Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

Table of Contents

the Lights are Out; the Curtains drawn – Order 722 – 
what Becker hasn’t done –

The lights are out, the curtains drawn. She sits in one of the two chairs there by the small round table in the corner, wrapped in a thin white towel, hair limply, darkly damp. Hand on a knee, elbow on the table by a slim black phone, screen of it cracked. She blinks. Neatly draped over the dull yellow coverlet of the one queen-sized bed a pair of black jeans, a sort-of folded black T-shirt. On the shag carpet at the foot of it a pair of Chuck Taylor hightops, one white, one black, both grubby, fraying duct tape wound about the toe of one of them. She draws a slow, deep breath. Lets it out.

There’s a knock at the door. “Jo? Hey. Jo.”

“It’s open.” She doesn’t get up out of the chair.

A lowly ruddy flare of morning light as the door swings open, and somehow the room becomes smaller, wallpaper shot though with fraying metalled threads, dusty flat screen of a dead television, peeling veneer of the dresser, expressionist print of a football tackle askew above the bed. The man in the doorway heavyset and tall, leaning a shoulder on the one jamb, hand braced against the other, in the fingers of it a featureless yellow keycard. “I need the room,” he says.

It’s unclear whether she nods, or shrugs, at that.

“So I gotta kick you out,” he says. Looking about the room. His hair is greasily brown and cut to no specific length, his short-sleeved shirt a drably olive, his tie of mustard yellow. “Do you,” he says, frowning. Shifting his weight in the doorway, still braced. Trying again. “Did you even get any sleep?”

“You don’t get to pretend you give a fuck,” she says, quietly, but clear.

“Jo,” he says, and drops his head, shaking it vaguely. Hauls it back up with a deep breath in through his nose. “Room has to be cleaned and prepped by eleven,” he says. “You, what, you just used the shower? Jo?” Looking away, shaking his head more definitely. “I can let you have it till ten. Do what you need. Get yourself some sleep, whatever. There will be a wake-up call.”

“I need a charging cord,” she says.

“You,” he says. “You need a.”

“I need to charge my phone,” she says.

“You want me to get you a,” he says.

“Just for an hour or two.”

“This place?” he says, “you better not set on fire.”

“I didn’t,” she starts to say, but closes her eyes. “Just for an hour. Or two,” she says, opening them.

He drops his hand, takes a step into the room, onto the carpet dazed by all that light, reaching for the doorknob. “You don’t get to make a habit out of this,” he says, and pulls it toward him.

“Zach,” she says, before the door shuts. “Thanks,” she says.

“Lemme see about that cord,” he says, and the click of the latch.

She closes her eyes again. Sat there, in one of those two chairs, by the small round table in the corner. Wrapped in a thin white towel, hands folded in her lap, bare feet nestled in the thick shag. Damp hair slowly drying.

“Good morning, welcome to Jack in the Box, how may I take your order?”

The guy in line ahead of her, tall enough to stoop and preternaturally thin, steps up to the counter and says, “Southwest Scrambler. With sausage. And a salted caramel shake.”

“I’m sorry, sir. That’s on the lunch menu, sir, the shake.”

She’s fishing from her pocket a medium-sized binder clip pinched about a five, a couple of ones. At her feet a black nylon duffel, limply empty, brightly new.

“We serve breakfast all day, sir. Lunch starts at eleven.”

“Caramel whatsit, then,” he says. “Coffee. Large.”

“Southwest Scrambler, Caramel Iced Coffee, that’ll be nine dollars eleven cents. Number seven twenty-one. Next?”

She kicks the duffel across flatly red tiles up to the counter, the red-jacketed clerk patient at the register, sizzle and pop and scrape behind, “Good morning, welcome to Jack in the Box, how may I take your order.”

“The, ah, combos.” She’s peering at the brightly lit menu above, all close-up images of carefully assembled sandwiches, glistening fried potatoes, sweating and steaming cups of this or that. “Coffee’s included?”

“And hash browns, yes.”

“Okay,” she says. “Let’s have the ultimate breakfast, then. Combo.” She’s unclipping the bills.

“Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich Combo, four dollars eighty-nine cents. Number seven twenty-two.”

She lays the five on the counter, takes the receipt and the change.


A low and narrow booth in the back corner. She’s sat herself on one short vinyl-coated bench, stuck the duffel on the other, she’s undoing with a rip the velcro of her fingerless cycling gloves, tugging one free, then the other. On the table by a paper cup of black coffee and three torn sugar packets is her phone, the screen of it lit up, 09:42, say the numerals of the phone’s clock, Tuesday, May 15. 35%, the much tinier numerals by the partially filled icon of a battery, all of it floating over a photograph taken somewhere outside, at night, herself and Ysabel, cheek to cheek, Ysabel’s hand at the upturned collar of her white coat under her lopping black curls, a coolly sidelong smile for Jo beside her, laughing, short hair tufted every which way, blur of her arm reached into the bottom of the shot where the corner of the glass is webbed with cracks, one of them jagging through the two of them up to the top. “Seven nineteen, order seven nineteen,” blurts a voice from speakers up by the ceiling, and then, distantly, “Welcome to Jack in the,” unamplified, “can I take your.”

She presses the button at the bottom of the phone, gingerly taps in a code to unlock it. Touches the nested gears from among the icons that appear, sprinkled over their faces. Scrolls through a list of options till she reaches one that says Wallpaper.

“Seven twenty-one,” the voice from the speakers. “Seven twenty-one.”

Choose a New Wallpaper. Dynamic, Stills, Live, All Photos 152, Recent Photos 152, Favorites 0. Her fingertip dithers over Live, over Stills.

“Seven twenty-two. Order seven twenty-two.”

Live. A selection of swirling cloudscapes appears, teal, indigo, stormy grey. She selects stormy grey, and the clouds fill the screen, squirming under her fingertip. Set, or Cancel.

“Seven twenty, and seven twenty-two. Orders seven twenty and seven twenty-two.”

She looks up. Thumbs off the phone, stuffs it in her pocket. Heads for the counter, where a tray is waiting.

In the parlor, with the bicycles and the folded sandwich board that says Piano Lessons, Weekday Appointments, all glazed by morning light that drifts through high side windows, Becker’s in a white T-shirt and grey lounge pants, one hand on the newel post at the foot of the stairs, he’s taking a deep breath in through his nose, “Wow,” he says.

“Yeah,” says a woman away toward the back of the house, past the dining room opening off of the parlor, stood in the kitchen there through the archway, holding a great cast iron skillet.

“Is that,” says Becker, and he sniffs again, “can I scam a cup?”

“I didn’t make it,” she says, staring at the skillet, heavy and wide and the yellow enamel of it pitted and stained, worn away with use. She tilts it, looking over the inside of it in the light, smoothly faintly glossy unmarred black. Becker bustling behind her, opening a cupboard, selecting a mug, looking over the electric drip coffeemaker on the gleamingly clean counter, carafe of it full and steaming. “Maybe it’s Hollis’s?” he says. “Hollis wouldn’t mind. Would he?”

“Somebody cleaned,” she says.

“Somebody,” says Becker, looking about, empty mug in his hand. The kitchen does sparkle, in this light, diffused though it is though the leaves of the trees without, glass jars of grains and beans lining the spotless countertops, faucet gleaming over an empty white sink, even the floor with a freshly mopped sheen. She’s stood there, her oddly layered housedress, rainbow socks, her flamingo-headed slippers, that skillet in her hands, “Somebody cleaned my pan,” she says, aghast.

“Is it okay?” he says. She looks at him, then. Sets the skillet on an eye of the stove, and even the drip pan beneath the element’s been scrubbed clean. “Oz,” he says. “Is it okay?”

“It’s perfectly seasoned,” she says.

“Oh,” he says.

“Nobody touches my pan,” she says.

“I know, Oz. I know.”

“Nobody uses my pan.”

“I know.” He turns back to the coffeemaker. Pours himself some coffee. The mug is blazoned with a dancing rag-and-bone man leading an elaborately laden horse. “Maybe it was Hollis?”

“Hollis didn’t do this,” she says.

“Well, I didn’t,” he says, sipping. “Dang, this is good.”

“Pour me a cup,” she says, and abruptly opens the fridge.

“So we’re assuming it’s communal,” he says, getting down another mug, this one embossed with stylized chickens. “Oz?” He fills it with coffee. She’s still before the refrigerator, one hand on the open door. “We out of oat milk?” he says.

Oz reaches both hands into the fridge to awkwardly, gingerly lift out a plastic takeaway dish to set it, quickly, on the counter, hands leaping away as if burnt. What’s within can be made out, just, through the clear plastic lid, wide noodles set in a chilled red ragù, tumbled with glistening chunks of meat under a still-fluffy cloud of grated cheese and finely chopped herbs yet green. Giorgio’s, says the label pasted on that lid. 5/14. “Oh,” says Becker, peering over her shoulder. “I’ve been there.” He frowns. “I think.” Stepping back. It’s a, fancy Italian place.”

“Becker, says Oz.

“In the Pearl,” he says.

“This is a vegan refrigerator, Becker.”

“I know that,” he says. And then, eyes widening, “Jesus, Oz, that’s not mine.”

“I didn’t put it there.”

“I know, but – ”

“Hollis doesn’t eat pasta.”

“Yes, but – ”

“Jayfer’s still out in Boardman.”

“Maybe she came back early?”

“She would never violate the refrigerator like this.”

“Maybe somebody’s pranking you! I don’t know!” Pushing back what’s left of his hair. “I didn’t, go, to a fancy restaurant, last night, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t sleep-clean the, the kitchen, in the middle of the night, I never touched your pan, and that’s not mine!”

“Can I have some?” says the man in the archway, pointing to the coffeemaker. “I am gonna need a cup or two before I can deal with this nonsense.” Pushing between them both, reaching for a mug. “Hollis,” says Oz. “Hollis! Somebody cleaned the kitchen.”

“Yeah?” says Hollis, filling a mug. “Did you notice the bathroom?”

Table of Contents

Post-season Football Classic,” painted by LeRoy Neiman, ©1985. Jack in the Box®, founded 1951 by Robert Oscar Peterson, registered trademark of Different Rules, LLC.

  Textile Help