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Dog-Faced Flower

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Jackson strolled into the custodial office of the Brooks Ave. Subway Station at around 10:15 p.m. He clocked in roughly thirty minutes late and set his belongings down next to a waste paper basket that was filled to the brim with Double-Bubble gum wrappers and old magazines. A rusted antique bedroom fan adjacent to Jackson’s desk made clicking sounds with every rotation, and the artificial smell of air-conditioning circulated throughout the room bringing with it a metallic feel Jackson could almost taste. He was never fazed by the depressingly hollowed-out box that was his office, and found dealing with his life relatively easy as long as he kept his mind invested in minutia. Calculating the approximate cost of a trashcan’s contents, keeping a record of the advertisements that lined the subway walls, and mopping the floors according to an impromptu melodic sequence were just a few of Jackson’s interests.

Marty, the elderly custodian from mid-day shift was napping in the opposite corner of the office when Jackson arrived. Even as Jackson shuffled about preparing for work, Marty remained blindly unaware that his scheduled hours were long since over, shifting his weight from side to side, snoring, and muttering the occasional blurb under his breath as he slept. After examining the elderly custodian for a minute finding himself strangely interested, Jackson couldn’t help but remain fixated on Marty’s cracked pale-pink lips as they moved when the old man breathed in an out.
“Back vermin, back I say!” Marty managed to yell out every word without slur before drifting again into a deep, snore-filled slumber.
He was slumped back in an old office chair that was lightly padded with synthetic green foam and even as his abrupt statement came streaming out, Jackson couldn’t help but see that Marty’s coveralls were smudged with deli-mustard above his left chest pocket. The old man was also coated with a spray or two of Classic Old Spice, giving Jackson a slight nasal burn and enough of a reason to finally speak to Marty.
“Marty, your shifts over,” said Jackson. “It’s time for you to go home.” After repeating these statements several times Jackson figured that he mine as well let the old man alone and go about his work.
“I knew it was you, you rat, you vermin—your love is not like the rose!”

Jackson smiled and then went to the custodial closet where both the mop and necessary cleaning products were kept.

“Can the dog-faced flower eat?”
To Jackson, it appeared that Marty was becoming more incoherent with every succeeding statement.
Making sure that everything was on his cart, the young custodian proceeded out of the office leaving Marty curled up in a strange position still sleep-mumbling, and then walked onto the platform of the Brooks Ave. Station. The stale smell of the dampened walls tickled Jackson’s nostrils and reminded him of the scent of McHenry’s Drugstore in upstate New York. More specifically, Jackson thought of a young girl who dressed in paisley and never paid for the things she wanted. He remembered the day he saw the girl in the candy aisle of the drugstore stealing a cherry lollipop. Jackson sat silent and enjoyed the subtle sound of the soft plastic crumpling as she unwrapped the lollipop and then tossed the paper on a lower shelf. He wondered how much the lollipop was worth, where the girl bought her paisley shirt, and why blue carpeting was such a popular choice for drugstore flooring.
Jackson also remembered the paisley girl muttering the phrase “So sweet,” as she enjoyed the artificial taste of her stolen candy.
Not understanding why, Jackson simply walked out of the store thinking nothing more on what the paisley girl said.
“So sweet,” Jackson recounted while mopping the edges of the platform, making sure to double-back for a second toweling of the wet floor before moving on to another portion of the station. He stared at the cracked off-white ceilings while mopping and hummed made up melodies to himself as he pushed his cart over the un-even tile floor, paying attention to every time the wheels dipped into a space between two tiles that was larger than it was supposed to be.
Jackson noticed Marty’s voice growing louder as he coated a brown bench in Pinesol, but found it easier to ignore while he absorbed himself in counting the amount of times he had to re-wet his rag versus the amount of strokes he made across the bench’s warn wood. Once he finished the bench, Jackson moved to the edge of the platform to begin mopping. He started in a rhythmic pattern, looping a melody in his head to establish the mops speed and then increasing pressure and water use as he went.
“VERMIN,” shouted Marty.
Not but a few moments later the 11:30 train could be heard screeching along its lines down the tunnel several hundred yards from the platform. An artificial gust created by the train’s speed even at that distance managed to reach Jackson’s cheeks, caressing his face with cool fingers and a fresh scent. Loose papers and trash blew all around the platform. Jackson managed to hear footsteps at his back, but his concentration was invested in following the flight path of a singular piece of newspaper depicting a missing persons advertisement. In a matter of seconds, Marty had pushed Jackson from the platform.
“Can the dog-faced flower eat?” Marty repeated his phrase in a low, calm tone as Jackson fell.
Jackson’s mind did not race. He didn’t think back to the sound his cart made running over the tile floor. He didn’t wonder about the price of garbage, or the aromas of the station. He didn’t think about Marty’s lips, or the sound lollipop wrappers made. Nor did he think of the paisley girl from McHenry’s Drugstore. He didn’t think of rag strokes, or regret, or mopping melodies. Instead, Jackson spent his last moments experiencing the cool feel of the wind at his back, repeating the words, So sweet, so sweet, so sweet.





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