Pickled (Flash Fiction)

Bob slid across a plastic booth seat to lean against a large pane of glass. Brian set the brown tray filled with fries and cheap burgers on the table and sat opposite to him. The golden fries were dumped from their boxes onto the paper lining. Brian called it community fries, and it was a system specifically designed to ensure he was able to eat more than his fair share. Bob ignored the act and stared out the window. He was no longer hungry and supposed he never had been to begin with. As he looked out, staring at the towering buildings of the city that captured the sound and bad air and blocked out the light and clouds, he wondered if he’d ever be hungry again.

“You gonna eat or pout?” asked Brian. He removed paper wrappers from two large burgers and looked at them with gluttonous joy.

“Dude, why did you get two burgers?” asked Bob.

“I’m hungry,” Brian said, not taking his eyes off his meal.

“You’re fat.”

“Don’t be a little bitch,” said Brian. “You wanted to come here.”

“No,” Bob said, pressing his forehead against the cold glass, “You said you wanted to eat. I said okay. That doesn’t translate into my wanting to come here.”

“Bro, you’re killing my burger buzz-here, okay? What the hell’s going on with you?”

Bob rolled his head slowly across the glass. Suddenly, he popped his head up. A large male walked up on the other side, the outside, leaned against the window as well and planted a large boot where Bob’s face was. “I’ve gotta get out of this fuckin’ city,” he said.

Brian considered his decision of which burger to bite into first. Twiddling his fingers as if casting some amateur spell, he grabbed one. He opened his mouth, considered responding to Bob’s trivial cry for help, and then took a big bite. “Oh yeah?” he said with a mouthful.

Bob shifted away from the glass to try to see over the large bodies blocking his view. If he leaned just right, he could see a small patch of blue off in the distance. That clear sky felt as far away as the moon. “I had an uncle once,” Bob said. “He drank a lot. Too much. We all knew it, everyone knew it, but no one ever did anything about it. It was just what he did. He never got belligerent or anything, never yelled or hit my aunt. Had a good job. Took care of his kids. All that.”

Brian clutched a handful of fries and shoved them into his face. Bob shook his head in disgust.

“Anyway, I remember talking to my aunt at the funeral. She was sad, obviously, but she was taking it all pretty well. I talked with her for a while. She said that a few months before he died, he had a checkup with the doctor. Doc said he had to stop drinking, that his liver was pickled to shit, totally shot. His health was getting bad then.” Bob shrugged, mostly to himself, as Brian continued eating.

“My aunt said she knew he couldn’t drink so often. But the days went by and time went on and nothing about it was really that terrible. And then one day it just happened. He basically pickled himself to death.”

“I don’t understand the point of this story,” Brian said, still chewing.

Outside, an argument was beginning. Deep voices grew louder and vibrated through the glass. A few choice words could be made out through the rising tide of sound. “I’m saying that’s what this place is,” said Bob. “This fuckin’ city is killing us one day at a time and we don’t even realize it’s happening. We’re soaking our bodies in poison, day in and day out. We’re just like my uncle. Pickles in a fucking jar.”

Brian stopped eating for a moment. His face was shiny with perspiration. “Are you trying to tell me to eat better?” he asked.

The shouting outside escalated further. Bob looked out the window, up at the small patch of blue, and wondered why he was even bothering. “I’m trying to tell you that we’ve got to get out of this place, this city. It isn’t right. It isn’t healthy. It’s a prison for our emotions, our souls. We can’t grow here. We can’t experience what life is sitting on concrete and eating manufactured food, bombarded by advertisements and radio waves and who knows what the fuck else.”

Brian looked at his friend and shrugged. “Where can we go, man?”

Outside, the shouting exploded into a full-fledged brawl. Large bodies thumped into the thick pane of glass and shouting drowned out all other sounds. The small patch of sky was now blocked from view. Bob sighed. “I don’t know, man. I don’t know where we can go.”

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