It was dead slow. On a normal day, Charlie grilled three-hundred Jalapeno-Hounders in an hour. The count for this whole morning was at one-seventy-nine. On the way to work he waited at empty stop lights for walk signs to change, he the single worshiper of the glowing god of the red halt-hand. He pretended that the zombie apocalypse had finally come and swept the town clean of all teenagers on their way to The Hungry Hound. He pretended that he had eradicated all of said zombies, gone for the pink of the brain with his sharp metal spatula, maybe even a machete. He pretended that waiting at this walk sign even though no one was here was his last form of order and peace. While he cleaned the flat top for the fourth time, a goth with two purple lip rings came in. She licked her lip rings over and over while he rung up her order. One-hundred-eighty. Today is Rob’s last day. He was probably off to his mom’s basement, but it didn’t matter. He celebrated by walking past the sauce dispensers — huge and almost comical, like caulking guns — and squirting a shot of every flavor onto the counter. The result was a big stinking mass of mayo, relish, and BBQ, which Charlie had to clean, but it still felt good. He was riding Rob’s chipotle-mayo and ketchup high. He liked the idea of giving a fuck-you to the system. He wished it was his last day. He wished he was Rob. Rob came in with his apron in his hand and said that it was time and also that he hid the whole jar of pickles around the shop and hoped to god it reeked by next Tuesday. Charlie just looked at his boss and his boss said find those pickles, which Charlie did completely or maybe partially but they wouldn’t know until Tuesday. He wrote his two-weeks in his head while he pulled a warm, flaccid pickle from above the ceiling tile, all pickle juice and white dust. A whole group of teens walked in, all snorts and tears from laughing so hard about something. Charlie’s boss said that maybe things were picking up. Six Jalapeno-Hounders at least, he bets. Charlie grabbed some thawing meat from the fridge and pulled the thin plastic sheen away to reveal its rawness. He laughed, too. He plunged his hands in.

“charlie” is a piece of flash fiction that I wrote in 2018. It was published in dragon poet review, which you can read online.