Chapter 18

Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac

“Morning, Sam,” Sean said putting a cup of coffee on the counter.

“You look horrible,” Sam said.

“I’m sure that I look better than I feel,” Sean said. He had never had coffee, but hoped that it would help jump start his brain.

“Bad night?” Sam asked. Sean had dark bags under his eyes. It looked like he was having a hard time focusing. The only time Sam looked like that was after pulling an all-nighter studying for a test at college.

“Great night,” Sean answered.

“Oh, I get it. You’ve got a hangover,” Sam said nodding his head knowingly. He’d had a few mornings like that.

“Nope,” Sean said. He shook his head and tried to focus his eyes. He said, “Late night and early morning. I only had about three hours of sleep.”

“It wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with your mother?” Sam asked.

“My mother? What do you mean?” Sean asked. His face was scrunched in confusion while he tried to figure out what Sam meant. The date had driven all thoughts about his mother’s time spent in jail. Little details started returning to him.

“Did you happen to see the paper?” Sam asked gesturing to the stack of the local papers next to the counter. The paper came out twice a week. He didn’t know it, but they had literally stopped the press to incorporate the article about Sean’s mother. In middle of a slow news time for a slow news city, charges of disturbing the peace and trespassing almost constituted a crime spree.

“No,” Sean answered. He wondered why his mother hadn’t mentioned anything about her little trip to jail over breakfast. Now that he thought of it, his mother had been rather quiet that morning.

“Your mother is on the front page,” Sam said.

Sean yawned and rubbed his eyes. He asked, “Does it have her picture?”

“Uh, yes,” Sam answered wondering what Sean’s reaction would be to the picture they had used in the paper.

Sean reached over and grabbed a copy of the newspaper. He looked at the front page and focused his eyes on the picture. He said, “Oh, they used that one. She’ll be glad to see that.”

“She’s got her eyes crossed and is sticking out her tongue at the camera,” Sam said looking down at the picture. The only reason he had even read the paper that morning was because of the picture.

“I know. It is the picture of her that they have over at the movie theater,” Sean said. He said,

“She gets that picture in the paper about once a year; sometimes twice a year. She doesn’t normally get on the front page like this.”

“Is she going to sue?” Sam asked. If such an unflattering picture of him was ever published in a newspaper, he would definitely sue.

“No, she provided them with the picture years ago. This is just another article about her that is going to go in her scrapbook,” Sean answered.

“Were you the one that bailed her out?” Sam asked.

“Yes,” Sean said.

Shaking his head, Sam said, “They said that you were very mature in dealing with the situation.”

“I’m in the article?” Sean asked putting the paper back on the stack from which he had gotten it.

“Yes. Aren’t you going to buy it?” Sam asked.

“No. My mother will buy a couple dozen copies,” Sean answered shrugging his shoulders.

“It must be weird growing up with a mother like that,” Sam said.

Sean yawned and said, “Not really. It is just that about once a year, she and Mrs. Emery decide that it is time to raise a little hell.”

“Strange,” Sam said. He decided that normal was whatever you grew up with.

“Hey, are you going to stand there gabbing all day or are you going pay for that stuff?” the guy standing in line behind Sean asked.

“Decisions, decisions. Let me think about it,” Sean answered.

“I don’t have all day,” the man groused. He was holding a gallon of milk. He added, “I’ve got to get this home for the kid’s breakfast and then head off to work.”

Sam rolled his eyes. It never failed that Sean was the source of complaints whenever he came in the store first thing in the morning. He rang up the coffee and said, “The coffee is a dollar ten.”

Sean said, “That’s outrageous. A can of soda costs half that. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“Why should I be ashamed?” Sam asked.

“Soda has a lot more ingredients and comes in an expensive metal can. This has one ingredient and comes in a cheap paper cup,” Sean said pointing at the cup on the counter.

“Over at Buckstars, the coffee is four dollars a cup,” Sam said not feeling any shame at all.

“It better taste better than a soda,” Sean said eying the cup of coffee with suspicion.

“Come on, kid. Reach in your pocket and get out your money,” the guy said. He muttered, “She should have known that we were out of milk last night. Now I’m going to be late for work.”

Sean paid for his coffee and stepped out of line. He examined the cup and said, “I bet this stuff is more expensive than gasoline.”

“It is,” Sam said taking the gallon of milk from the man to scan it.

“I hope it tastes good,” Sean said.

“That will be four seventy-nine,” Sam said after ringing up the gallon of milk.

“I never realized that milk is more expensive than gasoline,” the customer said handing over a five dollar bill.

“So is bottled water,” Sam said.

The man looked at Sam and asked, “Are you sure?”

“Yes. At a dollar forty nine for a twenty ounce bottle, a gallon of bottled water costs twice as much as gasoline,” Sam said.

“That doesn’t make sense,” the man said shaking his head. He said, “Water is basically free coming out of the tap.”

“It makes perfect sense,” Sean said.

“In what way does it make sense?” the man asked.

“Bottled water is worth a dollar forty-nine for a twenty ounce bottle because people pay that much for it,” Sean said. Seeing the expression on the guy’s face, Sean added, “Tap water is worthless. When did you ever see a commercial urging you to buy tap water?”

“Never,” the man admitted.

“There you go,” Sean said. He took a sip of his coffee and grimaced while he swallowed it. He said, “Gads, that is horrible. Why would anyone in their right mind drink this stuff?”

“Commercials,” the man said picking up his change and the gallon of milk. He headed out the store without a backwards glance.

“He’s right,” Sam said.

“Darn. I was afraid of that,” Sean said. He sighed and said, “I guess I’ll just have to learn to like coffee.”

“Why?” Sam asked.

“If word gets around that some people don’t like coffee, then everyone will know that the commercials have got the facts wrong. Next thing you know, people will stop buying coffee and then they will stop buying bottled water. All those people who fill the little bottles with water will be laid-off. Then the clerks who sell bottled water at convenience stores will lose their jobs.

After that, the entire economy of the country will go down the tubes,” Sean said.

“That’s real thoughtful of you to protect the economy like that,” Sam said.

“I’d hate for you to lose your job,” Sean said.

“Well, enjoy your coffee,” Sam said shaking his head.

Sean said, “I guess I better get to work.”

“I thought you were working at the Dairy King,” Sam said. He knew that it didn’t open until eleven. That was hours away.

“I am,” Sean said.

“Why are you going in there now?” Sam asked.

“I thought I’d practice climbing the corporate ladder,” Sean answered.

“Have at it,” Sam said shaking his head.

Sean stepped out the convenience store still carrying his cup of coffee. He got about ten yards from the store and tried another sip of the coffee. It didn’t taste any better than the first sip. He poured it out on the ground and said, “Sorry Sam, you’re going to get laid-off. You could get a job at the Dairy King. Of course, I’d be your supervisor.”

Sean paused for a moment while thinking about it. He said, “That would be fun. I could even have him wear a costume and parade around in front of the store. Nah, I couldn’t do that even if a penguin outfit would be perfect on a hot day.”

Sean arrived at the Dairy King a few minutes later. He got out the packages of sandpaper and a pair of scissors. He carried it all to a picnic table. He yawned and said, “He said the 80 grit paper first and then the 120.”

He pulled out two sheets of the 80 grit sandpaper. The guy at the hardware store had told him to cut the sheets to size for the sanding block. Sean didn’t plan on using the sanding block, but the idea of cutting it into smaller parts made some sense to him. He cut the large sheets into quarters and ordered each quarter to start sanding. He sat back and watched them work. He grabbed two sheets of the 120 grit sandpaper and cut them into quarters. He ordered them to start sanding the places where the 80 grit sandpaper had already sanded.

Sitting back, he watched the little squares scrub the wall of the building with an energy that no human being could match. The dust created by sanding filled the air. He said, “That’s amazing.”

The sheets of sandpaper inched across the building working their way left to right and top to bottom. The 80 grit sandpaper worked an area about two feet ahead of the 120 grit sandpaper.

He watched them get through about two passes before his lack of sleep finally caught up to him. He crossed his arms on the table and laid his head down. A few minutes later he was sound asleep.

Sean woke to the sensation of someone poking a finger in his side. Startled, he sat up and looked around. Expecting to find that it was Lily waking him, he was surprised to find a short man dressed in an odd looking green suit staring at him. The little man definitely wasn’t human. Sean asked, “Who and what are you?”

“Who and what are you?” asked the short man.

“I’m Sean and I’m a human.”

“I’m Liam and I’m a Leprechaun.”

“Please to meet you, Liam,” Sean said thinking that he should have known that. The man was dressed like a Leprechaun.

“What are you doing?” Liam asked pointing to the building.

Sean looked over at the wall and noticed that the nice square pieces of sandpaper had turned into tattered little scraps. Progress in terms of sanding the wall had slowed to a crawl. It was definitely past time to replace the sandpaper. He answered, “I’m feathering the paint.”

Liam looked at Sean for a second and then asked, “Shouldn’t you be using a bird for that?”

“You know, I thought that at first, too,” Sean replied. He picked up a pack of sandpaper and pulled out a sheet. While he cut the sheet into quarters, he said, “It turns out that feathering paint has nothing to do with real feathers. It is all about making things smooth.”

“That paper makes things smooth?” Liam asked skeptically.

“It does,” Sean answered.

Liam reached out and touched the paper. He said, “It is rough. You’d think it would make things rough.”

“It does,” Sean said.

“You just told me it makes things smooth,” Liam said thinking that he’d show this human that it wasn’t good to play games with a Leprechaun.

“That’s the strange thing about sandpaper. If the surface is already smooth, it can make it rough. If the surface is rough, it can make it smooth,” Sean said looking at the sandpaper. He ordered the first eight pieces to go to the trashcan and sent the pieces he had just cut to replace them.

“That is strange,” Liam said.

“I agree with you,” Sean said nodding his head.

Liam asked, “How does it know which to do?”

“That’s a good question. I have no idea why it works,” Sean asked.

Liam ran a hand over the surface of the table and said, “This is rough. Will that paper make it smooth?”

Sean cut another sheet into quarters and ordered one of the quarters to sand the tabletop. He said, “You can see for yourself.”

Liam watched the sandpaper go to work on the table. He shook his head after a minute and said, “That is amazing. The only magic involved is in moving the paper.”

“Yes,” Sean said.

“Have you seen any other Leprechauns around?” Liam asked.

Sean shook his head and said, “You’re the first I’ve seen.”

“Oh,” Liam said, “I’m sure another one or two will show up eventually.”

Sean looked at Liam and said, “I always thought that Leprechauns lived in Ireland.”

“We live where we are brought back,” Liam said. Leprechauns didn’t have a reputation for traveling around much. In fact, they tended to be rather lazy. He looked around and said, “I’ll miss the old country. It seems to me that it is a little hotter here than there.”

“You can always go back there for a visit,” Sean said shrugging his shoulders.

“That’s a long way to swim,” Liam said. He wasn’t going to mention that Leprechauns were lousy swimmers -- they had a tendency to sink. It had something to do with being denser than water.

“You could fly there,” Sean said.

Liam laughed at the idea of flying over the ocean and said, “I’m a Leprechaun, not a fairy or a dragon.”

“I was thinking more along the lines of you taking an airplane,” Sean said.

“What is that?” Liam asked. He climbed up on the table where it had already been sanded and sat down so that he was sitting tailor fashion. He pulled out a long-stemmed pipe and started puffing on it. Without lighting it smoke appeared.

“It is thing that flies through the air. You get on the plane at an airport, it flies to your destination, and then you get off,” Sean answered. No one had ever asked him what an airplane was and he didn’t think his answer was all that good.

“I don’t want to ride on a thing. I’ll fall off. That won’t kill me, but I won’t be very happy when I hit the ground,” Liam said. He blew a smoke ring and watched it float off on the breeze.

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