Sunday 12 July 2020

Short Order

by  Elaine Barnard


   When the mortuary called me at midnight I took several breaths then got in my old pickup and drove to Portland. I’d known Trace since grade school. He was my best friend, the only guy I could confide in when I felt really down which was much of the time. And the same went for Trace. We ate our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches together at lunch and hung out after high school until Trace had to leave for work at Gina’s Pizza. He swore he’d be a top chef someday.  He was taking cooking classes on-line. But now with this pandemic Gina’s was closed except for takeout so Trace had a lot of free time. “Hey,” I said when I phoned him.  “Get off your ass and enter this marathon. It’s for disadvantaged kids. You could tote up some points before you enter the pearly gates.”
Trace wasn’t enthusiastic. “Get up? What for? I deserve a rest. Been on my feet all night doing takeouts. Besides I’m still in my pajamas. It’s nice. I think I’ll stay this way.”
“So how’s Sandy gonna like that?”
“Not here. Went home to Seattle. Afraid I might give her the virus.”
“Not a chance.”
“Right. I wasn't in front talking up the customers.  I was in back, isolated, doing my fucking job until now.”
“So what are Gina’s plans?”
“Who knows. She’s on a cruise to Hawaii or some place where it’s not raining.”
“So that leaves you in charge? Great.”
“Not so great. Nothing to be in charge of.”
“How come?”
“Well yesterday this gang of protesters smashed in Gina’s front. Looters took just about everything she had. Lucky I was in back or they may have smashed me in too.”
“Did you call the cops?”
“Like I didn’t?”
"I know you did. So?”
“So nothing. They filed a report. Gina’s under insured.”
“Bad news. Did you contact her?”
“I tried. Never picks up. Never answers my texts.”
“So what will you do?”
“Got any ideas?”
And it went like that. Trace, who never had a lucky day in his life was now stuck with this. Last I knew he lived alone in a trailer. His parents were  in jail again and no lawyer to haul them out. It had been that way since he was a kid. Maybe I saw him smile once when I brought him to my mom’s for Christmas. But he caught hell later from his parents for leaving home without permission. They were  in jail so how could he get permission?
So when I got this call from the funeral home I knew I had to go. No one else would or could. I was his best friend, his only friend. They’d kept him refrigerated. His black skin was sort of pale but aren’t the dead supposed to be pale? He was still wearing his short order outfit, white jacket, checked trousers, black hair in a pony tail.  “Hey Trace,” I said, “they got you big time. Life in short order.”
I didn’t know what to do then. It was like…like something had died inside of me. I had this strange empty feeling like maybe I needed to eat only I wasn’t hungry.  The funeral director, an old solemn guy, put his hand on my shoulder, “Someone dumped him at my door.  I found your number in his pocket, only one he had. Do you know how we could contact his parents? I’m sure they’d like to know.”

About the author:

Elaine Barnard's collection of stories, The Emperor of Nuts: Intersections Across Cultures was recently published by new Meridian Arts and noted as a unique book on the Snowflakes in a Blizzard website. In 2019 she won first place in Strands flash fiction competition. Her work has been published in numerous literary journals. She has been nominated for the Pushcart prize and Best Small Fiction. She was a finalist for Best of the Net. She received her MFA from the University of California, Irvine and her BA from the University of Washington, Seattle.


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