The Ride Home

“What a day,” thought the young lady as she got in her car and set off for home. She had just finished work in the trendy clothing store in the mall forty-five minutes from home. It was just after 9:30, and she often wondered why it took so long to get out of there when the mall closed at 9:00. She lit up a cigarette, the first she’d had since she first came to work at 3:00 that afternoon. In order to take a cigarette break at work, she’d have to go outside the main entrance and sit on a park bench, because the entire mall had recently established a smoke-free policy. When she first began working there, she could go in the back rooms of the store, which were closed to the general public, to smoke, but her manager soon put an end to that after finding a pop can with cigarette butts in it. She felt more comfortable working when she didn’t smoke, anyway. Smelling like an ashtray probably didn’t help her commission sales to any great degree.

Selling clothes on commission was probably a good job for an aspiring actress. Each day at work, she had to gauge the potential customers and determine what sort of role she’d have to assume to best sell them on the merchandise. Of course, she also knew that it wasn’t always a matter of how she acted that sold the clothes. There were a lot of cases where things couldn’t have gone quite right, but the clothes sold themselves anyway. On the other hand, sometimes when she was in her best sales mode, she’d have a lousy day of sales just because people weren’t in the mood to spend. After working there for almost fourteen months, she was getting pretty good. Some days the sold so well that she could’ve sold a ketchup Popsicle to a woman in white gloves. If they only sold ketchup Popsicles, that is.

The day she had just finished was a rather slow one. It was probably the coldest day in January, and people just didn’t see fit to leave home to go to the mall. She had made a few sales in the first few hours, and nothing came after that. “With the money I’m making now, I might as well open up a lemonade stand,” she thought, as she turned on the car radio. If it hadn’t been for the radio, she would’ve gone insane on the ride home each night. She often enjoyed silence, but not at the end of the day in a forty-five minute car ride.

As she sat at the last stoplight on the way out of town, she thought about the next day’s classes. She was studying at the local acting school, and tomorrow would be the first day back to class after winter vacation. Class didn’t start until 11:00, so she’d be able to sleep until 8:00 or 9:00 and still have time to get ready. She’d had a nice vacation, though work was quite a pain in the early stages. Holiday shoppers flooding the mall seemed to lose their sense of politeness.

The girl’s name was Natasha, after her grandmother, whom she’d never met. Everyone called her Kit, though. When she was about a month old, her parents’ cat decided to give birth to a litter of kittens in her crib. There they stayed for about two weeks, and the kittens grew up with the little baby girl. At some point while the kittens were living in the crib, a family member (no one seems to remember who first coined the term, it was probably a cousin or aunt or uncle) called her kitten, and it stuck. She still had one of the kittens that had grown up in her crib, but various family members and neighbors had long-since adopted the other five or six. The cat she still had was a fat old tomcat that she called “big kitty”. The cat’s mother died when Kit was seven or eight years old.

Kit lighted another cigarette as she approached the on-ramp for the interstate; she adjusted the volume of the radio to make up for the noise created by the opened window. Cold air was rushing into the car, so she also adjusted the fan on the heater for maximum output. “Too much effort,” she absently thought, “just to smoke a cigarette.” She always told herself that she’d quit sometime or another, but she just kept on smoking. She went for five days, once, without smoking. In those five days, she gained four pounds, and decided that it would be better to quit later.
Glancing at the instrument panel, Kit decided that she’d need to put some gas in the car the next morning. Her car was pretty good for gas mileage; she paid $12 for a full tank and drove for four or five days, including probably three trips to and from work. She’d only had to fill it twice during the three weeks of winter vacation, because she hadn’t been driving to school. Once she returned to her normal routine, she knew she’d have to fill the tank more often.

Upon thinking that, she realized that she’d been listening to commercials on the radio for at least three minutes or so. She flipped the station and turned the volume up some. As she finished her cigarette, she flipped it out the window and rolled the window up. She could now hear the radio clearly, and decided to change the station again. She found some suitable music and turned up the volume for no good reason. She then turned the heater fan to medium speed, as it was getting too warm with the window closed.

Two things that bothered Kit about her job were the temperature and the music. It was consistently too cold in the mall, even on the hottest summer days. That fact alone made the summer work at the mall almost unbearable, because she had to dress for the temperature on the job, which meant dressing way too warmly for the outside temperature. In her first few weeks of summer work, she dressed in summer-type clothes, which ended up meaning being too cold at work. While cold air seemed to increase her sales to the male patrons of the store, it was still too much to bear on a regular basis. Even when the temperature in the store was bearable, the music was consistently bad. They played the local “groupie” station in the store, to show that they were “with it”. Kit almost disliked the music as she disliked the people who listened to that station, and working in that store consistently exposed her to both.
Kit slowed down as she approached the exit to her hometown. She knew that within minutes, she’d be snuggled up in bed, warm and cozy. She lighted her last cigarette as she entered the sleepy little town, wondering how many people were stirring in their quiet little houses. She figured that everyone was probably in bed long ago. People in this town rarely seemed to wear their hair down, and if she hadn’t known better, Kit would’ve thought that this was some sort of retirement village for people over seventy. In reality, it was a town of closed-minded, middle-aged conservatives who only acted like they were old and gray. The senior citizens of this town acted more as young adults than most of the young adults. With all of that in mind while she approached her parents’ house, Kit just kept on driving.

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