Quitting Time, by Cassidy Lapierre
The students shuffle out of the building, grumbling over their still unfinished work as I organize my area, preparing it for the next worker just four hours later. The clock strikes three am but I wait to lock the doors. If students are still upstairs, possibly packing their things, they’ll be trapped inside until a sleep deprived student in a security guard uniform finds them. Two minutes pass. The lights pop as they cool down, sounding eerily like footsteps echoing around the building, but each glance towards the empty stairs just remind me how tired I am. I lock the doors, stopping every time I hear the whirr of the elevator, most likely belonging to the cleaning crew whose shift has only just begun. I hope I am the last student in the building and lock the last door.
I pause and listen once more, making sure I am alone in the building. The security guard quit weeks ago, and my boss took the night off. If anyone has stayed in the building, lurking, the janitorial crew is floors away from helping me. My screams would echo emptily. I quickly grab my things and leave. Paranoia fights routine. I remind myself that I do this every week, every time the same, tired monotony. This doesn’t stop me from glancing into each shadowed cubicle between me and the door.
The parking garage is almost empty, but my car is illegally parked in the first garage without gates. They don’t ticket this late at night. I keep a wide distance between me and the stray parked cars, headlines flashing in my head of the women who have been grabbed by the sleaze that creeps in the shadows. I swallow hard and press my keys between my fingers, a pathetic wolverine kitten. I glance over my shoulder on every third step. I close the distance to my car and throw my things in the passenger seat, closing the door as quickly as possible. The slam echoes in the empty concrete halls. My brain flashes to the creatures from the movies, long claws and blood covered teeth, heads twisting to face the source of the sound. No, there are real monsters that come in normal, smiling packages. Paranoia fights sanity. I shake my head before driving off.
The streets are deserted, a sleeping ghost town, except for the other late-night workers. Garbage trucks, idling police cars, bakery employees all moving mechanically. I drive with caution, warnings flashing in my head about all the drunk drivers screaming down the streets of my wild college town. I roll up to a red light, the green pointing to an empty street in an automated routine. A man is walking on the sidewalk, shirtless, so muscular his elbows can’t touch his sides, greased in enough oil to reflect both red and green from the lights. I’m intrigued, but make myself watch the red light feigned boredom. Are my doors locked? Do they need to be? The light flicks green and I continue on, accepting the absurdity of the early morning.
I get to my apartment complex, the parking lot is annoyingly full, all of my neighbors tucking into bed for the night. I pass a tow truck parked sideways, a car once illegally parked in the coveted covered spots lifted high by the hook of the truck. This is a decapitated head on a stick, warning others not to make the same mistake. Further down the road, a group of people stand outside their building, chatting and smoking cigarettes, a party petered out. Their heads turn as they watch my car pass with curiosity. I match their gaze as I roll by, too tired to feel awkward.
I reach my own building and park as close as I can, the distance I have to walk to the safe haven of my home measured in cars. When I get out this time, I don’t slam the door, hyperaware of all the sleeping people in the surrounding buildings. I walk as fast as I can in my exhaustion, the caffeine in my system barely enough to stop me from falling asleep, but my eyes are kept open by the fear of someone lying low in their car. Paranoia fights exhaustion.
There are no lights on by my door, the bulb placed to guide me burned out months ago. I hold my keys up to the moon to find the right one, and feel with my thumb where to fit it in. I turn the lock with a click and push the door. It pushes back, staying firmly in place. I wiggle the keys again, but I already know my fate. I rest my forehead against the cool door. One of my roommates, unconfident in our single lock, set the deadbolt. It seems for the night that her paranoia has won.