‘Spitfire,’ a novel by Annette Sandoval (Chapters 1-2)

[Chapter 2]

It’s just about time for my afternoon break! In the interest of eating more healthy, I brought a pear to work with me. But when I take it out of my tote bag, it is all bruised and has brown gash marks on one side. It looks like it has been tortured for information that it did not possess.

I toss the pear into the mesh garbage can when Doris, the office manager, shows up for my afternoon break. “Be back in fifteen minutes,” she says, sounding put out.

“I’m heading to Chew’s. Do you want anything?” I say, nicely, while tapping on the mouse to make sure I have closed my open windows. Doris likes to snoop.

“Yeah, I want you to skip your afternoon breaks from now on, so I can get some work done,” she says, making a show of dropping a stack of folders onto my desk. I watch, like I do three times a day, five days a week, as she reaches for the lever under my seat and adjusts the height. Then rearranges the stuff on my desk. It puts me in mind of a bus driver at the start of a shift.

Doris isn’t really a bitch, she’s a pooron-a moron I try to feel sorry for. I hadn’t known her for five minutes when she told me that she had once fallen out of a third-floor window. A dense boxwood hedge broke her fall and saved her life, but she didn’t exactly walk away without a scratch. For two years, Doris was in what she called a waking coma. Her eyes were open and she jabbered all day, but there was no brain activity.

I tried to look it up online. The closest thing I could find was this:


Function: noun

1: a usually herbaceous plant (carrots, spinach, or peas) grown for an edible part.

2: a coma-like state caused by head trauma characterized by open eyes and the appearance of wakefulness.

I grab my purse out of the tote bag, now covered in pear matter, then jot the time on a Post-it note. Doris tends to forget when I leave, and that never works in my favor. After being yelled at for returning late from break multiple times-which was not true-I developed this system.

I go straight to the mini-mart directly across from my work and select my usual snacks. I’m seventh in line staring up at a plastic Elvis clock. When his legs swing seven more times, I will have been in this same spot for exactly seven minutes. Lucky seven.

I glance at the Snickers bar and bottle of Diet Pepsi in my hands, then around. Not one single person is buying snacks with nutritional value. Four o’clock fatigue has to be an evolutionary throwback to our cockroach days.

The owner is having trouble changing the register tape. He is so engrossed in getting the strip of paper to catch, he’s oblivious to the line of people threading through his store.

Suddenly bored, I do what comes naturally. I eat the candy bar. I’m licking my fingers when I notice that Pepsi is still running the Free iTunes promotion. I used to check for winners by tilting the bottle at a twenty-five-degree angle and looking underneath the cap. You can’t actually see the letters, but you can see the tips of the text and figure out if it says “try again” or not. I used to check all of the soda bottles, until the owner started glaring suspiciously at me, like I was a Middle Eastern terrorist planting biological warfare in his cooler. I’m Mexican, but I’m pretty sure he can’t tell the difference.

My name is Tomasita Reyes, or Tomi for short. I’m twenty-eight years old and live in San Francisco. I tend to turn heads when I walk. But it’s not my big brown eyes, long black hair, or even my bright smile that men notice. What stands out about me, literally, are my boobs.

Believe-you-me, I’m not bragging about it, either. Small-breasted women are bitterly aware that a C or D cup attracts a lot of attention from men. What they don’t realize is that it’s always, and I do mean always, from men you wouldn’t let pet your dog. Decent men are afraid to approach overactive mammary glands. Anyone considering implants should keep this in mind.

As the line finally inches forward, I twist off the cap and read “Try Again.” I’m mentally kicking myself for not having rifled through the Pepsi stash when I notice the guy in line ahead of me. He’s wearing a sweat-stained T-shirt and blue work pants. A double parked truck is idling on the street. I’m guessing it’s his.

He’s staring intently at my lumps. This is the kind of thing I’m talking about. As I shift my torso to hinder his view, my eyes happen to land on a plastic bucket of week-old flowers near the register.

“Which ones do you like?” T-shirt guy says.

I don’t answer right away. I know if I say that I like the wilting daisies or the dried-up roses, he’ll hand the bunch to me and drip swamp water onto my open toe shoes.

“No hablo inglés,” I say.

He looks north of my chin and points to the flowers. “What kind do you like?” he says a little louder, like he’s talking into a cell phone.

I shake my head and shrug my apology. I’ve clearly ruined his moment. Then he remembers my boobs and we’re back to square one.

It’s his turn next. I point. “You’re up,” I say, hating to tear him away from his leering. T-shirt guy gives me the exact same look the owner gives me when I get too close to the sodas. As he places a bag of pork rinds and a pint of Arrogant Bastard Ale on the counter, I think, wow, you really are what you eat.

Turning back to me he says, “Now you’re up, señorita,” like he’s on to me.

I pay for the Pepsi, then glance at my watch. Five minutes left. When I step outside, T-shirt guy is reaching into the open window of the double parked truck.

I don’t want him to know where I work, so I start walking up Jackson Street. I’m watching the bottleneck of traffic his truck is creating when he shouts, “Wait…muchacha!” He catches up to me, holding out a business card. “If you were a new hamburger at McDonald’s, you’d be McGorgeous. How ’bout dinner this weekend?”

I refrain from saying, “Yuck!” Instead I whip out my iPhone to capture this on video. I collect stupid pick-up lines. I’m going to splice them together and make a short film. I’m thinking of calling it The Quicker Picker Upper. “Can you say that again?”

“Huh?” He goes from cocky to confused in a split second. This isn’t just about documenting pick-up lines, it’s about turning the tables and seeing how men like being cornered.

I smile. “So we can show it to our grandchildren someday. Three, two, go!” I say, pointing at him.

“Uh…if you were a new hamburger…at McDonald’s, you would be McGorgeous?” It came out like a question. He probably uses the line a lot, but I’m guessing this is the first time he’s actually heard how stupid it sounds.

Grabbing the fucking card, I walk away. I know from experience that if I don’t take the card, I won’t get rid of him. When the truck’s out of sight, I hurry across the street and into the lobby of Royce Durand and Associates, with two minutes to spare.

The reception station is a circular desk with a circular interior desktop that looks like the ugliest hot tub you’ve ever seen. Not only is my desk an eyesore, the counter is way too high. I can see the top of Doris’s blond head, like she’s floating face down in the hot tub. She glances up at me, checks the Post-it, then the clock. A look of disappointment passes on her face. Doris has the features of a pioneer woman. Picturing her in sepia tone, I imagine Doris scowling on some prairie, a washboard and pile of laundry in front of her.

She picks up her stack of folders, but I keep going. “Restroom,” I say without looking back. This is also part of our daily routine. I swear to God, she has the memory span of a goldfish.