Off the Record
“Marissa, you okay with closing tonight?”
Marissa pokes her head up from behind the counter to yell back at Ricky, who’s halfway across the shop.
“Yeah, I gotcha,” she says, sitting back down to continue sorting, stapling, and filing hundreds of receipts that have collected over the years. She’s not sure how the mess got to be so uncontrolled, but uncontrolled doesn’t always mean bad here in the record shop. It just means something can be done.
She stumbled across the job at the shop completely by accident last semester, while taking a walk through the city after another fight with Shay. Marissa had wanted to clear her head from all the roommate drama, which, like the yellowing receipts, had collected over time. “These little things that bother both of you are gonna build up and then explode one day,” her mom had cautioned, but Marissa had brushed it aside back then. Her mom didn’t really know Shay, she thought. What does she really know anyway?
So, she found herself on a walk through Chicago, passing Thai restaurants and gum-speckled benches and couples on cutesy dates when she noticed the neon orange door of the record shop. That was the single identifying feature of the shop’s exterior. The shop was nudged in between a laundromat and a hardware store on a busy road and could easily be passed by anyone who wasn’t looking for it.
Marissa’s dad had loved records. He used to play classic rock vinyls every night while Marissa did homework, claiming it was the only real way to listen to the classics. Marissa still loved those songs, even after he had left. She held on to them for reasons she couldn’t quite explain, except that they felt like family. And family’s not supposed to leave. So she kept playing the records, and that’s why she went into the shop that day. She saw the “we’re hiring” poster and asked for the application while clutching an armful of “new” records. She got the job a week later. And now here she is, a tall, reedy figure bent over old receipts, sitting on the creaky wood floor.
She finishes the file from ’98 and takes her break like she always does, sprawling out on the plaid navy and maroon armchair in the back. The chair seems to be about as worn as the shop, which would make it either incredibly gross or incredibly comfortable. For the benefit of all the employees, it was the latter. Marissa pulls her phone out of her back pocket and reaches for her headphones. Before she can turn on her music, her coworker Ryan rolls over on the Heelys he got for Christmas last month. He wears them almost every day at the shop and insists that they make him more efficient.
“Hey, Ricky said you came in late this morning,” Ryan says, braking right next to the armchair.
“What’s up, another late night?”
“Oh, you know me,” Marissa says. “I gotta pregame for Friday on Thursday.”
“Anything crazy happen this time?” he asks, sitting on the arm of Marissa’s chair.
Marissa raises an eyebrow. “Define crazy.”
Ryan throws his hands in the air, laughing. “What I’d give to be as cool as you…”
“Cool?” Marissa scoffs heartily. “Yeah, right.”
“I’m just saying.” Ryan pats the chair as he stands up. “Hey, don’t be late on Monday. You’re the only one coming in.”
“Yeah, I’m headed to New York, remember?”
“Oh yeah, to see your girl!” Marissa teases him. Ricky has asked that they stop teasing each other while on the clock because it’s “not professional,” but Ryan always reminds Ricky that he brings his dog to staff meetings. So, they keep up the banter.
The best part about working at the shop, Marissa believes, is how quiet it is, especially in the afternoons when people are still in classes and cubicles. It’s such a contrast to the uncontrolled din of her world at school, at home. The noise of last night’s wild party or shouting match or drinking game fades away, allowing her to focus on just being. She has a purpose here, a plan, a goal. She carries out tasks within these four walls with a drive that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere else. She stacks boxes and picks sleeves off the wrong shelves and stands on the tiptoes of her Docs to dust the old glittering disco ball that threatens to crash to the floor any day now, and all the while, recycled records spin hanging from the ceiling above her, constant, reliable, orbital. That’s who she wants to be. Instead, she’s like a record player that skips over the scratches. A little static, but still functioning nevertheless. Just a few seconds short of smooth, just a few measures short of complete.
Her classmates come into the shop sometimes, with shiny white shoes and fake vintage shirts. Marissa envies them, and she sees in their sideways glances that they envy her. That is, they do when they recognize her. She wears the same clothes at the shop that she does at school and keeps her long, dark, curly hair just as unkempt as always, but they don’t normally notice her in the shop. If they were looking for her, they’d be looking for a girl who’s confident with being the center of attention, the kind of attention that keeps its distance. They know who she is, but they don’t know her, and they couldn’t point to anyone who actually does. She’s a wild one, they say. I feel like she could do anything. The Marissa who works at the shop, though, is nothing like that, and so they glance over her. She appreciates the distance.
Shut the register. Sweep the floor. Turn off the lights. Open the door.
As she steps back out into the real world, Marissa always pauses. She waits. She listens. Sometimes she remembers her father’s voice telling her stories about his favorite artists, the ones that had all sorts of problems, from drug addictions to failed marriages. Other times she hears Shay yelling at her, something about the state of her room or the guy she brought back the night before. Marissa locks the door. Cars honk and pedestrians whistle and random verses of music float in and out of perception from the nearby restaurants. The noise is back, and so is Marissa.
She walks back to her dorm, scrolling through social media. There’s post after post about the parties happening tonight, typical for a Friday. A section of Marissa’s closet contains clothes for nights like this, where she’ll go out and be the Marissa that she portrays to everyone else. The Marissa who doesn’t care about what people think of her dances like a girl in a music video. The Marissa who forgets about her home life drinks another one. The Marissa who isn’t taking her roommate’s silence personally takes him by the hand.
Her phone buzzes. A text from her mom. It’s a little cartoon drawing of a turtle saying, “take care of yourshellf.” Marissa smirks, then shoves her phone in her back pocket, shaking her head.
She is never her first priority, and yet she is at the same time. She does things out of the way to make things more convenient for herself, but never takes time to sit down and think. Her mom tried to force her to do that when she was little, and it didn’t go so well. Thinking about her dad leaving didn’t change the fact that he was gone, and so she decided that it would be easier to move on. She’s been moving on ever since, past classes, breakups, the never-ending arguments with Shay. They’ve never gotten along, and they never will. Shay will always judge Marissa, no matter what choices she makes. She’ll never be good enough, and so Marissa moves on. Over and over and over, skipping over the scratches.
The light is on in her suite, which means that Shay is there. Marissa’s surprised. They’re both normally out on Friday nights, but in very different places. Shay’s boyfriend lives a few cities away, and she visits him almost every weekend.
Marissa unlocks the door and walks in, noticing that pasta is cooking on the stove but that there is no Shay around. She puts down her backpack and walks into their room. Shay’s on the floor, her head in her hands. She’s crying.
Marissa gets a picture of the records spinning on the ceiling. Moving but constant.
Shay looks up, not yet making eye contact, and takes a deep breath. “I didn’t know you were coming back.”
“Yeah,” Marissa says. She decides on the spot. “I’m staying here tonight.”
Shay can’t hide her surprise. “Oh, um... okay.”
Marissa turns to the door. “I’ll finish your pasta.”
Constant, reliant, orbital.
Pasta is a start.
Spring/Summer, 2020 Issue