So my buddy Hal went with me down to the old mom and pop place off Main in Pleasant Grove because we heard that in the back you could leave your fears behind. That was worth checking out, because who doesn’t want to get rid of fears? Right? I hadn’t even applied for two jobs because I was too scared to. One at the Mustang stop-and-rob sweeping up, and the other at the grocery store working in produce, which would have been the best job ever because you spend most of the time just misting the vegetables. How cool would that be? But I didn’t because I was sure they would turn me down, like others have lately. To top it off my sometimes girlfriend Mandy said, You are so afraid of rejection you make me sick. So I’ve been thinking about that. It was weird what Mandy said, because she was rejecting me at the same time as we were talking about it. Weird.
Old Lady Elsie was there behind the cash register, just like always reading People Magazine. She didn’t look up until my buddy said, Hey Elsie is it true that there is a place to leave your fears in the back? And she was like, Go see. Then she popped a bubble from her gum so hard it sounded like a piece of gravel hitting the windshield. So we did. Into the way-back, you know, the storeroom where they store the food arriving on trucks. We found a room with hippy beads over the door, so we went in.
There were old wooden shelves with pint jars on every one of them and every jar was labeled with masking tape with stuff written in sharpie like, A Knock at Night or Heights or That My Husband Will Find Out, and I can tell you that one made us laugh so hard.
A sign on the wall said, You can leave a fear behind but you must take one with you and there were empty jars, a roll of masking tape, and a milk jug of green liquid with Fear Juice red-sharpied on the side. Looking at it kind of gave me the Heebie-Jeebies, you know? The room had a strange smell too, sort of like the smell of broccoli that’s been left sitting on the stove for a couple of days, with a hint of incense or something weird.
Well, I was pretty sure I wanted shake the fears I had, so I poured the juice into a jar and I labeled it REJECTION, like that with all capitals. I wanted to make sure whatever did this knew I was serious, and then my buddy says, What you going to take? Well, that required some thought. There was one that said, Lizards. That was tempting until I remembered that I sometimes like to watch the bluebellies that play on the fence in the backyard that catch those white butterflies that come early in the spring. Instead I also thought about taking the one that said, Fear. But I had an unsettled feeling about what that would do exactly, so decided against it.
Behind most of the jars was an old one that said, Mrs. Smith, My Geography Teacher, but what I didn’t get was if that would make me afraid of all teachers, or just all Geography teachers, or Mrs. Smith herself, wherever she was.
My buddy was saying, Hurry, so I grabbed one that sounded safe. It had Lawn Mowers on it, which sounded like a funny fear to have. Plus, I was thinking, I hate mowing lawns and being afraid of mowers would give me bona fides for not having to do it. I could even get a doctor’s note saying I can’t use a mower because of deep fears.
I asked Hal which one he was going to take and leave and he says, I’m keeping my fears. He made me pause. I said, What’s up with that? And he went on about how he’d spent enough time with them, They were comfortable, so no sense shaking them up.
Anyway, we went out front and Elsie says, That’ll be $2.99, and I was, like, I didn’t know it costs, and she says, We ain’t running a charity. So I scrounged it up even though I felt like I was getting taken for a ride.
Now several months have gone by and this is the bad thing, the grass in front of my house has gone to seed, and my neighbors are complaining and even called the city, and they have put notices on my door saying they’ll take this or that action, and even so, I can’t bring myself to mow the yard. I can’t even stand to hear one or even know one’s been around the house. It like tears me up even to think about it and if I pass them at the hardware store I get all panicky and have to leave. Mandy, my sometimes girlfriend said, You are such a freak, no one is afraid of lawnmowers! She hasn’t come over in a while.
Still no job. I’ve been to lots of interviews. But I don’t seem to care enough to make a show it even matters. I thought having no fear of rejection would mean something like being brave and confident. No. It just means not even caring about rejection enough to fear. Now, I go to an interview and think, Whatever. I even said that once out loud to the old codger interviewing me. He said, Why do you want to work for me, son? And I said, Whatever. Just like that. Whatever. Right out loud.
I went back to get my old fear, but Elsie don’t know what I’m talking about and the room behind the beads just has an old mop and cleaning supplies. That itself gave me another fear. A big one.
I told you, says my buddy Hal, I told you so.
Steven L. Peck is a university biology professor and teaches classes on ecology, evolution, and the consciousness of the human mind. He has published over 50 scientific articles. Creative works include three novels with mainstream publishers, including the magical realism novel The Scholar of Moab, published by Torrey House Press—named AML’s best novel of 2011 and a Montaigne Medal Finalist (national award given for most thought-provoking book). Publications in such places as Abyss & Apex, Analog (Fact Article on possible alien biology like in this story!), Journal of Unlikely Entomology, Nature Futures, Pedestal Magazine, Perihelion, and many others.