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SITTING in the middle stall of the liquor warehouse bathroom, Lunchbox traced all his troubles back to three pounds of Cajun-dusted wings. They were the reason he was stranded in here right now. The reason he’d be stuck working overtime and forced to take the backroads home to avoid the drunk-driving checkpoints the cops liked to set up on the main strip out of town. Lunchbox never drove drunk, but the cops rarely believed a man reeking of wine and scotch. Hazards of the job meant suffering numerous breathalysers over the last few years. Lunchbox kept promising himself he’d quit the warehouse, but just like Dale’s Wing Shack and their Thirty Cent Thursdays, he always came back for more. He had nowhere else to be.

Lunchbox tried breathing through his mouth. All the stalls smelt stale. The urinals in the corner by the door were full of day old piss. Nobody flushed. Smokers used this bathroom for their breaks—a lonely oasis in the middle of the shipping floor. The smoke only had a small vent to escape through and so it lingered, staining all the porcelain grey.

Lunchbox always took the middle stall. He would have preferred the one against the far wall, but someone had broken the seat so that it tilted to one side. Lunchbox feared he’d slip off and land in the grime and the piss on the floor. The first stall was too close to the urinals and the lock on it was busted. He’d learned that the hard way when his manager burst in on him last spring while he was dealing with the three chipotle subs he’d eaten for dinner the night before. It took him forty-five minutes to clean up that mess. Nobody had fixed the lock since.

“Security is on break. You wanna give this a shot, or should we do it in the parking lot?”

Afternoons were the worst shift. All the left over mess to clean up from the boys on days and he was stuck working with all the temps the head office brought in for the summer rush. Crazy kids with too many neck tattoos and old mental patients reduced to menial labour, discussing the powers of the Lord. All their deals went down in the bathrooms. He could hear them in the other stalls.

“Nah, I don’t know man. Who knows if Kevin will catch us or what?”

Lunchbox dreaded the heavy scent of stale red wine, which caked everything inside the warehouse. The smell brought him to his grandfather’s apartment and the five recycling bins filled with bottles and wasps that he and his cousin had to put out for the old man every Thursday when they were kids. Every Thursday ’til the old man finally fell asleep with a cigarette in his mouth and a newspaper in his lap. The casket had the same smell as those recycling bins.

Afternoons were the worst shift because of the nights. The sticky summer nights where he found himself driving home in his mom’s old minivan with the busted left turn signal. These nights were filled with half-dead road kill crawling slowly to the edge of the road as he made his way out into the country toward his stranded apartment complex. He always swerved around their bodies. The only other building out this far was a slumped, abandoned strip mall filled with raccoons that chattered and chattered till the sun rose and they finished gorging on worms and the garbage people dumped in the parking lot.

To distract himself, Lunchbox planned out the meals he would make before going to bed. A triple-decker grilled cheese with Kraft single slices ’cause they melted much more evenly than the regular block cheddar. Some real crispy bacon to put in between each layer of the grilled cheese. He didn’t buy the microwavable stuff. Maybe some Kraft Dinner with two packets of the powdered cheese and a chunk of butter instead of a tablespoon. Lunchbox didn’t always make these meals once he crossed the threshold of his apartment building. He understood his limits.

And he only had so many t-shirts that fit him anymore.

Afternoons were the worst shifts for only one real reason. He was named Jackson Pollock Allentown. Twenty-eight years old, five feet, six inches tall and one hundred and fifty-seven pounds. Lunch’s sister Carol had been trying to divorce him for six years before she miscalculated a lane change on a 400 series highway last June and died on impact with a tractor trailer carrying frozen meats across the border to Detroit. They found her twenty yards away in a tree surrounded by Polish sausage. All Lunchbox received was her Tim Horton’s uniforms and the divorce paper work. Each night as Lunchbox laid his head down on the pillow, he knew the phone would ring. Pollock always called collect.

“My Moms was really into that shit, the abstract art. The splattered, messy shit. You know last time she visited, she tried to give me a cross to wear around my neck? Shit. Like I can do something with that in here. She doesn’t even go to church for Easter and she’s giving me a cross. And she’s the one acting like she’s been crucified, you know?”

Pollock could only get phone access in the early hours of the morning. He’d been downgraded to medium security federal prison after serving the first five years of his sentence in a maximum-security penitentiary down in Virginia. Sometimes Lunchbox would fall asleep just before the phone began to ring. He usually could sleep through it if he buried the phone under quilts and turned on a fan to drown out the noise.

“So like, my lawyer is doing this pro bono, ’cause he says it’s all unprecedented, and you know where this is going right? ’Cause I’m pretty sure this is more about him than it is me, which is fine you know. He can go up to the Supreme Court and yell and be on TV and write a book and hold my hand when we lose and... well, basically, shit, I just want him to admit it. Admit why. Stop telling me he cares about me, and spend that useless time on something to get me out of this place. I don’t give a shit if he cares about me either way, I just want out. I don’t need another mother, am I right? I need a lawyer. Last night they tried to feed us the same shit they fed us on Tuesday. Place went wild. Meat looked green I swear on my own dick, may it never fall off. I almost lost a finger to flying trays, man. Could see the bone! It really is white, you know? Not like those dinosaur ones in the museums.”

Sometimes Pollock would pay out of his own pocket and leave a message if Lunchbox wasn’t picking up. The machine would cut him off after fifteen minutes. Lunchbox played them in the morning while he showered and counted the tiles in the bathroom. Donna had left him back in December. She took all the shower curtains with her, so he used a tarp he found in the basement of his Mom’s place. His step-dad asked him if was going to wear it as a moo-moo when he brought it upstairs. Lunchbox didn’t go over there very often anymore.

Pollock had been in prison for seven years so far, serving out a twenty-five year sentence for killing a sixteen year old kid in rural Michigan. Carol had explained the case to Lunchbox every time they got together for a birthday or a family holiday as if he was a goldfish who couldn’t keep the facts straight. Now they were hardwired into his memory.

Pollock was nineteen and freshly married to a very pregnant and scared Carol. On the run from commitment, he had hitchhiked across the border to Michigan where he believed his status as a Canadian would earn him automatic acceptance into the logging industry as a potentially natural, gifted lumberjack extraordinaire. Despite flannel shirts and a heavy fake accent, Pollock instead found himself dealing meth and hanging around high school parking lots in a beat up lime green Geo. The lumber industry had taken a turn for the worst, and Pollock did only weigh one hundred and fifty-seven pounds. He tried to get into plumbing, but only learned to steal materials from his mentor before dropping out. Meth was easy to make, quick to sell, and multiplying like a cancer in the rural Midwest. Pollock got settled into a routine of drugstore binges for cold medication and tearing through abandoned houses for copper wire when things got slow, usually after the holiday rush.

It was the autumn parties where his business really took off. Kids flush with money from summer jobs and new girlfriends to impress. This one particular bush party was like most parties out on the back roads. A few cases of beer from a few lenient parents and a can of gasoline to keep the fire going. The train tracks by the bridge between two towns made an ideal place for the high school kids to mingle, circling around one another in the light of the fire and tossing half-finished cans of malt liquor into the pit to watch the flames burn green.

Carol always got cloudy here. Maybe the first kid called him a faggot. Maybe the second mocked his accent, which still lingered after only a year in the States. Maybe someone noticed he’d been messing with the weight of his product. Lunchbox always assumed it was a combination of the three. The next thing Pollock knew, two heavily muscled sixteen-year-olds with broken bottles of Old English attacked him by the tracks. One fell and knocked his head hard against the rails after Pollock punched his nose in with a loud crack that broke three knuckles. The other kid ran through the dark toward the fire when he heard the sound of his friend’s face collapse. Ran directly into an old oak tree face first. He was knocked unconscious and still suffers from amnesiac episodes, which to this day affect the kid’s ability to operate motor vehicles and heavy machinery. Pollock stumbled away into the darkness of the woods and passed out in a dry creek. Two state troopers discovered him in the morning, documenting his bloody fists as evidence and using the plastic children’s cuffs to secure his skinny wrists.

The two towns went into uproar. The star running back for Thoreau Secondary School was dead and the shortstop at McKinley High could no longer remember the batting order for next week’s tournament. In the courtroom for his sentencing, Pollock was called a faggot and a liar and a cheat and a piece of Canadian shit stuck to the glorious, righteous boot of America. The father of the shortstop even suggested Pollock might finally earn an apprenticeship in plumbing from his cellmate Bubba at the state penitentiary—a giant man who in the confines of their bunk would show him all the ins and outs of laying down some serious pipe. The judge just nodded along and refused to strike these victim impact statements from the record despite the weak protestations from Pollock’s state appointed legal aid lawyer.

“And you know what the most fucked up part of it all is, man? Shit, even with Carol trying to make it work, and me being so glad that she got that miscarriage—you know, not happy, but more like, I don’t know—well, the worst part man is that a fucking twenty-five year sentence was not enough for these people. Talk about greedy motherfuckers, am I right? State prison is bad enough, they shoulda been happy with that. Federal prison is actually a bit nicer, less crowded, better food. Guards can still be fuckers, but that’s no shocker. But they didn’t want me to rot and turn into an old man who comes outta here with nothing. No way, man. They wanted me dead with fucking poison flowing through my veins in front of a crowd of people, so they could all clap and sing. Now who’s the piece of shit? Well, I still am to some degree, I know buddy, I know, you don’t have to remind me, all right? But you get me, right Lunchy?”

In the state of Michigan, the death penalty was no longer an option. The shortstop’s family pushed for blood. They hired a bright, young lawyer familiar with the new terrorism laws and pushed the case to an appeal court. Under these new laws, any violent crime committed on railroad property could be construed as terrorism or treasonous behaviour, and therefore, the death penalty was indeed applicable under federal law. Railroad property uniformly extended to fifty yards on either side of the track. They found the one kid forty-five yards away and the other lying in between the tracks.

“Now they are still fighting for it. We jump from one court to another. They got me travelling on buses, on trains, but no planes. Not even a twin prop, man. I think that movie, the one with Nicholas Cage, Con Air, yeah, that movie, that movie scares the shit out of them. So they’re shuttling me all over the place. Canada won’t take me back, Prime Minister called me scum on TV, said there was a reason I was named after an American painter. Believe that shit? That portly shit! No offense to the wide now, I hope you understand, Lunchy, just that shit head.  Some of us are just born fat, and some of us eat our way there on the public dollar. Yeah, he’s a pig isn’t he? So they’ve got me rico... shit... ricocheting around the country like it’s a game of motherdogging pinball. I just want to go to sleep sometimes, you know? But not in front of an audience for Chrissakes.”

The bathroom door banged open. Lunchbox heard someone light up and start coughing. The whole room stank like vodka and red onions. He sighed and leaned back on the toilet. His legs were falling asleep. No one ate whole red onions at work except for Donkey Kong.

They called him Kong for his thick long arms and a couple of other reasons on file down at the courthouse. He was back after three weeks off without pay for smashing a malfunctioning scanner last month with his bare hands and threatening a manager’s life with the shattered remains. The manager was now in counselling after the incident and the company was willing to foot the bill for any future therapy he might need before returning to the floor as the director of receiving. Donkey Kong spent the three weeks drinking and prank-calling the manager’s wife.

“You still in here, Lunchy? Ha, you ever get off the shitter big boy, or you just born in one? Bet it makes you feel at home. Keep the pieces of shit in one place. Maybe management’s got it right for once, don’t you think? Motherfuck, you ever know how to stink up a joint.”

Kong rattled the door. Lunch noticed the thick black hair on the knuckles shaking the frame. He recognized the fat ring on the middle finger with the fake ruby in it. Kong won it off a temp last summer in a card game after he decked the kid in the face with Lunchbox’s thermos. No one saw anything, according to the accident report. Management banned all gambling on the premises afterward.

“Kevin’s looking for you man, he’s gunna have you staying overtime, you know that right?”

Lunchbox didn’t say anything. Smoke circled the fluorescent lights above the stall.

“Nothing to say? I hear your bitch left you while I was gone. That’s too bad. She woulda fit right in with your herd. I was surprised man, shit, how’s she supposed to find another guy bigger than her? I might give her a go myself, but you know DK doesn’t do thick crust like that. Consider yourself lucky, eh buddy? Something got your tongue, or you just too busy blowing yourself?”

Kong tossed the cigarette over the stall. Lunchbox watched it bounce and roll away. He heard the door slam. Lunchbox leaned back against the cool edge of the toilet and tried to stare up at the ceiling past the jagged tags and slogans written on the walls. Someone had carved a swastika into the ceiling panel above his head. He closed his eyes and felt his belly. A hot ball slowly pushing its way through his intestines, burning everything it touched. Maybe the oil had gone bad. Maybe it was the onions. He should have ordered the honey garlic. Lunchbox tried to forget about his face turning purple in the heat of the bathroom. Pollock had called him again last night.

“So like last night, first time anything ever happened to actually scare me so bad I almost shit myself, Lunchy. You ever do that before? No, eh? Carol told me about that one time at the beach when... you were only like five so, yeah you’re right, doesn’t really count does it? You ever miss Carol? I fucking do every day. Serious. Serious, my buddy. I miss her, I really do, I swear. But yeah, yeah, so last night, I’m lying there in the dark right? Yeah and I start to hear this motherfucker squeal, like he’s a pig about to get roasted. Long, drawn out squeals. The kind that you might hear in like a slaughterhouse or if you ran over a pig with a tractor. My Grandpa did that once and wept like a baby after. I think that’s when I knew I actually cared about him, loved him you know? Now I’m being serious here, guy. Really loved the sonofabitch. No, no, Lunch, my Grandpa, not the fucking pig! Jesus Christ...”

More voices in the bathroom now. Lunchbox slowed his breathing. The last thing he wanted was to be found by Kevin the Walrus in here after fifteen minutes of straining and pushing. Kong probably passed the word along to the shipping deck. Lunchbox knew his face was probably all purple and wet by now. The stall door in front of him read: FULL TIMERS ARE THE NEW JEWS, SAME AS THE OLD JEWS. Lunchbox wasn’t sure what that meant. The first voice sounded like Jacobson.

“We got like fifteen minutes, kid. Let’s go. Security always do a coffee run at like five thirty. No one will be checking us out in here. It’s cool, all right? Better than the parking lot.”

Lunchbox tried not to sigh. If Jacobson got caught smoking up in the bathroom again, well buddy, three strikes and you’re out. Or suspended. Or something. He couldn’t remember exactly, but it was bad. Jacobson had started dating Carol after Pollock ran for the border. The two of them had fought for seven years over everything: cable bills, the weed he couldn’t give up, her need to smoke in the bedroom, his lack of sex drive, the dog’s shitting habits, the lack of kids, her weekly binges on lemon vodka, the smell of their air fresheners. Even so, Jacobson had shown up to the funeral weeping and delivered his own eulogy. Even tried to sue the meat-packing corporation and Toyota after the accident. It was Jacobson who’d introduced Lunchbox to Donna at the fair, Jacobson who’d told him to offer her chilli dogs instead of cotton candy. It was Jacobson and his pot that had broke them up too. Lunchbox squeezed his stomach and tried to keep his mind elsewhere, away from the pain and the smell slowly filling his stall. If it got any worse, someone else would definitely find him in here.

“So yeah, I hear this guy just wailing in his cell across from mine. It’s dark, the guards are useless, and Little Tony, my new bunkmate, oh man, he’s a nice dude, of course, but you know, you don’t need to be bright to be a nice person. Anyway, Little Tony is asleep. He snores, but more like a low whistle, like a train whistle. Doesn’t bother me. But I can hear this other guy squealing. And like, I know everyone else must—well yeah, no one gets earplugs Lunch—everyone else must be able to hear it. But no one is doing anything about it. And it just drags on and on and on ‘til you almost don’t hear it, right? Like a tap dripping, you either block it out or it fills your mind up like a motherfuck... yeah, obviously I couldn’t block it out Lunchy. I just couldn’t, okay?  But what am I supposed to do? And I see this light across from me in the other cell. A little flame. I couldn’t figure it out, so I just lay there. Just lay there all quiet. There were other voices in there too, but it was all pretty quiet like... Like, you know, stage whispers, where you aren’t supposed to hear it, but you do? Like that, like a play or something. We do plays in here, did you know that Lunchy? King Lear and shit like that. No weapons allowed though.”

Lunchbox knew he needed to flush. Just a courtesy flush—a courtesy to himself to keep from feeling sick and to get some fresh air. It wasn’t healthy. Lunchbox had read online about a guy who’d fallen asleep after bingeing on Taco Bell in an unventilated room. The man had slept for twelve hours and died from methane poisoning before his kids could wake him. They had to get four guys to carry out the stretcher and two of those dudes ended up in the hospital due to toxic exposure. But now there was another voice in the stall with Jacobson, and Lunchbox didn’t want to risk it.

“You sure nobody is coming, Jacobs?”

“I told you. Security’s on break. The guys upstairs usually use the other bathroom, and...”

“Yeah, usually. But like, anyone could use this bathroom if the other one is full...”

“Look, you want to do this, or you want to go back to work? It’s better to do it here than the fucking parking lot, secruity’d bust us in three seconds.”

Lunchbox bit his lips against another sigh and tried breathing through his mouth again. It didn’t help. Lunchbox closed his eyes and played last night’s phone call over in his head. Why wouldn’t they just go away?

“Eventually the sound goes away, but it’s still playing in my head on like repeat. Ping, ping, ping, over and over this guy squealing. Like a loop. And there’s shadows moving out there, but like I said, it’s fucking dark, man. And then all I hear is this sniffling, or maybe heaving, like in the same rhythm that the squealing was. I figured, well someone just got stabbed, or something boring like that right? Shanked? Yeah, we say that sometimes, but it’s not like... no, Lunch I don’t know anyone who was stabbed with a toothbrush. Fork? Yeah, it’s more likely, but… Anyway, shit, can a man tell a story or is he going to have fat little shits dogging him over the details? Huh? Okay yeah, I am sorry, all right? Okay. Okay. So I am, of course, assuming I just heard some standard shit go way wrong, ‘til I see the guy the next day. Yeah, before I called you, that’s when I saw this guy…”

The other voice in the stall startled Lunchbox.

“I don’t know man, break is going to be in like ten minutes maybe…”

Lunchbox knew what they were doing. Jacobson still grew a few plants in his closet. Some old hydroponic equipment he’d promised to get rid of the night before Carol hit the truck. It wasn’t great stuff, but it smelled okay and kept you mellow. Real mellow. Sometimes he’d share it with Lunchbox after work under the lights in the lot. One night after the drive home, Lunch stayed up all night watching the raccoons chattering and chewing and screeching at each other. He imagined they had a language he could speak, a civilization, a new culture, a whole city of hunched-backs in masks living in shitty little motels and shopping centres like French cathedrals of the future. Donna had freaked when she found him sitting on the roof. She was in her bathrobe, a new set of lingerie underneath. The apartment smelled like burnt potatoes and candle wax. She screamed at him while he just stared back and laughed and laughed. She sounded just like the raccoons. He called her Big Momma ’Coon and she slapped him in the face. A six-month anniversary ruined by Jacobson. She even took all his lamps when she moved out the next day.

“Well here it is, right? Okay. Here we go. This guy I guess wanted to join up with some white supremacist crazies, okay? I know, I know, but they are real, believe me. I mean I am friendly with them, let them borrow guitar strings and… Well I am never letting them borrow that shit again, I swear to the motherdogging Jesus dangling from Tony’s neck. No, no, he’s not Italian. Some kind of Mexican, El Salvadorian, he says. That’s what he says, I don’t know where the shit it is either Lunch. Some kind of place near Mexico. Like a lower state of Mexico or something. A province? Maybe. Anyway, can I tell my story? Yeah, so I remember seeing this kid in the yard one time, and I knew it was bad news in advance, but not this bad. Idiot wanted to fit in, so he started tatting himself up. Shitty prison ink, but still, I mean it counts for these dudes. Started with stuff under his shirt to practice, so no one noticed at first. He got bold though, real bold, started putting them down his forearms, even got to the knuckles, which is just stupid. You want to get hired when you get out, right? More like “if you get out.” I mean, you know what I mean. Not everyone here is doomed to be an eternal shithead. At least I hope.”

The two bodies in the stall shuffled.

Lunchbox heard both of them breathing and he tried to slow his own lungs down. Why couldn’t they smell him yet? Jacobson should have given up the weed a long time ago. He was getting old. Mainly now it was just the young temps buying from him after work near the back of the lot. The second body closed the stall door behind him.

“Fifteen minutes? Is that enough time for you?”

“Well, we have more like ten minutes, now, but, yeah, I think that’s fine.”

Lunchbox breathed out. He could feel his face growing a darker purple. Jacobson would smell him any second now, and then they’d never leave him alone at lunch. He noticed one of them kneel on the yellowed tiles and a belt hit the ground. Lunchbox just stared at the floor and hoped they’d get it over with quickly. Carol never told him about this. He’d caught his step-dad watching the same sort of thing on pay-per-view two summers ago when his Mom had gone to visit her sister in Sudbury. Lunchbox was told to move out the next morning. He found his stuff in black garbage bags on the lawn.

“So I see this guy in the morning, when the guards finally drag him out of the cell to see what all the fuss is about. And it’s a fucking mess, I mean I don’t know how, I have no idea how I did not smell this guy’s cooking or burning the night before. Burning, yeah. Seriously, burnt and twisted and just plain rank shit. He wrapped himself up pretty tight in the sheets after I guess, but I don’t know man, I shoulda been able to smell what happened. Two of those big Aryan fuckos, the one’s with the actual legit tats? You know what they did with my goddamn guitar strings? You know what they used them for? I stole them from the music room... Yeah we have a music room. I know you probably don’t want to hear this stuff, but I got to tell someone and Tony just thinks it’s kinda funny. Yeah, I agree, that is pretty sick, Lunchy. Pretty sick, but that’s what you get when you’re from fake fucking Mexico. Anyway, anyway... So they took these guitar strings and a lighter. Like a Zippo, and they got this guy alone in his bunk. Sometimes people smuggle in lighters, it can happen. But shit like this just does not happen. Or shouldn’t. Not like this.”

The breathing in the stall beside him had changed and Lunchbox began to feel the pain shrinking in his stomach, replaced with something new, a fresh pressure growing in his chest. A chalky taste mellowing the acid spice in his mouth. Tasted like the time he found his grandfather after the fire or when they had called and asked if he was related to a Carol Joyce O’Connell who drove a bright red Toyota Corolla. Half an hour now and no one else had come to check on him. They were going to find him, going to smell him. Drive him out like a rat and pelt him with their lunch bags like they did on his first day back in grade school.

“You like that? Yeah, I thought so.”

Lunchbox only heard a muffled voice response before the door to the bathroom crashed open and a bigger voice boomed into the three stalls from the entrance. A voice and the sound of a fist banging the first stall door. The smoke from another Peter Jackson filling the air.

“Who fucking skinned a possum in here? Smells like rotten pussy. You taking up two stalls now, Lunchbox? Your ass get all ever expanding now like some Stephen Hawkfucker shit, or what? You know you’re supposed to cook your food before you eat it, right man?”

The voices in the stall went quiet. Lunchbox still heard Pollock rambling.

“You ever see like a cheese scraper? Like a grater, but for thin slices of cheese? Yeah. Imagine using something like that on your skin. Now you go that image ready? That’s how they used those guitar strings. They heated them up and dragged them over the skin to wipe out his ink. Peeled him like an orange. I almost puked when I saw the kid. His arms, his back, all like this raw, pink, glowing, pulsing mess, just these long strands of melted skin and… Oh it was bad, man. And the smell. Like some mangled ham. I’m talking SPAM, but like, fried ’til it is all puss and gristle…  And the eyes, they were glazed, it was shock or whatever, where you forget where you are or like you don’t know who you are? Even the guards, they couldn’t look at his face, they just hustled him down to where the medics were coming up the stairs. And everything down the block was just quiet, like a wake, man. Like a wake. An Italian wake, not an Irish one. Do Italians have wakes? Visitations? Maybe I’m thinking of the Portuguese, hard to tell them apart, you know?”

Donkey Kong once smashed an entire case of single malt scotch because the hydraulics on his lift broke down. His line was only down for five minutes, but that was enough. He dropped the case from three stories above the cement floor and all twelve forty-ounce bottles shattered on impact. One shard pierced the cheek of a supervisor. Another slit the nose of a forklift driver. He refused to clean up the mess. Waved his knife at the foreman. A two-week suspension with pay followed. Kong made sure to pay his union dues on time.

Kong kicked the stall door open.

“Oh, you faggots! You shit sucking…”

Lunchbox heard a scramble. He remembered the time Kong had shown up wasted at Chevy’s after a weekend shift, thrown a little waitress over his shoulder and bolted into the bathroom. He ran out five minutes later chasing her with his pants down and his limp dick bouncing in front of him, bellowing that it usually wasn’t like this, you bitch! The bouncers walked him out, wary of the long arms and the rumours and the smear of blood some cop had found on Kong’s hood ornament last Easter Sunday when they’d been called to a domestic dispute at his mother’s place.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

Lunchbox tried to stand up in his stall, pants still hooked on the bottom of his knees.

“You gonna do this garbage in here?”

The slam of a body against the mirror and he heard Jacobson cry out and run. Lunch pushed open the door to his stall. Galen Harrison lay on the floor, skinny arms struggling to pluck a long piece of mirror from his forehead. He was one of the young temps with a Chinese dragon tattooed up his neck. Lunch had seen Jacobson drive him home a few times. One of his teeth lay on the floor. Outside on the warehouse floor, there was the shriek of brakes and Jacobson’s scream echoed into the bathroom. Kong turned and swung a fist at Lunch, who stumbled over his pants and crashed head first into the sinks against the wall.

“But the thing, the real thing that keeps coming back to me, keeps circling me while I’m talking to you here and the guard is giving me the eye, pointing at his watch and shit… Fuck man, they are impatient... yeah, the thing that is circling me here is that I was basically there the whole time. I could hear it going down, this kid squealing while he’s pretty much getting skinned for being an idiot, but nobody, nobody deserves that, nobody deserves that shit. And they are running around in my head, these thoughts man, like all the things I could have done. Fuck it though. I’m behind bars on the other side of this shit, and who is going to listen to me? I probably weigh half of what those giants do, you know? I am like bones and skin and talk and that’s it. But still, it’s still running laps in my head, all these things bouncing off each other, running into each other like marbles and…”

Lunchbox’s pants slid down over his boots as he crawled toward the third stall. The floor there was still grimy and wet. Kong was laughing now like that time when he’d smashed his snowmobile into a car on Highway 2 and the cops had called Lunchbox. Kong had a library card with five over-due books on building crossbows, a maxed-out credit card and an expired driver’s license in his wallet at the time of the accident, all in Lunchbox’s name. Lunchbox never left anything in his work locker after that. In the third stall, someone had chiselled Satan’s Throne into the porcelain of the toilet bowl.

“I should have said… well fuck, I should have yelled for someone, told them to fuck off, fuck off you giant assholes! Just started spouting inane facts about thirteenth century painters that I’m learning about in my correspondence course, you know? Random shit. Like yell something, something like “Did you know Guido of Siena’s masterpiece was split into seven pieces? Seven pieces, motherfuckers, do you believe this shit?” Something stupid, something loud. Anything! Or maybe you know, maybe even just whisper after to the kid that things are going to be okay, everything is going to be okay. Even though he’s whimpering and making this weird heaving sound. Even though it is most definitely not going to be okay. In fact, it is most definitely going to be fucked up and painful and sad and messy and just fucking broken. But I coulda said something. Just whispered to him like, tomorrow kid you are going to wake up and the worst bit will be over. I could’ve said something like that, Lunchy, I could have told him anything. I coulda lied. I lie all the time. I could have said, you are going to wake up after this kid, you will wake up and it’ll still burn like a fucker. And it’ll be light outside, it will be light outside, so fucking bright outside, kid, so bright, and you’ll be through the worst of this shit, you’ll be more than just some squealing chunk of meat in a dark hole. Would I be a liar Lunchy? Like, if I said put your head down, kid, and in the morning you can wake up and be brave—”

It was the guard on duty who hung up Pollock’s phone in mid-sentence.

The seat was still loose. Lunchbox yanked it from the left side. He leaned up inside the stall and applied pressure to the other side with his foot, snapping it off the bowl. He lurched out of the stall as Kong turned to face him. Galen kept crawling. Lunchbox lowered the toilet seat. His bowels still burned. Kong swung a fat hairy hand and Lunchbox chucked the toilet seat at his face. The seat shattered on his nose. Kong stumbled and Lunchbox tackled him to the piss stained tiles in his Pink Floyd underwear. Kong’s eyes went wide and red, then sideways and stayed there. And stayed there. He would need reconstructive surgery for his right eye socket and a small metal plate for his temple. By the time security arrived, Lunchbox was out of breath and straddling Donkey Kong’s chest with his thighs. His pants were still lying on the floor.

• • •

Driving home that night, Lunchbox could still feel the cuffs they’d slapped on his wrists. The police had questioned him for two and a half hours before they let him go and gave him back his pants. He still smelled like the nicotine of the bathroom stalls and the stains in his underwear. Jacobson was probably going to lose all the toes on his left foot. A forklift had crushed it and the steel toe had bent, snapping off all but the baby toe. They had him under anaesthetic for the surgery. Kevin the Walrus said the toes rattled around in the shoe like a maraca when they got it off his foot. Lunchbox just sat in the hospital waiting to hear about Jacobson and avoided news reports on the waiting room television about a Canadian finally receiving the death penalty after seven years of litigation. A nurse told him Jacobson wouldn’t be seeing any visitors. The way she pronounced her v’s reminded him of Donna. And raccoons. Out in the parking lot, Galen wouldn’t look him in the eye when he offered the kid a ride home from the hospital. Lunchbox called Donna’s mother, but no one answered the phone. He did not leave a message.

Lunchbox did not steer around the road kill on his way home. He felt the wheels bump and jostle, tasted the blood and Cajun spices sticking to his gums. He pulled into the parking lot outside his building and unbuckled the seatbelt. Lunchbox sat there and listened to the raccoons fighting over dead birds. The police had told him to remain in town for further questioning. Management advised him to take a few weeks of paid vacation. Inside his apartment, he knew there would be a phone ringing and Pollock’s voice on his answering machine. He sat in his car, waiting for the sun to come up and his world to grow quiet again. Tomorrow, Lunchbox would wake up. He would wake up just like Pollock said he would.

And it would be so fucking bright outside.


Andrew F. Sullivan is the author of the short story collection All We Want is Everything (ARP Books, 2013), a Globe & Mail Best Book of 2013, and WASTE (Dzanc Books, 2016). Sullivan no longer works in a warehouse.

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LF #004 © Andrew F. Sullivan. Published by Little Fiction | Big Truths, December 2011.


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bright outside

by andrew f. sullivan