Third place winner of Bookshop's annual short story contest, 2018.
"Something to Chew On" by Rose K. Murphy
Drinking on a Thursday night was never a good idea. Harry knew this instinctively, but for some reason, he confirmed it every week.
Fridays he covered the Roosevelt Avenue turf in Queens. It was a headache to drive in the chaotic traffic, even without a hangover. Too many cars carried drivers from too many parts of the world with incompatible driving habits. He had learned to drive here, but that didn't make it any easier. Then there was the problem of finding parking, and, more importantly, avoiding a ticket for double parking when no spaces were available.
On a warm June morning, he picked up the loot at 8:30 am, packing the back of the truck. On the right side, he stacked large boxes filled with loose gumballs, m&m's, or little hard fruit-flavored candies. On the left side he loaded the boxes of two and a half inch clear plastic eggs filled with fake eyeballs, sticky baubles, plastic jewelry, or vampire fangs.
Truck full, he headed out of the Brooklyn warehouse. Harry slowed down to hit the red light in front of the corner deli. Leaving his truck idling, he jumped out get the coffee and bagel that were waiting for him. Harry plunked exact change on the counter and grabbed the paper bag.
"What happened to your face, mister?" asked the cashier's daughter. She stared at him from her perch next to her mother.
"Why aren't you in school?" Harry snapped, already jogging back to his truck.
He shifted into drive just after the light turned green. He heard a honk and decided not to hit the gas, taking his time to open his bagel and put his coffee in the drink holder. After a second honk, he eased forward.
On his way down Flushing Avenue, a sedan jerked out in front of him. He stopped short. The bagel flew off the passenger seat onto the mud-caked floor.
Harry groaned, stifling a curse.
He sipped his coffee at the next light. It felt too hot on his upper lip. In the rearview mirror he saw the swelling and discoloration. He smirked, but that hurt, too.
When he got to the first drop point, Harry pulled in by a fire hydrant. He picked up his bagel, pulled it in half and took a bite from the clean side. Something felt wrong. His left front tooth was loose. He sipped his coffee and wondered what happened last night.
Lost in thought, he took another bite. His tooth dislodged into the bagel.
He felt the blood rush into his mouth and felt the empty spot with his tongue. This was bad, even for a Friday. He spit out the bagel and freed his tooth. Not sure what to do with it and wishing that his job provided insurance, Harry slipped his tooth into the shirt pocket of his uniform.
Time to get to work.
Harry spent the rest of the day lugging candy and toys to clusters of child-sized vending machines, unlocking and restocking, emptying the quarters into a safebox on wheels, bending over to fill and collect from the bottom containers. At each stop, six containers of goods were filled, six containers of quarters removed. Once he got started, he focused on driving and parking, paying only enough attention at each stop to match the refills to what was already sitting in each dispenser.
When his shift was over, he drove back to the warehouse. He signed over the money box and returned the leftover candy and toys. He congratulated himself on making it through a whole day without a parking ticket. Not a bad day. He would celebrate later with a drink.
On his way home, he stopped at the deli.
"Brooklyn-Queens Day," said the cashier's daughter.
"What?...Hey, can I get a roast beef sandwich?" he called over her head.
"That's why there's no school.” He felt her eyes glaring at his face. “You’re lip is purple."
Harry felt his now empty shirt pocket. He swore under his breath. He handed a few bills to the cashier. He took his bag and turned to go.
"What about your change?" asked the cashier's daughter.
"Keep it," he replied.
Maya took the quarter from her mother. She imagined sinking her teeth into a giant gumball. On her way home, she would get one from her favorite machine in front of the grocery store on Roosevelt Avenue.
Originally from Queens, NY, Rose K. Murphy is a writer and artist who lives in Watsonville with her family. She authors the blog CoilingForLyme.com and is working on a science fiction novel.