New Halloween Twitter Serial: #theywontdie

About three years ago I began running serialized fiction on Twitter, telling my stories one tweet at a time. It was moderately popular, and for about a year I ran a new one each month, some with holiday themes, some without.

It’s been a minute since I was last on Twitter for any significant period of time. Life has been kinda hectic lately, but I’ve begun to realize that life is always kinda hectic. You can’t wait for calm to get creative. You have to get creative to spite the chaos.

So beginning today, I’ll be tweeting a new serial: #theywontdie, from my Twitter handle @TweetTheHorror. Graveyards are places for the dead, but that doesn’t mean the dead are there alone…

Keep them company here: #theywontdie.

Here I sit before my kingdom. Here I am the steward of this land and its decay.

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Filed under #theywontdie, Fiction, Horror, Miscellaneous

Flies in the Air

Flying Fly


When Alex first started working at Third & Rose, Mo immediately imagined him being blown out the door by the might of the wind machine Cooper kept leaning against the far wall from the counter. She imagined his white smock billowing like a parachute as the heavy duty fan launched him off his feet and spun him in the air like a stray takeout bag. She could picture him snagged on the top corner of the door, banging against the frame every time a customer came in, until finally a faint cross current plucked him free and sent him swirling down the block.

He was thin, but she soon realized he was one of those skinny people who cheated by being muscular in a wiry sense. His pale face never reddened whenever he hauled the morning’s meat delivery into the cooler, and he would work at the make line for hours, sweating in stale heat the wind machine only seemed to whisper to.

“Aren’t you hot?” Coop would ask him. “You want I should cover for ya a bit?”

Sometimes Alex would take him up on this, saying only “Yeah, I could stand to take a leak.”

“Take a leak, smoke a cigarette,” Coop would wave him away. “Christ kid, just sit down for a second.”

Coop liked him. “He works hard,” he said one day. “Believe me, we know how to appreciate hard work.” At that, Coop would tap the Star of David he kept on a chain. Mo wasn’t Jewish, but she didn’t think it was too kosher to tap the Star with a knife that had just halved a dozen pork butt sandwiches. Still, she kept that concern to herself. Outside, his sweaty hair pushed from his face, Alex smoked a cigarette he’d bummed from Mo, turning his head to check out a dog walker in a floral print skort. When he caught Alex catching him, he pretended to be intensely interested in the gravel by the gutter.


Alex figured out Third & Rose’s expansive menu pretty quick, especially the kosher section. “You could be a regular Jew!” Coop would say, impressed.

Coop knew Alex was also a Jew. Or, more accurately, Coop had been made aware on two separate occasions that Alex was Jewish. “Get outta here! Really?” he’d said both times, right before lunch rushes. Two hours of shouted orders and muttered Yiddish later, however, Coop had completely forgotten.

Alex didn’t mind. He was Jewish in the absolute most technical understanding of the identity. His people were Russian Jews, and it was definitely more Russian than Jew that showed in his makeup. But when you looked at him, it wasn’t even so much “Russian” that you thought as it was “Icelandic,” or really even just “bleached.” He was the kind of fair-haired, fair-skinned person that never tanned or burned. Most of his genome hailed from a region that considered refrigeration to be a weather forecast.

Most of his friends assumed he was lying when he told them he was Jewish. “But we see your dad at Mass all the time!”

“Well yeah, he’s Catholic.”

The idea of a Catholic/Jewish coupling always seemed like such an outlandish idea to gentiles and Protestants, but from his own experience Alex was pretty sure more Jews married Catholics than other other Jews, and vice versa. It was like a safe form of abandonment for both parties. They could escape a small portion of the oppression that comes from a heavily religious household, but still have someone they could feel comfortably guilty around. Judeo-Roman guilt beat Protestant shame any day.


Mo had a tattoo of a coiled snake between her shoulder blades. The snake wasn’t coiled naturally, but made to look like the spikes one would see on the screen of an EKG. A rattle pointed to her left shoulder, a forked tongue pointed to her right. The deli didn’t have a dress code beyond “don’t show up naked,” and Mo favored tank tops while she worked in the yearlong southeastern heat. When her back was to Alex, he would stare at the tattoo. As the muscles in her back flexed the snake would seem to slither from shoulder to shoulder. Or maybe slither wasn’t the right word. Maybe what Alex was actually meant was dancing. The snake was dancing across her tanned skin, wriggling around freckles and coiling against the straps of her bra. It would nip at the tips of her dreadlocks, hanging from the bun she tied each morning, but it could never reach beyond the nape of her neck. It was trapped in a wonderful prison, stuck inside the exposed square of her upper back. When he fantasized about her, the fantasies always began with him thinking about the smooth, tan expanse of her back.

He felt like, even if she and he were ever to get together, this was something he should keep to himself. Would she find it creepy that he fantasized about her back?

As it turned out, she would. She would find the general idea of him fantasizing about her to be sweet and endearing, but going past generalities and into specifics, she would definitely begin to feel some reservations. So it was good that he never told her, just as she never told him that she could see him looking at her, his reflection caught in the sneeze guard, clouded by Windex residue.


Third & Rose handled flies pretty well. Above the door, a monstrous blower would dissuade most of the little bastards from following customers inside, but in Georgia, in the summer, flies were an inevitability.

Cooper was pretty good at killing ’em quick, and without garnering too much attention doing it. He keep an eye out while he slapped sandwiches together, careful with his work but always glancing up to track some whizzing black dot overhead. When it would land he coordinated his movements perfectly, as though he were a teenage ballerina and not a potbellied fifty-five year old with, as he called it, “a bad toe.” His movements in handing out orders and taking cash were so fluid that even if he reached above the bug, it would sit where it lighted, undisturbed. Then when the moment was right he would slip his hand overhead and with a little pat he’d execute the thing, killing it but not squashing it, then brushing it into his hand to deposit into the trash. He was a master at this, a veritable White Death, except with flies instead of invading Soviets, and with an old Jew instead of a disgruntled Finnish farmer.

But around mid-June, Cooper found himself outmatched at every turn by one fly that persistently buzzed overhead in long, lazy oval. He watch the bug with sniper’s eyes, muttering to himself.

“I’ll get the bastard when he finally lights,” he’d swear to Mo and Alex, his gaze circling the ceiling while his hands mechanically prepared a perfect pastrami on rye. You could tell he was mad from the way he sawed through the sandwich, hacking through it in three deliberate strokes. Coop kept the knives so sharp he could cleave even the thickest hoagie in a single swipe. By cut number three he was sawing into the cutting board.

After about a week, the fly was still alive. Mo thought she could hear Coop cursing it under his breath. By week two, she was certain she’d caught him, at least once, accusing the bug of being an anti-Semite.


“Who’s that girl who walks with you after work?” Alex’s mom asked him one lazy Sunday. She was sitting inside on a folding chair, enjoying a faint breeze from the screen door and sipping a beer she’d stolen from his dad’s stash in the garden shed mini-fridge. She did this every time he went to Mass. Alex’s dad was pretty devout, so she’d developed quite a fondness for Miller High Life.

“Woman I work with.” He was careful these days to say woman and not girl. He wasn’t doing this so much out of sensitivity as propriety. He was twenty-four years old. People his age weren’t boys and girls, they were men and women. He forbid himself, however, from ever thinking of himself as anything coming close to what he thought a man should be.

“You like her?” She sucked on her beer, always smiling a little when she did that, her eyes closed as though in quick prayer. A cicada squawked and thumped into the screen beside the mezuzah. Alex’s mom splashed beer on her fingers and flicked them at the insect, sending it screeching into the heavy afternoon heat.

“She’s alright.” Third & Rose’s closed early on Sundays, staying open only to serve the lunch crowds from church. Since getting back home at two he’d locked himself in his bathroom three separate times, in deep consideration of just how alright he found her to be.

“One day when she’s walking with you, you should keep walking. Just walk past here and go get her some coffee or somethin’.”

“I got grad school comin’ up, Ma. I don’t know that I’ll have time for anythin’ serious.”

She smirked and shook her head. “Oh, so serious. Life just won’t give you three seconds to get your dick wet.”

“You’re very matronly, Ma.”

She cocked her head in a quiet, huffing laugh and swigged her beer. Her hair bobbed when she did this. The color and curls made Alex think of chestnuts. He didn’t look like either of his parents, really. His mother was the kind of Jew you’d find on vacation posters for Israel in the sixties. She was quick to beam and loved the sun. His dad was tall, dark, Black Irish. Both were given to browning in the sun. When they were together, it was like his parents had leached anything resembling skin and hair tone from their offspring.

It was the picture hanging above the TV that reassured him he belonged. In it, his grandfather, fresh from the old country, stood beaming with his wife and kids. All wore their Stars of David on glittering chains. All had dark eyes and dark hair, and smiled with deep, dark lips.

Expect his grandpa. In the old black and white, taken in direct light in the middle of the day, his grandfather’s pale skin and light hair seemed to glow. Sometimes, if he stared long enough, Alex felt like his grandfather would begin to fade away.


At home Mo was in constant motion. It often occurred to her that she shouldn’t have to move this much just to live alone with a single cat, but there was always something that needed cleaning or feeding or scooping.

She spoke to her parents while she cleaned that Sunday, her mother and father quickly swapping the phone between themselves so that Mo had to guess when to end one topic of conversation and begin another.

“No, mama, no one serious.” In English she had a pointed, intelligent inflection that made you think there was a secret meaning behind even the most mundane phrase. In Farsi, her mother’s language, her entire manner changed. Her voice softened, and words flowed together like a spoken song, unless, of course, she was talking to her parents. Then there was just a lot of interrupting and occasional swearing.

“Mama, I’m not even looking for a boyfriend now. I told you that internship might even call me back…”

“You have a boyfriend?” her father snapped into the phone in Urdu. Then in Farsi, to her mom, he asked: “Why the hell don’t you people tell me anything?”

“No, papa, I don’t have a boyfriend…”

“You just said you had one. I’m not deaf! I’m old but I’m not deaf! I hear better than your mama’s dog hears!”

“Papa, I didn’t say you were deaf…”

“Don’t bother her so much,” her mother said, taking back the phone, “her boyfriend might be over there.”

“Mom, there is no boyfriend!”

“What’s his name?” her dad asked beside her mother. Again, in Urdu. The language her folks used when they wanted to be sneaky.

“Give me time, I’ll get her to slip up and tell us.”

“I don’t have a boyfriend,” Mo interrupted, in fluent Urdu. Then, because Farsi came easier to her: “Mom, just let it go.”

“Why don’t you bring him over one night?” Her father had grabbed the phone again. “For dinner? Does he like homemade pizza?”

“Your pizza’s terrible!” her mother cried. “You’ll scare him off, you cook so badly!”

Her cat mewled as she walked past, more out of polite acknowledgment than affection. She clamped her phone between her cheek and shoulder and scooped laundry into the hamper. Clothes were strewn across the living room floor. Looking at the mess, you’d think her entire wardrobe consisted of nothing but thongs in varying colors. When the hell did she buy so much underwear? Did she really only own three socks? Where were her goddamn yoga pants?

“Honey, you bring him over when you’re good and ready, okay? Don’t let your father pressure you…”

“Who’s pressuring? I’m her father! Shouldn’t I wanna meet the guy? Honey…”

“Mom, Dad, MOM. MOM? Okay, mom, I gotta do some laundry. I’ll call you guys back, okay?”

“Okay, my love. But don’t you let your dad scare you into bringing him over, you hear me? You just take your time.”

“Mom, there’s no…”

“I remember how your grandfather scared your dad so awfully when they first met. He was going to ask for permission to marry me then, but he held off for three more years because of the hell my father put him through. You know…”

She did laundry and cooked dinner while her parents talked. They spoke of Pakistan, of her mother spending summers there working for her father’s company. She could hear them both laugh, softly, as they remembered how scared Mo’s dad had been when her mother brought him back to Tehran. Their laughter was low and more intimate than a kiss. Mo’s dad had intended to stay a week, but had flown back to Kerachi the very next day after meeting his future father-in-law, convinced he’d lost all hope of ever marrying this amazing woman that God had put in Pakistan, seemingly for him.

Or maybe, he loved to say, he was put in Pakistan for her to find.

She stayed on the phone with them so long the battery eventually died, and when the charge cord brought it back to life she sent an apologetic text with a promise to call back tomorrow. She showered, then sat by her workout mat for a while, petting her cat. Around midnight he always became a whining ball of affection, and as she rubbed his stomach he twisted and coiled. After a half hour he dozed back off, and she left him to sleep. He stayed on the mat till dawn, dreaming in a spot touched a thousand times a day by the part of her back Alex secretly found sacred.


By the first of August, Coop was letting his preoccupation with the fly slow him down. Used to be any longer than a two minute make time was just wasted money. Now, if a sandwich didn’t get out till after five minutes, it wasn’t like it was the worst thing.

“Bastard’s quick. Only sets down when he knows we can’t get him in time.”

Even Coop’s mechanical hands were slowing down, his diverted concentration sapping the attention of his muscle memory. Sometimes he reach up with a magazine and smack it against the wall, but the bug was always just out of reach. It whizzed by, a mocking black dot against old, off-white tile.

“Hey Mo. You wanna maybe get coffee later?” Alex asked, wrapping a beef and Swiss in foil. “Maybe see a movie or something?”

She rang up two orders and doled out change, then slipped on a pair of plastic gloves. “Nah. I got some things I gotta do.”

He boxed the order and slid it out front. “Yeah. I got some stuff I should work on too.” He boxed another order before asking “Rain check?”

She ran a credit card, studied a guy’s license a little too long. “Nah. Is that okay?”

More orders. Grilled sandwiches wrapped in foil, the foil so hot his hands felt mildly scalded even through the gloves. “Yeah, that’s okay.”

The shift passed by even quicker than usual that day. Walking home, their usual bubbly talk flowed easier than it did before. An itch had been scratched, and not only that, but it had considered scratching itself before leaving. Consideration was everything.

Coop stayed behind an hour, hoping to catch the fly unawares. “Goddamn Jew-hatin’ fly,” he said to the anti-Semitic insect.


Mo’s internship went through. She left in September, taking her cat and mat and seven billion thongs to Atlanta. She came back for a weekend in October, and another weekend the next October, and the next October after that. She pretended not to notice how much time was passing, with Alex still behind the counter at Third & Rose’s.

Alex took so long deciding on grad school he actually had to reapply. By the fifth October, Mo didn’t see him behind the counter. She never saw him again, actually.

She saw Cooper plenty of times, though. Coop never left, never would, never wanted to. His grandpa had built that place, he said, and he told people that when he died he wanted to be buried in the basement, nestled in a make line cooler, hugging his beloved thin-slicer.

Coop didn’t have any kids. Never really wanted them. He never really let it bother him that there would be nothing to do but sell when the time for making sandwiches came to an end. The quality of his work never failed, but people eventually noticed that the speed he used to be known for had diminished significantly. No surprise. Cooper wasn’t a young buck even when he was a young buck, and age catches us all. But that wasn’t what killed Coop’s speed. Coop never could catch that damn fly.

It’s still there, now, swirling in the air, making Coop wince with each pass.

The fly, as it turns out, actually died years ago. It was never actually flying. It’d been caught in an eddy, caused by the wind machine Coop kept leaning behind the counter. It spun round and round. Coop still watches this tumbling corpse, waiting for it to land. The fly, however, has already moved on.

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My mother is quietly crying at the breakfast bar. She’s not making any sound, but every few minutes she brings a quick hand up and brushes it across her eyes.

There’s a bright red mark on Dad’s cheekbone, and I suspect it’ll swell and darken as the day drags on.

“Clint,” my dad says. “Hey, we gotta talk.”

My father stands at five foot eight, and speaks so evenly no one outside the house would ever suspect that the words he throws at my mother reach the abusive cannon bursts that they do. He’s a good man, generally speaking. He’s a good dad. He’s good at his job, managing logistics for a delivery company. He’s a good Methodist. He only diminishes when it comes to his marriage.

He runs a thumb along the red spot my mother must have given him. She doesn’t speak with nearly the cruelty he exhibits when they fight, but you can measure the zenith of his abuse by the size of the welt her hand leaves on his face. Sometimes her palm is open, sometimes her knuckles are clenched.

I don’t really listen because this should have ended well before now. They tell me vague plans regarding the immediate future. With my move-out date only a week away, none of this really affects me. My mother’s retaliation tells me she’ll be the one moving out. She can afford it. She makes a little more than Dad anyway. Besides, my dad has fumigated this house with too many insults. Mom wouldn’t be able to breathe with the vapor of his words hanging in the air.


The plan is to keep the decision between the three of us until after Granddad’s estate is managed. My parents sit shiva holding hands and leaning against each other. They are the image of love in grief.

I sit with them. An enlarged photo of my grandparents on their wedding day sits above the couch, over my parents. If the photo had been in color it would still look grim. Neither my grandfather nor grandmother smile. In another picture, beside the portrait, are the bride and groom lifted high during the horah. They smile here but out of minimal obligation. My great-grandfather hoists his new daughter-in-law high and proud. When she was alive, my grandma would speak fondly of Great-Grandpa Anton. Grandpa would scowl at the praise. I never met my great-grandfather, but from what Grandma Beth told me he was very devout. “A very good Jew.”

When I was ten I found a small handful of yellowed photos in the back of my Grandpa’s wallet. In them he smiled in a way I never saw whenever I was around him. In one he sits alone, a common state for the old man I knew. But the dark youth in the picture smiled so widely his mouth was open. He was probably laughing.

In another there was a woman. She was laughing too, sitting alone in a 1920’s bathing suit. She had a plump face, and hair so blond her eyebrows were nearly invisible. Despite the differences, when I think about her now she makes me think of Greta Garbo. She’s alluring despite the heavy black suit’s attempts to subdue her figure. A silver cross shines on her bust, the chain coiled lazily against her neck.

There were three more photos. In one of them my smiling grandfather wipes at his chest with a towel. In another the blond woman stands ankle deep in the water, her back to the camera. She’s bending down, not to entice, but to examine something in the water the camera can’t pick up. The last photo showed nothing but a sepia-toned shot of the beach.

There’s a name on the back of the photo where the woman stands in the water. “Ethel.”


Nick comes to help me move. Dad scowls in the kitchen, drinking small glasses of Glenlivet and forcing himself to be personable whenever Nick or I are around. “Need any help?” he keeps asking, staring at the microwave over the stove.

“Is he okay?” Nick asks me, and I just tell him he needs time alone. “They’re separating,” is all I tell him.

“Oh, my God! Baby, why didn’t you tell me?”

I reach out and squeeze his hand. His skin is soft and the color of stained pinewood. He teaches first grade and then lifeguards in the summer. His blond hair has become bleached with streaks of white from all the sun. Touching it is what I imagine clouds feel like. He wears khaki shorts and a polo shirt, modest but not so loose they don’t show off his body. He doesn’t mean to be, but he’s kind of a total gay man. I love him just as totally. He teaches me Hebrew during quiet moments when we’re alone. I wear the pewter Star of David he got me for my birthday under my shirt.

“It’s no big deal,” I tell him, which is true for everyone but my dad. He met my mom when they were in middle school. Their first dates involved him going to church with her family. He never cared much for shul, so converting in high school seemed normal enough. It was an easy way to integrate himself into her world. Grandpa never attended temple without telling Dad he’d missed a great service. Always unsaid, you missed this, missed that, over some girl. Left the synagogue. Got new friends. Over some girl. Married some girl.

After a while, Dad started saying those things too. To Mom.

“Hey,” Nick says later, while we empty out my chest of drawers. “Is this your great-grandpa?”

He’s holding a little gray photo. In it the image of my grandpa stands in a long wool coat, wearing a flat cap. He’s in the doorway of a shop, Cyrillic lettering plastered on a nearby window.

“Nah. That’s his brother. From the old country.”

“Is this before they moved here?”

“He didn’t come. It was just my great-grandpa.”

“Rest of ’em still in Russia?”

“Not anymore.”

“Where’d they move to?”

“They didn’t. They were killed in a pogrom.”

Nick screws up his eyebrows and looks at me. “Jesus!”

“People forget that shit happened outside the Nazis too.”

Nick stares at the photo a little bit longer. “You wanna keep it?”

“Maybe. Just put it back in the box it was in.”

Eventually Nick’s truck and my car are both full. There’s a small load left, so I’ll have to come back in the morning to finish up. I go into the kitchen and hug Pop.

“Love ya, kid.” He holds onto me a little longer than I expected. The sharp odor of whiskey steams from his empty glass.

“Love you too, Pop.”

“You sure about this?” he asks when he pulls away. “You sure you and Nick are gonna be okay?”

“I guess we’ll see.”

“If…if for whatever reason, things don’t work out…you know you can come back here, right?”

“I know, Dad.”

He hugs me again. “I guess I’ll see you on Labor Day.”

“I’ll be back in the morning. I got one more carload to go.”

“Sounds good. I’m gonna miss ya, you know.”

“You left us all behind!” my grandpa sometimes yelled on the phone, whenever my dad would decline to take us to temple with the old folks. “You left us the way your grandfather left his own!”

Guilt is a knife built of small needles.

“I know, Pop. I’ll miss you too.”

I hug him and kiss his stubbly cheek. When I walk outside I roll my shoulders. The sun warms them through my shirt. Beneath the blue sky, there is no foothold on my being for anything to hold to.

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The new hire turns her ball cap around and rolls the sleeves of her tee shirt up around her shoulders. The cuff of her cargo shorts extend past her knees, and on her right calf I see a tattoo of what looks like a revolver. She crosses her arms in intense concentration as I go through opening and closing duties with her, the tat on her left shoulder bulging. It’s a date, a recent one, written in stylized calligraphy.

“So do you have any questions?” I ask her when I’m done.

“Yeah, uh…is there any way I can maybe open an hour later on evening shifts?”

“Sure, we can work that out.”

“Work that out? It’s not gonna put someone out is it?”


“Well, okay. See the thing is I share custody of my kid with her dad, and she doesn’t leave to stay with him till four. And I kinda want her to spend as much time with me and my wife as possible.” She gets quiet and pulls at the brim of her Red Sox hat. “I’m…gay. I don’t know if you have a problem with that or…”

I stop myself from saying “Well shit, color me shocked,” and wave my hand in dismissal. “That’s absolutely not a concern of mine. We can schedule you an hour later. That’s fine.”

“I’m sorry for complicating things so soon into the job.”

I hide my irritation, or at least I think I do. “You didn’t. You’re just alerting us to your availability.”


The new hire’s name is Alisha, and she does a great job on the makeline during lunch rush. She’s fast and organized, and always prepared. When we’re slammed, I love her. When we’re slow, I want to overhand her through a window.

“Hey man, are you okay?” she asks me one morning. This, I’ve learned, is her favorite thing in the world to say. I’m beginning to suspect she’s someone who needs to lock others into a string of imagined personal problems. The conflict, then, lies in the fact that my life, at least at the moment, is pretty good.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Why?”

“You seem…” I wait to see what imagined characteristic she’ll assign to me today, “kinda wired. Kinda manic-like.”

“No,” I tell her, “I doubt that I do.”

“You don’t think you seem kinda irritated?”

“Nope. I feel the same way I felt yesterday.”

“Alright…” she says it in an “if-you-insist” tone, which fails to plant the seed of doubt she hopes it will because I immediately go back to focusing on the produce order.

Alisha’s wife walks in. I still haven’t learned her name, even though Alisha brings it up about five times per shift. She waves, I wave back. Yesterday Alisha told me that…Mary, that’s her name…that Mary thinks I disapprove of them.

“Well, that’s unfortunate,” was all I said in response.

“Hey, Mark?” Alisha calls.

“Hey, Alisha.”

“Is it true what Beth said?”

Beth works the counter during breakfast. “What did Beth say?”

“That you used to date a man?”

“Yep. Dated one for a year.”

“Holy shit! Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“Why would I?”

“As fuckin’ nervous as I was about being a lesbian around here, and you didn’t think it’d be a little fuckin’ reassuring to know I wasn’t the only queer?”

“Beth’s bi too.”

“She is?”

“Yeah. She’s dating that girl who works at Dunn Brothers down the road.”

Damn. I didn’t know so many people were in the closet around here.”

“We’re not. We just don’t bring it up every opportunity we get.”

Alisha takes a moment to try to process what I mean. I assume she doesn’t quite pick up on the meaning in the end. “Well, just so we’re clear, that was you who just told me Beth’s business, you got that?”

“I know. I was there, remember?” I smile at her, and her butch temper stymies a little.

I place orders, I balance the till. Eventually Alisha finishes storing the lunch items and setting up the line for dinner. She sticks her fingers in her ice water and flicks them playfully in my face. “Bye, Mark! BYE.”

“You’re such a fuckin’ lesbian!” I call out to her.


“Does this place have a health plan?”

I shake my head. “Not yet. The owner’s looking to put one together, but it’s kinda tough since Georgia didn’t expand its Medicare program.”

“So what you’re saying is I’m just stuck with this rotting tooth, right?”

“Do you have a Marketplace plan?”

“Is that Obamacare?”


“Is that what you use?”

“Sure is.”

“So you don’t mind just signing away your freedom like that?”

I pause, because I honestly don’t understand what she just said.


“I mean, don’t you have to have everything reviewed before you can even get your prescription filled or something?”

“No. It’s health insurance, not a green card.”

“Well, how does it work?”

“Just like any other kind of health insurance. Except, you know, now they have to provide actual health care.”

“I tried signing up for that, but they said I missed the deadline.”

“Yeah. It’ll open back up in November though.”

“That’s a hell of a wait.”

“Sure is.”

“So I’m just screwed till then?”

“Not necessarily. They allow for extenuating circumstances. Just call ’em and see what they can do.”

She screws up her face. “I dunno. I just don’t trust anything that guy’s involved with.”

“Who? Obama?”

“He just…he’s always trying to force his views onto the country.”

“Because the fuckin’ Republicans are totally your friends, right?”

“Alright, I’m not racist, but…”

Holy shit she actually said that out loud.

“…I mean, I’ve seen what it’s like when black people are just left completely alone to run things. You wouldn’t believe how much they just want to wreck shit.”


“I saw that shit all the time when I used to manage a Wendy’s. I mean, I don’t wanna sound racist…”

“Well, who would?”

“…but I think they need at least, like, one white person to supervise them, you know? And Obama, he’s just totally bowing to the black voters ‘cuz they’re the ones who put him into office.”

“I voted for him, too. So did all my white friends. Admittedly all my black friends also voted for him, but I don’t think that actually backs up what you’re saying.”

Well…you know what I mean.”

Later, over beer and cigarettes, my friend Clint laughs when I tell him what she said. “She’s an RPG!” he howls.

“A what?”

“Republican, Proud, and Gay.”

I puff on my smoke. “One of those things is not like the other.”

“Tell me she wouldn’t say that in front of customers.”

I shrug. “She hasn’t said it in front of the president, if that counts.”


There’s another Alisha I know, a stunning woman who works with the local Chamber of Commerce. She’s got olive skin and chocolate hair, and she seems to own an impressive collection of tight business skirts. For completely shallow reasons she’s my favorite customer. Every time she walks away her ass puts me at risk for whiplash.

Alisha…the Alisha I actually like, I mean…is two tables away from us, at the bar I met Beth and her girlfriend at. Beth keeps pushing me to go buy her a drink, but while I can boss people around at work with zero hesitation, the idea of showing even the slightest interest in a woman in a casual setting has me frozen in my seat. I sip my beer and call myself a pussy.

“What are you guys doin’ here?” Alisha asks. The other Alisha, I mean. The one I’m less than fond of. Her wife’s with her, glaring at Beth like a territorial bull. Beth doesn’t notice.

“We’re tryin’ to get this pussy to buy that girl over there a drink.” Beth hikes a thumb over her shoulder at Hot Alisha.

Work Alisha looks over, then dips her fingers into Beth’s beer and flicks them in my face. Beth makes a disquieted face at her glass.

“Go get her a beer, faggot!” Work Alisha snaps. “The fuck you afraid of?”

“I’ll ask her when I order another pint. Promise.” I use a napkin to wipe flecks of ale out of my eyes.

“You fuckin’ better!” Work Alisha looks through the crowd. “Well we’re meetin’ someone here, so we’ll see y’all later.” Mary waves as she’s pulled away, and we lose sight of them.

Beth’s girlfriend stubs out a cigarette and lights another up. “She’s kind of a total lesbian, huh?”


Alisha rubs the bruise on her bicep. “Man, Mary really went to town on my shit yesterday.”

From what she’s told me, she and Mary had an argument last night, and as has happened before, they settled it by “play fighting.” I used to roughhouse with my ex-girlfriend too. We never bruised each other, though.

“Sooo, anyway, I got something to tell ya.” She dumps cucumber slices into a metal ramekin and hangs it on a rack in the cooler.


“I took another job.”

“You gonna keep this one?”


She’s acting shame-faced, and I ignore the attempt at melodrama. “When do you start?”

“Is that going to be okay?”

“When do you start?”

“Like two weeks from now?”

“Okay. Are you cool with working the rest of your scheduled hours till then?”

“Yeah. You’re fine with that?”

“Yeah. I just need to make sure we’re covered till I hire somebody.”

“I’m sorry.”

“S’okay.” I pop open the cash drawer and pull out bills for the deposit.

“You sure?”

“I really don’t care, Alisha. I hope you like the new job.”

She slices carrots and looks me up and down. “I feel like you’re mad at me.”

“No you don’t.”

“You…you don’t think I feel the way I feel?”

“Exactly. I hope you like your new job.” I zip up the deposit pouch and take it into the back office. Twenty minutes later our lunch rush hits. She and I power through it, moving ceaselessly for an hour. She keeps stealing glances at me as we run orders to tables, looking for an affectation I don’t have time to entertain. There is only the crowd, the food, the money, and the work. The world turns on its own gears. What we are, and what we want, stops beyond the bounds of our bodies.

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Dead Cat

cat carrier

I let myself into my parents’ house through the front door. Paper towels litter the carpet, sporting brown and yellow stains from hairballs my mother hasn’t gotten around to cleaning away yet. I count about ten before disgust compels me to just ignore it and step over.

Spotty is lying on the couch. She’s so thin I can see her skeleton in clear definition beneath her fur. The brilliant orange and white pattern of her coat contrasts less sharply than I remember it. The orange is dimmed, the white is yellowed. She’s growing more muted with each day.

Her breath rattles in her ribs. I pet her behind the ears and it’s a full minute before she acknowledges me. She strains to look up, with eyes clouded over with discharge. I stroke her softly, and she makes a hacking sound before lying her head back down.

My father’s cat leans beside her. She’s old too but not as old as Spotty. Every few moments she leans over and licks Spots behind the ear. Dad’s sitting on the couch beside her, sniffling.

“Is the carrier ready?” I ask him.

He takes off his glasses and makes a show of wiping at his eyes with his finger before answering. “No, not yet. I’m gonna grab a quick smoke before we head out. I’ll grab it when I’m done. Give ya some time to say goodbye.”

I don’t want to enable either addiction, so I just walk into the kitchen to the pantry. The cat carrier is tucked behind the trash can, and I grab some old newspapers to line it with.

“Oh, I can do that,” Mom says. She scurries over. “I think your daddy wants you to be able to say goodbye to Spots.”

“I know what he wants.” I stuff paper into the carrier. “But we can’t sit around. The vet closes in thirty minutes and it’s a holiday weekend. We have to get this done quick.”

“Yeah.” My mom pauses for a bit, then asks: “I just wish I knew we were doing the right thing.”

“We have to, Mom. Her kidneys are shutting down.”

“I know. I just wish we could know one way or the other if she was going to get better.”

“No, it’s old age, Mom. She’s not sick.”

“What about that medicine he gave us?”

“It didn’t work, remember? That’s how he knew it was old age. He can’t treat her. Her kidneys just don’t work anymore.”

“Didn’t you say something about him suggesting surgery?”

“There’s nothing to repair. They just don’t work anymore. The vet said outright it’s just old age. You can’t treat that.”

“I guess.”

“No, you know. She’s old.”

“Missy was twenty-one before she died.”

“Yeah. Missy was really fuckin’ old too, Mom. Cats get old.”

Oh, I wish you wouldn’t swear!” she whines, and I ignore her as I make my way back to the living room.

“You ready to go, Pop?”

“Don’t you want to hold her a little bit before we go?”

“We don’t have time.” I’m not joining his histrionic ensemble piece. I gently pull Spotty into my lap. When she was younger she would race across the house whenever I sat down and dive bomb me, before curling up to go to sleep. She’s completely limp when I lift her up. Limp, but breathing. I lean over and open the top of the carrier, and set a couch pillow inside. I carefully lift Spots and lie her on the pillow. She doesn’t change position the whole time.

“Ryan, did the vet think about her gingivitis?” Mom asks suddenly, bolting into the living room. Her eyes are wide, like something huge has just occurred to her.

“No. Why?”

“Maybe she’s just not eating because her gums are bothering her. I think that’s why she’s so weak. Ask the vet about her gingivitis when you get there!”

“It’s not gingivitis, it’s her kidneys.”

“No, Ryan. Her gingivitis could affect her kidneys.” She affects the idiot note of condescension, the way people do when they have nothing else to stand on. “Gum disease causes a lot of problems.”

“I’ll run the AC in the car a bit.” My dad fumbles with his cane and his keys.

“Dad, I’ll just take her. My car’s right outside.”

“No, no. I…I want to be there.” He forces his voice to crack. My own prescription of antidepressants is nearing his in dosage size. Will I need to supplement them the way he does, with liberal doses of melodrama?

“You’re just going to let them kill her, aren’t you?” My mother’s eyes flash, the way I remember them flashing when I lived here. The cold gray rage she can only briefly mask. I was always guilty of something. Once she told me I rustled my comic book so I wouldn’t have to hear her yell at me. She had to keep me out of school for a week while the bruises faded. “You little bastard.”

I keep myself from laughing so as to avoid a spittle-flecked tantrum from her. She’s 5’1 and stooped. I could probably lift her with one hand and put her on a shelf if I wanted to. It wasn’t bastard that surprised me. It was little.

“You little brat!” Her lips are peeled back, showing yellowed teeth. Half of them are implants. The strays they’ve collected since my sister and I left home scatter to hide. “You never even took care of her! What gives you the right?”

They’ve gathered about twelve strays since I moved out. None of them are sterilized or inoculated. They scratch constantly at fleas. It would have been eighteen cats if not for me and Aggie. Spotty would have been mauled by the strays each of us adopted if we’d taken her out of the house. Aggie’s wrapping up her Master’s, so I foot the bill for her three’s vaccines each year.

“Please!” my father moans. He covers his face with both hands. “Please, let’s not make this any harder…!”

“He’s always criticizing!” Mom snaps to him. “Have you gotten them their shots?” She uses a bizarre, high-pitched tone to mock me, even though my voice is pretty deep. “Like we don’t know how to take care of our animals. We can’t afford to get all of them shots, Ryan.”

That affected condescension again.

“That’s right. You can’t afford to get them shots.”

“Do you see how he does?” my mother screams to my dad. My father wails behind his hands, to hide the fact that he’s not actually weeping. My parents bicker. I quickly slip outside and take Spotty to my car.


The vet gives Spotty the phenobarbital and throws the needle into the sanitizing bin. “I’m sorry for your kitty,” he says, and I can tell he means it. He leaves right after. The place is packed and they close the doors in five minutes.

Spotty’s breathing slows. I feel her heart stop. The vet’s aid cries a little. I don’t mind. I wrap Spotty in a towel, set her in the carrier, and walk out.

“Oh no,” one of the patrons moans, when she gets a look inside the carrier. She’s pale, wrinkled, her gray hair tied back but still somehow messy and everywhere.

“I’m so sorry.” She reaches out to grab my arm. “Can I get a look at your kitty?”

She grabs my elbow, and I swat at her hand. Not hard. I swing the way I did when I housebroke Spotty, when I’d pat her on the rump with a newspaper if she peed outside the litter box. My fingertips barely touch her knuckles, but I get the desired result. She yanks her hand back, shocked. I go out into the hot, noisy day with my dead cat. I was fourteen when I first took her to this place. I carried her in wrapped in a towel. When I handed her to the aid to get her fixed, she hooked her claws into the collar of my shirt, and mewled when they finally carried her into the kennels.


My mother is silent when I get back, and after a few moments of scowling in the kitchen she scurries down the hall to her bedroom and slams the door. Twice. My father has finally managed to produce actual tears, and he tries to pull me into a hug as I pass. I work my way out of his arms and go out to the back stoop for a smoke.

Mosquitoes buzz just out of reach of my cigarette. Two houses down, I can hear an old woman bellowing about the “Arabs” that live between her and my parents. Her adult son is trying to calm her down. The neighbors she’s complaining about are actually Pakistani, but I doubt she’d appreciate the difference. They live in a house that was only built two years ago, but it looks every bit the same age as my parent’s home. Everything ages fast in this part of town.

The carrier with Spotty’s carcass sits on the bottom step. Tree frogs duel cicadas in the trees. My clothes stick to me. I decide I won’t tell my parents I’ve left when I’m finished. I stub my smoke and grab a shovel from the garden shed. I don’t cry while I bury my cat. I do that later, in the privacy of my apartment. There, the memories of my childhood pet are felt in service to no one but myself. My cats sit in a ring around my ankles while I grieve. Later, when I go to bed, they all hop onto the comforter, and lie across my legs while I sleep.

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Cracks in the Ground


broken ground


The cracks in the grocery store’s parking lot are so severe I can feel the tires dipping every time I drive over them. When I pull into a parking spot the car slides a bit, and for a moment I’m terrified my brakes are out. I lean my head out the window and see the problem: a loose piece of asphalt is stuck beneath the front left tire, and slid across a jagged pothole from my car’s momentum. Greeeeat. I’m gonna need to be careful when I back out.

Walking to the doors I stick close to the parked cars, as the vehicles in motion give no heed to directional arrows, pedestrian crossing signs, or even to each other. Before I’m inside, two cars straddling the center of a driving lane almost meet nose-to-nose. They sit there, blocking other cars, honking at each other as I go inside.

I’m five steps in when I overhear someone ask: “You ever see Bush People?” I’m not one for eavesdropping, so I keep walking.

“You ever see Bush People?” I hear again, and now the voice is closer. Whoever’s talking is talking to me.

I turn and see a guy about my age walking up to me. Blue polo shirt, black work pants, black sneakers. A handheld device for the self-checkout counters dangles from one hand. He adjusts his Kroger cap. At first he looks unshaven, but as he gets closer I notice it’s actually the sheen of acne I’m seeing.

“You ever see Bush People of Alaska?” he asks me. Half his face seems to droop a bit, like Stallone’s. “It’s on Discovery.”

“Nope. Never seen it.”

“You should, man. You look just like this one guy on the show. I mean just like him!” He laughs at this. “It’s an awesome show.”

“I’ll check it out. Hey, do you guys have restrooms?”

“Yeah, man. Back of the store, far left corner.”

“Sweet. Thanks man.”

“Watch that show!”

“I’m on it.” I do a mock salute and retreat down the center aisle.

The toilets are tucked way back. I duck under a sign and into a small walkway that leads to a storeroom, a walk-in cooler, and an office. There’s a little hallway to my left, but it veers right a few feet in, so I can’t see where it goes. Still, the sign outside said Restrooms.

I duck into the hallway, turn, and see the men’s room at the very end, past two shopping carts stuffed with the remains of broken-down water fountains. The dim yellow light bulb gives the cramped space an eeiry, lonesome feel. I squeeze past the carts and an abandoned mop bucket and go in.

While I’m washing my hands I hear a woman’s voice over my shoulder: “This is the LADIES room!”

I spin, and see an irate worker standing directly behind me. A female worker.

“Oh, SHIT. Oh shit, I’m so fucking sorry!” I bolt for the door. I can feel my face burning red. Jesus Christ, how did I pick the wrong door?

When I step outside I look to the next door down and sure enough, it says “MEN.” Fuck fuck fuck fuck shit.

I turn back to the women’s room door, still in horrified shock that I made such an unbelievably stupid mistake, when I pause. The door behind me says “MEN.”

I look to my right: “MEN.”

I look in front of me: “MEN.”

I double check. I triple check. Quadruple, quintuple. I’m still doing it when the woman comes into the hallway.

“That’s the WOMEN’S bathroom!” she scolds me. She’s stern the way people are with dense but naughty children.

“It…it says ‘MEN.'” I point to the door behind her, then to the one beside it. “They both do.”

She turns around, studies her door, studies the other door. She seems to contemplate them for a moment, then turns around and repeats: “This is the WOMEN’S bathroom!”

“Okay. Well, maybe fix the signs then.”

“It’s for WOMEN.”


“I can read the sign,” she says, but I don’t entirely believe her.

I wince as I stroll down the beer aisle. The tiled floor is as cracked and bumpy as the parking lot, and I can feel each ridge sharply through my Converses. The tiles are off-white, and thick, brown cracks spider-web across them in every direction.

I grab a six-pack, a local craft brand that somehow found its way into this shitty corner of town. I consider grabbing another, but I don’t wanna get shitfaced. I drove into town to help my parents move, and we start packing tomorrow morning. I say we but what I mean is I. My parents are moving into a retirement community. They’re not going to have the energy to box up the five decades of baby-boomer kitcsh that packs that place. I got a long weekend ahead of me.

The self-checkout machine beeps for the attendant, and I see the woman from the bathroom whispering to someone, another woman who works the deli counter. They look at me, the woman pointing as she talks, and the deli worker gives me an icy stare. I give them both the finger.

“What kinda beer is that?” asks  the guy who watches Discovery.

“It’s a wheat beer. Wheat beer with strong lemon notes in it. Summertime thing.”

“Lemon in beer?” I can’t tell if he’s appalled or amazed. “How much did it cost?”

“About ten bucks.”

“Ten bucks?!” He laughs, a choked, barking sound. Everyone nearby turns to us. “Ten bucks? Bud Light’s only five! Man, did you get ripped off!”

He keeps laughing as he types in my birthday. “Next time, get Bud Light. It’s so much cheaper.”

I swipe my card to pay. “Oh, it’s cheap shit alright.”

He’s still laughing when I walk off, but the laughter seems forced. He doesn’t seem to be laughing at anything funny; he seems like he’s laughing to make something funny. I leave him to it. Third shift always sucks. I know that personally. Let him get through it how he can.

Before I reach the doors another customer cuts me off. She doesn’t mean to, it seems. We were just both moving towards the same door at the same time. When I stop to let her by, she stops too. Stops, turns her head, and stares at me. Her doughy, pimply face is scrunched up with a look of…confusion, I guess.

“You can go ahead,” I tell her, but still she just stares at me. I gesture to the door and she just stands there. After another moment, she finally shoves her buggy and heads out. I duck out behind her and race for my car.

The two drivers who almost wrecked are parked, out of their cars, and yelling at each. The night would be completely still if not for their cursing.

“Excuse me! Excuse me, sir!” I keep moving. I need to get out of here. “Sir, excuse me, you saw what happened, can you please explain…”

I dive into my car like an Olympic swimmer, start the engine, and drive across the half-empty parking lot. I need to turn left, so I choose the exit with a traffic light. While I wait at a red, I hear a tapping on my window.

An older middle-aged man is knocking on the glass. He has an oily brown goatee and deep red pockmarks on his cheeks. “Can you give me a ride?” he asks me, when I crack the window open an inch.

“Where to?” I ask, even though I’m only stalling till I get the green.

He’s quiet for a second, then says “I need a ride.”

“Okay. Where to?”

“Can…hold on.” He rubs his eyes, the way people do when they’re exhausted. Or, as I suspect with this guy, when they’re too wired to be exhausted “Can…can I get a ride?”

Meth has burned away the second half of his question. A green arrow shines from the light. I drive off, leaving him staring after me, bewildered.

I grew up here, I think.

The drive to my parents’ house is rough. The car bounces on gathered mounds of asphalt, and shudders whenever I drive over a protruding manhole. My parents have already moved into their new apartment, so the house is dark when I get there. Tomorrow I prepare everything for sale or storage, but tonight I break myself down, my constitution an old cinder block, the sweating six-pack the jackhammer.

I get out of the car and head inside. In the distance, from different directions, I hear sirens. Grass peeks out between the concrete steps to the porch. I go inside and lock the door behind me, packing away a great box of shattered ground and empty, bored suspicion.

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Queer Exchange

fuzzy crash screen


We’re scrambling tonight. An idiot coworker changed the register password. I can’t blame him for that. The system forces us to every three months as a security measure. What I can blame him for is the hopelessly idiotic neglect he’s shown by not telling a single fucking person that he changed the password. No one can reach him, and the owner texts saying he’s on the phone with IT.

“I’m on hold now,” is what he actually texted. Then another text, forty minutes after the last one: “Still on hold.”

One poor woman with a cart full of groceries patiently waits for us to tally her amount by hand, and pays with cash. She’s extremely cool about it. Our apologies are answered with a casual “It’s no problem,” and she tells us she’s just grateful we let her in through the back exit, sparing her a walk through the alley to the front door. She ducks back out the same way on her way back to her apartment.

The next guy isn’t so understanding. I hate this guy, and lately it’s gotten harder for me to hide my displeasure whenever he’s in the store. He’s a fucking throwback, one of those gays who insists on endorsing every effete stereotype that society likes to hoist on the rest of us. He’s whiny and rude and self-absorbed. We’re a small produce shop but he complains when we don’t carry prices or merchandise found at Kroger. He’s a twelve year old in a gay fat man’s body, and I can’t stand him.

I think he can read my disdain on my face. I tell him our system is down and ask him if he’s comfortable writing down his card information. He tells me he’s not, which is understandable, and I apologize. What throws me, though, is his attempt to hand me his card immediately afterward.

“So, you want me to write down your info?” I ask him.

“No! No, I’m not comfortable with that.”

“Oh. Well, I’m sorry, sir, our system’s down…”

“Well WHEN IS IT GOING TO BE UP?” He gives me a glare I would almost call evil, but he’s such a priss I can’t help but think of it as bitchy. It’s weird, how prissy he is. The guy’s a head taller than me and outweighs me by a good seventy pounds.

“I don’t know, buddy. It crashed.” I sigh, and tear off some receipt paper. “You can just take your merchandise, and we can take your phone number down and call you to settle the difference at your earliest convenience.”

He notices my irritation, and his mood shifts to apologia. “I’m sorry, I just had an issue lately with my information, and it was a nightmare…”

“I don’t care, sir,” I say, too honestly, of course, but there it is.

“I’m sorry,” he says after a moment, “but do I irritate you?”

“No,” I lie, unconvincingly.

Later, after we close, I stroll down to a bar and get a couple beers. He’s there, of course, because God was the kind of kid who liked kicking puppies.

I sit beside him without realizing it, and it doesn’t dawn on me that he’s there until he notices me and starts talking.

“You seem disapproving of me,” he pushes. “I’m not trying to be catty, but…”

“From one queer to another,” I tell him, hoping to shut this down before I take a few more shots, “you fucking embarrass me. And if somehow you’re not queer, then I still find you embarrassing on a human level.”

“How DARE you call…”

“…myself queer? Fuck you, prissy-pants, you don’t own that goddamn word. You’re a shitty, pampered little asshole, and I don’t want to fucking talk to you.”

“I’m friends with your boss,” he threatens.

“Everyone’s friends with my boss. My boss fucking loves me.”

“And nice play trying to pretend you’re gay. That’s the lamest shield for gay-bashing I’ve seen in a while.”

“I’m not gay, I’m bi,” I correct him. “But I don’t care if you believe that, either. I’d never fuck you, you fuckin’ whale.”

I’m being meaner than is necessary, but fuck him. Fuck him for appropriating me into his definition of himself. Fuck him for using a defining aspect of my humanity as a fucking shield. Fuck him for never carrying cash.

I down two shots of Cutty Sark, one two in a row, and ask for another beer. Something hoppy, something that’ll boil the way my blood is right now. Right now I hate this fucking kid the way I hated the redneck last week, who went on and on about how much he hated queers and Jews, a bizarre double-hitter for a guy like me. In a way I hate this kid more. At least the asshole last week was bold enough to display his evil transparently. This shit hides behind shields. He’s a coward who uses persecution as a blank check to be an asshole. He probably sells it as being “brave.”

I turn to the friend I met there, another bi guy. I kiss him. He’s initially surprised but he gets what I’m doing, and he rolls with it. I hold the kiss a little too long, long enough that the pissy tub of aggravation to my right knows I’m not bluffing.

“I don’t fuckin’ like you,” I tell him when we break. “In point of fact I might fuckin’ hate you. You’re a prissy bitch and you’re every reason I got beaten up every week in high school. You live in the lofts upstairs, and I have to card you when you buy wine. So I know you’re rich, and I know you’re younger than me. I would bet a week’s pay you never got a tooth knocked out in a public school’s locker room because you like kissing boys. I got two fake teeth because my tastes weren’t limited to pussy. So fuck you, and fuck your false outrage.”

I was going to take another shot of Cutty Sark, but I let my temper get a hold of me and I sling it across the asshole’s shirt. The bar has my card in the system and the bartender knows me, so I make peace with the automatic gratuity they’ll charge and I leave, hugging my friend as I go.

“Later man!” he calls, then dives into a conversation with his current girlfriend. Girlfriend, by which I mean he and she fuck now and again.

Outside I come across a young woman I saw earlier in the evening, an attractive kid, a college student. “Oh hey, you work at the store down the block, right?”

“Sure, yeah. Whenever I catch myself behind the register, I mean.” I smile to indicate I was joking, but drunk as I’ve gotten it might just look like a snarl. She smiles a little but she clearly doesn’t get it.

“Hey, um, I actually think you may have rung something up wrong when I got apples there earlier…”

I sigh, and reach into my pocket for a cigarette. There’s a handful of small bills beneath the pack, and I pull them out and throw them on the sidewalk.

“Take the difference out of that,” I say, and walk to the bench on the corner. I light my smoke. My ears are burning and my face feels hot. I sit on the bench and wait for the end of the race between my blood and the booze. The prize goes to whichever burns its way out of my system the fastest.

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