Chances Are

by James Reed
(from Flash!Point)

The trainer’s head was shaped like a pear. The fat bottom part sat on his collar and concealed the knot of his tie. He had a bristling grey mustache that he carefully brushed, and the narrowing top of his head sported a wedge of hair as smooth as plastic. The skin on either side of it gleamed. His eyes were blue and watery and sad, but he smiled easily and seemed to mean it. His breath carried an air of peppermint because of the single disc of candy he slipped into his mouth just before entering each customer’s door.

His assistant, the trainer-trainee, attended to her breath by chewing gum. At least she kept her mouth closed when she did it. That was as much credit as he would give her. The constant pump of her jaw looked unprofessional, he thought, and she didn’t need any more points against her. It wasn’t that she was plain but that she was slightly unkempt. Her hair swept around her head like photos of cloud patterns taken from space. Her makeup was okay, a little heavy, perhaps, but at least she tried. He wasn’t fond of the clumps of lipstick that gathered in the corners of her mouth.

 He was introducing her to customers because he’d been promoted and would be moving to a district suffering difficulties. He didn’t think he was the troubleshooting type, but the money was too good to argue, and he supposed he was ready for a change. How many ways could you tell someone a new sequence of buttons or how to clear a jam?

"Monica here will be taking over the territory," he told people he’d known for years.

"So where are you going?" they’d say, and he’d tell them and they’d wish him luck. Or they would declare it was about time he got booted up where he couldn’t do any damage.

And this went on for three or four weeks.

Nobody cared if they ever saw him again, and he didn’t care, either. He knew that Irv Hansen’s son pitched a shutout at sixteen and died the next day when a drunk driver hit him head-on at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon. Then there was Celia Pierce, who played Bob Cratchit’s wife every Christmas and, between the two of them, wished she had the nerve to turn it down, just once, mind you, so she could visit her sister in New York. And of course all the customers knew how he drove the family out to Estes Park for two weeks of camping every summer.

So now everyone had tucked in their heads odd facts which might pop out at any moment for the rest of their lives, and that was the extent of it. They were pieces of trivia, every one of them, and he was only forty-six years old.

On his next to last day Monica asked if he wanted a drink. He said yes because she was trying to do the decent thing despite the fact that they clearly didn’t care for each other one way or not. He’d done his duty in making sure she knew the customers and all the bureaucratic quirks he could think of, and even though he wasn’t confident she would last more than two years, he wasn’t one to let anybody say he had been remiss in any capacity. That included accepting her offer made as a gesture of thanks.

But when she toasted his success, he couldn’t bring himself to lift his glass in return. He saw only that her mouth was thick with lipstick and that little balls of it had lodged themselves in the cracks and creases. Her face was uniformly tan and looked slightly dusty. Wisps of black hair wrapped themselves around her head, which moved constantly because of the gum she chewed even while sipping her margarita.

He saw himself in her face. He was twenty years older and male, with jowls and better grooming and candy instead of gum. He was her future, which didn’t seem to bother or even occur to her. So he said, "Do yourself a favor." He pulled the bag of peppermints from his suitcoat and said, "Suck on these and get yourself a good dentist. It’s about your only chance." Then he thanked her for the drink and walked out to his car, wondering what chance it was he thought he’d had. Or if any such thing had ever troubled his brow.