Where new writing finds its voice
Short Story

The Glitter Queen

Adam Graupe


In 1993 I was behind the wheel of a Ford Ranger pickup making deliveries for a local courier company in Minnesota. Local courier companies were struggling to survive and only able to compete with the major players like FedEx and UPS by specialising in same-day delivery services. (Same-day delivery service is the delivery of a package the same day it was picked up. FedEx and UPS specialise in next-day services.) FedEx and UPS have little interest in same-day services for one basic reason: there is little money in it. Before deducting the cost of the truck, gas and insurance, the couriers earn around two dollars per package and average thirty to forty packages a day.

It was my first day on the job for this local express company. Neon, a black man wearing a Green Bay Packers jersey, was my manager. His training was concise: he handed me a set of keys and a manifest. I thought there would be some sort of on-the-road training involved, but was mistaken.

‘There you go,’ Neon said.

‘Where’s my truck?’

 ‘Oh yeah. It’s outside. I’ll walk you.’

It was five below zero and, without wearing a coat, Neon strutted outside. I followed him about a quarter of a mile into a parking lot filled with silver vans. Some had flat tyres and most had body damage. A couple of vans were totalled and off to the side of the lot. ‘Well, here it is,’ Neon said, pointing to a beat-up Chevy van. The first thing I noticed was there wasn’t a rear-view mirror. 

‘How do you back up without a rear-view mirror?’ I asked.

‘Don’t,’ Neon said. ‘Look, just don’t back up. You’re more likely to hit something backin’ up then going forward.’

‘But I’ll have to go backward eventually.’

Neon sighed. Apparently he thought I was high maintenance. ‘If you gotta back up use your mirrors.’

‘Ok,’ I said.

‘You ever driven a cargo van or anything bigger before?’

‘Biggest thing I’ve driven in some time is a Ford Festiva.’

‘Yea?’ Neon said as he hugged himself to warm up and looked side to side. ‘It might be better to start you with somethin’ a little smaller since you got no cargo van experience. Let’s get you a little pickup for starters instead. Yea. That’s the way to go.’

Neon strode back to the manager’s office and soon returned with the keys to a Ford Ranger. As he handed me the keys he said, ‘Yea, just pull this into the warehouse and go to the wooden bins past the gas pumps. There’s a bin labelled 173 with your packages in it. Just drive on in. Don’t fall behind on time when you deliver. Make your route doing right-hand turns. Left-hand turns waste
time cause you gotta wait for cross traffic. Really, man, that’s all there is to it. Call me if you got any questions.’

On initial inspection of the pickup, I was surprised to read 362,456 on the odometer. I drove it into the station and was startled to see over a hundred vans crammed inside. There was little clearance in the path between the parked vans to the bins. I steered through the first row, but on the turn before the pumps clipped a yellow pole with the passenger side mirror and it made a loud thwacking sound. My nerve already began to fail; I hadn’t worked for the company for ten minutes and had already been in an accident. I stopped the pickup and inspected the damage. The mirror was folded in and there was a yellow mark on the outside of the mirror, but I spit on my gloves and managed to rub most of the yellow out. I weighed my body against the mirror arm and bent it back into place. The passenger side of the pickup had so much body damage that the mirror was the least of its worries. I clipped another pole as I passed the gas pumps. 

I pulled up to the wooden bins and there were a few drivers loading packages into vans. Bin 173 had a dozen orange nylon bags in it containing film addressed to various camera companies and residences in the Twin Cities area. The workers were silent and moved slowly as they sorted their packages. These drivers were haggard and the most damning thing about them was their eyes. I had never seen eyes so vacant and tired. I watched one sullen looking man loading large blue bins into his truck until it was full. He dropped one of the bins onto his foot and yelled, ‘Fuckers!’ He looked at me, pointed at my pickup and yelled, ‘Get that piece of shit out of here so I can pull out!’

I hustled over to my pickup and moved it out of his way. He drove out of the building and yelled, ‘Bunch of fuckers!’ as his van passed under the station door into the cold January air.

I returned to the wooden bins and someone behind me said, ‘Aw, don’t mind Devin. He’s worked here too long.’ I turned around and a beefy man was smiling and holding his right hand out toward me. I shook it and he said, ‘My name’s Reggie. Nice to meet you. Welcome to ______ Express, where the vans are loaded and so are the drivers.’

I merged the Ranger onto Highway 169 and accelerated to 110 mph. I obtained this speed purely in the interest of research. For example, it could turn out I had less than ten minutes to get to a delivery twelve miles away. I wanted the peace of mind to know that the vehicle would provide adequate speed to deliver on time. 

Soon I was trying to find a house in a crowded neighbourhood in the city of Roseville. I grew up in the country and my nearest neighbour was a quarter mile away. It sickened me to see houses crammed so close together. Why couldn’t you have a little space when you lived? I leaned to my right trying to read mailboxes and house numbers, and narrowly avoided hitting several parked cars and a cyclist. On finding the correct address I stepped out and sprinted – I was still under the impression that couriers had to appear to be in a hurry no matter what – toward the front door of my first delivery. 

I stood before the doorbell of a battered baby-blue town house and through a window saw a chubby red haired boy of about thirteen in the living room, naked from the waist up. He sat flat on the floor with his legs sprawled out before him. He wore a blonde wig and pink bra, and both were too large for him. Beside the bra and wig he wore shorts, and he was decorating his stomach with glittered stickers that were in the shape of stars. He also had sparkled glitter rubbed all over his upper body. I rang the doorbell, not knowing what else to do as the parcel required a signature. The kid looked up at me and let out a warbled scream. He leapt up and ran out of the living room with his arms raised. I waited a moment, unsure what the etiquette was in a situation such as this. After a minute I decided I’d waited long enough and rang the doorbell again, and he soon came out of the other room wearing a t-shirt, and his face was scarlet. The boy said nothing as he signed for the package and neither did I. A glittered sticker in the shape of a butterfly fell off of his nose as he reached to shut the door.  

I went back out to my pickup and realised the keys were locked inside.