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Mark Brooks

[To Mark Brooks’ index]

Life As We Know It

A short story about gall stones, fast food, and the universe

His bile duct had become clogged with gall stones. He had no idea this had happened; he just thought all of a sudden he had digestive trouble. He had never had this kind of trouble before, even when he was hungover. But now, antacids and Maalox accompanied him everywhere. Yesterday he had eaten a full jar of pickled pig feet while watching television. Today he planned to have fried chicken for lunch; never mind that his stomach had begun to hurt after that breakfast of bacon and eggs, he was an adult and could eat whatever and whenever he wanted.

The clock finally rolled around to noon marking the hour that he could leave for the Chicken Shack. As he drove the few blocks necessary his mind raced with anger and fear as he thought over the run-in he had just had with his supervisor. His stomach was starting to ache even more when he pulled into the Chicken Shack drive-thru lane.

“Welcome to the Chicken Shack, can I help you?”

“Yeah, I want a three piece dinner with a side of corn on the cob.”

“That’s a three piece dinner with a corn, anything to drink, sir?”

Before he could answer he belched and had to wait for the burning feeling to subside in his upper chest.

“Sir, anything to drink?” she asked again.

“Uh, yeah, coffee black with lots of sugar.”

“Yes sir, that will be a total of $4.79, pull around please.”

He pulled up in line and waited behind two other cars ahead of him. He carried his billfold in his back pocket on the left side. As he struggled with trying to extricate his money while not removing the seat belt, he jerked in pain as he pulled one of the large muscles in his back. “Damn!” he said as he struggled with the billfold still not getting it out of his pocket. Finally, he pressed the release on his seat belt and freed himself. His frustration grew ever larger as he thought of how his boss had really messed him around, causing him to yank even harder on his billfold and to rip his slacks. A woman in a bright red Suburu behind him honked, adding to his distress. He looked ahead of him and saw that he had held up the line. Feeling a little embarrassed, he decided to use offense as the best defense. He rolled down the window of his ’83 Chevrolet with the broken tail light and yelled behind him, “Just hold on a minute, bitch, I’ll move when I can.” She honked again, made an obscene gesture, and mouthed the word “asshole.” As he turned back to put his car in gear, he felt the sharp pain in his back from his strained muscle.

The young lady at the drive-thru window opened the window reluctantly and said, “That’s $5.23, sir.”

“Wait a minute, you told me it was $4.79.”

“No sir, I didn’t. That was Felicia.”

“Well, OK, Felicia told me it was $4.79.”

“You had two spicy Red Rooster Specials and a plain Chicken Coop Plate with a jalapeno, right?”

“No, I had a three piece dinner with a corn on the cob and black coffee.”

Her expression went as blank as though he had spoken to her in a dead language. She stared at the order board like it was the first time she had seen it.

“Uh, I don’t see that here,” she replied with a surly look and a challenging tone in her voice.

“Well, I don’t want the Red thing or the Coop Plate either one. I’ll take the jalapeno though.”

“Sorry, no changes after you speak to Mikey.”

“Mikey Chicken, where you ordered,” she said as she nodded her head in the direction of the royal blue plastic chicken that housed the microphone and speaker for drive-thru customers.

“Look, I just want my three piece dinner, to hell with Mikey Chicken.”

“I said there ain’t no three piece on here,” she said pointing to the order board. She had a defiant look on her face.

“Let me talk to the manager.”

She shut the window with a bang, and disappeared.

The woman in the red Suburu honked again. He turned to look back at her before he remembered his newly sore back. Pain gripped him in mid-turn. His face turned red with anger, and he felt like breaking something. While he was sitting in his car, breathing his car’s exhaust fumes, and imagining vicious things to do to Mikey Chicken, the drive-thru window flung open.

“Sir, I’m Trent, the manager, you wanted to see me?”

“Hi Trent, I’m Rick, the lady here says my order is missing.”

“No sir, it’s right here, two Red Roosters and a Chicken Coop with a jalapeno.”

“No, I ordered a three piece dinner.”

“Lisa here said no one ordered a three piece.”

“Well, I did, and I want it now!”

“OK, sir, it will be a few minutes. Will you pull over there, please?” he said pointing to an area of the parking lot.

“Yeah, all right.”

He pulled over and turned off his engine. He could see the drive-thru window easily from this vantage point. He kept looking over there to be sure they weren’t forgetting him. After a few minutes, he closed his eyes and tried to relax, but he kept seeing his supervisor and the replay of the dressing down he had gotten.

He heard the sound of a car approaching and heard a car door open. He realized too late that it was the woman in the Suburu. He opened his eyes just in time to see a large Orange Drink whistle through his open window and smack him on the left temple. The impact caused the lid to come off of the drink, and Orange Drink splattered all over him and the interior of his car. Little did he know that the woman in the Suburu had been a pitcher on her high school softball team, and she had just thrown a strike. She sped off before he could get the Orange Drink out of his eyes to get her license plate number.

He was wiping the drink off of his face with an old wadded-up Kleenex he had found in the floorboard when Trent walked up to his car.

“Here you go sir, a three piece dinner. That’s $4.24.”

“They told me $4.79 at first.”

“No, it’s just $4.24.”

He had four ones and a quarter, so he handed Trent the money and drove off without waiting for his penny.

He decided to park on a nearby residential street, and just eat his dinner quietly in the shade of a very large live oak tree. He looked in the sack and saw that there was no coffee, no corn, no sugar, no fork, no spoon, not even any napkins. There was just the three piece dinner box. He felt completely defeated, steamrolled was more like it. He didn’t have any desire to go back to the Chicken Shack, ever; so he just decided to eat what he had. He opened the box and saw three wings and two Styrofoam cups, one for mashed potatoes and one for slaw. The fight was gone from him, even the feeling of rage had left him. He just felt completely demoralized. He wanted to cry, but couldn’t bear for anyone to see him do that. He took the lid off of the mashed potatoes, and began to eat them the way someone would eat an ice cream cone. The wings were especially greasy and would probably just make his stomach worse.

He had worked in this neighborhood for six years, but he couldn’t say he knew it well. Without knowing it he had parked in front of a gang member’s house, and just as he stuck his tongue in the slaw, a car from the rival gang drove by and began firing an AK47 assault rifle that they had acquired during one of their burglaries. The bullets ripped through his car, shattering glass and making a terrible noise as they pierced the car’s exterior. Several bullets entered his head, while many more tore into his chest and stomach area. Cole slaw and chicken wings sprayed throughout the car. He fell over in the seat in a pool of blood, slaw and Orange Drink.

He had been listening to a talk radio station. The day’s topic was astronomy with a guest from the local university’s astronomy department. As he breathed his last breath he heard the host ask the guest, “Do you believe that life as we know it exists anywhere else in the universe?” Rick’s last thought was “God, I sure hope not!”

Only twelve people and a seeing-eye dog attended his funeral. The preacher had uttered some nice words about Rick, even though he had never met him. Rick had never attended church, but his co-workers didn’t know that, and no one else could be found to take care of the arrangements. His ex-wife and daughter had refused to come, citing an appointment with their hairdresser as an excuse. His work associates had pitched in to come up with the money for the funeral. That’s probably why the latch on his casket hadn’t held when the pall bearers that were hired on the street corner had dropped it. As his casket reached the bottom of the burial spot, the seeing-eye dog hiked his leg and peed on the casket.

[To Mark Brooks’ index]

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