about what I’ll do after work. Maybe I’ll take a walk down to the bodega, buy a Choco Taco. Maybe I’ll shoot some hoops in the park. Hell, I might just sit around, do absolutely nothing. At least it will be my nothing.
At a quarter to noon I station myself at the kitchen window. A car rounds the corner, but it’s not Melvin. It’s the neighbor. The one who wheels his trash cans around at odd hours. Come on Melvin, appear. All you need to do is appear. I try to manifest his appearance by closing my eyes and internally saying, he’s here… now! But when I open my eyes it’s still an empty street. I try counting out ten seconds, convinced that he will get here on ten. No dice. I try again, but when I get to seven I start slowing down, and by the time I actually reach ten more like twenty seconds has passed. At one point Vince walks by and says, “Waiting for Godot.” I don’t know what this means.
Noon hits. I stare with supernatural natural concentration at the space where his car should—will appear. It doesn’t. At 12:01, I call him. Straight to voicemail. I call again. This time he picks up.
“Where are you?” I say.
“Melvin, where are you? You were supposed to be here at noon.”
There’s a long pause, then he says, “Woah, wait a second.”
“I’m not at work?” he says.
“What? No. I’m standing right here.”
“Dude, that’s seriously trippy.”
“I was totally dreaming that I was at work.”
I seethe, but I hold it together. “You can’t be serious.”
“I wish I wasn’t. Who wants to dream they’re at work when they’re not at work?”
I snap. I throw my phone. It bangs against the counter and rattles around the kitchen sink. Then I storm into Vince’s office, kicking various objects along the way.
“I’m leaving,” I say. “I can’t do this.”
Vince is standing by his desk, shouldering his backpack. “Be my guest,” he says. “But I will have to report you to the abuse hotline.”
“Abuse hotline? What are you talking about?”
“Abandonment is a form of neglect, which, as I’m sure you know, is itself a form of abuse.”
“But you’re here, and there technically only needs to be one staff on shift.”
Vince points to the time clock. “I already clocked out.”
I look at the machine. I look back at Vince.
“Sorry,” he says, scooching past me. And just like that, he’s gone.
I pace. I clench. I grunt. For a while I stand at the front door and tell myself that on the count of three, I will leave. Screw the abuse hotline. Screw the blowback. But when I put my hand on the knob, I can’t turn it. I physically can’t. Was Melvin right? I think. Is this a dream? Am I living in Melvin’s work dream? I collapse onto the couch. I bite the cushions. For a while, I cry.
When I get it together, I hear beeping. It sounds like the microwave, or the fire alarm’s low-battery warning. I get up and follow it down the hall. It’s the sensor. Gavin’s stupid superfluous sensor.
I open the door. Gavin’s not in his bed. Or his chair. His walker crouches like an insect in the corner of the room, legs capped with cut-open tennis balls. There’s a breeze. I notice the window’s open, the sill flecked with eucalyptus bark and dirt clods. I walk over and stick my head out. Gavin is splayed prone on the tree’s roots, his left leg bent at a horrid angle. The lower leg is perpendicular to the upper leg, forming a backwards L, and little twigs of white poke through the underside of the knee’s floppy skin. Was he trying to esca—? Suddenly Gavin lifts his head, moaning, and sees me. I see him. He sees me see him. He doesn’t say anything, but his creamy eyes scream, Help me you idiot. You’re here aren’t you? Make yourself useful, dammit. I get smacked with lightheadedness and backpedal into the room. I put my hands on my knees, stare intensely at the faux-tile floor. I bend my legs, roll my shoulders, make circles with my nimble neck. I am here. Gavin’s right about that. If there’s anything that’s true it’s that I’m here, and he’s there, and why the hell am I still standing here that man needs my help.