Clean Exit



There are enough people suffering, I mean really suffering, that it warrants a special kind  of restaurant. You go in, order whatever you want, eat as much as you want. Then you go up  front and check out the dessert counter. There are all kinds of cakes and pies. You have to go up  there and look at them, there are so many. You couldn’t possibly choose from a menu. You’ve  got to see their faces. Your mother works the dessert counter. She wears a cute little apron, with  her hair fixed nice and her fingernails painted red. You say, “Cherry pie, please,” and she says, “Coming right up.” You say, “Do you forgive me, Mother?” and she unloads a can of whipped  cream on the pie. “What’s to forgive?” she says. “I live to serve.” Then she watches you eat the  pie, but it’s all whipped cream, there’s no pie, the pie’s gone. You think you see her crying, but  she turns away. She asks, “How’d you like the pie?” and you say, “Great, thanks.”  

You pay at the register. It costs everything you’ve got. Every dollar, every stock, every  bond. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve got. It doesn’t matter what you’ve got. You hand it  over, everything. This policy keeps the employees happy and that’s what matters. Some of them used to live in hotels. Now they live in gated communities. They own four-wheelers. They wear gold. After you pay, the cook named Buster, the one with smooth skin and a soldier’s physique,  he takes you by the elbow and walks you to the parking lot. He tells you to stand on a tarp while  he puts you out of your misery. There are palm trees planted all around the parking lot, so if you time it right, before it gets too dark, you can look up and see the fronds against the sunset, playing like fingers in peach cobbler. Also, there’s a toothpick dispenser by the register, so you  can pick your teeth first, which ensures a “clean exit.” 

Afterward, your mother and Buster share a cigarette behind the restaurant. This is the  other cook named Buster, the one with pitted skin and a hostage’s physique. You would expect him to be a customer, rather than an employee, the way he’s been screwed over and wrung out and tossed aside in life, but he’s of a different constitution. Call it bulletproof. Your mother says, “Will you say goodbye?” and Buster says, “If you want,” and she says, “I want.” Buster goes  over to the dumpster, where you lie, no longer suffering. He lifts the lid and says, “She’s pretty  when she’s sad.” He takes a drag and exhales through his nose. He says, “So long,” and then he closes the lid and goes inside to mop. The trapped smoke settles like a cat on your chest. Possibly the restaurant is called the Last Supper, but I might think of something better. I’ll be going to sleep tonight and it will hit me.




Wynne Hungerford‘s work has appeared in EPOCH, Subtropics, Blackbird, The Brooklyn Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, American Literary Review, The Normal School, and SmokeLong Quarterly, among other places. 


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