Thursday 2 February 2023

Trivia Night by Pete Riebling, hot chocolate with marshmallows

 Unbelievably, the newest place to see and be seen was a hot dog stand in the middle of nowhere. It was located on a back road off the highway, where there was a Christmas tree lot in the winter. Somebody had purchased or leased the undeveloped land and was cooking hot dogs and lobster rolls and white bean-based vegetable patties in a trailer. There were a few picnic tables in a shady area. Cash only.

I went alone. It was a Thursday afternoon. The line wasn’t long. There were reports of people waiting between forty-five and ninety minutes on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Which was crazy.

‘Vegetable patty,’ I said to the woman in the trailer when it was my turn to order. ‘Please.’

‘Butter on your bun?’

‘No, thank you.’

‘French fries?’

‘No, thank you.’

‘Lemonade? Soda? Water?’

‘No, thank you.’

‘Five dollars, honey.’

I’d been planning to sit in my Nissan Sentry with the windows down for ventilation and listen to a baseball game on the radio while eating. I bumped into Cora, though. Cora was my brother’s friend. She invited me to sit at a picnic table with her and a colleague from the animal hospital. Cora was a veterinary pharmacist.

The colleague was a receptionist, apparently. She took a picture of her hot dog and posted it to Instagram. She also took a picture of herself and Cora and posted it. I wasn’t included because I was sitting on the other side of the picnic table. She didn’t know me from a hole in the wall, besides which.

Cora knew me. Well. Fairly well, anyway. It had been a long, long time since we used to go to Sunset Grille for Trivia Night and pitchers of beer. We used to go with my brother, with whom Cora remained friendly.

‘I saw Matthew at a fundraiser for the theater,’ Cora said.  

‘Worthy cause,’ I said.

‘It’ll be demolished unless hundreds of thousands of dollars are raised to repair and restore it.’

‘Save the theater.’

‘It’s important to preserve our historical landmarks,’ Cora said.


‘To maintain a connection to the past.’

‘Let’s handcuff ourselves to the doors,’ I said.

Cora understood my sense of humor. The receptionist likely would’ve preferred I hadn’t joined them. I wasn’t excellent company. To be fair, I’d been planning to sit alone. Cora had pleaded with me, though.


The reason became apparent. Cora had in mind a notion to mediate the falling-out between me and my brother. It wasn’t a falling-out. It was a drifting-apart. ‘Matthew told me he worries about you,’ Cora said.

‘Matthew doesn’t know anything,’ I said.

‘He knows you.’

‘His information is twenty-five years out of date. I barely speak with him anymore. He has no basis to worry or not worry about me.’

‘He loves you,’ Cora said.

‘I love my vegetable patty,’ I said. The receptionist at the animal hospital loved her hot dog. Cora loved her hot dog with chili and cheddar cheese. The online reviews had proven to be spot-on. The fare at the hot dog stand was delicious.

I listened to the baseball game on the radio while driving away and retreating to my cottage on the lake. The play-by-play announcer’s role was to describe the action, ideally in such vivid detail the audience felt they were witnessing the pitcher throw and the batter swing and the ball with the red stitches flying in the air and the fielder diving and catching the ball in his mitt and so forth. The analyst’s role was to offer opinions and commentary. Their voices were familiar, iconic within the region. There was a hokeyness to the proceedings. Life itself was a bit sentimental and silly. Our days were filled with minutiae of little gravity.

My route happened to pass by the animal hospital. I imagined Cora administering a pre-surgical sedative to an Alaskan terrier or whatever. The animal hospital was for dogs and cats and birds and more exotic pets with deep-pocketed owners. The receptionist would turn away a wild, uninsured turkey who showed up presenting with symptoms of lymphoproliferative viral disease. Tumors in multiple organs, loss of muscle coordination and profound lethargy.


About the author

Pete Riebling received a BA in English/Creative Writing from Emory University and an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bookends Review, Cosmic Double, Flash Fiction Magazine, NiftyLit, Ocotillo Review, and Quibble. 
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1 comment:

  1. I love this weird little story from start to finish, but I wouldn’t drink a hot chocolate with it.