The Tower Journal

  Alex Wentzell



   Fried

            Breaking the crystal-clear horizon to the east, the Drop-In Diner advertised itself as just that: a drop-in location where travelers along the roasted and desert barren I-55 could rest on their laurels with the pleasures of basic diner food. Club sandwiches, burger platters, and fish & chips ran amok. Of course, the I-55 passed several small towns along the way, and the Drop-In Diner housed its fair share of regulars, a crowd of muted color wearing, hat sporting, balding hair types with dirty finger nails, all bordering 50, ranging in sizes but sharing a vocabulary.

            One of those small towns was Paltock, where Sean went to high school.  High school was not fun for Sean. He was younger than the rest. He should’ve been in the seventh grade but was so smart they bumped him up to the ninth grade. He remembered the day they told him that, with the crisp autumn air circling through the room of the high school principle. And there, in that very moment, Sean suddenly felt something he hadn’t felt in a very long time: accepted, as if the arms of Paltock High were reaching out, squeezing him tightly, and holding him close. He laughed. He smiled. He was happy.

            But, as with seemingly all good feelings he had, Sean’s sense of acceptance faded away in a few days. Kids looked at him. No one spoke to him. He tended to remain quiet. Now, with summer approaching, his brilliant mind could not look back on that day in the principle’s office without immediately retracting into its shell, for it had become an embarrassing and shameful act, Sean learned, to feel anything, especially something good. 

***

            Winnie worked at the Drop-In Diner from the day she entered eleventh grade to the present. She lived in Paltock, saved her money, and avoided the question of what to do with it. In a town immune to most forms of entertainment that aren’t on the tube, her wages piled up a little. But she hated her job. She hated Becky, her boss, and Becky’s husband, Drew. She hated the way Becky would nitpick her on every stupid little irrelevant detail of the job. She hated the way Drew would pretend to be one of the boys, but the second Becky was around he would transform himself into some sort of hard ass. She hated the way they very clearly hated themselves and took it out on everyone around them. And yet, there she stayed, at the Drop-In. 

***

            For the longest time, the Drop-In Diner needed a new cook. The kitchen was always behind, meaning Winnie had to work all the more. Hiring this new cook fell on Becky. Winnie had no faith in her whatsoever, especially since the pool of candidates was so limited. Reputations preceded you in a small town. She knew of no one within 50 miles who could make her job any easier. But then, help from out of town arrived.

            He came in around 11, wearing thick sunglasses, a button up shirt tucked into shorts, and loafers. His hair was brown, well kept, and snugly hugged the sides of his head. His chin was decidedly pointed, his skin olive brown, and his face youthful and innocent. He approached Winnie and smiled.

            “Hello,” he said, in a thick German accent.

            “Hi,” said Winnie.

            “I would like to apply for the job.”

            She glanced at him sideways. “Oh, the, the cook job?”

            He reemphasized his smile. “Yes. Cook.”

            “Okay. One second. I’ll get my manager.”

            Becky was in her office. She never seemed to be more than three feet from an air conditioner.

            “What is it?” she said as soon as Winnie appeared.

            “There’s someone new here to interview for the cook job.”

            Becky perked up, leaving her beloved air conditioner. She headed to the dinning room, approaching the man. “Hello there,” she said, “I’m Becky. I own this place with my husband.”

            “Hans,” said the man, extending his hand.

            “You got a nice firm shake, Hans. And a funny accent. Where you from?”

            “Rostock.”

            “Um hum.” She scrunched all her facial features together, like she was smelling something stinky. “Where’s that? Rhode Island?”

            “Germany,” said Hans, after a bewildered pause.

            “Oh. Well let’s have a little interview, shall we?” She motioned Hans towards an empty booth and brought a clip board with her. From behind the counter, Winnie tried to read their lips, but couldn’t. She had to settle for reading their faces. And there was one word that could define Becky’s face: disbelief.

***

            Sean had been an outlier for far too long. The consensus to beat him up was reached late one day by two schoolmates, Cody and Russel. They decided that, as classes ended, they would wait for Sean on the path home and terrorize the poor boy.

            Sean’s last subject was math. He attended, sat in the back, said nothing, showed the teacher his homework, and patiently waited for the clock to hit 3:30.  Sean walked home via the path behind the old baseball diamond. Loads of foliage covered the path on either side, giving Cody and Russel plenty of space to hide out and wait for Sean.

            But time passed and passed with no sight of Sean. Russel grew frustrated and pleaded that they just go home. Cody, however, maintained that they stay. Russel, in a rare show of dominance, got up and left, leaving Cody alone.

            As soon as Russel was out of earshot, Sean came walking down the path.

            Cody intercepted him, standing about three meters away, and said, “What the hell took you so long?”

            “What?” asked Sean.

            “Where were you?”

            “Pardon?” asked Sean again.

            “My God, you’re stupid!”

            “Do I know you?”

            Without an answer, Cody took off in pursuit of Sean. Sean cut through the woods, nearly tripping on many exposed branches before reaching the fence of the old baseball diamond. He hopped it, which was no easy task considering the age, rustiness, and sharpness of the fence. Sean got a small cut on his hand, and another on his leg. But he ran. He ran. He ditched his book bag and ran even faster, cutting through the unkept outfield grass, avoiding broken bottles and grasshoppers and so on, until he hit the rough dirt of the infield. And there, Sean simply stopped running. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Cody trailing farther behind than he anticipated, but even with this lead, Sean did not continue running. Rather, he turned fully towards Cody and waited.

            “What are you doing?” asked Cody, upon catching up.

            “What?” said Sean.

            “Why’d you stop running?”

            “Because I don’t care.”

            “What kind of answer is that?”

            Sean said nothing.

            “It makes no sense,” Cody emphasized.

            Sean laughed. “I don’t care.”

            “But I’m going to beat the piss out of you.”

            “Fine,” said Sean. “Do it.”
            Cody approached, slow and off guard. His face looked as if he had an upset stomach. Something was off. He proceeded to beat the piss out of Sean. Kind of. He stopped after three punches before running away, out of the infield, into the outfield and out of sight.

            There Sean laid, on the dirt barren infield, staring at the ugly sky.

***

            Mornings started at six, with half an hour to open the restaurant. Perhaps due to the earliness of the hour, most workers at the Drop-In showed up with sour dispositions. This was equally true of Becky and Drew, who came in at 8:30, always together, looking for things to complain about. But this morning was different.

            Winnie drove her dad’s beat up Durango off the I-55 and into the dustbowl parking lot of the Drop-In. There she found Becky, standing in the parking lot. Winnie grabbed her purse, checked her lipstick in the rear-view, and got out of the truck.

            “Good morning dear!” Becky shouted from across the parking lot. Sure as the sun, Winnie thought Becky was talking to somebody else, but a quick glance over her shoulder confirmed that there was no one else in the parking lot.

            “Hi Becky,” said Winnie, approaching, feeling the denim of her jean jacket, trying to remind herself that she was in fact present in reality.

            “Why so sour? It’s a great day to be alive!”

            “Are you being sarcastic or something?”

            Becky’s face showed a sudden and slight frustration, but she shoved it behind a corporate smile. “Not at all.”

            Due to her tiredness, Winnie had failed to notice the giant piece of equipment Becky was observing. It positioned a large sign on top of the Drop-In.

            “What’s that?” asked Winnie, motioning.

            “It’s a surprise,” said Becky.

            “Is it a sign?”

            “Okay, it’s not a surprise. My, you sure hate fun.”

            “I should go inside.”

            Inside, things did not get any more sensible. Behind the counter stood a wide smiling German man, still wearing socks despite his choice of sandals.

            “Hello!” he said, with a smile.

            “Hi,” said Winnie, heading to the back room to drop off her purse.

            “We met briefly the other day,” he said, “but not formally. I am Hans.”

            “Pleasure to meet you, Hans.”

            “Likewise. Looking very forward to working in your beautiful diner.” 

            “Okay!” shouted Becky, with enthusiasm inappropriate for any hour, let alone one this early, as she came into the diner. “Everyone outside at noon! We’ll have the grand reveal!”

            The mystery would finally be solved.

***

Sean spent three hours staring at the sky, feeling the pain in his stomach. Cody’s beat down certainly left him in tremendous pain. And it was a truncated beat down at that. But Sean didn’t really care. He didn’t care about the sun beaming down and burning his exposed skin. He didn’t care about the bugs slowly crawling across his legs. He didn’t care about the dust dirtying his hair. He didn’t care because he didn’t think this was worth caring about.

            In his daze, Sean hardly heard a voice say, “Hey.”

            He was shocked but did not flinch. Instead, he continued to stare at the sky. He assumed it to be Cody, but, upon adjusting his gaze, Sean found a girl, tall and pale, staring at him.

            “Who are you?” he asked.

            “My name is Suzy,” she said, plainly. “Are you okay? I saw what happened.”

            “No, I’m not okay,” said Sean. “I’m in tremendous pain.”

            “Let me help you up,” she said, pulling him by the arm until he was sitting. She dusted off his back with her hand and took the initiative to wash his glasses. He could finally see her. She was wearing a dress straight out of a Norman Rockwell print.

            “Do you want a glass of water, or something?” she asked.

            “Yes actually,” said Sean. “I swallowed a lot of dirt.”

            “Okay. You should come with me.”

***

They huddled around the diner in the afternoon heat, forming a semi circle as Drew attempted to use a long pole to remove the tarp from the new sign. He was unsuccessful, after much cursing. The local press and a few onlookers lazed around, a few leaving, since the big reveal was 5 minutes late.

            Winnie could see Becky’s good mood fading away. But then the tarp came off and revealed the sign, followed by a dim round of clapping.

            It read, in large sparkly letters:

            THE DROP-IN DINER: HOME OF THE BOTTOMLESS FRIES

            The crowd slowly dissipated, heading back to their boring lives, when Becky yelled: “Wait, you don’t get it, we have bottomless fries!”

            “So does every other diner!” said a crowd member.

            “No!” yelled Becky. “They are literally bottomless!”

            Winnie entered the diner, perplexed and wondering where the world she knew went.

***

            Sean was a circle, shoving itself into a square.

            Suzy moved in her parent’s kitchen so effortlessly, sliding softly on her socks against the ceramic floor. “Do you want something other than water? I have orange juice, milk, and this Fruitopia shit. Blue Raspberries don’t actually exist, you know.”

            “Water is good.”

            “Okay.” She held a glass up to a water machine. He thought about how every house had different glasses, and how they meant home. She grabbed a vine full of grapes from the fridge, placed the water in front of Sean, and leaned elbow first on the counter.

            “What grade are you in, Sean?” she asked.

            “Nine,” he said.

            “Me too.”

            “Yeah.” He kept his eyes down, locked on the floor tiles. Gravity felt so much stronger, holding his head there, as he could not bring himself to look up, to look at Suzy in her dark, pretty eyes. To see her hair hugging her heart shaped face and the way her overbite jetted just so perfectly from her lips. He wanted to see it. But he just couldn’t.  

            “So what do you do?” she asked.

            “I don’t know,” he said, after a drink.

            “You must do something.”

            “I guess.”

            “You should tell me five things you like, and I’ll tell you five things I like.” She ate a grape and extended her legs outwards like a triangle. 

            “Why?”

            “Because maybe some of those five things will line up, and then we’ll have the foundation of a beautiful friendship.”

            “Okay.” Sean glanced up for the briefest of seconds, before looking away. He reminded Suzy of a deer.

            “Do you want to go first?” she asked.

            Sean shrugged.

            “Maybe we’ll take turns. I’ll name one and then you name one, etcetera,” she suggested.

            “Sure,” said Sean.

            “I’ll go first. I like yogurt.”

            Sean said nothing.

            “Go,” she prompted.

            “I like fish,” said Sean.

            “What kind of fish?” she asked, perking up.

            “Goldfish.”

            “Do you own a goldfish?”

            “Yeah. His name is Charlie.” Sean smiled.  

            “Nice.” Suzy ate another grape.

            “Do you like goldfish?”

            “No. I think fish are gross.”

            He took a drink. “Oh.”

            “I like dancing,” said Suzy, glancing upwards.

            “Yeah?”

            “Yeah. I really like to dance.”

            “I never tried,” said Sean.

            “You should,” said Suzy. “It’s your turn.”

            “I can’t think of anything else.”

            “What do you do with your free time?”

            “Nothing.”

            She looked at him with disbelief. “Nothing? You stare at a wall?”

            “No.”

            “What do you stare at?”

            “I watch a lot of television.”

            “So that’s something else you like.”

            “I guess.”

            “Well that’s good. What do you watch?”

            “I don’t know. I guess I like the boring stuff,” said Sean. “The stuff that tries to sell you stuff. Infomercials. I like the one where the family is standing around that thing.”

            Suzy’s eyes lit up with the faint glow of recognition. “The Breakfast Maker 3000?” she said, shifting her eyes from the grapes to Sean.

            Sean was now the one showing disbelief. “Yeah.”

            “Where the kids slowly come in one by one?”

            “And find the parents.”

            “Just standing there.”

            “And the parents are really in love with each other.”

            “And they make bad jokes. And it’s really touching because they’re a family that loves one another. But it’s also not because you realise that they only love each other not because it’s something worth doing, but because it’ll sell breakfast makers. I have to show you something,” she exclaimed. Suzy reached under the counter. “Here,” she said, slapping a large appliance down on the counter.

            “Wow. Is that?”

            “It’s a Breakfast Maker 3000.”

            “Did you?”

            “No, it was my Mom. I have about fifteen other things around here too. The automatic shirt folder. The self-standing snack bowl. UV Superior Sun glasses. The Better Panini Maker.”

            “That’s superfluous.” Sean laughed. “The grill of the Breakfast Maker 3000 can be used to make Paninis.”

            “It’s all superfluous,” said Suzy. “None of it matters.”

***

            It took a while for everything to make sense, but eventually word got around. The Drop-In Diner was not like any other diner offering bottomless fires. These fries were literally bottomless. Hans did not get into the specifics, but he’d rigged up some large machine that created the “Bottomless” bag, a normal looking brown paper bag with one caveat: when one reached their hand in, they encountered a never-ending supply of French fries. It defied the laws of time and space, and yet here it was, sitting in the Drop-In’s kitchen.

            The word of mouth spread like wildfire. The phenomenon brought droves of visitors into the Drop-In. Winnie worked overtime well into the night as the diner stayed open. Once the tables were empty and the dust settled, she found herself alone, wiping tables. The rest of the staff seemed to have disappeared.

            Until Hans came in.

“Hi Hans,” she said. “Mighty fine fries you got there. Shouldn’t you head home? You must be some kind of tired.”

            He laughed. “You must be as well. Would you like some help?”

            “That’s really not necessary.”

            “Oh no, no, I insist.”

             “Well if you insist. Wanna wash down that counter?”

            “Gladly.”

            “Then we’ll get out of here quicker.”

            “I don’t really want to leave.”

            “Why the hell not?”

            “This is my dream, Winnie. Being here, making fries. Making people smile.” Hans smiled himself. “What’s your dream, Winnie?”

            “Dream?” she asked.

            “Yeah.”

            “I don’t think I have one.”

            “Everyone has one.”

            “I guess I’d…I don’t know, to travel the world.”

            “Travel?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Traveling is good. Where would you go?”

            “Anywhere really.” She looked up from the counter she was washing, peered at Hans directly, and put a hand on her hip. “You know, I’ve been here all my life.”

            “Really?”

            “Yeah. Sometimes, I park the Durango at the edge of the desert and I just stare at the horizon. I wonder what’s out there. And why I don’t go see it. Never been out of Paltock. Not because I don’t want to. I don’t really like it here.”

            “Then why do you stay?”

            “You know, I honestly don’t know.”

***

            Suzy and Sean soon began watching TV together, as a way to simply pass the time. Time moved slower in Paltock, as they flipped through channels in Suzy’s parent’s living room. He’d sit as far away from her as physically possible, terrified to show his veiled feelings.

            “Which TV court show bailiff would you take in fight?” asked Suzy.

            Sean winced. “Byrd. You got to be tough to be with Judge Judy.”

            “You are so wrong,” said Suzy. “It’s Douglas from The People’s Court. So young and fit.”

            On the tube, a commercial flashed for the next episode of the Oppie Anthony Show, a nationally syndicated public interest talk show. And, to their surprise, it advertised that Oppie Anthony was coming to Paltock to “get to the bottom of these bottomless fries.”

            “Did you hear about those fries?” asked Suzy.

            “Yeah,” said Sean. “Hard to believe.”

            “I don’t know,” said Suzy. “I think sometimes we’re too confident in what we can and cannot believe.”

            She stood up to straighten out her dress. When she sat back down, Sean couldn’t help but realize she was noticeably closer.

***

            The Drop-In closed the next day for the interview, with hordes of producers and assistants flocking upon the diner. Winnie stayed home, giving her calves a much-needed break.  Bagel and water in hand, she sat down on the couch and turned the television on. She flipped through the channels, stopping briefly on some, and seeing nothing of interest. She turned the TV off and finished her bagel. She looked at the clock. It had been fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes into her day off. She went back to bed.

            Sean and Suzy watched TV from home.

            Hans watched TV being made in the diner.

            He stood behind the order-up slit, listening to Oppie’s amazement at the bottomless bag of fries.

            “What if I were to rip this bag open and climb inside?” Hans heard Oppie ask.

            “My understanding is that you cannot do that,” said Drew. “It’s physically impossible.”

             The angle made it hard to tell, but Hans was sure he’d secured his bounty—Oppie smiled wide. That’s what it was about, more or less, the smile. The extension of the facial muscles, a meaningless, arbitrary act, the bringing about of which was the only thing in life Hans felt to be truly reciprocal. Where could one go with a discovery such as his? Hans dared to dream. He looked up and saw himself, meeting presidents and attending balls with well dressed masses who clapped whenever the orchestra finished a song. He imagined himself solving world hunger, with hordes of grateful children saying, “thank you Hans.” The surreal became real.

            But he soon found himself knocked out of this blissful reverie. There was a loud rumble from the dinning room, and then, without warning, a fry shot out of the bottomless bag and went right through Oppie Anthony’s eye.

            This was quite shocking. Everyone’s face hung low. The last three days had been an exercise in curbing reality, but this did not fit with the narrative. Oppie’s body laid lifeless on the booth’s table, as the air sat empty and heavy.

            Fries began exponentially exploding from the bag.

            Drew tried to cover it with his hands, but the sheer force flung him backwards into the corner of the diner. Becky cried out for Hans, but the sound of fries pounding the diner’s metal ceiling more than drowned out her pleas. Hans tried to enter the main dining room, but found himself pushed back into the kitchen, with several greasy welts on his skin, as the fries continued to shoot out at an exponential rate.

            Dazed and traumatized, Hans stumbled out the back door. He got in Drew’s truck. Drew had the small-town habit of leaving his keys on the dash, so Hans took them, and began driving away, towards Paltock, with the express intention of getting help.

            But before he was out of eyeshot, he got a perfect glimpse in his rear view of a truly spectacular sight. The roof of the diner exploded from the pressure, and out of it came a flying guizer of fresh fries, endlessly shooting upwards into the air.

***

            Suzy and Sean were watching television, when a breaking news alert interrupted their show. They could not believe their eyes.

            Nor could Winnie, at first, and then, upon further reflection she thought that it all made perfect sense. Fries were endlessly shooting out of the Drop-In, upwards, into the air. And they fired at such a rate that it was going to cause problems. For whatever goes up must come down, and these fries were certainly going to come down. As they went on without end, it was projected, the mass presence of fries in the atmosphere would have several ill effects. Firstly, it would block the sun for unrecommended periods of time. Secondly, the fries would come down, causing endless structural damage. Thirdly, the fries would clog the world’s ocean’s, displacing large amounts of water and resulting in mass floods. All in all, the fries would end the human race.

            Various closer examinations of this guizer anticipated that it would take 34 hours for the world to end. This was tentative, since the fries were coming out at increasingly quick rates. So it would probably be a little bit less than 34 hours. And that was concerning for the mass of the human population that wanted to continue living.

            Of course, they came up with a plot to stop the guizer. Plugging it was not an option, since the sheer force of the upward blast would destroy any material they used before it could be plugged. Air strikes were briefly considered but deemed impossible for the same reasons. They tired various drone strikes, but they proved ineffective since no explosives could breach the massive wave of fries shooting out of what was formerly the Drop-In Diner. Humanity was truly fried.

            With that grim prognosis, life for most became a mad dash away from Paltock, and within hours the town was bare, the streets empty and the houses left in their nakedness. Winnie stayed. She did not know where her parents were. She did not really care. In such a context, caring did not make any sense.

            She got up and headed outside. It was a nice day, sunny with clear skies. She could see ominous golden fried yellow specs shooting up into the air. Sirens echoed through town. Once the dust settled, things were quiet, and Winnie went for a walk. She passed the front step which she’d headed up and down so many times, so often a welcomed reminder of her bed being right around the corner. She passed the railing of their veranda that she would sit on during hot summer days and watch the darkness of the night slowly envelop the town around her. She past the three trees standing tall in her front yard that the neighbour’s dog always peed on and that her father always cursed for having to mow around. She passed the driveway where she used to draw images in sidewalk chalk while her dearly departed grandmother sat there in a lawn chair drinking a Pepsi and smoking a cigarette. She passed the crack in the sidewalk that ate the front tire of her bike one morning, sending her headfirst into a broken arm. She passed the bus stop where the school bus would get her every morning, and she would nod at the grumpy old mustached man who drove the bus and never introduced himself. She passed the fence that bordered the neighbour’s yard, in which they had a trampoline and a pool that she was never invited to play in. She passed cars on cinder blocks. She passed the chain link fence of the elementary school. She passed the beat-up playground equipment. She passed the crosswalk, at which no cars ever stopped for pedestrians. She passed the winding road that sloped downwards back towards the highway, the taking of which always meant she was leaving home. She passed the nicer houses along the crescent with their green lawns and automatic sprinklers. She passed the community garden which had failed as a project and housed only dead flowers. She passed the church her and her parents used to go to every Christmas and Easter. She passed the public pool that her aunt used to take her swimming at and where she, with shaky, seven year old legs, walked up the diving board for the first time and took that leap into the deep end, and thought she was drowning for the briefest of seconds until her head came out of the water and everything was clear.

***

            “Sean,” said Suzy, leaning towards him as they sat on her parents’ couch. “Are you alright?”

            Footage of the Drop-In flashed on the TV screen; endless drone shots of what was formerly the diner, filling the sky with fries.

            “I’m kind of worried,” he said, gulping down the lump in his throat.

            “You know,” said Suzy, looking out the window. “I’m kind of young to be saying this, but I think I’ve got this whole life thing figured out,” she said. “I think you’ve got to worry about what’s worth worrying about, Sean.”

            “Yeah,” said Sean, “but how do you do that? People say it like it’s the easiest thing in the world.”

            “I don’t know how other people do it,” she said. “But I do it by dancing, Sean.”

            “Dancing?” he asked.

            “Yes. I take my record player, I go up to our terrace, and I just dance. It’s the one thing that makes me feel truly calm, Sean. So maybe, just maybe, that’ll work for you too. Sean, will you come dance with me?”

            He hardly recognized himself. He’d never avoided five letters more so in his life. It was an entirely foreign process to him, and worrying was so familiar. And yet, in this situation he couldn’t help but let go, as he felt the worry shoot out from his fingers and toes, his body and mind free as he placed his shaking hand into Suzy’s soft palm and he said, “Let’s dance.”

***

            By the time Winnie got home, the town was mostly bare. The only exception was the German man crouching in her mother’s geraniums.

            “Hans?” she asked.

            “Oh, Winnie,” he replied.

            “What in God’s name are you doing?”

            “Hiding,” he said. “Winnie, I’m not sure if you’ve seen the news recently, but I may have been responsible for the end of the human race.”

            “Well that was an accident sweetie. No use in placing any blame now.”

            “So I am forgiven?”

            “By me at least.”

            “Then could I come inside? This shrub is very uncomfortable.”

            “Sure, I’ll unlock the side door.”

            “Thanks.”

            “Don’t mention it.”

            Hans came in. They stood there awkwardly for a couple seconds.

            “Did you want a cup of tea or something?” Winnie asked.

            “Oh, sure, that would be great!” said Hans, with a little too much enthusiasm sprinkled in there. Winnie directed him to the couch as she went to the kitchen. In the den, he made his way to a china cabinet and examined the pictures on top of it. Row after row of smiling faces. He picked up one, towards the back. It was a dirty looking photo, taken out of focus, with the sun shining right into the lens of the camera. A polaroid. Greased with finger prints. In the foreground of the photo sat a woman with her back to the camera in a blue lawn chair, bringing a can of Pepsi to her lips. And in the fuzzy center was a young girl with a watering can, wetting the concrete.

            “That’s my nan,” said Winnie, coming out of nowhere, making Hans jump. “I remember that day. I drew flowers on the driveway in chalk and I wanted to water them, but when I did the water washed the flowers away. I cried.”

            “That’s sad,” said Hans.

            “Yeah, it was. But my Nana got out of her chair and took me to the shed, and we got seeds and we planted new flowers, real ones, to replace mine, and these, she said, would never ever get washed away.”

            Winnie sat on the couch. Two cups of tea sat on the coffee table. “She’s in Heaven now,” she said. “Do you believe in Heaven?”

            “I guess I kinda have to, now,” he said.

            “Yeah,” said Winnie. “I never did. Ever since I was a teen I didn’t believe any of that religion stuff. Just didn’t make any sense to me. But something occurred to me recently, and that’s that Heaven is real, and I’ve been there. Just the once. It’s right outside that window, by that flower bed, with my Nana.”

            Hans teared up.

            “Winnie,” he said, “I’ve screwed up bad.”

            “Why? Because of the world ending? Hans, we both know that was an honest mistake on your part.”

            “But no one cares about that. Have you seen the television? They’re talking about me.”

            “Well let ‘em talk, Hans. No one matters anymore.”

            “Winnie, I did everything with a specific intention.”

            “Was that to end the world?”

            “What? No, that was the last thing I wanted to do. Rather, I wanted to…”

            “To what?”

            “I wanted someone to like me.”

            “Oh Hans.”

            “I took stock of my life and I thought about it and going back through time I could not think of one single person who actually honestly liked me. My parents did not. My brother did not. Every friend I ever had only used me because they had an exam coming up. I just wanted someone to like me, to make someone happy. And I thought fries would be the way to do it. I mean, everyone loves fries! And something as cool as bottomless fries. Oh, Winnie! I never meant for this to happen. I just, I just wanted someone to like me.”

            “Well,” she took a sip of tea. “I like you just fine Hans.”

            “Really?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Even though I ended the world?”

            “Mistakes make the world go around. You’ve always been nice to me. And that genuine kind of nice, you know? I just, I get where you’re coming from Hans. I get wanting people to like you. It sucks, I know it does. But I think that sometimes, sometimes when people don’t like you, it says more about them then it does you. Sometimes you just gotta wait, wait until you meet the right people, and then, then things will be…”

Before she could even say another word, she was interrupted by the unmistakable noise of French fries hitting the metal roof of her home. 

***

            They headed up the steps, towards the roof.

            “I never told you my next thing,” Sean said.

“What?”

“When we were in your kitchen, I never told you the next thing that I like.”

“I never told you mine either. it’s occurred to me. You go first.”

The words came out naturally. They never did before. It was a true first. He said, “It’s you Suzy. I like you. A lot, actually.”

“That’s funny,” she said, “my next thing I like is you, Sean.”

They slipped through the door of the terrace, hugged by flowers, oblivious, like they desired to be, to their future, totally engrossed in the now. She put on a ’45.  

It snapped. It crackled. It popped. She came up to Sean. She slowly kissed him on the mouth. She backed up. And then the music played, slow and funky. She began to dance. He followed, free from the eyes of the world, as the song sang its first lyrics oh where the cold winds blows…

None of it should have made any sense. He finally cared about the world, and it was coming to an end. It should have been tragic, but it was not. It was all okay. It was happy. He was happy. There they danced, strutting on the horizon until they saw the French fries coming down from the sky. And even then, they did not flinch. They simply danced until the volley of French fries crushed them both to death, together, into the world.

 
  Copyright © 2018 Alex Wentzell


Alex Wentzell  is a writer living in Atlantic Canada. His first story "Rational Man" appeared in the June 2017 print edition of the Scarlet Leaf Review


 

The Tower Journal
Summer 2018