White Trash

Dinner was served late again. Brenda forgot about the chicken during her shows and it sat in the oven, untouched until Dale returned from his meeting.

Now that everyone was at the table, washed, and ready, Brenda spooned reheated piles of Shepard’s pie onto Tupperware plates.

Dave squinted during prayers. His fingers twitched at the ready as he made sure neither Sammy or Eustice fussed. Dave was drunk again– drunk and looking to pick a fight. His meeting had run long; he and Rick had been discussing the Black lives Matter problem again– one of Rick’s favorite subjects.

“Dave…” Brenda said, prodding. Dave blinked up and wiped at his red, sagging eyes with the back of his knuckles. Both Sammy and Eustice snapped forward into their plates when Dave passed a look over them.

Dave sighed. “Yes, dear.” His tone was cynical. “My bride, my loving wife. What is it?”

Brenda flushed and looked down. Dave looked expectantly at his wife before he looked about the room to the smoke stained walls and cobwebbed corners of his double wide. He reached for his unopened bud light and cracked it. Amber bubbles toppled over the lip and into his palm. Dave’s lazy tongue shot out to meet them.

“How do you like the pie, hon?” Brenda asked as Dave licked the beer from his hand.

He took a long gulp and smacked his lips. “Fucking delicious dear. So good, I could keep eaten ‘em for days. Oh wait,” Dave’s brow shot up for the punchline. “I have.” He cackled and waited for the kids to join in. Then, impatiently, he slapped the table, jerking his silverware and beer forward. Sammy winced before offering a weak chuckle.

Dave turned to Eustice, and took another pull from his can. “So bud, how was school today? Learn anythin’ new?”

Eustice mumbled.

“Speak up! And look you dad in the eye when you talk to ‘im.”

“Not really.”

“Not really.” He turned to Brenda and shrugged. “Not really. You’re telling me after sitting your ass in that school that I pay fer’ you learned nothing?”

“Let him finish eating, hon. He’ll tell you once he’s done,” Brenda turned to their youngest. “Right?” Eustice nodded. She turned back to her husband, still anxious about the lurking storm that was his temper. “How was the meeting?” She knew it was the one thing he could talk about until he turned blue in the face.

He smiled. “Great,” he said, mashed potatoes dribbling from his bottom lip. “We finalized plans for the rally next month. Dick’s gonna take care of printing flags.” A storm suddenly formed in the creases of his aged face. “We’re gonna show these liberal fucks a thing or two; thinking they can take our history away from us.” Dave’s torso jerked forward. “We got this great design for our shields…” Dave trailed off laughing, finished his beer, and crushed the can, tossing it to the rubbish bucket next to the trailer door.

Brenda nodded, neither smiling nor frowning– just acknowledging. “Hon, this isn’t gonna run us too much money, is it?” Dave looked up from his plate with a look of contempt. “Remember Sammy’s surgery coming up. Those wisdom teeth have been giving her loads of trouble.”

Dave belched and looked at Sammy, and watched as she spooned sensible bites into her mouth. “We’ll be fine hon. We got that American care act insurance; so the co pays shouldn’t be that much. Besides the chapter is depending on us.”

“Affordable.”

“H’wat?”

“You said American.” She paused a regret washed over her like a cruel tide. “I think… it’s Affo–”

A paw smacked against the table. “It is what I say it is.”

Brenda nodded wordlessly and elected to play with her dinner until the kids finished.

“Mommy, can I be excused?” Sammy chimed in, almost as if she could read her mother’s mind. “My mouth hurts.” Brenda watched a twitch of fury pass over her husband’s face.

“Of course, baby. Just leave your plate and I’ll get it.” She pulled her daughter in close and kissed her on the forehead.

“Can I be excused too?” Eustice said, clearing his plate of the last bite. Brenda nodded. “Mhmm.”

“You better remember what you learned at school today when I finish dinner.” Dave said, reaching for a beer that wasn’t there. Eustice nodded, wordlessly. “Ya hear?”

“Yes.” Eustice said, half running from the room.

Above them, the rickety ceiling fan creaked its existence every half second. Brenda turned to take the plates to the sink and stopped in her tracks, a finger of fear scratching its way up her spine as her husband cleared his throat.

“Where’re you going?”

Brenda turned to face her drunken husband, almost robotically. He was slouched over a clean plate and rubbing the scum from his eyes. “I’m gonna do the dishes.” She said.

“Don’t forget this one.” He made no move.

Brenda reached for the plastic plate and into his grasp. Calloused hands wrapped around her wrist and pulled her into his aura of sour beer. The rest of the plates fell to the floor in a clatter.

“Don’t you ever correct me in front of the kids again. Got that?” Dave’s free fist closed into a fist and relaxed again. Brenda’s words caught in her throat and she nodded. “Good. Now clean this shit up.” Dave let her go with a final pull and without thinking smacked the side of her face with a lazy backhand.

Brenda didn’t let him hear her cry. She knelt down on all fours picking up silverware and shuddered at each of his footsteps. Only at the slam of the storm door did she submit to the sobs.   

Where am I going?

We were the only two in the terminal that night. The florescent lights blazed against the newly polished tile floors, and you kept checking your reflection at your feet. You kept slicking your hair to the side and fixing your bow tie.

I guessed we weren’t going the same place that night. My luggage was piled neatly around my feet, and all you had was a bouquet of roses. You kept wrapping your hand around the stems; the plastic wrap’s crinkle never ceased.

The janitor walked by and nodded to you from behind his trolley. You returned with a smile.

At ten minutes to go, you got up and paced a bit before heading to the bathroom. I looked up to the sound of your hard souls clacking against the floor and smirked. Your hair was wet again– wanted to get it just right, eh? Must be a special lady, I thought.

Then the intercom blared the arrival announcement, echoing through the empty platform. We both stood. You breathed into the cup of your hand before looking up pleased. I rounded up my bags and inched them closer to the door.

We stood side by side before the glass separating us and the star-speckled skyline, waiting for the bus to come in. I had headphones in, but I swear I could hear your heartbeat.

Then, a flash. A beam of light slowly divided in two as the bus pulled up to the station and pumped its air brakes. I stole a look at your ghost-like reflection in the glass, and nearly returned a smile not meant for me.

She walked through the door, dropped her bags and took the flowers. Laughter played across your wrinkled faces as wrapped your arms around each other. I gathered my things and pushed past into the prickly cold.

I stole one last look at your embrace as I stowed my luggage in the bottom of the bus.

You two only started to leave when the bus began pulling out. I nodded, slouched in the backseat, more to myself and the idea of you than actually to you. Then I asked myself, Where am I going?

A Necessary Evil.

“This should have been done years ago, Sir.”

General Arthur’s round face bunched behind the fist he looked near to swallow. His emotion or lack thereof hid beneath the bushy gray eyebrows.

“Hmm.” He said. “I wonder if you’d say the same thing if you had to deal with the aftermath. Countless body bags. The corp is going to be on grave detail for years.”

I nodded and pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose. “Sir, with all due respect. this isn’t a matter of life and death. It’s a matter of extinction. Ever since the anti-aging bill of 2089, the exponential increase in population has led to famine, war, poisoned water, not to mention the mass extinctions in the animal kingdom– all worse ways to die than age.”

The general stood, bracing himself with both fists against the table, nearly knocking over his glass of water. “You think I don’t know that?” He said saddened. “I read the intelligence reports every day. Whole regions destabilized, war lords everywhere. A mess.”

I walked around the table and found the file in my bag. TOP SECRET was stamped across the front in bold red letters. It and it’s sister file were the only two in existence, and of the utmost secrecy. They needed to be; news of a government-sponsored plague wouldn’t fare well with the public, although there were contingencies for such an event.

“Sir,” I said pulling out the mission overview. “You’ll want to read this over. It needs your signature before it goes to Director Paulson.”

He took the paper and recoiled as his eyes darted across the page. “This is…” He sighed and sat back down. “This is downright evil, Bryant.” He paused and closed his eyes. It looked as if he’d mouthed a few words– a prayer perhaps. “I almost feel this should be signed off by the President. To decimate a population like this… it just.” He reached for a pen in his jacket. “But,” He trailed off, signed at the bottom, and reached for his water pulling long from the glass.

I took the sheet and shuffled it back into the folder. “I almost agree with you General. The President should sign off on this. Death on this scale necessitates it, but we both know he won’t do it. Can’t do it.”

General Arthur grumbled. “And a weak-minded idiot. But that’s besides the point.”

I exhaled audibly. “What makes you say that, sir?”

“Never you mind, Bryant. Allow me a bit of frankness in these most trying times.” The general leaned back and disappeared the pen into his jacket. “You’ll bring this to Director Paulson and phase one will start immediately. But, I’m curious. How does it even work?”

I laid the folder back on the desk and allowed myself a smirk; one ping of pride after three years of work. “It’s quite ingenious really.” I looked up to the general; he did not share my excitement. “The virus works in two phases. After it’s introduced to a population through potable water it has a powerfully hallucinogenic effect on subjects. One assistant who’d volunteered to be tested on described it as ‘Ayahuasca on steroids.’”

The general nodded, and followed along the best a career military man could. He cleared his throat and downed the rest of his water.

“During this intense experience, one sees and hears things that aren’t really there. The subject believes that they are real though, triggering a physical response.”

The general nodded once again, this time blinking his eyes. He coughed and his pupils widened. His steely features melted into those of childlike wonder. Everything around suddenly became brand new.

“The second stage of the virus,” I continued, watching the general in wonder. “Is fatal. If the brain activity advances across a certain threshold the subject’s synapses burn out and actually fry.” I stopped to watch the general, who was now looking at his fingers as terror filled his eyes. “I’ve watched it on scans before. It was…” The general reared and let loose a full-throated scream. “Beautiful.”

I stood and watched the lights leave General Arthur’s eyes as the last remnants of fear rippled across his face. I had my signature. It was time to start phase one.

Hypodermic Panic

As she searched, her movements were frantic. It was well past six. Medication time.

Kylo lay on the floor of the kitchen, his paws shaking. He raised white-rimmed eyes at her coming and tried to stand, his long nails refusing to catch on the linoleum. He whimpered and flopped stomach-first to the floor.

“Oh, Kylo. Hold on, momma’s here,” She said running past the old hound nearly losing her own traction. She threw up a hand to brace herself against the fridge.

“Where is it? Where?” She said, ripping open the fridge. Her shaking hands jerked tupperware containers as she looked over to Kylo. He had rolled onto a side and started to breath sharply, his jowls vibrating rhythmically. “Hold on, puppy. Almost got it.”

She too, started to breath sharply– fighting the urge to ball up her hand and bring down the upper shelf of her fridge. She stopped and caught her hands and brought them to her face. “Fffuck.” She screamed.

Kylo’s collar jingled as he tried to jerk up, acutely aware of her anxiety. Instead, his head rolled back and Kylo seized. Paws shot out and stiffened against the floor and the dog’s jowls made a flapping sound as the old hounds head shook.

She saw and threw the fridge door closed. Ceramic plates jumped at the impact and glass started to roll behind her. She heard and snapped up to grab the insulin before it fell from the counter.

“Needles. Needles. Needles.” She chanted to herself as she bobbed looking. At last she’d found the box of clean needles and took a deep breath to steady her jumping hand. Kylo started to breath audibly again.

She drew the insulin into the needle and grabbed a fold of the old hound’s scruff and stabbed. The tension in the seizing dog melted away and after a moment of petting and praying the dog lifted his head and whimpered, letting his head fall into her lap again. She did the same and fell back against the kitchen counter.

Not Anymore

I found myself at a loss for words. Pictures of a twelve year old girl lay fanned out on my desk. Her blue eyes smiling at me.

 

“Please,” her mother said between sobs. “You’ve got to help us get our Emma back.”

 

I coughed. The coffee hadn’t completely conquered my hangover yet, and my eyes felt itchy. I should’ve been sympathetic to her cries, maybe lent her a box of tissues. But each sob pounded against my skull like a hammer. I slammed my hand on the desk, jerking the smiling Emma’s askew.

 

“Okay.” I said, rubbing my sinus.

 

She, was it Tammy, or Trisha– yeah that sounded right, stopped and unburied her face from the crook of her stark husband’s shoulder.

 

“You’ll do it.” Relief flooded her face. First her brow, then the eyes, finally to the mouth. “Oh god. Thank you. Thank you so much. You have no idea–”

 

I threw up my hand to stop her. “I didn’t say that I’d do it. I just wanted you to stop making so much goddamn noise.”

 

Trisha’s face balled into hurt. “What?” She threw herself into my desk, reaching across to the pictures of her little girl. “Please. Just look.” She held one up. “She’s only twelve. She needs help” Her husband had a hold on her now and pried her back and into his embrace again. His expression had soured into pure loathing.

 

I saw him mouth the word bastard and slammed my fist again. “What did you just call me?” I said.

 

He paused a moment, looked at his wife melting into a puddle, then to the pictures of his daughter. He looked up. “I said: You’re a bastard. A cold-hearted bastard.”

 

I stood up and swept the girls pictures from my desk. “I know.” I said. Standing so quickly was a punch to the gut. I wanted to puke. “I am a bastard. I know you’ve probably heard the stories about me.” I jerked a thumb to the newspaper clippings behind me. “But, I’m not a hero. Not anymore at least.” I fell back down in the chair with a thud and belched. “Now get the fuck out of my office.”

 

Trisha looked up. Venom oozed from her eyes. “I wish you’d never existed, you worthless drunk.”

 

I laughed and watched the leave. He slammed the door hard enough to break the glass. I watched as it spider webbed, and reached into my desk for a beer. “That’s makes you and me both, sister.”

 

Prompt: I’m not a hero. Not Anymore.

I was like you, once…. Or, how Evan, Jim, and Jack fucked my life up.

The two 20-something lovers watched ducks screw as they held one another on the park bench. They’d run out of bread hours ago, and were content to drink the warmth of the setting sun.

It’d been a perfect day so far; the kind that goes down in one’s memory to draw upon during turbulent times. Better yet, days like these are usually capped off with proposals– as this one almost was.

It started with a late breakfast, brunch really just sans-mimosas. Ed had gotten the number four: two eggs, cinnamon raisin toast, and three strips of bacon and Em, a bowl of oatmeal topped with cinnamon and fresh strawberries. The owner of the diner, Jenny, threw in an extra side of hashbrowns– the two had been so cute together that she wanted to do a lil’ something extra for them. They appreciated it, and showed it too– with a big tip left under Ed’s plate.

Full, the two walked through the park past the pond where they would later sit. Ed surprised Em with twin manni-petti’s. Ed had never had one before, but quickly came to like it. Em was in heaven. Pampered, hand in intertwined hand with her love. Later, at the bodega two doors down from the salon Em had the idea to relax a bit at the park. So the two bought some apples and a loaf of day-old bread and set back out to the pond.

Hours, two apples, and a loaf of bread later, they were still as stone feeling each other’s warmth, giggling about kinky things to do to one another later. Ed shifted in his seat a bit to adjust his pants when Tommy walked by.

Tommy, twice the age of both Ed and Em, saw the two lovers and briefly felt a spark of hope in his hollowed chest. Another sip of Evan Williams extinguished it quick enough. Evan said it was time to imbue some wisdom upon the youth– in Tommy’s eyes a charitable service. He stumbled over two left feet on his way to the couple’s bench.

“You two look so in love,” Tommy said, his face redder than the sunset sky. He wiped his mouth and burped silently. “It warms an ol’ man’s heart.”

Em looked to Ed, smiling. Ed squeezed her hand and looked at Tommy. “Thanks.” E said,  hoping that this strange drunk would move on.

“You remind me of me,” Tommy said, stepping closer. His shadow cut into the couple’s setting sun. A stench of piss and liquor wafted by. “I used to be in love once.” Tommy burped. “I was like you, once. Me and Jenny, but I fucked it up. Fucked it up bad.”

Tommy took another step closer. Ed tensed up and turned to whisper in Em’s ear. She nodded and the two stood up.

“Wait,” Tommy said, embarrassed. He felt the beginnings of tears push on the back of his eyes. “Don’t you two want to know what happened?”

Ed and Em hustled down the path, doing their best to ignore the drunk. Ed threw an arm around Em, half in lust, half in protection.

Tommy cursed them under his breath and sat down in Ed’s spot. Still warm he thought. He reached into his jacket for his flask and pulled long and hard on the bottle, his face contorting in hot relief when he was done. “I happened.” He sighed again and laid his head down where Em had sat and smiled. Still warm, he giggled.

The first stars started to twinkle as Tommy finished the last pull on the flask. Soon he was asleep, and across the city, Ed decided to make dinner reservations to propose to Em.

 

Prompt: “I was like you, once”

Bryan the Barista

Glass shattered and Bryan looked up from his latte art, outwardly unmoved. His tight man-bun allowed for no emotion. If possible, his eyebrows would have raised as the vascular six-foot mass of meat and mucus stepped over thousand glittering shards of what used to be the door on his way to the counter.

Bryan waited until it was at the register to look back down to finish the detailing on his foam cat. It saw and started to shuffle around the register, shifting it’s weight around three tree-trunk legs.

Bryan exhaled audibly and glanced at his ticket. “Marie?” He reached the mug over the counter to a sickly-looking woman.

“Th-the- thanks.” She said, taking the mug with shaking hands, ruining Bryan’s foam art.

Fucking customers, Bryan’s eyes rolled internally. He wiped down the espresso machine’s wand and the counter before turning to it. “Hi, how can I h–”

“Ack! You call this service?” It said in a strangely germanic accent, slamming a single purple mass that could have been a fist on the counter. “I am Ziltoid, Duke of the 18th sector. I demand your finest cup of coffee.”

Bryan pushed his glasses off the tip of his nose. “Okay, large, medium, or small?”

“Large. Of course.”

“Light roast, dark roast, French?”

“I’m not French. I’m from Ragornik II.”

Bryan sighed and punched the Light roast button. “Okay, hot or iced?”

“Actually I’d like it iced. I’ve heard that you can really taste the subtitles in cold coffee.” Ziltoid said shifting it’s weight to the left.

“Okay,” Bryan said looking up from his screen into the abyss of Ziltoid’s jet black eyes. “And, is that going to be it for you today?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“That’ll be $2.30 then”

Ziltoid’s features twisted in confusion, then comprehension. It started to gag into its hand. After three regurgitations, he spit what looked to be six fish eyes into its hand. He stared at the glistening pile a moment and slammed five down on the counter and bit the last in half, before tossing it in the pile.

Bryan watched indifferently, clicked $3 on his screen, and slammed the cash drawer shut. “You can grab your drink over here,” Bryan said, waving on Duke of the 18th sector.

The purple mass lumbered past the register, past terrified customers, to drink pick up. Bryan felt his bun bobble as he shook his head and cursed the blob, like he did all customers. One cup of ice and a quick pour later, Bryan glanced at the ticket and held up the coffee. “Er, Zoidberg?”

The blob shook. “It’s Ziltoid,” It said, sending spittle onto Bryan’s counter.

“Sorry sir, have a nice day.” Bryan said flatly.

He watched behind nonprescription glasses as the beastly Ziltoid left, cursing everything about him, as he wiped away fish eyes from the counter.

 

Prompt: An egocentric alien named Ziltoid comes to Earth demanding our universe’s best cup of coffee.

Frank Rooney (Again)

Frank Rooney had been the manager of the Shop & Save for thirty eight years and wasn’t retiring anytime soon. His reason: money. Just like everyone else. Too many people wanted it from Frank and he couldn’t seem to hold on to his.

 

Let’s see, there was the mortgage every month, electricity, heating, water, gas, his premiums, prescriptions  (he only took half the amounts he was supposed to in order to make them last longer), the vet bills for their ol’ dog Charlie, parent loans, car insurance– well you get the point.

 

Frank arrived on his doorstep to a mailbox full of bills. Their red “overdue” stamps glaring in his direction. He decided to shove them to the back of his consciousness as he hummed the Katy Perry song he’d heard a dozen times that day. Inside he untied his smock, hung it and his hat on the hooks to the right of the door. Comfortable, out of work mode, as he liked to think, he reached a hand out the front door and clawed the bills into the house.

 

Frank turned and closed the door with a swinging foot. “Clare? I’m home,” Frank called, shuffling the bills, sorting them based on urgency. “Clare?”

 

“I’m in here Frank.” Claire’s voice carried from the kitchen on whiffs of sweet simmering red sauce and italian sausage. “Dinner’s almost ready.”

 

“Mhmm. Smells good.” He said, distantly, frowning at the stack of envelopes still in hand.

 

“Why don’t you come in here and sit down?” Clare called. “You need to take your pills before dinner anyway.”

 

Frank looked up, through the living room and embraced the heat from the kitchen. Steam mingled from the pasta pot and the sauce. Frank was back in his mother’s kitchen, his troubles melting away.

 

“How was your day?” Carol asked, searching through cabinets as Frank turned the corner.

 

Frank tossed the stack of bills on the table and his face eased a bit. “Oh. Fine. How about your day? What did you do?”

 

Carol pulled a strainer out of the lazy susan to the right of the sink. “Oh, uh, it was good. I called Toby and we chatted for a bit. Then me and the girls went and got lunch at Eddie’s. Y’know their banana cream pie is just to die for.”

 

Frank smiled. “Yeah, and the crab cakes. I know. You get them every time.”

 

Carol stopped and looked over from the sink. A sad smile was faint on her lips. “And the crab cakes. You’re right. They were out of that today though. I got the muscles instead.”

 

“Oh. How were they?”

 

“Good. Not as good as the crab cakes.”

 

Frank pulled out a chair and watched his wife of 40 years drain the pasta, saving a cup of the starchy water to mix in with the sauce. It was the way his mother had shown Carol the first time Frank took her home to meet his parents. She’d never done it differently after that. Frank didn’t know if it was out of respect, or just because she hadn’t known any other way, but he didn’t ask. He was content, and at this point, it didn’t matter. It was habit now.

 

“Frank?”

 

He looked up from her hands, “Hmm?”

 

“Do you want one piece of garlic bread or two?”

 

“Two, please.”

 

She opened the oven door and the heavy garlic smell spread through the room. His stomach audibly rumbled. Then a crash. Garlic bread tumbled to the floor and Carol stood above the mess cursing, her face twisted in pain as she clawed up the mess onto the hot pan. “Shit. Shit.”

 

Frank looked up. “What happened. You okay?” He watched his wife pound a fist into her chest.

 

“Oh, it’s nothing.” Carol said. “Just bad acid reflux since lunch. I think it might have been the mus–” Carol fell to a knee still clutching at her chest. Her face folded in pain and turned a deep red. Frank threw his chair back and hurried to his wife’s side throwing her arm around his shoulder as he lifted her to a seat. He turned around and fumbled with the corded phone on the wall.

 

On the fringes Carol’s attention she heard “…is your emergency?” She kept pounding a fist into her chest trying to beat the pain away. The lights around flickered as she gaped for air, feeling like a fish with no water. Frank was there. Fear had gripped him. She saw in his eyes a worry that she’d only seen once before. The night Charlie seized for the first time. Now she could only smell garlic.  

 

Carol awoke in a white bed, in a white johnny, facing a white wall of monitors all hooked up to her. Frank was there too, asleep on the chair next to the bed. Carol adjusted in bed and Frank’s eyes fluttered a moment and opened. He sat up, wiping away drool and smiled. His smile quickly gave way to tears. Carol reached for him and he took her hand and pressed it to his cheek.

 

“Hi,” Carol uttered, meekly.

 

Frank inhaled to unclog his nose. “Hi,” he paused. “How are you feeling?”

 

“A little woozy.” Carol said studying the devices on her arm. “What happened Frank? All I remember is not being able to breath,” Tears began to roll down Carol’s cheeks, mirroring Frank. “Then nothing.”

 

“You had a heart attack dear.” Frank said. “Actually the doctor said that you’d had several yesterday. Remember your acid problem? The doctor said that those were heart attacks. You were lucky to–” Frank choked back tears.

 

Carol covered her mouth with her free hand and sobbed. “But I. But. I don’t smoke. I go on walks. Frank, I’m healthy. We’re healthy. We go on walks. I’m only 61. I don’t understand.”

 

Franks head fell. “I don’t know Carol, dear. The doctor asked me if anyone else in your family had had heart attacks or had a history. I told him to talk to you when you woke up.” Frank looked up now, more grim than before. “He mentioned surgery.”

 

Carol put her head back. “Surgery?” she moaned. “Can you call the doctor? Now. Please?”

 

Frank shook his head and pushed his chair back. He stood and pushed past the curtain and returned a few moments later with the young bleary-eyed doctor. Frank took his seat while the doctor began reviewing the clipboard at Carol’s feet.

 

“How are you feeling today Mrs. Rooney? Any chest pains, or pain in your jaw or back?” The doctor said flipping through papers.

 

“No.”

“Any tightness in your chest?”

 

“No.” She looked at Frank now, and tried to smile.

 

“Any dizziness or lightheadedness?”

 

“Er, no.”

 

Frank frowned at Carol. He turned to the doctor “Actually, uh, she said that she felt woozy when she woke up.”

 

The doctor looked up from the clipboard and stared at Carol. “Mrs. Rooney, I need you to tell me exactly what you’re feeling. Now, can you describe this woozy feeling?”

 

“Er, no, just a bit,” Carol paused, tapping her index finger and thumb together. “Out of sorts.”

 

The doctor removed his stethoscope and walked around the side of the bed opposite Frank. “I see,” he said. He put the cold metal up to Carol’s johnny and looked away. A few seconds later he turned back around and stood up from the bed, pursing his lips. He sighed, and Frank cringed. “Well Mrs. Rooney, I’d like to run some more tests soon as we get a chance. I’d also like to get a better grip on your family history, so I’ll have one of the nurses come and talk to you about that soon. But, for now, just take it easy, and if you feel anything out of the ordinary you can reach us with this button,” the doctor pointed at a red call button next to the heart monitor.

 

Carol nodded, too upset to think of any questions she wanted to ask. The doctor flashed a melancholic look to the older couple, and whisked himself away to another patient.

 

Silence descended on the room. Frank held Carol’s hand as she steadied her breathing.

“Frank,” she finally said.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“I’m scared.”

 

“Me too.”

 

The couple fell asleep like that, waking a few hours later to slants of sunlight pouring into the room. Somewhere far away a stampede of shoes thundered through the hall. The two discussed Frank calling out of work, and decided that he should go. If there was to be a surgery and more tests, that meant money. Frank, nearly asleep, blinked away his fatigue and left Carol alone in her white johnny in her white bed.

 

Frank stopped home to grab his work clothes. The house smelled of garlic when he entered sending small waves of panic up Franks tired spine. He hurried to the kitchen to put everything in the fridge, sauce, pasta, garlic bread. It didn’t matter that it would never be eaten, he just needed their house to regain some normalcy.

 

The stack of unopened bills still lay on the table. Frank shuttered when he saw them. A popping feeling shot through his neck. Too much to deal with, he thought, averting his eyes. He tried to distract himself with the answering machine’s one new message.

 

“Hello there, this is craig from credit services,” the message began.

 

Frank’s arm spasmed as he reached for the stop button. He missed. A swing this time, The plastic casing of the receiver exploded into pieces, some falling on the floor. One particularly sharp piece jutted out of the meat below the thumb.
“Shit,” he cursed. With his other hand he gripped the piece– the size of nail clippers, and pulled. Blood ran on the carpet. It never ends, he thought, it will never end. Frank felt like screaming. He felt like smashing something. Anything. Fuck it all, he thought. A quick glance at the clock, drained Frank of the newfound passion. He hurried to the door, tied his apron, put on his shoes and hat, and locked the door behind him. He could afford to be late, not now, not ever. There was too much to do. Always too much.

 

Prompt: Frank Rooney had been the manager of the Shop & Save for thirty eight years and wasn’t retiring anytime soon.

Pretty Girl at the Bar.

We sat at the booth eyeing girls walking in– checking out their asses. I’m not that particular, just make it big enough to sink my teeth into and I’m all set. There was this one girl, latina maybe or white, came in and hoo boy, I felt my heart skip a beat. Fuck an hourglass, this girl was a pear on two legs. Up top was this gorgeous head of dark wavy hair and those nose rings that I love so much.

Hey man, why don’t you go talk to her, my boy says. I eye him. I don’t think so, I say, half laughing, my heart creeping up my throat.  

My face grew hot. My tongue ties itself into a double, no, triple knot. C’mon, he teased, it’s just a girl– they’re people too y’know. He cocked his head to the left and played with his eyebrows. Deflect. God dammit deflect, my inner voice screeched. You sure about that, I ask. I thought they were just pussies with feelings. He chuckles. A wave of relief passes through my shoulders.

He sips his two dollar beer and I gulp mine. The nerve train has left the station as I feel myself sinking in my seat, getting smaller– feeling out of control.

Bro, he says, still eyeing that hottie across the bar. Just go say hi. I shake my head smiling, filling with dread. C’mon, he says, I’ll go with you and talk to her friend. You just have to say hi, he councils, then the conversation will just, he shrugs, happen.

But I know that’s a lie. Conversation just doesn’t ‘happen.’ Not with me at least. The first twenty seconds after an introduction my brain says whoa hold on there buddy, why is this person interested in talking to you. What do they want. Are there any secret motives. All the while I’m trying to think about what to say and how to do it in a timely fashion that I usually follow up with something in a shaky voice, trying desperately not to choke on small talk. And now I’m hoping the bar catches on fire or something so that I can get the fuck out of here.

He stands up and stretches out a bit while walking around to my chair. Let’s go bro, he says, pulling on my arm. I pull back, frustrated. This mother fucker can’t seem to take a hint. Finally after more prodding I stand but I take a hard right to the bathroom. He puts his hands on my shoulders and I turn, pissed. Yo, I say, get off of me. I’m taking a leak. Alright fine, he tells me as I walk away, I’m going over there and talking to her then. Fine, I yell back adding a fuck you under my breath.

I can’t even piss in the bathroom I’m so tense. A couple of drops, but no stream. Another guy walks in and takes the only other urinal right next to mine. Shake a leg. Zip. I walk out without looking up from the floor. Right back to my seat and my nearly empty beer. I look to my left, and the motherfucker is chatting up the girl and her friend and they’re laughing. Admiration and hatred mix together in my stomach and I wonder how he does it. How do you just walk up to strangers and make friends, let alone flirt? If magic existed in this world, that would be it.

I upend the beer and leave, no goodbye, no wave, no nothing. The walk home is brief, but because I’m feeling some extra self-loathing tonight, I chain two cigarettes instead sticking with one. Fuck it, I think, maybe these can give me cancer and I can finally leave.

The apartment is quiet and dark when I get home. My room is still a mess and I have the sudden, very powerful urge to clean. Too late for that I tell myself. Tomorrow.

But I can’t sleep because it’s not clean. And, I’m a little light headed from the smokes and the beers and growing extra-potent no-good feeling of self-loathing. After a few minutes of staring at streetlights outside my windows I consider that maybe, just maybe, the room being messy isn’t the reason I can’t fall asleep. Numbers start sprouting in my head: student loan debt, rent, my paycheck, and on and on.

Soon its people. To relationships I should mend maybe. Dad? No. Maybe I should text my ex and tell her no hard feelings and I wish her well. No. Please no. I should’ve just went and said hello to that pear at the bar. Maybe she would’ve like me, maybe not. I’ll never know now. How did he do it. Charisma super powers. Fuck man, I think, maybe I’m socially retarded. Is it anxiety? Do I need pills for that? No. I don’t want to be on medications. And on. And on. At some point the stream of conscience thought gives way to sleep. Somewhere. It’s so light I wake up twice in the night to check the time. No, not late for work.

And the cycle continues.

Frank Rooney

Frank Rooney had been the manager of the Shop & Save for thirty-eight years, and he wasn’t retiring anytime soon.

 

For thirty-eight years Frank had unlocked the sliding doors every Monday morning at 7 a.m. For thirty-eight years Frank had seen employees come, had watched them grow, and applauded as they moved on to bigger and better things. For thirty-eight years Frank had called his little red brick store, tucked away between the state liquor outlet and the nail salon, home.

 

Frank turned right into the Shop & Save’s parking lot and let the engine hum for a moment. With his left hand Frank sipped his Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and shook Sara awake with his right.

 

“Hey,” Frank whispered. “Rise and shine.”

 

Sara woke with a start and looked around the cab. Her blonde hair spilled out of her hoodie as she pulled it back, dazed. “I’m up. I’m up.” Sara said, yawning. Her arms shot out in a stretch and nearly knocked Franks coffee.

 

“Easy, killer.” Frank said, killing the engine. The old pickup ticked away in the cold November air as Frank and Sara stepped out. Leaves blew against Frank’s boots as he stretched, smiling to himself, glad that it wasn’t snow. The New England winters were getting harder and harder for Frank, not that he felt the cold. He was sure every year that his pickup wouldn’t make it through another cold spell, but she did… somehow. Still, he thought, this year might be it.  

 

Sara followed Frank to the sliding door, arms crossed over her chest to fend off the nip in the air. “Getting there, Frank. Betcha we’ll see a couple of snowflakes next week.” Sara said, watching the cloud escape her mouth. “Oh, and thanks for the ride.”

 

Frank shrugged and unlocked the Shop & Save’s doors. “Don’t mention it Sara. I’ll have my buddy Brian look at it. From what you were telling me it sounds like a wheel bearing.” They stopped next the light switches. Frank flicked them on all at once and smiled. “He’ll have your car right as rain, and he won’t charge you out the ear for it.”

 

Sara smiled and yawned. “Thanks Frank.” She reached in her bag and pulled out her red work vest. “I’m gonna go get my drawer.”

 

Frank nodded. He was technically supposed to be present to get retrieve drawers, but after four years of tireless work, Sara had earned his trust. She was an honest kind of person. Not always the most organized, but honest.

 

After sorting out his office, Frank paced around the produce section. There was another hour until the store opened and Frank liked to linger near the front to greet the employees, his employees. The first in was Todd, then Sally, Anthony, Bradley, Stephen, Jessica, and finally his new hire Addison. Each greeted Frank warmly, save Addison. The teen was still shy, but that would change with time, Frank knew.

 

Little through lunchtime required Frank’s attention, so he spent most of his time working on inventory, and showing Addison this in’s and out’s of back end work. Stocking, rotating, the price gun. The two were in the middle of rotating apples when the PA sounded.

 

Frank to Register 3. Frank to Register 3, please.

 

Frank turned on his knee and reached out a hand to Addison. “A hand, wouldya?” The teenager reached and gradually lifted the 62 year old from the floor. “Thanks.” Frank used his work vest to wipe away the dirt on his hands. He waved Addison on. “Follow me, eh? How about a lesson in dealing with people?” He chuckled softly and Addison smirked nervously.

 

Register 3 was the only drawer with no line. The woman standing in front of Sara had her arms crossed and huge blonde hair that would make Dolly Parton jealous. Frank snuck past two carts in the next line over to Sara’s side. “Hello ma’am,” Frank offered, smiling. “How can I help you today?”

 

The woman huffed. “Your cashier here,” she said, waving a manicured hand, “won’t take my coupons. It took me two hours to cut them yesterday and this, this girl won’t accept them.”

 

Sara handed Frank a stack of clippings and he shuffled through them, frowning. “First off Ms. er…”

 

“Wasilla.”

 

“First off Ms. Wasilla, Sara here is my most qualified cashier and I hope you aren’t insinuating that she can’t do her job because of her gender.” He looked up and smirked. Ms. Wasilla’s face turned from indignation to embarrassment.  

 

“I would never.”

 

“–And second of all Ms. Wasilla, these coupons are for Stop & Shop. This is Shop & Save; We mistaken for them all the time. That being said, I don’t think I’ve seen you around this store before, so I’m going to honor these coupons and give you the benefit of the doubt.” Frank stuck out a hand. Ms. Wasilla took it and shook. “I’m Frank Rooney, the manager, and I’d like to see you back.” He smiled and nodded at Sara to continue the transaction.

 

“Addison,” Frank said, turning to the teen at the end of the belt, “can you go ahead and bag Ms. Wasilla’s groceries for her?”

 

“Sure.”

 

After Ms. Wasilla paid and Addison had bagged her groceries, Frank took two bags in each arm and offered to carry them out. She blushed and said that would be just fine. The two walked together to the parking lot, occasionally slowing as Ms. Wasilla wanted to walk next to instead of in front of Frank, leaving him guessing the direction. They eventually stopped behind a large white SUV and she fobbed the trunk open.

 

“Just anywhere is good.” Ms. Wasilla giggled. “And thank you so much Frank. Tell er, what was that cashier’s name again?”

 

“Sara.”

 

“Tell Sara that I appologize for my behavior. Sometimes I just get so carried away. And, this week especially has got me all wound up.”

 

“Ms. Wasilla,”

 

“Oh call me Miriam.”

 

“Miriam,” Frank said. “Say no more. I’ll tell Sara what you said, and you don’t have to worry about it. We all have those weeks sometime.” Frank put the last of the bags snuggly in the trunk and closed it. He stood and wiped his hands on his vest. “I hope you have a lovely rest of the week Ms. Wasilla, and I hope to see you again soon.”

 

“And I you.” She said, smiling.

 

Miriam walked around to her door and climbed into the SUV. Frank turned back to his store to see Sara and Addison grinning in the window. Back inside from the cold, Sara began to rib him.

 

“New lady friend Frank?” Sara asked. Addison chuckled.

 

“No. Nothing like that. Just making friends.” Frank said.

 

“Uh-huh.” Sara said arching an eyebrow, as she walked back to her register.

 

The rest of the day was uneventful. One jar of tomato sauce fell from the shelves; Frank cleaned it himself. Frank looked at his watch after storing the mop. Closing time already? He thought.

 

Frank approached Sara and Todd lingering by the automatic doors. “Sara do you need a ride home?”

 

She re-shouldered her bag. “No. But thank you Frank. Todd’s going to drive me home. He just lives a mile down the road from me in the Evergreen Apartments.”

 

Frank smiled and looked at Todd. “Well that’s very kind of you, Todd. Thank you.” Frank waved as he turned. “You two drive safe. And have a good night.”

 

“You too,” they both called out.

 

When he returned a minute later, both had left. The store was empty, save for himself. He looked at his watch. 7:08. Just in time to get home and watch catch an episode of Law and Order, he thought. Frank headed to the frozen section and grabbed a Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese dinner from the darkened cooler.

The drive home for Frank was quite. He hardly listened to the radio these days– preferring to gather his thoughts, while his body took over the mechanics. Tonight, his thoughts revolved around Ms. Wasilla and that big hairdo. He half hoped he would see her again, but what would he say? The thought gave him the jitters.

 

After running a few scenarios in his head, Frank pulled into his driveway. His two bedroom house stood quiet. Frank keyed in, took his boots off, and headed straight to the microwave with his dinner. A few beeps later, Frank headed back into the living room, where he found his old phone book. He gave the cover a blow and opened the whitepages to “W”.

 

“Wasilla. Wasilla.” He said fingering the page. “Wasik. No. Wasilky. No.” Frank scanned the page over again. Still nothing. He sighed and closed the phonebook softly and tossed it to the coffee table. Frank rose to a ding from the kitchen. He pulled his tray from the microwave and ate at the counter– hardly breathing as he went. Ten bites later, the tray was clean and Frank felt the day creep up on him, weighing his limbs down until he collapsed into his living room chair.

 

A ring from his telephone woke him some time later. He waited for the tone to pick it up– half hoping, maybe irrationally, that it’d be Miriam.

 

“Hey Frank, it’s Sara. Just wondering if you could give me another ride in tomorrow. I called your guy, Brian, but he’s not free ‘till Friday. Just call me in the morning to let me know if you can or not. Have a good night.”

 

At the click, Frank settled again into his armchair. He resigned to get up an extra 20 minutes early again. Sara needed him, so he would be there. Then the thought hit him: another week would make it thirty-nine years even. He chuckled sadly and closed his eyes.

 

 

Prompt: Frank Rooney had been the manager of the Shop & Save for thirty-eight years, and he wasn’t retiring anytime soon.