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Everywhere He Sees Her-Fiction by Oliver Lodge
Vegas Phoenix-Fiction by Steve Prusky
Bad Burger-Fiction by Willie Smith
Death and Forsythia-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Eileen-Fiction by Ray Valent
Eleventh Frame-Fiction by Bruce Harris
Regarding the Destruction...-Fiction by Matthew Lyons
The Next Step-Fiction by Nicholas Manzolillo
What Men Show Whores-Fiction by M. E. Purfield
You Should've Called Me-Fiction by Carol Sojka
At the Zombie Five and Dime-Reprint by Kenneth James Crist
Cassie-Reprint by Frank Zafiro
Nice Life if You Don't Weaken-Reprint by Michelle Reale
Old Aunt Sin-Reprint by Gary Lovisi
Yellow Mama-Reprint by Cindy Rosmus
Bald Baby-Flash Fiction by Paul Beckman
Ruby-Flash Fiction by Liz McAdams
Widow's Might-Flash Fiction by M. C. Neuda
Saturday Night, Sunday Morning-Flash Fiction by Victor Clevenger
Sunday Evening-Flash Fiction by Victor Clevenger
Monday, Around Noontime-Flash Fiction by Victor Clevenger
The Woman on the Train-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
What Have Some of Us Become?-Poem by John D. Robinson
She Knows Something-Poem by John Lunar Richey
Harley Caress-Poem by Joe Balaz
The Unspoken Words-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
A Thunderstorm's Sideshow-Poem by David Spicer
Fruits, Vegetables, and Mindy's Topaz Eyes-Poem by David Spicer
Catherine-Poem by J.J.Campbell
Failures With Past Lovers-Poem by J.J.Campbell
Stomp-Poem by David Mac
Wilt?-Poem by David Mac
Carol of the Bells-Poem by Robert Beveridge
Eden-Poem by Robert Beveridge
Crazy, Crazy-Poem by Marc Carver
Love-Poem by Marc Carver
The Worst Poet in the World-Poem by Marc Carver
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
The Gazing Ball
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

badburger.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2017

BAD BURGER

 

By Willie Smith

 

 

     I crashed open the door. Hustled through the empty locker room. Banged into the head. Flushed a wall of urinals – skush! skush! – one after the other. Then turned and foot-flushed the crappers.

     I spun around. Stormed through the swing door into the smaller, inner locker room.

     Found my locker. Kicked it five times with my street shoes. Spat on it. Twirled the combination.

     Yanked it open. Grabbed jock, shorts, shirt, shoes. Threw them out on the bench. Changed up.

     “French America!” I huffed, tying laces. “God French America!”

     I punched shut the locker. Left the lock on the bench. Belted my way through the head, through the underclassmen locker room, out into the hall.

     Passed Coach’s office. Thought about spitting on his window. Thought better. Not because I loved Coach more, but because my mouth was parched.

     I was late for practice. Indoors today, because – although you’d never know it from the gym – a torrent raged outside.

     I jogged up the ramp to the classroom section of the south wing. Loped the linoleum till I came to the shop. Angled north past home ec. Gathered speed along restrooms, school store, janitorial supply, till I reached the cafeteria.

     Without breaking stride, I shoved open the bar-handled door.

     Bright lights, noise and stale air re-awoke my headache.

     I squinted. The door slammed. I jogged in place.

     Coach – arms folded – stood beside the serving line. On the opposite end, closer to me, ran the pack.

     Benzil, team captain, in front. John, Cliff, Tom – knotted behind. Alex, Phil, Greg, Marc – stretched back two or three tables. S.H. straggled – rounding the row over by the serving line.

     “Let’s go!” Coach yelled. “C’mon Alex, Phil – you can catch Cliff, Tom! Let’s go, John!”

     As he strode by, I joined Benzil.

     “This is our fifth lap,” he growled, hammering a step ahead of me. “Ten to go. C’mon, fall in, keep the pace.”

     My head pulsed. My ears whined. Breath seared my lungs. My eyes shut. Bodies elbowed past.

     I forced my eyes open. Focused on Marc’s butt. Marc had never beaten me. In disgust, I tried to step it up. Coughed. Straightened, hands on hips, pain in side.

     “Let’s go, Woodrow!” Coach hollered, spotting me, falling back fast. “Where you been, son? Gimme five extra laps, Woodrow!”

     My stomach puzzled gas. My pace dwindled further. Paralysis of the breadbasket. I fought collapse.

     S.H. wheezed at my back. If he passed – mere froth on the tsunami of disgrace. No… S.H. stood for Shit Head. He had a real name… No. Johnson would never pass. Cold mercury burbled in my stomach.

     “You doin’ OK, Woody?” Shit Head Johnson gasped at my side.

     “Got a hangover.”

     “You drink?”

     “First time,” I confessed. Unthinkingly. Couldn’t think. Guts syrup, chest styrofoam, legs rubber.

     We reached the end of a row, puffed around the edge of a table that seated eight. But now its chairs were like all the other chairs – upside down on their tables.

     Skimmed my fingers along the veneer, as we stumbled, changing direction, S.H. leading me by a toe.

     Johnson’s being the slowest on the team wasn’t half the problem. The crux of his being team butt was how he acted.

     He was a nerd. When you asked him how his day was going, he said, “Fine, yeah.” If somebody told a joke, Johnson didn’t get it. If it was recently out of style, Johnson wore it. If you turned around too fast, Johnson was in your face with a question.

     He didn’t talk too much, but he had a flair for interruption. He never knew what you were talking about. His favorite topic was how he worried you didn’t understand what he was saying.

     S.H. was the kind of guy, if he was a chicken, he would’ve been pecked to death seventeen years ago.

     “Excuse me,” he gasped. “Hope you don’t mind my asking… Hear tell you and Colleen are not… getting along?”

     “Broke up.”

     I fisted my way even with his frame, as our narrow-heeled shoes thudded fluorescent-lit linoleum, and rain exploded outside.

     “Why you got drunk?”

     “Maybe.” I hawked. Came up empty – save wooden scotch taste.

     “She dump ya?”

     S.H. had zero luck with girls. He and they were like putty versus a magnet. Nil reaction. Even his female teachers awarded C-minuses. Men instructors gave Johnson B-minus. He had no strong suit. He was mediocrely not stupid at everything. Track was his only sport. In three years he had never beaten anybody.

     I thought deliberately of lemon, grapefruit, green blackberry…

     “Know I got no business asking… wondered if what I heard is…”

     Saliva welled under my tongue. I spat on a table, grunted, pulled away from S.H. Fixed my eyes on Marc’s blue shorts. Pumped, pistoning ache into my gut. Eating throb for thrust.

     I was even with Cliff, when Coach yanked me out. I huffed, puffed, coughed, weaved in place. “Yeah, Coach?”

     He had seen me spit on that table. What was wrong with me? I arrived fifteen minutes late for practice. I was looking the most sorry-assed of the bunch. Now I had gone and drooled on school property!

     The pack was coming around again. Benzil was four tables ahead of the tangle of John, Cliff, Tom. Coach pulled him out. Benzil leaned over, touched his toes, breathing hard, but in control.

     “Yeah, Coach?”

     “Woodrow here thinks he’s a rich-boy. Don’t hafta work. Take him upstairs and run his ass ragged.”

     Benzil huffed: “Run the halls, third floor?”

     Coach patted him on the butt, muttered yep, gazing at the far corner of the cafeteria, yelling: “C’mon Cliff – you got Tom beat! C’mon Tom, let’s haul butt!”

     The third floor was usually janitor-free this early in the late afternoon. It had been a stormy spring. This was our fourth practice indoors. We thought we knew the maintenance schedule.

     But today we jogged up the cement stairs, banged open the bar-handled door – to find two hillbillies waxing linoleum with machines like squat garbage cans.

     “Keep to the inside,” Benzil muttered, jogging close to the lockers.

     He set a canter. I ran at his left hip. My stomach had tired of nagging, I was breathing OK, the legs weren’t giving it much thought.

     “You aren’t often late – how come?”

     “Oh… I dunno.”

     “You and that Colleen French still steadies?”

     We passed the janitors intent on their waxing. The machines keened, groaned, thrashed.

     “She dump ya?”

     I saw he was smiling. Tight mouth in a taut face. Benzil was half Indian. His dad had been a Philadelphia Italian in the Air Force, lost over Korea.

     When I failed to answer either question, he huffed, he didn’t see why Coach made us run indoors on account of a little water. Running in the rain would make us run better in the sun. We’d sweat. Rain slake it off. Harden our muscles. Secret of good track.

     Then Coach made us circle the cafeteria, switched on the lights. Didn’t want us to hit tables. Coach had no guts – c’mon, would I race him around the rectangle… maybe two hundred yards of hall?

     We lengthened stride, neither committed to a race. But mutually picking up the pace every fourth or fifth step.

     Last night burst in my mind like a firework.

     Colleen met the new boyfriend in a coffee shop in McLean. He’s nineteen. Going to college somewhere, she won’t say. I drove her home from debate.

     We are parked in her driveway. She is saying it’s over. No need to pick her up again after class.

     I want to puke – nauseated by rejection. I rev the engine. Ask her to get out, ask what for me is next?

     “I dunno,” she shuts the door. “I’m not sorry we met, it’s just…”

     “Yeh.” I drove off.

     Can’t even find this guy, much less slug him. No name, no address. She has fallen in love with the unknown. This is my first dumping.

     I bought a fifth of scotch, faking my age on sheer depression. Parked on the Potomac south of Mount Vernon. Consumed most of fifth in less than half hour. Drove away randomly.

     Crossed a bridge. Wondered why not dive into the river. Made it somehow home.

     Mom holding my face in her chilly hands: where had I been? what had I had?

     Mumbled about a hamburger. Off to bed.

     Math class flashed past. Caught a glimpse of an inequality still on the blackboard. I had been doing well in math. Till meeting Colleen four months back – trading academic interest for a feel, a taste, a tease.

     Benzil said, “Guess you got your finger in. She let you do that?”

     “Nah…” we slipped around a corner where I knew his mechanical drawing class met… “yeah.”

     “Smell bad?”

     I suddenly smelled my own sweat. Acrid, sweet. Like a rotted flower. Was I OK? I kept mum, double-timed to match his pace.

     “You know…” he responded to my doggedness by striding faster… “my dad, before he died, told Larry, my older brother, he should – out on a date – keep his pecker…” he really turned it on… “in his pants.”

     Common knowledge Benzil never got any. He was brown, short, stringy, wide-nosed. I was a medium, unremarkable Anglo – once got good grades.

     I sprinted after his butt.

     I never got any either. Colleen, a year ahead, the first. She seduced me. Her tongue parted my lips, her hand found the zipper; although I remained technically virgin.

     Caught Benzil and we tore together around a corner, nearly bowling over Stobbs – the head janitor.

     “You boys can’t run up here today!” he screamed, but we were full tilt gone around the next corner before we heard a thing.

     Besides, we weren’t listening. We weren’t talking. We were breathing, our hearts beating, arms pumping, torsos slogging, legs flying, feet airborne. We were running.

     Side by side we whizzed past 305 – Spanish class.

     “Let’s go another lap,” he gritted.

     “Make it two.”

     “OK.” He wasted energy, shooting me a half-grin. “Sure you’re up for it?”

     In answer – I moved a pace ahead. He responded immediately. We flew neck and neck around the math class corner. Sideswiped a floor waxer.

     One of the newer janitors yelped. The other one kept pushing the waxer, hovering bristles over linoleum.

     I was leading by a ball hair when we rounded the mechanical drawing corner and smashed into Stobbs. Couldn’t be helped. We clobbered him. Knocked him on his can, trampled his shins and shoulders. Inadvertently dislodged his dentures.

     We stopped. We had to.

     Blood flooded our stalled limbs. We panted like women giving birth. We turned around, hands on hips, gasping, pained.

     “You fuckers tried to kill me!” he was screaming.

     I fell to my knees. Gagged. Vomited bile, snot, trachea grease. I had nothing else to give. Hadn’t eaten since the scotch.

     Guess I passed out. Never quite collapsed. Events blur. Stobbs screaming. Benzil huffing he thought it was OK, we could run up here…

     Things get fresher in the gang shower. Warm water hydroplaning tiles. Steam, soaked chaos, jets of hot – as if hell had gone to heaven.

     I was OK. My head didn’t throb. I was no more nauseated than usual. Remembered, a little, refusing to let Benzil help me down the stairs. I felt tired, hungry, but safe.

     Cliff materialized out of the steam. “Coach wants ya,” he said. “In his office. Soon as you dress.”

 

     Once again in street clothes, I stood before Coach’s desk. He held a large chaw of Beechnut in his left cheek. His sweats drooped over his blubber. He wore his navy fatigue cap. He leaned back in his swivel chair. Crossed his short, thick legs. Placed his dirty Converse in the middle of the cluttered desk. Pulled up his sweatshirt, scratched hairy flab. Said, “Woodrow, I owe you an apology.”

     When I showed incomprehension, Coach cleared his throat, tongued his chaw, spat into the waste can next to his swivel chair. He explained he didn’t know I had been sick all day, absent from school with an illness. Didn’t realize I had stayed home, rested up, all so I could make practice that afternoon. Sorry he chewed me out for being late.

     I nodded. I was exhausted. I felt the birth of another headache.

     “Say, Woody,” he spat carefully into the can. “Word is you barfed up there. That right – you toss your biscuits?”

     I nodded. Sure. Yeah. I had done that.

     Coach chuckled, rolled his chaw to the opposite cheek. “Yeah, that Stobbs is awful pissed off somebody puked his precious fresh wax. Guess he’s gonna take it to Administration.”

     I muttered, noticing tobacco saliva at the corner of his mouth, “Sorry.”

     He grinned, spat without looking, hit the can. “I could give a chicken crap about that scrawny asshole’s wax. Tell him next time I ordered you run up there. This here team’s got priorities – ain’t that right?”

     “Sure.” I wondered if he knew the meaning of the word. If I knew the meaning.

     “So you th’ew up.” He grinned, winking chaw. “I like that. Proves you with the program. I gotta admire fella gives his all. To me, Woodrow, if a man don’t chuck after a race, he didn’t run that race. You hear me, son? It’s not for nothin’ they call it guts. It’s born inside.”

     Now that he mentioned it, my stomach churned.

     A moment passed. I stood in limbo – like a bad dream remembered inside a nightmare. My fingers trembled. Cold sweat bathed my chest. I forgot English. I forgot where. I forgot what. I stood rooted to the floor.

     Coach frowned. Swung down his feet. Hunched forward in the chair. “What was your sickness, Woodrow?”

     My eyes found the battleship gray. “I, uh, ate a bad burger. Out driving around went to Acey last night. Must’ve, I dunno…”

     “Bad hamburger, huh?” His face wrinkled, he appeared to swallow a squirt. “You still chasin’ that split tail?”

     I raised my eyes from the linoleum. Said, no, that was gossip. She and I were through.

     He grinned, stood. “That a fact? Yeah, there’ll be others. Never get split tail outta yer life totally. I’m sorry you had to bump into Stobbs like that. He’s nasty when he gets a burr up his butt. Don’t pay his bullshit no mind. Go home, meat and potatoes, get to bed early. Food poisonin’ ain’t no picnic. Believe me, had it enough myself in the Service.”

     Colleen French’s panties engulfed my mind. I had never seen them. Only felt parting elastic and rayon under skirt. My first, my very first.

     Yes, there was scent that lingered. Drove me to gnaw my finger. God knows I licked ample electric odor off knuckles. Whispering her name, closing eyes, sampling the remnant on my own flesh.

     Now gone. Now nothing.

     He came around from behind the desk. Clapped my butt. Told me go go home forget that split tail. Don’t let Stobbs bother me neither. He wanted me in shape for the County relays coming up at the end of March.

 

     But Stobbs got his way. Three days later, Administration prohibited indoor practice. It had been brought to their attention the interior of the building was not insured against accidents caused by running.

     The rest of that spring, when it hurricaned, practice was called. If we really wanted, we could run a few laps in the weather. Everybody went home.

     Except Benzil. The second time practice got rained out, I joined him on a five mile slosh over the cinders.

     When I jogged out to him on the track, he yelled through the downpour, “Gonna keep up with me this time?”

     “Sure.”

     “Gonna warm up?”

     “I’m warm, I jogged out from the locker room.”

     “OK – twenty laps… let’s go!”

     We clammed up for about two minutes. Down the first straightaway of the second lap, Benzil finally cut the riot of the rain with, “You won’t find Coach’s lard ass out here!”

     I was hurting from fresh blisters. My spikes were new. The rain was shrinking them up weird. I didn’t feel like talking. Going into the bend to begin the fifth lap, I said, “Nice day, think it’ll rain?”

     Toward the end of the thirty-minute five miles of striding, he gasped, “I’m gonna fart!”

     He did. The rain ate whatever stench. As if I could smell or take time to smell – catching a cold, concentrating on keeping up with Benzil.

     Turned out he was dead wrong about running in the rain improving your ability to run in the sun. I just got more colds, uglier blisters and strange muscle spasms.

     But I kept running with him on rainouts. The opportunity for pain attracted me. I still possessed a male hymen, though it hung by a thread. Didn’t seem likely, with Colleen out of my life, I’d lose it soon. But by tugging, scratching and digging in other directions, I hoped magically to rip it free. 


Deeply ashamed of being human, Willie Smith’s work celebrates this horror. He is a regular contributor to Andrei Codrescu's Exquisite Corpse Magazine. His latest story anthology can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Willie-Smith/e/B008381M30/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0.
      Not much else to say, really. Just sitting around waiting for death or retirement, whichever comes first.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2017