Maybe you’re off the highway, cleaning out the deep fryer at a bowling alley in a college town in Virginia, the alleged state for lovers. You’re a boy in jeans and a Fresh Prince t-shirt, a short apron splattered with an eagle rising from a pool of blood. Townies and good ol’ boys order deep-fried chicken wings, burgers, nachos with canned cheese sauce the color of cantaloupes. They heehaw, drunk on Buds and Jim Beam, high on the split they just picked up in the last frame. You cringe with each dropped “g,” but we’re all dying, anyway. You’ve dropped into the gutter of loneliness, after dipping your toe in and realizing it feels just right. Here, now, things make sense, you’ve got orders and tasks. Your manager wants to crawl up your towering body and perch her fat ass on your shoulder like a crow, squawk in your ear while nibbling on crinkle fries. Sometimes while closing, you get lost in the cleaning and think: this could be it, all there is to life, every day an echo reeking of cooked meat and freezer burn. You’re in college, and they tell you the whole world is in front of you, places you will go, things you will see and do. But at 20, with maxed-out credit cards and a grand in engineering textbooks to buy, you keep hunting for the tracks of that dream. Your hands are burlap and chaps from bleach and scalding water. Your head explodes with formulas for lift and drag when all you want to see is space. Some days you sit on the tacky floor of the storage room, cry for the girlfriend studying literature six states away. You wonder if she’ll stay true, if you will. You finger the keys in your pocket and chew on how long it would take you to drive to her. She’s everything you need right now because she sees you as more than who you are today. She’s your best friend and you think of her alone in her apartment, crying while she spoons the pillow you slept on last summer. You breathe deeply and for a moment you smell White Rain strawberry shampoo. The bottom of this hole you’re in is round and smooth, but you devour it, you endure.
Melanie Maggard is a Seattle-based flash fiction and short story writer. She has published on Medium, and in 50 Word Story, 101words.org, and The Drabble. She has several stories forthcoming in The Dribble Drabble Review. She lives for champagne, popcorn, and peanut butter. You can find her at www.melaniemaggard.com.
Art by Crow Jonah Norlander.