by, Sam Aleks
My name is Dyllis Campman because my dyslexic father was certain I was a girl and named me “Phyllis.” He wrote as much on my birth certificate, though evidently not well. I ask people to call me “Dil” for short, and most do.
I work as a guidance counselor at a local high school. When I walk down the hall, people greet me. “Hello, Mr. Campman” they say. “Hello,” I say. I don’t know when I officially became “Mr. Campman,” but it must have happened after the old man died.
One of the people who says “Hello, Mr. Campman” is Ms. Embers, a teacher at the school. Ms. Embers has a terrific set of hips and walks with a sway that grips her tight dresses. I wish that Ms. Embers would call me Dil. Every day I insist that she call me Dil, and every day she ignores the suggestion. She looks at me with doughy eyes and says “Hello, Mr. Campman,” or “Good morning, Campman,” or some other variation. She never smiles, though I wish she would.
I’ve been trying to find the time to ask Ms. Embers on a date, but so far have been unsuccessful. I’m far too busy shopping these days. Every day I scan through online websites to find products I like. I got free slippers the other day by ordering two pairs and claiming that they arrived damaged. I was told to return them for a full refund. I returned one pair claiming that I was only sent one. I was refunded for both pairs. Over the years this tactic has gotten me a free toaster, a heater, a mini fan, a small chess board, a hat, some socks, and a leather bracelet that doesn’t fit my wrist.
I tried giving the bracelet to my girlfriend before she left me, but she didn’t want it. She insisted on it being stolen, though I think she was just annoyed because it didn’t fit her either. I felt sad at first when she left, but now I feel relieved because I have more time to myself and less responsibility. I devote my free time to getting more free things online.
A senior high school kid has been seeing me against his will for the past two weeks. Ms. Embers thinks that having him speak to me is a good idea. I spend most of our counseling sessions shopping on my computer.
The kid’s name is Lucky, though he is anything but, and he has a problem with authority. “Fuck school,” he tells me often. I hand him a college brochure, “fuck that,” he slaps the brochure away. He says he doesn’t want to go to college because “it’s a big trick thought of by society.” I nod when he explains this and add an enticing cookware set to my online shopping cart.
“How so?” I ask him.
“It’s just made to make you think you’re not worth nothing until you pay up,” he frowns.
I nod and shift my attention to the women’s stockings selling for half price. I order them along with the cookware set for no reason.
Lucky pulls a Philips head out of his pocket and drives it into my desk. I look up at his frowning freckled face and reach for the screwdriver. I put it in my desk drawer beside the cutlery set I ordered last Wednesday. Lucky crosses his arms, bulging his small biceps at me. I run a search for discount hat racks.
“How was your week?” I ask him without looking.
“It was shit. Ms. Embers is a bitch.”
I take personal offense at that, but don’t correct him. I feel close to Lucky now that we’ve found something interesting to talk about.
“Why is that?” I ask him.
“Because she made me come see you.”
“Did she say anything about me?” I look past my computer screen.
“I don’t know. I don’t care. Whatever,” says Lucky.
“I’m sure she mentioned me in some way,” I pull the Philips out of the desk drawer and hand it back to Lucky. This ironically disarms him.
“She just said ‘go to Dil Campman’s office, he’ll set you straight.’”
I smile having realized that the road to Ms. Embers is paved in good intentions. I am to set Lucky straight before she can love me.
“Well? Have I set you straight?” I ask him.
“No,” he scoffs.
“How about this?” I slide a twenty-dollar bill across the desk, “does that set you straight?”
Lucky takes the money without a word and tucks it into his denim jacket. Then the bell rings and he’s free to go. I don’t look at him, nor does he look at me. We have an understanding now. I celebrate by purchasing a set of beautiful ties and paying for rush delivery.
The next morning I’m wearing one of the ties when I see Ms. Ember waddling down the hallway. She smiles at me this time, says “hello, Mr. Campman,” I tell her to call me Dil as we part ways. I’m thrilled as I sit down in front of my computer and open the product listings. There is a family set of Christmas stockings, a pair of matching him’s and her’s bath robes, a bicycle made for two. I add a pair of each to my shopping cart and prepare to complete the purchase. Then Lucky comes in again.
“Sup,” he says.
“Did you tell Ms. Embers you’re straightened out?”
“She said it’s good, but I need more straightening out,” he says.
I gesture for him to sit down, he does. He pulls out the Philips head and drives it into my desk again. I pause the shopping to take it away from him.
“Why do you keep doing that, Lucky?”
“Because fuck you, that’s why.”
I put the screwdriver in my desk drawer and ask him about his day. He grunts and crosses his arms. I spin the computer monitor around and try to build rapport with him.
“What do you think Ms. Embers will like the most?”
“It’s all bullshit,” he tells me, “Just stupid, useless shit.”
“Nobody needs any of this stuff. It’s consumer culture. They tell you that you’re not happy until you buy something. Then once you start buying you can’t stop.”
“Who are they?” I ask him.
He can’t come up with a response, so I turn the monitor around and slump back in my chair smugly. We sit there and listen to the beating of the clock as I complete my transactions. At the end of the session, I slide another twenty across the desk and wink at Lucky. He pockets the cash, saying nothing. We understand each other.
The next morning, I wear the second tie from my tie set. I pass Ms. Embers, who smiles and waves. “Good morning, Dil,” she says.
I am overjoyed, so happy that I almost trip over myself on my way to the office. My heart is beating through my chest as I take a seat at my computer, requesting a refund for the tie set. I decide to return the first tie only since Ms. Embers seemed happier today. Lucky walks in right on cue.
“How was your day?” I ask him.
“Bullshit,” he tells me.
I ask him if he’s spoken to Ms. Embers yet. He says yes and that she’s happy, but he needs more straightening out.
“No problem,” I tell him as I finish filing a return for the ties. I also check on the shipping for the Christmas stocking set. It’s arriving right on time.
“This place is depressing,” says Lucky, “I hate myself, but I hate everyone else more.”
I nod, browsing the latest arrivals. There are discounts on succulent plants, ferns, and gorgeous cacti. I turn the monitor around and show Lucky a rosy pincushion cactus. I ask him if Ms. Embers will like that for her classroom.
“It’s a bullshit cactus,” he says.
“The flowers are just glued on. My cousin works at a nursery, he says they just glue on flowers to make those cactuses better. But they’re not, it’s just so people get confused.”
“It’s cacti, Lucky. Cacti,” I correct him and add the cactus to my shopping cart.
Lucky asks for greater incentive at the end of the session. He says he’s not sure if he’s “straightened out” enough yet. I slide a fifty-dollar bill across the table. He stuffs it into his jacket, takes his Philips head back, and leaves the office.
I strut into the school with my new tie and the new cactus under my arm the next morning. I see Ms. Embers, who smiles warmly and happily welcomes my approach. I show her the cactus.
“I love these little flowers,” she says.
I tell her that those flowers are unique to the species. No other cacti grow flowers quite like those. I hand her the pot and watch her face light up. People love gifts, especially when they’re natural and eco-friendly.
“How are things going with Lucky?” she asks me.
“Wonderful,” I tell her, “I think he’s really straightened out now.”
She nods and says she’s seen a definite improvement in his behavior.
“He hardly speaks at all during class now,” she says.
I promise her that the improvements will continue starting from today and bid her farewell as I make my way to the office. I look through listings of German chocolates as I wait for Lucky to enter the room. I find two boxes that I’m particularly excited by and purchase them on the spot. I look past my monitor then and consider the absence of my daily visitor. Recess comes and goes, still Lucky doesn’t arrive.
I see Ms. Embers scooting up to me as I’m locking my office at the end of the school day.
“Dil! Dil!” she says. I give her my full attention.
She tells me that Lucky is gone. “dropped out,” is what she says.
“He left this note, it’s for you,” she hands me a piece of paper.
The note reads: Hey Campman, thanks for the money. I’m done with this place – it’s all bullshit. It’s all a lie and there’s nothing in it anymore. Everyone is like a robot and no one cares. I’m using the money to start a business selling trash to idiots. – Lucky.
“What does it say?” Ms. Embers asks me.
“It’s a thank you letter,” I tell her, “it seems the boy finally straightened out.”
Ms. Embers smiles and gives me a hug. I feel her large breasts press against my chest, it’s a great feeling. I ask her if she would accompany me to dinner. She tells me she would love to for one hundred and fifty dollars. I tell her that sounds reasonable.
Sam Aleks is an Armenian-born, American artist/writer living in Los Angeles, CA. Sam earned an MA in English from CSU, Northridge in 2018. His recent writing was featured in The Abstract Elephant Magazine LLC and The RAR Summer 2020 Issue.