Billy draped himself across the railing on the porch facing the alley way. His hairy arms hung from the baby blue cuffs of his rolled up, sweaty, white shirt sleeves as he leaned his chest against the warm metal and sucked on a cigarette. Exhaling a long stream of smoke, he pushed himself back and stood up. Snatching the cigarette from his pursed lips, he watched the thin line of smoke rising from the burning red coal and knew that one day he’d probably get cancer.

Oh Joy, he whispered before taking another drag.

Personal catastrophe was rarely the end of the world, until the one day when it was.  The smoke swirled for a moment, then dropped down in the humid air and crept along like a dry ice fog. The old timers called this late summer swelter Earthquake Weather. Thought Billy, as he watched the smoke crawl across the grimy alley, What the hell is it waiting for?

“You wanted to see me, Billy?” said Ted, walking through the heavy steel back door.

Billy turned slowly and leaned his back against the railing. “Short notice job.”

Ted looked down and scratched his neck, then glanced back up at his boss, “Can’t you do it?”  

“I think it’s about time you started earning your paycheck again,” said Billy flicking his cigarette ash into the alley below. “You know?”

Ted looked away and nodded. He knew he was lucky to still have a job. The past two months he’d been helpful as a department store dummy. Sometimes all he did was stand at the counter and stare at the wall.  

 “Look,” said Billy. “I know you’ve had a rough time of it lately, but I’m going to have to shock you out of this mental paralysis now or…”

Ted gulped air like a drowning fish as he anticipated the inevitable.

“I’m trying to run a business here!” cried Billy, switching grears, reaching out to bear up his hyperventilating numb skull employee. “It’s about time you got your head back in the game.”