New Rules

In today’s world of constant conversations, it’s nearly impossible to be dumb and not know it. Even if you try really really hard, people make sure to find a way to let you know “hey, you’re dumb as hell.” New day, same metaphor about a sack full of clunky inanimate objects. But I have purpose; people don’t just put bricks in a bag for no reason. People need to take bricks places to build buildings - that’s how I always think of it. Those bricks may not be geniuses but they do have a reason for being there.

“PJ, get your ass in gear!” My mom’s voice cuts my sleep short from downstairs as it does every morning. After rubbing my eyes into consciousness, I check my phone but don’t move. Wednesday, 7:55. It takes me a minute to remember my new schedule.

“PJ, your shift starts in 35 minutes let’s move it.”

I don’t respond. My cat, Glen Davis, has fallen asleep on my chest again and if there’s one thing I won’t do it’s disturb his sleep - it’s a rule.

“Hey, let’s go! Get up!” she blurted as she rounded the corner of my door frame. “Oh my god Big-Baby get off him.” Mom has no problem waking up Glen Davis; a tap on the butt and he’s already out my door. I rise out of my bed like a robot would and put my feet on the floor. I turn my head to stare at my mom with half-opened eyes until she gets the hint and leaves my room.

I get in the shower and turn the knob to the dead center right between hot and cold. Perfect. After a five minute shower I dry myself off in five seconds because I hate the feeling of being wet. I throw on my khakis and red work shirt only to cover it up with my green hoodie. I put on my headphones that double really well as ear-muffs. “I’m leaving, mom!” I yell into the house before grabbing a pop-tart out of the fridge.

The Red Line always takes 8 minutes to get to Target from the stop near my house. When I get to work my coworker Nori is already sitting in the break room on her phone. I stop in the doorway. “You’re early,” I say to her.

“Yeah, sometimes I’m early and sometimes I’m late. Sometimes I’m even right on time.”

“No you’re not.”

“Shut up Byrne,” she hyucks at me while turning her attention back to scrolling. I shut up and hang my green hoodie and headphones on the first hook on the wall. The calendar says Nori and I get to do stocking today. She says she hates it but it’s my favorite part of the job. A place for everything and everything in its place.

We start restocking electronics first. As much as she hated it, Nori just looked so… efficient doing it. It distracted me. She grabbed plastic encased earbuds one at a time from the red basket, scanned them, hooked them, and repeated. Distraction evolves into mesmerization and I’m no longer doing my own work. Then I see her grab a pair of earbuds but she misses with the scanner and places them in her pocket.

“You didn’t scan those ones.” I tell her

“The barcode’s messed up,” she replies back quickly without looking up from her work.

“No, I-I saw you miss it on purpose.”

“Don’t worry about it, PJ.”

“But y-you can’t just take them,” I say to her, confused. Nori sets down her work and turns to me.

“Sure I can. The store considers for damaged and stolen items, we both know that.”

“But that doesn’t mean you can just take them,” I insist.

“PJ, seriously, don’t be an idiot. I need new headphones, just drop it.” She’s speaking more hushed now.

“No, i-it’s a rule. They told me when I started working here y-you can’t just take things”

“Listen here Byrne, there are two different sets of rules in this world: there are rules for smart people and then there are rules for everybody else. Now, I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but you get to follow whichever set you want to if you know about both of them.”

“Wha-what do you mean?” I hesitate.

“There are the rules the manager tells you when you start working here and then there is a much shorter list of rules that you can only use if you know about them.”

“Why are they a secret?” I ask.

“I dunno cause you can only use them if you have the right know-how or something. Just finish your stocking, we’ll talk about it later.” I really want to know more about these new rules that I’ve never heard of but Nori doesn’t seem to want to tell me, I guess ‘cause they’re a secret. I get so caught up in thinking about what rules I’ve missed, what rules I haven’t been following because I didn’t know about them, that I forget to ask her about them again until the end of the day. When I bring it up she tells me to come to her car with her so she can show me. Maybe she has the list in there or something.

I get in her beaten up Subaru that’s somehow crappy and badass at the same time. “Watch this.” She starts the car and gets onto the highway. Quickly swerving over to the furthest left lane she eases her foot all the way to the floor. “This thing basically maxes out at 100 but it’ll do just fine.” I grip the center console and the door as I can feel my eyeballs begin to touch the back of my head. I let out an unsure “uhhh.”

She begins a monologue that almost seems rehearsed.

“You see, when you know how the list of rules works, you can manipulate them in order to find a new set entirely.”

“I don’t see how this relates to work,” I blurt out as the car continues to speed up.

“Don’t interrupt, PJ. Anyways, like I was saying, you see this 70 mark on the speedometer? The 70 mark represents the end of your set of rules and the beginning of mine. When they choose to, anyone can pass the 70 mark but only those who know the second set of rules can do it without getting in trouble.”

The speedometer reads about 95 at this point.

“For example: I know the second set of rules says there’s a speed trap coming up in about a quarter-mile. So, I’ll pump the breaks a couple times and…”

Just as Nori said this we rolled past a cop parked between the two strips of freeway.

“Voila!” I whipped my head around to see the squad car stay exactly where it was. Confused, I turned forward again and released my grip on her car’s interior. I took a long pause to process what had just happened.

“A metaphor?” I asked, sort of astonished.

“Wow, he gets it! I guess people don’t give you enough credit, huh?”

I can never tell with Nori if she’s patronizing me or not but I think she means well.

Short StoryKeaton Goodman