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Issue #14 |

Everything Bagel

“Can’t you try remembering, Everything?”

Milly’s head tilts with her question; a bottlecap that won’t lock on its threads. We’re comparing true loves—one I lost back when, one she’s savoring now—and she suspects I’m stonewalling her over the reasons mine was star-crossed from the start. Well, sure. But Milly and I have, against all odds, turned into work friends. Synching breaks, girl talking about handsy managers, or a regular who insists we fill his XL coffees less than halfway (What’s his deal?). Milly calls me Everything only on account of the part I play, when I want it to mean much more.

Can’t you try not remembering? is the better question.

Milly’s supposed to be back on-duty; scooting inventory down slicer chutes, spreading schmears. I get extra time, on account of OSHA accounting to the second how long I must stay out of costume. Milly strokes its fabric, and mesh sesame-seed eyes. She’s not clocking back until I answer. When I look in her face, I see at least three studying mine. Turning what should be a simple question into third degree.

I could choose from a million-item menu of what drew me to Dobbs: his accent’s sharp blister the day we met, easy placing in panhandle Florida, when I asked how long he’d stay here in Oklahoma: “He tales me it’ll be short-term.” How he gently removed his chestnut boots and open-crown hat at my door, all trembles slipping past my threshold. Or repaired in sheer gratitude my garbage disposal, the one time I let him stay in my bed through sunup.

“It was how Dobbs got described,” I finally say, “during my first date with his dad.”

There. Now it’s all sifted.

 

 

I only met Dobbs’ dad first by ten minutes. He rang my bell, responding to a call about a ladybug infestation. Immediately pointing out points of access—poorly-sealed windows, A/C ducts. Said there were likely thousands to exterminate, and they were in fact Asian lady beetles. “Ladybug masqueraders. ‘Cept they smell fierce when killed. Bite. Bleed if they’re bothered, staining your pretty furniture.”

I surveyed the mismatched chairs and ragtag couch I’d hauled from alleys. Calling those dregs pretty cinched he meant me. “It gonna get messy here? I can clear out while you work.”

“Actually. Would you mind having more company?” Giving his cap a sheepish tug, he asked could his boy come in too. Figured he meant a toddler I’d switch on TV shows saturated in primary colors for, slip shortbread cookies to. Except sitting in his van—shiny brown like a carapace, antennae sticking out top—was Dobbs. No…I didn’t mind, but…what was the big deal leaving a teen unattended a couple hours in an idling van? “He’s ten weeks from his license. I leave him there, my van won’t be idling long. Boy’s addicted to escape. Like a jaguar in a zoo, trying to find soft spots in his fence.”

“Gotcha.” I poured popcorn the three of us could snack on, licked salt from my fingertips. “Let’s see if he takes to a change in enclosure.”

 

Six hours daily, I transform into Everything Bagel, our company namesake and mascot. Every millimeter of my costume “crust” is plastered with white foam salt kernels, black foam poppy seeds, planed wood shavings serving as roasted garlic or dried onion, plus all the promotional neon fliers management pins on the suit. Franchise owner asked at my interview wouldn’t I prefer a less onerous, odorous, job at another site? “I once slipped into this suit. To see whether my mascot workers were whiners.” He chuckled. “Bumped their pay the instant I escaped. You cannot know how hard stink sticks to you ‘til you worn this beast. Like living in a gym locker. Anyway, our casino location will need a shift manager next month. If you can hold out, it may be a better fit for…” He trailed off. “What I mean is mascot duty is usually better for kids. First job kind of thing.”

 

To read the rest of this story, please purchase a copy of Issue #14 or subscribe to the magazine

Matthew Pitt is the author of the short-fiction collections These Are Our Demands (Midwest Book Award winner), and Attention Please Now (Autumn House Prize winner). He lives with his family in Ft. Worth, where he is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Undergraduate Studies at TCU. Individual stories have won numerous awards and …

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