e lock the doors and pull our liquor from our purses and backpacks. Jake gets the whippets from the walk-in fridge. Cesar yells “Watch this!” and rips a Raleigh phone book in half. It’s Sunday night. Colonel Cheese is closed on Mondays.
We’re still in our work clothes, black button downs and red suspenders. There’s pizza sauce ground into the carpet and the high chairs need to be uncrumbed. The singing robot bears up on stage are still hot to the touch. I pour tequila into a blue raspberry slushie and my assistant manager, Tom, hooks his arm through mine.
“Alexa,” he says, “fifty bucks says you can’t eat a pound of butter in two minutes.”
I’m 26. My ex-fiancée, Michael, called off our wedding six months ago. A few weeks later, fueled by grief, I won a nacho eating contest. Since then I’ve been hooked, spent my weekends traveling up and down the East Coast eating massive amounts of food as quickly as I can. Next weekend, I’ll drive to Charlottesville to try to eat ten pounds of ham in ten minutes. After that I’ll be in Vermont seeing how fast I can shovel two gallons of cottage cheese down my throat.
“I liked it better when you painted landscapes,” my mom tells me. “I liked it better when you painted meandering rivers and limestone bluffs.”
Last weekend I boxed up my oils and brushes and stuffed them into my storage space. For now, I’m done with nature; for now I’m done arching my hand carefully across a canvas to embellish a ripple in a creek or to make the evening sky ache with ochres and umbers.
“No one ever chanted my name when I painted landscapes,” I tell my mom.
Tom slaps a fifty-dollar bill on the table. I waitress like a lot of other people waitress, to afford to do the thing I love which won’t pay the bills. That used to be painting, but now it’s hearing people cheer as I push potato skin after potato skin down my throat.
“Are you gonna puss out?” Tom asks.
Last week Tom bet me fifty bucks that I wouldn’t take the garbage to the dumpster wearing only my bra and panties. The week before that, he bet me I wouldn’t swallow a fish from the aquarium. I can’t tell if Tom doesn’t think I’ll do these things or if they’re just things he’ll pay to see.
“Bring it on,” I say.
Most of us at Colonel Cheese are newly single. Most of us are angry about that fact. Linda’s boyfriend broke up with her because she tried to change him. Tom’s wife left him because he’s Tom. Jake’s girlfriend caught him tonguing the back of Linda’s knee in his pickup. I brought my wedding dress to work and set it on fire in the parking lot. The dress melted more than it burned; left a speed bump of white goo on the asphalt I drive over each day when I come to work.
Tom sets the butter down on the table and everyone gathers around. All of us wear nametags with fake names when we work. Right now I’m wearing a nametag that says Josie. Linda’s nametag says Constance. Cesar’s wearing a nametag that says Jason B. even though there is no other Jason’s, fake or otherwise, who work with us.
“When you get bitched at with a name that’s not your own the bitching doesn’t stick,” Linda told me when I first started. I stare at the butter. It’s only been out of the fridge for a minute, but it’s already sweating.
“Go!” Tom yells.
I finish the butter in ninety seconds; slap my hands down on the table. Tom forks over the fifty. Everyone cheers.
“Time to dance!” Cesar yells.
Jake dims the lights, Tom cranks the sound system. Cesar grabs my hand to pull me onto the dancefloor, but I wave him off. A few Sundays ago, he tried to kiss me, but I slid my lips out of the way before he could.
“I’m still not ready,” I told him.
But now I decide I am. I stand up and shuffle my feet across the carpet, move slowly toward him. I build up a bunch of static electricity in my body. When I get close I reach out my finger and touch it to Cesar’s chest, watch it crackle with light.
During the summer of 2014, we held our inaugural Flash Fiction Contest with Kathleen Hale serving as judge. This is one of Kathleen's winning selections.
John Jodzio is the author of the short story collections, Get In If You Want To Live and If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home. His work has been featured in a variety of places including This American Life, McSweeney’s, and One Story. He lives in Minneapolis.