Lunchtime, and the four of them gather at the small table, glancing half- nervously at each other as the uninvited – and unwelcomed- man joins them Paul, the Big Shot, lumbers in, displaying his crooked, tobacco-stained teeth with a smile that resembles a condescending smirk.
“Got me a new job yesterday,” He announces as he plops his overfed body into the chair. It squeaks its plea for help under the pressure of his weight.
“Really? When do you start?” Keith was not interested enough in today’s tale to look up.
“Oh, they’re still workin’ out the details. I go for my interview next week.”
“You haven’t gone to an interview yet? How do you know you got the job?” Adam raised an eyebrow.
“Well, it’s just a formality.” Paul swallowed his bologna sandwich whole. “They’re a good company; they’d be stupid not to hire me.”
Four pair of eyes glanced at each other.
“I found an apartment to look at on my day off. Hope it works out.” Simon, who has been looking for apartments for a while tried to change the subject.
“Yep, I was gonna move, but the old lady won’t let me. She likes where we’re at.” Paul, the Big Shot will not be outdone.
“I’ll be glad when it’s a little cooler out, mowing the grass was torture last night.” Tristan ignored Paul the Big Shot. Lunch hour was not long enough to listen to his tales.
“You got a push mower?” Paul the Big Shot likes Tristan.
“Yes, and thankfully a pretty small yard.”
“Yep, I heard that. When I go down home, I have to mow with a push mower, and we’ve got twenty city blocks to mow.” Apparently, no one had ever told Paul the Big Shot that large parcels of land are measured in acreage, not city blocks.
“Do any of your cousins help?” Keith stifled a chuckle. No sense in hurting the poor guys’ feelings, he just might believe some of what he says.
“Nope, do it all by myself. Takes me a couple of hours.”
There was silence at the table as the four friends concentrated on finishing their lunches.They had enough of Paul, the Big Shot’s stories to keep them entertained for the rest of the afternoon.
Back in their cubicles, across the room from Paul, Tristan asked Keith if he ever felt sorry for Paul.
“Sometimes,” Keith conceded. “He’s so pathetic, and I wonder how he got that way.”
“He must be terribly lonely, the way he monopolizes the conversations.”
“What conversation? There’s no give-and-take, it’s Paul talking and all of us pretending to believe every word he says.” Keith brought the correct files back up. “Sometimes, it’s us I feel sorry for, having to listen to him every day.”
“Well,” Tristan smirked. “He does have a lot of responsibility, you know, having to take care of those twenty city blocks of land.”
Time to go home, and Paul, the Big Shot gets out of the windowless building before the others. He sits patiently at the bus stop, smoking the most flavorful cigarette on the market. He silently boards the bus, shows his pass, finds a seat by the window, and delves into his own thoughts during the two-hour ride. He texts his wife to see if the engine has been repaired on his ten year old car yet. The mechanic called, she texts him back, but they don’t have enough money to pay for the repairs until later next month – if nothing else happens. Paul lets an exasperated sigh escape from his lungs as he looks out the window, willing himself a better life – hoping that he gets the interview, the job. It pays so much better. He would start at the bottom if he had to; push a broom, whatever it would take to give his family a better life. The life he dreams into existence every day.
Defeated and exhausted, he walks slowly up the three flights of stairs to the tiny apartment he shares with his wife and her sixteen-year-old son. The smell of greasy ground beef nearly takes his breath away as he bends over to kiss her on her forehead.
“Bad day at work?” She asks as she presses the hamburgers with a spatula, grease spattering on her arm.
“No, not really. Told everyone about the new job, they’re pretty jealous.”
“Hmmm,” She mumbles as she throws stale bread on the table that is not nearly as clean as the ones at work. “Here, eat.”
Paul, the Big Shot, sits at the head of the tiny table, throws the cooked hamburger between two slices of bread, and silently eats the meal that living at the edge of poverty provides him. He squashes a spider that was trying desperately to reach the ceiling with his right thumb. Gazing up the wall, noticing the cobwebs, he wonders what his wife does while he is at work. Obviously, she is too busy to dust.
“Why did you tell everyone that you got the job? You have an interview next week, that’s all.” His wife asks. “What if you don’t get the job?”
“I tell stories, I know that. I exaggerate a lot.” He takes a large drink of the room-temperature milk in front of him. Paul, the Big Shot scans his surroundings; a small efficiency apartment, not even big enough for one, and three are living here, a wife that somehow can’t manage to even comb her hair once during the twelve hours that he is gone, and a teen-age stepson who is failing every subject in school. Except detention.
“If I didn’t have my stories, I wouldn’t have anything.”