ON EMPTY - ANDREW STANCEK
Mister Johnson has me against the kitchen wall, one hand inside my brassiere, the other lifting my skirt. “C’mon, Janet, c’mon,” he grunts. His customers are waiting for the dinners getting cold on the plates. The ones I’m supposed to be carrying out. But he can’t stop himself. Another Thursday in Ellwood City. I finally slither from under him, grab the plates and sashay out. The Sheriff winks when I put down his chili.
The man in the back booth stares a hole through me. Looks like a tomcat done licking his bowl of cream.
“Anythin’ you serve in this here joint ain’t gonna make me puke?”
“Chili’s good,” I say. “Some meatloaf left.”
He looks me up and down. “You the purtiest thing I ever did see.”
“Yeah,” I say, “ever since last night? Meatloaf or chili?”
“’Taint apple pie I’d like for dessert.”
I’ve been listening to that kinda jazz since I turned eleven but at least he wasn’t Bubba or Duane or the other boys on the football team. Besides Mister Johnson I don’t have much else on the horizon. I bring the stranger his dinner, watch the regulars file out, wipe the counter while he eats. He’s a talker, been everywhere, he says. Picked in California, froze his arse shoveling coal in Michigan. By the time his dollar is on the counter, I know I’m not going to let him go. Banks, he says, is where his future is at. He robbed one already, and if I go along, we’ll be bigger than Bonnie and Clyde.
“You had a better offer?” he says and I almost leave my hat behind rushing out the door.
Turns out he’s no Clyde Barrow. And if I was more like Bonnie Parker I’d be dead. Maybe better off.
Fun, we had that, just no luck. Seems like every car we stole ran out of gas, every gun jammed, every store had no more than fifteen dollars in the till. Our ten days were the best damn ten days I’ve ever had. The end was out of gas in a stolen car, in Oklahoma, us running into sun glare in the fresh snow.
I cry before the judge, tell him I was just along for the ride, had nothing to do with the robberies. Mr. Johnson testifies I’m a good worker, must have lost my head. The Sheriff says he’ll keep an eye on me. The judge lets me off, and now Sheriff and Mr. Johnson both make me prove I’m grateful.
Seven months and thirteen days since they took Clarence away. I hope someone with better luck walks through that door soon. Ain’t holding my breath, though.
BIO: Some of Andrew Stancek's recent writing has appeared in THIS Literary Magazine, The Linnet's Wings, Pure Slush, Negative Suck, Istanbul Literary Review, Prime Number Magazine and Left Hand Waving.
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