Her hands left prints in the dusty, dry glaze as she passed her palms over the tabletops. Laurie had left one of her passive aggressive notes, laminated this time, by the folding table where the tools were kept, stating with her fancy flourishes that she "never really" wanted to see glaze "ever" on the tables. Her reasoning for this was that the glaze, even dried, would fuse to anything. This reminder was accompanied by another of Laurie's grating smiley-faces, apparently to soften the command, though Green saw too much of Laurie's own fake-smile in the doodle and found it intolerable. Laurie's passive aggressiveness might just be the reason the whole place was falling apart, Green mused, as she casually dusted the remains from the table. She could never give a direct order, or plan anything, or fire anyone, or train anyone, or be consistent. All of her employees seem to run only on loyalty or desperation, but they had, most of them, hit a wall. Communication was simply too thin, and gossip- amongst a crew of seven aged 17-22 women it was inevitable- was too thick.
With bisque, the sort of material that West Coast Paints & Ceramics produced, the glaze that had to be applied before the piece entered the kiln for firing was never to be too thick, or the result could be disasterous. Distortion of design, lumpiness, and unsightly stickiness (which could lead to breakage) was the usual outcome.
Green, as she was known around the Ceramic shop, had been there for too long, but not as long as those who really truly knew Laurie's family. West Coast Paints & Ceramics was once an entirely family-run business, but over the past few years employees had grown up, married, given birth to tiny tots with no intent to paint but rather to bulldoze with the other kids, and so the second generation of West Coast Painters were begat... and they came and went as well, except for a few. Turquoise and Pink(y) were the old timers. They came in, surveyed the place for cleanliness, made sure there was plenty of helium on hand for the weekend birthday parties, and monitored the kiln, as was their second generation responsibility.Green was third generation, and so was only permitted to touch the kiln, or "oven" as the little kids who came into the store called it, in times of need. Violet, White, and Maroon were the fourth, and, Green mused, probably the final generation. They did not touch the kiln under threat of death.
Today was, as most of the weekdays were, slow and almost painful. The final three hours leading up to closing time proved the most trying, as by that time most of the fussy, mothering customers had vanished with their Van Gogh Jr's and there was nothing left to clean, label, or rearrange, so Green meandered around the shop, admiring or tidying things she had not paid exact attention to before. She usually managed to find something of interest, but at the moment her mind wandered. A guy had been on her mind all day. He wasn't her type and vice versa, but his existence was certainly diverting in times of boredom, times like these.
Her hands grimy with the blueish glaze dust, Green returned to the sink to rewash the paint brushes she had washed moments ago. As she painstakingly scratched the stubborn paint from the metallic edges, she wondered if he, too, was at work at this moment, having a perfectly miserable time, thinking of her. Somehow, she doubted it. He probably thought she was an arty weirdo. Whatever. Green just wished she was an arty weirdo- she was probably the least talented of all the girls that worked at West Coast, and it was no secret. In fact, Pinky had begun to phase out weekend shifts so that Green would not be saddled with face painting at the birthday parties. Ever since the Miller party where at a little girl criticized Green's best attempt to recreate the Golden Compass on the birthday girl's cheek as per orders, Green's confidence had been shaken. Her projects were not all that interesting, either- Green had worked at West Coast nearly two years and none of her projects had ever appeared on the sample shelf, where customers had the privelage to ooh and aah over the creations of the artistic employees.Green hated when it was her turn to make signs, because her caligraphy looked like that of a five-year-old. Ho hum, it didn't really matter that much, Green decided. She would just remain forever in the uncomfortable position of being an unsuccessful artist, yet with an artist's unfortunate emotional temperment. Something a cute bag boy at the local Vons could never understand. Eh well. He had a big nose anyway.
A sound. Green looked up to see White come galumphing inside. "Hey," she squeaked, only then realizing it had been four hours since she had spoken, and her voice sounded out of practice. White grinned crookedly and tossed her massive bag on a nearby chair. "'Sup," she said, approaching Green at the sinks. "Been like this all shift?" Green nodded. "The last person I saw must've been four hours ago, and that was the mailman." White groaned sympathetically, and Green glanced down at her. Down was an understatement. Green seemed to tower above White, who appeared at least a foot shorter than she. Green had found this ironic from the start- White was a tough, hard-nosed ball of fire, and if anyone should be looking down on anybody it was she at Green, not the other way around. "Well, I thought it might be like this. Thought I'd come and paint a lil, keep you company, get some stuff done, whatdya think?" White was already heading to the back to retrieve the piece she had been working on all month- off the clock, of course, as they weren't permitted to fiddle with personal projects at work. Green just bobbed her head in confirmation, glad for White's company, even if it was a little awkward.
White continued to gab loudly as she set up her placemat and poured her own paints. She spilled out mazes and browns and midnight blues and gossip about the other girls, she babbled about her further plans for the plate she was working on, dabbing it occasionally with a sponge to smooth her strokes. She paused every now and again to make sure Green was listening, and Green would smile from behind the counter appreciatively. Finally, Green noticed only a half an hour was left until closing time and she let herself at ease, taking a comfy chair across from White's painting extravaganza. As White talked, Green trailed her finger in a stray paint blot on a nearby placemat. White snickered at this and continued her commentary on life. White had forged a sort of vague connection between the two of them- as soon as she learned that the two of them were the only employees who lived on their own, worked several jobs, and had had rather unusual hard times in their respective pasts, she seemed to decide that they were essentially the same people, and therefore felt entirely too comfortable telling Green all of her thoughts and philosophies. Green listened, as she listened to everyone that floated in and out of West Coast Paint and her general existence, and took note. Don't hook up with someone more than five years older than you until you have your own place. When your boyfriend has the clap, be supportive but don't get too close. When getting a tattoo in someone's garage, be sure to plan it out in advance. Sometimes when White would talk, Green found her own eyes zeroing in on White's unibrow, and though White could be saying the most profound of things, all Green could think would be waxwaxwaxwax.
However, at this moment in time, this sacred 25 minutes before closing time, Green tried to identify what color White's eyes were. They were small eyes, deep-set, and dark, but she simply could not tell if they were a deep blue or brown. She wondered if knowing would make a difference. She realized White was suddenly dissing Maroon, one of the second generation Paints. Green found herself saying, "Now, I don't think that's really fair. She has alot to handle in the summertime around here, you know," White agreed with this and dipped her brush into a neon-looking orange paint-mound. "Yea, you have a point. I shouldn't smack talk so much, should I?" Green shrugged. She didn't know if she enjoyed smack talk or not, honestly. White snorted at Green's indifference. She changed the subject. "Do you like my plate so far?" Green studied the project. "Yes," she replied, earnestly. "I like what you're doing with the design to the right. It's really pretty." White beamed. "Thanks. I had that idea in my head for the longest time. It's amazing, how I get so obsessed with something until I just have to do it. Like my boyfriend. Hahaha!" Green grimaced at the bad joke. "Sorry," White recovered. "Bad joke. Anyway. I just get so hung up on things, I just go crazy sometimes. Like I don't know what I'm gonna do with Jonas right now. I come home sometimes and it's like, wow, I cannot be around you right now. And it's been a year. That's not cool, is it?" Green shrugged. She had no boyfriend to come home to, let alone a tattoo artist boyfriend with the clap. "Well I don't know. I'm just glad he's out of the ER now, y'know, I worry about the kid. I really do." She put down her fat brush and selected a mid-size. "I really really do, even when I hate him. I wish he'd call me more when I'm working. I don't know. I get so hung up on things. I worry. Where did you go to school?" Green looked up at the inquiry. "Uh, out of state." She answered. "That's right. See I went to Richmond. Sucked. You know a few years back, like 2005, you remember hearing about that kid, George, who was in that wreck and all those kids died?" Green rolled back in her mind, seeming to remember, vaguely, everyone talking about a bunch of kids dying in a big crash, right on the eve of graduation. "I think so," she said. "Yeah, he was driving? Killed most of them. Yeah, George, I knew him." "Ohh.. that's.." "Yeah," White's countenance did not change. Green wondered if she was lying.
"I remember one year, one year I knew him real well, and I always wore long sleeves. I didn't before then, but one time we were hanging out, and you know how people sometimes cut themselves? Well, he pulled up his sleeves and I saw these cuts- these huge, like, slices all over him- not little nicks or whatever like we've got, but like huge slices, like his arm was bread or something,." Green was taken aback, and began to make sounds, starting in her throat, in order to comiserate- to say, yeah, i've known kids like that, cutters- they never knew what they were doing- but White kept talking. "I just, I didn't know what to think about that at all, but I was just thinking thinking THINKING about it all the time! I wore long sleeves for a year. People thought I was so weird and goth cause I was always wearing long sleeves, it didn't matter where. I'd go outside, and if I started to get hot, I would just think about his arms and I wouldn't feel hot anymore. Isn't that weird?" Green didn't want to nod. She didn't know what to think. White sighed and looked up from her plate for the first time. "It's not like I'm afraid of death, or anything. I don't think I am. It's just that nobody knows, you get what I mean? Nobody knows what's really going to happen... afterwards. No one knows that for sure, what's going to happen when you're dead. I just wanna know if it.. goes on. But nobody knows that stuff."
Shocked, Green realized she was covering her own heart with her hands. Talk to her, She told herself. Tell her! Tell her there's more to it than that! Tell her you know, tell her it has to be true. These demands rolled around in Green's head for all of a minute, until at last she opened her mouth to tell White what she knew, what she, Green, knew to be True, words of comfort and sincerity that she always knew she had to offer. White was looking at her, sorrowfully, waiting for these words. But at the last, final moment they died in Green's mouth. Their momentum dissolved into waves of fear and insecurity, snowballing into one, single, definingly wretched word- "Well..."
And with that, the alarm for the leather storage store next door began to sound, loudly and clearly, cutting into what little chance Green had left. "Uh oh," White was saying, as she peered out the window. "Bet she'll be by here soon with that scary attack dog of hers. Hey, it's closing time, man, you should lock up shop, y'know? Hey... you know, I can't take this noise, so I'm out." Her words came out in a stream, and all Green wanted to do was freeze and rewind the moment, but as White dropped her used paintbrushes into the sink and waved a harried goodbye, Green was left, alone, with the ghost of her dead words, meant to chase away monsters but instead becoming one horrific, neutered utterance.
She had seen her coworker's eyes, in that moment, and in that moment they were definitely deep blue.