slop sink

“I was assigned to my father’s platoon. He worried that people would think I was getting preferential treatment so he put on a serious show. I got volunteered and ‘voluntold’ to do everything. He’d make me clean the shitters and the slop sinks and then at night we’d ride home together. I saw a new side of him. I’d always known him as my father. But now I was seeing him in a leadership position where he was respected by a large group of people. While we were training, he always told us to be ready for war, but we thought: ‘whatever.’ The running joke was that the Cub Scouts would get deployed before the National Guard. But in 04’ we got our deployment notice for Iraq. They told my father that he couldn’t come with us because he’d just turned sixty. It really killed him. He begged the colonel, and then the general, but everyone said ‘no.’ He followed us right to the door of the plane, and he was crying his eyes out, and he kept saluting us as the plane pulled away. He stood there until the ground crew made him leave.”

Short Fiction: Day Three

Bubbles, the microscopic ones that escape the bottle of blue dish detergent every time Larry squirts an absurd amount into the slop sink, the bubbles that seem to operate outside the laws of gravity, floating miraculous distances across the kitchen, settling on Esteban’s shoulder, flour sacks, serving dishes, those bubbles can be very distracting.

I’m chopping lettuce when I see one dance past my nose. How far will she make it? I’m standing at least twenty feet from Larry’s dish station, so the little trooper has already made quite a remarkable journey, but will she have the strength to make it to the soup? For the next thirty seconds nothing else matters but tracking the shimmering speck as she makes her way up up up and away, ever closer to the ultimate victory of landing in the open pot of tomato soup.

I could have been a writer. I fell in love with it at an early age, the way my superhero stories could pull the faintest smirk from the corner of my mother’s mouth, the glowing comments from teachers, the dream of being in every bookstore across the country. But the people I grew up trusting with my life didn’t have the same dream for me when college came around.

“Have fun being poor forever.” -Best Friend
“The starving artist is a cute idea, but you need to wake up, hun.” -Mother
“We are accountants, Kevin, it’s in our blood.” -Father

I turned forty yesterday. I prepare salads for $10/hour in a part of town my family used to avoid.

She drifts higher on an invisible current. Don’t hit the ceiling. Don’t hit the ceiling. Not after you’ve come so far. I wonder if she had a destination in mind when she flew from the bottle.

I was accepted into a prestigious school to study the art of counting money, convinced it was the only way I would ever have any money of my own to count. My parents spent several weeks telling everyone they knew. See what working hard will get you? What a role model I was to my little brother. I dropped out five weeks into my second semester. Math of any kind was most certainly not in my blood.

This fall from grace was capped off with a phone call from my father a few nights before they came to pick me up: “Your mother and Patrick and I are moving to South Carolina. We think it would be best for you to stay in Michigan and get a job. We can’t support you forever.”

She might actually make it. This is the most extraordinary display of elegance I have ever seen. Whizzing around the moving head of Jean-Paul as he slices through her trajectory, the bubble now hovers delicately above the tomato soup. What a determined little creature. The air beneath her gives way and she settles down down down, as if being lowered on a string, popping just inches above the boiling soup.

I snap back to focus and look around the kitchen, expecting everyone to be clapping and cheering and taking the rest of the day off to go home and celebrate, but they are just working, oblivious to the spectacular feat that has taken place. I can’t help but laugh as I return to my lettuce.

“Kevin, can I speak with you a minute?” It’s boss. He doesn’t sound happy. I set down my knife and walk to his office, tucked into the back corner of the kitchen.

“We need to consolidate some positions. Money is tight these days. You understand, right?”

I do.

As I step out of Viva Cafe into the afternoon haze, I imagine myself as the soap bubble, floating up up up and away into the city. It’s time to stop sitting still. I can go anywhere. Maybe I’ll try writing, maybe I’ll go back to school, maybe I’ll even forgive my parents. I feel my body bouncing and weaving through the streets, as if I’m being carried by the wind, not even gravity can slow me down.

Three small kids walk past me on the sidewalk. One of them tells the others about an idea he had. Their eyes are wide with excitement.