|GATOR SPRINGS GAZETTE|
a literary journal of the fictional persuasion
|ARE WE THERE YET?(page six)|
|Fiction Contest Winner – Third Place
MOIRA by Kathy Fish
Moira Zukowski stands on the back porch of the rambler she shares with her mother and spreads her arms wide to the blazing sky. She’d like to swallow it. The whole, huge, round world. The wind snaps at her Wild West Wings uniform, now oversized, and lifts her to her toes. Moira feels like a kite on a string. Since her boyfriend, Matt, died, she has latched onto the notion of gratitude. She means to make a habit of it.
“That’s pollution,” her mother says. She's sitting on a plastic chair, flicking ash into a Pepsi can. “We do not praise garish sunsets. Fear is the only rational response.”
Moira pats her mother’s head. She likes the feel of the crisp, gray hairs that coil up from the part in the center. “Hey, Mom,” she says.
Moira’s mother was forty when she gave birth to her only child. She always insisted that the father never visited, but once at a yard sale Moira spotted a half bottle of Hai Karate cologne on a table with a sticker on it that said “25 cents.” She sniffed, shuddered twice, and like that, knew that he had.
Moira works the lunch shift at Wild West Wings, taking the carryout orders and running the cash register. At least fifty times a day she asks the question, “Mild, Wild, Suicide or Double Suicide?” It is beginning to wear on her.
“Words have power,” she says to the manager, Ben Snodgrass. “Suicide is not a good word to say to our customers.”
He shrugs. “It sells chicken wings.”
Ben Snodgrass is only two years out of high school, like Moira, but to her he seems much younger. He reminds her of a little boy in his chaps, fringed leather vest and cowboy hat. He was wearing this get up the day Moira showed up, asking for her old job back. Said it was his idea.
“You look…thinner,” he said.
“A person can survive on cranberry juice cocktail and Nilla wafers for three months,” Moira said.
Ben gave Moira’s shoulder a squeeze, said of course she could have her job back, he needed her.
“You need boots,” she told him, pointing to his Nikes.
A girl has started coming around about the time the restaurant closes down between lunch and dinner. She sits in the corner digging ice cubes out of her iced tea with a straw and crunching on them. She appears to have a dozen of the same very tight tee shirts in different colors. Today’s is fuchsia. Ben tells Moira and the two cooks to wrap it up. He’s got plans. Moira sprays the tables with blue stuff and wipes them down with deliberate, circular motions. The girl’s large mouth moves the same way, working over that ice. To Moira, she resembles a horse.
Moira wonders if Matt would have found this kind of girl attractive. She remembers going to Belmont Park one night in January. It was Matt’s birthday and he wanted to swing on the swings. Moira sat on his lap, facing him and they kissed long and slow, Matt’s hands moving underneath her thin, corduroy jacket. A car full of kids drove by and hung out the window and whistled at them. Moira could feel Matt’s lips smile.
Graduation night, Matt went to a party with his buddies. Walking home along an unlit road, he was struck from behind by a pick-up truck. When she returned from the funeral, Moira yanked off her tight, black shoes and threw them into the hydrangeas. Her mother found them later and placed them outside Moira’s bedroom door.
It’s 100 degrees in Moira’s station wagon. The car smells like barbecue sauce and sweat. She’s sitting at a stoplight two blocks from Wild West Wings with her windows down. She can hardly breathe. Ben’s Miata pulls up next to her. He looks over and shows exaggerated surprise at seeing her. He waves and grins. The light changes and Moira shifts into gear and the station wagon stalls. She tries over and over again to start it. Ben is staring at her. The people behind them honk their horns. Ben rolls down his window.
“Need some help?” Ben asks. The girlfriend is turned around, looking at the line of cars behind them.
Moira leans over and yells, “No, no. Go on! I’ll call my mom!”
Moira feels her lips turn down and quiver. She takes a deep breath and leans over again. “I am thankful,” she yells, “I have a car at all.”
Ben stares. The girlfriend whacks him on the arm and he waves an apology to Moira and moves through the intersection just as the light turns red again.
The car is towed to a service station. Her mother says, “There’s no cash. It’ll have to stay there awhile. That boss of yours could give you a ride. It’s right on his way.” The restaurant is three miles from her house. Moira decides to walk.
There are no shade trees along the parkway and the late morning sun flattens her. She has to wear long pants and covered shoes to work. Her mind wanders around to Ben’s smirking, shorts-wearing girlfriend and that grin on Ben’s face at the traffic light yesterday. All of her friends have started college and Moira thinks maybe next year she’ll be ready. An ambulance flashes past and Moira stops and watches it disappear around a curve. The whine of its siren gets smaller and smaller and when she is certain she no longer hears it, Moira moves her legs again.
The girl comes around less and less until Moira notices she has stopped dropping by altogether. Ben is not in such a hurry to close up the restaurant anymore and Moira starts working both the lunch and dinner shifts to pay for the car and save for tuition. Ben hangs up his western gear for regular clothes.
“Good decision!” Moira tells him.
He looks hurt. “You think so?”
One night after closing, they go for a drink at The Barley Corn. Several Deere workers sit at the bar. The place smells like hot metal. Moira and Ben share a table in the corner. Moira sips on a coke and explains her theory on gratitude and Ben shows her his amputated thumb trick.
“Wow. I’ve never seen that before,” she says. “Seriously.”
A new song comes on the jukebox. Moira turns her head and listens. It’s Cheap Trick. She remembers the poster Matt had in his bedroom down in the basement of his house. After his brother moved out, Matt never took it down. She penciled gaps in all the band members’ teeth. It was the only time Matt had ever gotten mad at her. He tried to wrestle the pencil from her and they ended up making love on his waterbed.
“Listen.” Moira wipes her lip with a napkin covered in riddles. “I’m small. I am not voluptuous.”
“I know,” Ben says.
“Let’s walk home,” Moira says. “We’ll come back for the cars tomorrow.” Ben finishes his beer. It’s gotten cooler and they walk the back streets through a scrim of fog. She can see out the corner of her eye that Ben is watching her. Moira reaches her fingertips out in front of her, like a sleepwalker, touching clouds.
© Kathy Fish 2004
Kathy Fish (email@example.com) lives in Colorado. Her very short stories have been widely published both online and in print. Her story, Shoebox, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. While she prefers the very short form, she is currently taking a stab at writing her first novel.
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