Walmart, Saturday night.
The parking lot was almost full of beat-up rusted cars, and I had to park on the far edge of the lot, almost at the tiny Starbucks that was plopped between the Walmart and the Sizzler. I walked back across the parking lot, passing knots of FLP men smoking joints, and I found Sally standing outside the big front doors, smoking a cigarette. A few feet to her left stood an old FLP man with a big sign that read STOP ABORTION NOW, with a picture of a hacked-up fetus, or maybe a bloody squirrel. Sally was ignoring the old man—though he was watching her closely.
“You took long enough,” Sally said when she saw me.
“I went upstairs to look around,” I said. “Then I stayed to hear Ted read a poem. He’s a creep.”
“He’s a fucking sexist misogynist pervert,” Sally said.
Sally crushed her cigarette out against a smoking post and left the butt in a sandbox. The old man waved his sign at us.
“Don’t do it!” he yelled. “Don’t you dare!”
“I’ll dare if I want to,” I said.
Inside the store—well, it was Walmart on Saturday night. In Weirton. The store was full of FLPs and PPs, even fuller than on a weekday—except now, under the harsh glarey Walmart lighting, they weren’t funny-looking but loathsome-looking and tragic, sick ill white people who were skeleton-skinny or wobbly obese, with lank dull hair and missing teeth and blurred tattoos and leg braces and dazed drugged-up opioid looks on their faces.
“You know, I’ve never been here at night,” I said to Sally. I usually went to Walmart on Tuesday or Wednesday afternoons when I got out of class.
“Weirton is different after dark,” Sally said. “It’s even sadder than daytime.”
Sally pulled out a shopping cart, and, after a moment, I grabbed one, too. I thought I might as well get some supplies.
“How come you didn’t want us to be seen leaving together?” I asked.
Sally looked over her shoulder at me. “Because people will talk,” she said. “Especially Courtney and Nancy.”
“So? Who cares? What difference does it make what they say?”
Sally shook her head and pushed her cart forward. “Might want to check your privilege, Professor. It makes a difference to me—I’m a woman and an employee. I don’t want to fuck up my stupid job.”
Sally sounded pissed.
I didn’t really want to argue with her—but, whatever. I said, “Yeah, but you run the whole department, right?”
Sally snorted in—derision, I guess. She stopped her cart at a display of paper towels and tumbled an eight-roll package into her cart.
“You think that—why? Because I tell you people when the grades are due?” Sally didn’t look at me. She began pushing her car further back into the store. “Because I take notes at all the meetings?”
“Sure—you know everything that goes on.”
Sally said, “You’re delusional if you think that.”
Sally stopped and turned away from me, inspecting a mountain of toilet paper. I was suddenly—exhausted. Worn out. Overwhelmed. I wanted to go home to Fuzzhead.
“Okay,” I said. Sighed. “So I’m privileged and delusional. So fucking what?”
Sally grinned at me. “You’re fragile and pouty, too.”
I asked, “What did you want to talk to me about?”
Sally leaned across my cart. She hissed, whispered, “Devon, right?”
A grotesque fat woman pushed her cart between us, the cart filled with rolls of toilet paper and a dozen or so loaves of white bread. A little boy of six or seven was stumbling along behind her. The woman said, “If you keep talking like a girl, I’m gonna slap the shit out of you.”
When the fat woman passed, I asked Sally, “And…?”
Sally pushed her cart up the aisle a bit. Ahead of us, the fat woman took a swipe at the little boy, but he dodged back out of her way.
Sally asked, “You know what an asshole Fred Van Buskirk is, right?”
I thought of Fred as I had last seen him—drunk, vulgar, stupid, surrounded by toadies. A total asshole. I said, “Sure.”
“So,” Sally said. “For about the last year and a half, Fred’s been sending me pictures of his dick.”
I nearly ran my cart into a mop display. Holy shit. Fred’s elderly dick.
“And I know it’s him because the dicks are being sent from his university email account.” Sally stepped closer to me. “And so I did what you’re supposed to do—I told Tee, I filed a complaint with HR, I filed a grievance with the union.”
I asked, “And?”
“And nothing!” Sally said. She pushed her cart a few yards up the endless aisle of paper products and then stopped again. “Fucking nothing happened. Fred said it was a joke. Then he said he was hacked. Then he said I was imagining things—he gave out about twenty different fucking stories, and everybody believed all of them, and nobody believed me.”
“The fuck,” I said.
“Yeah, exactly,” Sally said. A confused-looking old gray man with one arm shuffled by us pushing an empty cart. When he passed, Sally said, “And I know that Devon was getting dick pics, too—and I’m pretty sure she never told you about them, right?”
I said, “--No—”
“I didn’t think so,” Sally said. “She didn’t want you to know, for some reason.”
I didn’t say anything. Devon was getting pictures of Fred’s dick. Jesus.
“And Devon, you know, she did was she was supposed to do, too—she told Tee, she told HR, she told the union. And nobody fucking believed her, either.”
“Who’s our union rep?” I asked. If I’d ever known, I’d forgotten. I never paid much attention to the union.
Sally said, “Nancy!”
“Jesus,” I said. Who else? “Of course.”
“And Nancy and her husband are partners with Fred in that stupid dog farm. So she’s not going to do a goddamn thing.”
That I didn’t know. That might be important. I stood there, thinking.
Sally turned away and pushed the cart a few feet and then stopped. “This place is just so fucking corrupt—and the corruption just stepped all over Devon.”
I thought about Tee. Fucking Tee. I remember the day after Devon died, Tee saying how Devon had a good job, how she never had any problems. Did I remember Tee—pausing—with uncertainty, with the knowledge of a goddamn lie—right before she said that? Maybe not. But what a piece of shit that woman was.
Sally asked, “Did you come across Fred’s dick in any of Devon’s papers?”
“No…,” I said, thinking Fred, not dick. But then of course I quickly remembered the dicks printed out and glued into the sketchbook. “Well, maybe—I don’t know what Fred’s dick looks like.”
“Lucky you,” Sally said. “It’s in her emails for sure.”
“I haven’t been able to get in her emails.”
“You might want to try harder,” Sally said. She pushed her cart around the corner, into the pet supplies aisle. I followed, pausing to grab a big canister of cat litter. Sally waited for me to catch up.
“And so,” Sally said. “Last spring we both started getting pictures of a different dick.” Sally tapped on her phone a few times and then passed it to me. She said, “Look.”
I took the phone. On the screen was a big sprawling red half-erect dong with a nasty oozing herpes sore on its head.
“I’ve seen that one,” I said. I handed her back the phone. “It’s in one of her notebooks.”
“Yeah,” Sally said. “I think it’s Ted’s.”
“Ted’s got a giant cock?” Fuck me. I was suddenly oddly—jealous.
“A giant infected cock.” Sally slipped the phone into her back pocket and sighed. “I don’t think Devon reported this one, but I did—to Tee, to HR, to the union. And of course nothing happened, right? Everybody said they couldn’t know who sent the dicks—they were sent from some old AOL email account. It’s a mystery dick.”
I thought of something. “Are you sure it’s Ted’s dick?”
He was a loser rape-poem writer. I kept wanting to think of him as dickless.
“There were poems in the emails—Ted poems, the same poems he’s got taped to his office door. I guess it’s him.”
“HR could maybe check the IP address and be sure,” I said.
“Too much trouble for those stupid fuckers,” Sally said. “It’s easier for them to think I’ve got dicks on the brain.”
Sally pushed on, down the pet aisle and around the corner to the soda aisle. She stopped and got a 12-pack of Diet Dr. Pepper, and I got a six of Coke Zero.
Sally asked, “You didn’t know about any of this, did you?”
And—what was I supposed to reply to that? That I was a naïf? A fool? A blind delusional privileged professor, fragile and pouty? Well, I guess I was—I was all of those things. A cold aloof standoffish angry sack of sand, too.
I said, “No.”
“Devon didn’t want anybody to know,” Sally said. “I only found out when Tee made me process the paperwork on her complaint.”
“Wait,” I said. “Tee’s supposed to do that herself….”
“No kidding,” Sally said. “Tee’s kind of lazy sometimes.”
Sally started off pushing her cart again, around another corner, into the salty snacks aisle. I hurried after her, pausing to grab a bag of tortilla chips.
“And,” Sally said when I caught up. “The fucking Ted thing—when I told Tee about it, showed her the picture, told her why I thought it was Ted—she called Ted into the goddamn office and asked him about it! Right when I was fucking sitting there!”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.”
“Yeah—and then Ted glared at me with that stupid beard and said he was going to file a lawsuit against me for slander!”
“Fucking idiots,” I said. Slander. For fuck’s sake. Courtney said she wanted to sue Devon’s estate for slander, too. Did any of these dumbass writers ever take a Media Law course? Did they even know what slander was?
“I’m going to get out of this place, eventually,” Sally said. “I only have time to take one course a semester for my MA, but I’m going to finish—and then I’m going to get the fuck out of here and get a good job in a real city and forget the hell out of this dump—I swear to god.”
“Good!” I said.
Sally stood there in the stupid Walmart, hands on her cart handle, trying not to cry. Her eyes wet with tears, though, angry pissed-off tears. She was breathing deeply.
“Yeah, we all need to get the fuck out of here,” I said. Goddamn Weirton was blighted. Fred’s soft old gray dick. Ted’s scary syphilis herpes dick. The English Department was hell. A prison. A Gulag. Somebody needed to blow it up.
“I’m not going to get out the way Devon got out, though,” Sally said. “She was the best person in the department and they drove her to fucking suicide.”