I wrote this story a few months back for a Halloween issue of an online magazine. I never heard back so I figured I would share with all my Ello peeps.
By Michael Grantham
The Snickers bars called to me.
You should grab a couple.
“Two for one sale,” the cashier said.
I didn’t like the smile he gave me. I paid and left with milk and diet powder.
“Would you like to buy some cookies?” The Girl Scout I dodged when I entered the store appeared holding up two boxes of Thin Mint cookies.
I wanted to tell her to fuck off but her parents watching from lawn chairs.
Those would go great with that milk you have.
I gave an approximation of a smile and sidestepped the tiny peddler. I didn’t fumble the keys getting into my minivan.
Burger King, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s sat on competing corners.
I bet you could hit all three drive throughs fast enough to compare their fries while they’re still warm.
I pressed the gas a little too hard when the light changed and my tires squealed. The steering wheel creaked and popped beneath my grip. I rolled my neck from side to side and willed my shoulders out of my ears.
I heard the whoop of the police siren before I saw the lights.
Way to go Chubs.
I pulled over, opened my glovebox, and snatched out my registration. A fun-sized Butterfinger fell to the passenger floorboard. I stared at it, wondering where it came from.
I bet it’s still good.
The officer knocked harder than necessary to get my attention. I rolled my window down and held out my license and registration before she even asked.
“Do you know why I pulled you over sir?”
“Excuse me?” she asked, her tone implying my silence offended her.
I sighed before telling her my jaw was wired shut. It came out, “Ma ja s wyrd.”
Oh, she totally understood that.
I pointed at my mouth and repeated.
She understood and scowled. “Were you in an accident?”
I nodded although I hadn’t been in any accident.
Accident at birth.
“I guess you haven’t learned your lesson.” She pointing back to the intersection.
She told me to wait and returned to her motorcycle with my ID.
Why didn’t you tell her the real reason you sealed up the old pie-hole?
I looked down to see my hands resting on my gut like a table. I forced them apart and tightened my abdominals, to little effect. I tried to find another place for my hands, on the steering wheel felt odd while the car was in park, crossed felt defensive. I settled on one arm out the window, the other on my hip. I was not at all comfortable.
To avoid staring at the candy bar, I watched a few families in the park across the road toss footballs and shoot each other with water guns around smoking barbeque grills. The wind changed and the smell of cooking meat flooded the car. My nostrils widened and my mouth watered.
“Sir, I don’t see an accident listed on your driving record.”
I jumped when the officer returned to my window.
I used some charades to suggest that it was a biking accident.
I swear her eyes flicked down to my belly for an instant.
She wrote me a ticket for not using my turn signal and something called unnecessary acceleration, then told me to drive safe.
My window was up before I restarted the minivan but the smoky smell of the grills lingered. I signaled and pulled away from the curb, only to be honked at by a car speeding past. I braked hard and the Butterfinger rolled into my peripheral vision. I didn’t look and eased into traffic.
Three more lights and I’m home. Chipotle, Starbucks, and Subway at the first.
You could suck down one of those venti mocha Frappuccinos long before you get home.
The light changed and I continued without stopping. It felt good. I would be home soon.
I caught the next red light. TGI Friday’s and a couple gas stations. I looked down at the Butterfinger and figured I should throw it out before I got tempted again. My gut pressed against the center console as I reached for the Butterfinger. Just as I got a finger on it another horn blared. I sat up and dropped the candy into the cup holder.
I knew you couldn’t throw it out.
I couldn’t get my belt back on. The safety catch kept engaging before I could get it around my lap.
The final light was green and I figured the middle of the intersection was the perfect place to ditch the sugar. I rolled down my window and grabbed the Butterfinger out of the cup holder. I checked that I wasn’t about to litter in front of a cop and when I looked forward again I saw the car in front of me swerve.
A large box was sitting in the middle of the road. I didn’t react well. I swerved the opposite direction and hit the curb on the far side of the intersection. My front tire popped and racked my jaw on the steering wheel.
I looked back and a gust of wind blew the empty box to the side of the road. It would have been better if I just ran it over. I pulled my car into the parking lot on the corner where a grand opening sign greeted me.
Fatburger, the best burger chain in the world, known for oversized cheeseburgers, tasty french-fries, and thick milkshakes was opening today.
Ha, ha. You did it on purpose.
My face hurt where I hit the steering wheel. The wires crisscrossing my back teeth punctured the inside of my mouth. I winced as I ran a finger along the cut. It felt like a tooth came loose.
You going to cry?
I threw open my door and stomped around the van, knowing how petulant I looked and not caring. I pulled the donut tire from the back and thought about old-fashioned glazed doughnuts while I changed the tire.
Krispy Kreme has the best overall selection, but you’re right, Dunkin’s old-fashioned are the best.
Two stripped lug nuts and a bruised thumb later, the donut was on. As I finished packing up, a young girl in a Fatburger uniform approached me holding out a paper bag and cup.
“We saw what happened and felt bad. I think the box was from the guy who brought the balloons,” she said looking back to the grand opening display. “Anyway, none of us know how to change a tire so we decided to give you this.”
I backed away and shook my head.
“No really, it’s on us. It’s a cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate milkshake.” Her smile was huge, her eyes innocent.
Take it or you’ll break her heart.
I dove into the driver’s seat. I didn’t look back as I merged onto the road and continued home. I sped through my neighborhood fighting the wobble of the donut tire. I hit the garage door opener from a block away, flew up my drive, and watched the door close behind me.
I sat in the garage with the engine off. The only sound was the crackle and pop of the van cooling.
The door leading to my house opened, casting a beam of light on me.
“I thought I heard you pull in,” my wife said. “Need a hand?”
I shook my head and gathered up the milk and eggs.
There was a sense of serenity in my kitchen. My kids were on their iPads and my wife pulled out the blender to make my evening meal.
“You’ve been gone forever. Any problems at the store?”
I pulled out my phone and typed out my afternoon while she blended the milk and diet powder.
“A ticket and a flat? You must have been a monster in a past life,” she said and kissed me on my forehead.
I drank my dinner, allowing the cold liquid to run across my still-sore molars.
We watched television in the living room. Every third commercial was for a restaurant. They all had close-ups of food. The music that accompanied the slow stretching of the cheese as the beautiful young girl took a slice from the box and lowered it into her mouth was blatantly sexual.
I looked to my wife for reaction but she didn’t seem to notice. My kids were both watching YouTube videos on their tablets. The characters on TV were eating and laughing. Most weekends I stay up for Saturday Night Live but my stomach was grumbling every time food porn came on, so I called it a night.
I fell asleep right away. At some point my wife joined me.
At two in the morning I was wide awake. It was quiet except for my CPAP machine whirring next to my bed. I tried to close my eyes and will myself back to sleep. I began counting sheep, but that never works. My stomach constricted.
I focused on the sound of the CPAP and elongated my breaths through the mask.
I know you’re awake. Quit pretending and guess what I know.
I pinched my eyes closed and refused to open them.
You dropped the Butterfinger.
I opened my eyes. My bedroom door was open and something like a breeze opened it a little more.
I got out of bed, careful not to wake my wife, and went downstairs.
I fumbled around the dark garage until I found the car door. When I opened it the dome light lit the room. I blinked away spots and saw the fun-sized Butterfinger on the floorboard.
I snatched it up and held it to my nose. I could smell the chocolate through the wrapper.
I did, and scraped off a small piece of chocolate onto my finger then smeared across my gums. I winced when I touched the wired molars. I swished the saliva around in my mouth and tried to dissolve the chocolate but I couldn’t taste it.
You have those little wire cutters in the tool box.
I crossed the garage and got them out then went back and flipped down the sun visor. Little lights on either side of the vanity mirror came on and I looked at my wired jaw.
Four brackets were attached to my molars. Two up top, two at the bottom. They looked like my braces from grade school except the wires zig-zagged between the upper and lower teeth.
I tried the snips while pulling my cheek back but I couldn’t quite get the cutter in the right place. I went back to my toolbox and pulled out a tiny screwdriver.
I wiggled the screwdriver under the first wire and tried to pry it away enough to get the snips around it. I felt the enamel of my teeth crack and grind in protest as I worked the screwdriver back and forth, up and down. It took a while but I was able to create a small gap. I snatched up the cutters and with a snip that was both loud and painful cut the first wire.
I tried the same trick with the second wire but was unable to create the space I needed.
Can you pull off the brackets?
With a pair of needle-nose pliers I tried to grab one of the brackets. Saliva made it slick so I searched the car till I found an old napkin under the passenger seat. I sucked air across my teeth and dabbed the bracket until it was dry enough to get a grip. I pulled and twisted, the pliers slipping and popping off until finally I twisted the bracket off my tooth. Pain shot up into my eye when it came off.
You’re almost free.
The pain was too much though. What I was doing was stupid.
You’re so close.
It wasn’t worth it and how was I going to explain the mess I made to the diet clinic.
Exactly, you have to explain this to them anyway.
The cut ends of the wire poked the inside of my cheek. I felt the last connection. My bottom tooth was loose from the accident. I pushed it back and forth between my tongue and finger, remembering my kids losing their baby teeth.
I bet you could just open your mouth and it would pop right out like one of those baby teeth.
I separated my jaw a bit and felt a not unwelcome tug at the tooth. I chattered my teeth a bit relishing the movement in my jaw. I pried my teeth apart more and more, little by little until a lightning bolt of pain shot through my jaw and down my neck and to my ear. I clamped my jaw shut.
That’s the nerve. You got to do it with one quick pull now. You can do it.
I didn’t want to do it. It hurt too much. My eyes were watering and a tear ran down my cheek.
Are you crying? You are such a baby.
More tears came. I sniffed and looked down at my gut. It grumbled and knotted up with hunger pangs.
You’re starving Chubs. Yank your mouth open, eat that candy bar, and you can tell the clinic that this way doesn’t work for you either.
I nodded, and before I could think about it, I jerked my mouth open.
I screamed in pain as my tooth popped out. Blood splattered across the dashboard of the minivan. I jumped from the car and fell to my knees on floor of my garage. I clapped my hands over my mouth as it filled with blood. I couldn’t close my jaw because the dangling tooth was poking the hole it left.
Way to go Chubs. You should shove something in there to stop the bleeding.
I grabbed the old napkin from earlier and packed it into the hole. I tipped my head back and swallowed mouthfuls of blood as I moved the dangling tooth into my cheek so I wouldn’t bite it anymore.
I was crying in earnest now, wracking sobs that sent waves across my belly. Snot, blood, and tears mixed together, soaking my chins and tee-shirt.
There, you did it. Now, get your reward.
I picked up the candy bar with shaky hands. Most of the chocolate melted onto the wrapper the crunchy center was now just powder. It fell apart in my hand, so I tipped my head back again and dumped the crumbs into my mouth. It tasted stale.
I was licking the chocolate off the wrapper when my wife opened the door. I saw the cacophony of emotions play across her face: startled fear, concern, realization, confusion, and finally disgust.
“You don’t even like Butterfingers.”
I opened my mouth to respond and a thick glob of blood, chocolate, and drool dropped onto my gut.
She closed the door as I stood there and cried.
Oh Chubby, that was horrendous.