Off The Beach
“We can’t give into them,” said Farrar, cutting through the fog that filled Max’s head with his shrill voice. “The terrorists don’t want us to live in their world. They want to kill us all.”
“So?” sneered Max. “I want to kill you too. Does that mean you have to go to war against me?”
Farrar scoffed. “Don’t be fatuous, Max. We’re talking about the end of the world.”
Max rubbed her forehead. “Everyone always think they live in the End Times. They always have. Maybe we should stop fuckin’ worrying about it and just live like there actually will be a tomorrow.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Max could see Farrar begin to reply, but they were pulling into the store with the least accessible dispatch department in the city and he had to concentrate, otherwise he would be scrapping the side of the truck along a brick wall.
Max thanked God for this small favour and slouched further into the passenger seat. It was only Monday afternoon, but she wished it was much, much closer to the end of the week. She had already used up her allocation of tolerance for Farrar’s bullshit this week and just wanted to crawl home and get under the bed.
It didn’t help that she still had a killer headache that just would not go away, a legacy of Saturday night’s drinking that refused to vanish, while her hand was slightly burned and her lip was a little swollen. She had woken up on the floor of her apartment late on Sunday morning, with absolutely no memory of the last leg home.
In fact, the more Max tried to think about her walk home after Brian’s party, the less clear it became.
She remembered most of the journey, could remember the red cloth that had burned her fingers and the pile of hay she had sat on for a while, but the very end of her walk home was lost to her.
Her biggest problem was that she could still remember the beach perfectly.
She could remember the way the sand had felt and the way she had laid down with the sun on her face. She could remember the way it had all seemed so real. She just could not remember coming off the beach.
Ever since that night, Max had felt a little weird, her hangover competing with her feelings of disconnectedness, a sensation she was hardly a stranger to, but one that had been pushed up to an almost unbearable level.
Driving around town, doing the daily deliveries with Farrar, she had stared out the window, but everything had been blurred, just out of focus, just on the edge of perception.
But she couldn’t stop thinking about that beach. It had seemed so familiar, even though she did not think it was a place in the real world. There was just something about it that had connected with her on the most fundamental level she could imagine.
She couldn’t get it out of her head. Was it real? Was it just a dream?
Was she still there?
“Come on, Max!” yelled Farrar, banging on the truck door as he walked past. “Some people would like to get home today, you know!”
Max shook herself out of her dream and jumped out of the truck. This was their last drop-off for the day and after that she could go home, lock herself in her apartment and dream all the dreams she needed to.
The last job for the day went smoothly enough, which meant that Farrar only almost killed himself once, pulling a refrigerator back with a little too much eagerness and having it almost fall on him, but they finished in a few minutes and took off again.
His vaguely close brush with death seemed to have shaken Farrar a little, which suited Max just fine, as her workmate kept absolutely silent for almost the entire journey back.
Max sat back and looked out the window, trying hard not to think about the haunted beach. The sun came out, throwing everything into perfect focus, making the world look like a cartoon. Max watched all the pretty people walk the city streets, knowing their beauty was something far out of her range, way out of her league.
Watching the world pass by, Max suddenly felt fat and uncool. She would never be cool enough. She felt like she was back in school, trying to race everyone else to somewhere she didn’t even know existed.
“Fuck ‘em,” whispered Max, her voice barely registering. Farrar was still silent and Max managed to somehow slouch even further back into her seat. She really didn’t care what anybody else though.
She hadn’t at any point in his life before, so why should she start now?
Max closed her eyes and rested her head, but then heard something in an unfamiliar voice.
“You’ve got to get out, Max.”
Her eyes snapped open and she looked around to see if Farrar had heard the voice, but he was still biting his lip as he drove the truck. Max wiped at her eyes with the palm of her hand and sat back up.
They carried on in silence and Max forgot about the beach and strange voices in her head, happy just to think about nothing much in particular. She was grateful that Farrar was keeping quiet. All things considered, Max thought, this was turning out to be a pretty good day.
But just as they were a few minutes away from the warehouse, Farrar started up again and Max groaned slightly as he launched into another tirade.
“I’m no racist,” he said, something Max had only heard him say three or four hundred times before, “but we’ve got to shut down all immigration.”
“What are you talking about, man?” asked Max. She knew she shouldn’t encourage him, but she had learned from experience that if you tried to ignore Farrar it only encouraged him to talk faster and louder.
“People should know where they come from,” said Farrar, his beady eyes narrowing as he explained his point. “You should have your own home and be happy with that. Visit the rest of the world if you have to, but return home when you’re done. Mixing up people from other nationalities and creeds and beliefs just doesn’t work.”
“You are such a fuckhead sometimes. What if they have to move?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” said Max, pausing as she considered her thought just a little more. “Sometimes you have to move on. You can’t stay in the same place all the time. It could be dangerous or uneconomical or just plain boring. You can’t stay still all the time.”
“Ridiculous,” scoffed Farrar over his shoulder as he began to back the truck back into its parking space. “People should be happy with what they have. It’s as easy as that.”
Max waited while Farrar had stopped the truck and waited a little longer as they both got out of the truck and walked over to the warehouse. “You’re just looking for simple answers to complicated questions. I’m sorry, but the world just does not work like that.”
Farrar sniffed. “The answers are all there, I’ve seen them.”
“You only see what you want to see. You’re just jumping to conclusions because they suit you, not because of anything approaching facts.”
They moved into the warehouse, where Kubrick was busy making inventory. He glanced up at the two younger workers as they came closer.
“You two kids not playing fair again?” he asked with a smile.
“She’s nothing more than a bleeding-heart socialist!” cried Farrar, pointing at Max.
“He’s a dickhead!” cried Max, pointing right back.
Kubrick tapped his pen on his teeth as he considered their arguments. “Well, you both have strong points, but I’m going to have to agree with Max. You’re a dickhead, Farrar.”
Farrar had been called a lot worse by Kubrick, but this time something snapped inside him. “Fuck you! Fuck both of you!
“Hey,” said Kubrick. He tossed his clipboard on top of a pile of microwaves and walked up to Farrar, his hands held palm up. “There ain’t no need for language like that.”
Farrar looked at him in disbelief. “What? You use profanity much worse than that! All the time!”
“Yeah,” said Kubrick, throwing a sly grin in Max’s direction before continuing. “But you’re a dickhead. That means you ain’t got as much right to use foul language around me.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Farrar. He looked at Max for support, but Max was having none of it and refused to even look at her co-worker, finding something interesting on her boot to look at.
“That’s it,” snapped Farrar, turning and heading for the door out of the warehouse. “I’m going to see Mr Basham about this. You’re gone for sure this time, Kubrick.”
“Yeah, go cry to Mummy,” sneered Kubrick. “Fucking wimp.”
Farrar stopped and turned back to Kubrick. “What did you just say?”
Max could have sworn the temperature in the room had just dropped several degrees and she knew she should have said something, but if she was being honest with herself, the current situation was just too damn entertaining to interrupt.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” mocked Kubrick. “Did you not hear me clearly? I think I just cast doubts on your precious manliness.”
Farrar did not say a word, just stormed across the room towards Kubrick, who didn’t move. Farrar hit him in the face with a closed fist, knocking him back a step and bloodying his nose.
“That’s it,” snarled Farrar as Kubrick staunched the blood flow from his nose with a handkerchief. “You’re done here, Kubrick. Count on it.”
Farrar spun around and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him. When he was gone, Max moved over to Kubrick and offered him a helping hand.
“You all right, man?”
Kubrick whispered under his breath. “You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.”
“Nothing,” said Kubrick, shaking his head and declining Max’s offers of help. “Just another day on the job.”
Max gestured to the door Farrar had walked out through. “You could get him fucking fired for that, we can talk all the shit we want, but you can't go around hitting people like that.”
“Nah. I've been hit much worse than that.”
“If you're sure. But you think he’s going to make good on his threat to go to the boss?”
“Nah,” said Kubrick. “Like I said, he’s a dickhead. He’ll go off in his huff, then he'll realise that he went too far with the punch, and he'll come back to work tomorrow like nothing happened. He ain’t got the balls to actually do anything.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Trust me. He ain’t got the balls to do shit. Not like you.”
Max was confused. “What? What do you mean?”
“Come on, Max. I keep telling you. You gotta get out of this place. You gotta move on.”
“So you keep saying.”
“So I keep meaning,” said Kubrick fiercely. “You’re here doing nothing, but I see you got a lot of potential in you.”
“How can you say that? You don’t even know anything about me!”
Kubrick opened his mouth to reply, but shut it again as some of the fight went out of him. He wiped away the last of the blood from around his nose.
“Yeah, you’re right. I don’t know anything about you.” He paused and laughed softly. “Heh. I don’t even know your last name.”
“Not many people do. I asked them to keep a secret when I applied for the job.”
“Because it’s stupid. Because it’s embarrassing.”
“Come on, Max,” pleaded Kubrick. “You can tell me. I’m an old man. I’m good at keeping secrets.”
Max hesitated, but there was something in Kubrick’s eyes that forced her to answer. “Okay. Fine.”
Max sighed. “It’s Skin. My last name is Skin.”
“Really? Like the…” Kubrick pinched a piece of skin on his forearm.
“Yeah. Just like that.”
“Maxine Skin?” asked Kubrick, suppressing a sly smile.
“Yeah,” sighed Max.
“What sort of name is that?”
“Beats me,” shrugged Max. “But it was my father's name and his father’s before him, and they didn't let the fact I was a girl dissuade them of anything.”
“That’s pretty funny.”
Max did not really see the funny side. “It’s just a name, man. It’s just a name.”