Emergency Exit

I told Lenny to quit teasing my servers. / I picked Gala apples. I picked Suncrisp apples.

A photo of Kayla Czaga.
(Erin Flegg/The Walrus)

When I was twenty, I worked as a tour guide
in an abandoned salmon cannery.
Before that, I sold shoes at a mall store
that no longer exists. Years later,
between midnight and six a.m. three days a week,
I faced cans of chickpeas, Campbell’s, and Canada Dry
in a closed Thrifty Foods with Luke,
who carried up the aisles with him a ghetto blaster
that blasted sexist radio shows and Led Zeppelin.
I went on to email feedback to aspiring writers
I’d never meet, paying excessive attention
to their adjectives. I made blue cocktails
for college kids. I took a poet’s papers
out of a dozen Rubbermaid bins, sorted them
in chronological order, stacked them back in,
and shipped the bins off to London, Ontario.
Because I signed an NDA, I can’t admit to writing
segments of a mystery story Neil Patrick Harris loved,
but I can talk about the dinosaur erotica.
I rode around in a rental van with Brian,
telling Northern kids it was okay
if they didn’t know what they wanted to be
when they grew up, though they’d be grownups
by now and I wonder what they went on to be
and if they remember me at all.
I told Lenny to quit teasing my servers.
I picked Gala apples. I picked Suncrisp apples.
I picked Mackintosh apples in a gentle and specific way
because they bruise so easily. I made no-foam
matcha lattes. I ordered too many cases of house wine.
I helped Rhea retire. I wore a headset backstage
and whispered to the Ukrainian dancing girls
that they were up next on the telethon.
For all these jobs, I made money. Enough to live on,
amounts that always felt like too much or too little
compensation for the tasks I’d performed.
Like the one afternoon I did nothing
but glue labels onto cans of salmon
because the boss forgot about me in the office.
Or that time I got so lost in the back
of the Thrifty Foods that I ran out the emergency exit
and walked around the entire store.
I took my time, peeking through the windshield of
a broken-down murder van and snapping photos
with my phone of the shopping carts
all lit up by streetlights and their own reflections
off puddles. That’s what the apocalypse will look like
in case you’ve ever wondered: shining abandoned
shopping carts on cracked asphalt.
It was a little past three in the morning.
I was so cold and so tired I thought
I’d be there, in that parking lot, forever,
and it’s possible a part of me still is. Then I banged
on the front doors until Luke let me back in.

Kayla Czaga
Kayla Czaga is the author of the poetry collections Dunk Tank and For Your Safety Please Hold On.