At midday a person pulls his car up to a fastfood drive-thru, braking by the speaker. He looks at the car radio, no expression as he turns it down. In the distance there are refineries lining the horizon. He stares at the rows of refineries, seems lost. Turns back to speaker when it scratches.
THE SPEAKER: Hi can I take your order?
PERSON: Yeah—You sure can. But first, I need you to hold on, please. Just hold on.
THE SPEAKER: [static] Ok, take your time [static] We'll get through this together.
PERSON: We will. And I promise, I'll take my time.
THE SPEAKER: [static] Good to hear.
The person surveys the menu. He feels hurried and wonders about the appropriate length of time to make a choice. Then he considers how much time he is adding to the process by considering it. The words on the menu lose meaning in the panic, and he opts for the pictures.
PERSON: [to himself] They should have three-dimensional pictures so people can imagine the actual size [pause] What am I doing?
On the display there is a picture of another person his age enjoying a chicken sandwich.
PERSON: Alright, hello?
THE SPEAKER: [static] Yes sir, what can I get for you?
PERSON: I read that your Spicy Chicken Sandwich will take me "South of the border." Is that true?
THE SPEAKER: One Spicy Chicken for the man in the fucking sweet Camry. Anything else?
PERSON: No, I'm not trying to order one yet, I was just curious if I will be mysteriously transported to Mexico or South America somewhere, because I'll need to know in advance to let someone know to get my mail for me and prevent the newspapers from accumulating in front of my door.
THE SPEAKER: [static] You won't be transported. Would you like a Spicy Chicken or no?
PERSON: Well [shifts to park] hold on. That changes things. [pauses] I'm confused about where we're at in the process now. Can I just pull around again so it's like a do-over? So it's like we never met?
A long silence follows. The person takes a deep breath and rubs his head slowly, in becoming lost to the humming of his car's engine. He doesn't know what he has just said. Looks out the windshield into the distance, where the refineries at the end of the town emit smoke, and blend to clouding.
THE SPEAKER: [static] Sit? What can I get for you?
No answer. The person is still removed. He becomes aware again in a slow volley.
THE SPEAKER: What can I get for you.
PERSON: [to back of car as if people are there] Uh, I didn't order the Rude Sandwich [then aloud] Alright, how about this, the #6? It says it's, "Exploding with taste." Is that accurate? [watches his mouth in the rearview mirror] Exploding. Exploding.
THE SPEAKER: It is pretty good. Super good, Sir Good in a big way, explodingly big taste. I'm fucking half-dead just thinking about it. Do you understand? [screams] Huh? [then tonelessly] I am imagining my exploded trunk bleeding into the dirt after having tasted the sandwich. The sandwich touches my mouth, and then I burst. Look around you, the parking lot should be hot with explosion remnants. The sandwich is amazing. [static]
THE SPEAKER: But no, you won't actually explode.
PERSON: I don't have to worry about my head bursting into pieces all over my car? Tell me that.
THE SPEAKER: No Sir.
PERSON: [watching own mouth again] And would you clean up the stains in my car if that happened?
THE SPEAKER: [static] I would do that for you, yes. I would clean the remains of your head off your car.
PERSON: Ok [puts hands on steering wheel, turns it side to side] Because, it would be pointless to buy the sandwich if I am going to die.
THE SPEAKER: Good point, Sir. I'll fix the menu so nobody else has to live in fear [static] You've done a brave thing. You deserve that fucking sweet Camry.
PERSON: [not listening] And the Radical Ranch Dippers?—How radical are they exactly? Tell me that.
THE SPEAKER: [static] Let me check [shuffling sounds] Ok—here it is. Radical Ranch Dippers. They have twice the amount of radical of most other places. Our team of scientists has discovered an extraction of radical, from a sample found deep within the earth's core.
PERSON: Polysaturated-radical or what?
THE SPEAKER: Yes to both [static]
Behind the Camry, another car honks. And the person drives away, in an awkward heave, forgetting that his brake is on. He leaves the shopping area and takes the side roads out, touring the town. He smiles at recognizable things, things that immediately recall an entire structure of feeling, himself very small in relation to it but also very much in control. The town is average. It begins to rain. The person enters a subdivision.
PERSON: I am ok.
He smiles and waves at the subdivision entrance sign. On the sign there's a lake painted there, and two genderless people in front of it, their faces gone from chipping. There is a green penis spraypainted going into one of their heads. The person nods hello to the wooden people as he turns in, passing the front lawn of the first house. Then more houses stacked in long rows.
PERSON: There can't be anyone in these houses. These houses are just stones that have ended up here. I am lost and scared [watching mirror and road alternately] Exploding. Exploding.
He drives around, talking incomplete sentences to himself. Rain still, but not as hard. Eventually he pulls over in front of someone's house and watches himself say "Exploding" for a few minutes. This seems to satisfy him. He gets out and leaves the car on the shoulder, still running. And he walks, watching his feet. He walks until he can't hear his car anymore. Sees a drainage grill along the curb. And there he takes out his driver's license, apartment keys and everything else in his pocket, including a roll of generic Lifesavers candy almost 2/3 full. And throws it all into the drainage grill. For a moment there's the water's hiss below. Then the things he's dropped, they splash. And he sits on the curb—elbows on his knees, hands on back of neck, watching the water go into the drain, carrying small tree branches, and birds, bugs, leaves, pieces of whatever, whatever is weaker than the current. The refineries are only blocks away, and he stares at them.
[Later. Same scene.]
A car parks down the road, same model and color as the person's. And a crossing guard exits. She begins crossing kids and buses when they come. In between, she approaches the person. He is wet, and sitting in the grass.
CROSSING GUARD: Hey—are you waiting for someone?
PERSON: [not looking] No.
CROSSING GUARD: Just sitting?
There is a pause.
PERSON: [with weird relief] Yeah, just sitting [then, evenly] I am just sitting.
CROSSING GUARD: Ok [thumb over shoulder towards car] If you want to come sit in my car with me—it's warm in there. Plus you can pick the radio setting. You can pick any station or kind of music but you can't have any of the carrots I brought because I only brought enough considering myself. I have a Camry [thumb over shoulder towards car] It's lovely.
The crossing guard keeps her thumb towards the Camry. And the person looks at the license plate. Seems speechless.
CROSSING GUARD: [thumb still over shoulder] That's my Camry you're looking at. It's lovely.
PERSON: I have a Camry too. It is lovely, you're right. When I sit inside it, I am in love [watching a worm spasm on the street] I want to sit next to you in your Camry and scratch your face really hard.
He leans forward and picks the worm up. Then he examines it, in its state still wet and knobbed with pieces of dirt. He sets the worm back into the grass. Another school bus passes, parting the street into miniature waves. The person waves to the staring kids. They frown at him. One does that, "you're crazy/finger around the head" thing, but without the accompanying "crazy face," just a stare.
CROSSING GUARD: None of them like you.
PERSON: The ridicule is unbearable. And the urge to fall down and cry is hard to resist.
He gets up and the crossing guard walks him to the car. In the car they sit together in silence. The heater is on.
PERSON: [squinting against the heater] I'm not worried about anything. I'm not confused.
CROSSING GUARD: [takes out bag of carrots] Sometimes when I'm alone in my room I just walk around in circles and look at the garbage on my floor. I'm always worried about falling and hitting my head on something and then not being able to get up. It seems really upsetting that another human would have to come in and find me dead like that [eats carrot, optimistic] But someone will have to I guess.
The person pats the crossing guard's shoulder. Then kisses her on the cheek. And beneath the kissed spot, a bruising forms on her cheek and eye orbital.
CROSSING GUARD: [touches bruising] No one has kissed me like that before. That gently [eats carrot] Thank you.
PERSON: I'm surprised anyone has ever kissed you. That seems unlikely.
CROSSING GUARD: [rubs eye with hand holding bag of carrots] Other people have kissed me.
PERSON: [turns, watches refineries emit smoke far away] I believe you I guess.
CROSSING GUARD: Nobody will ever forgive us on earth.
PERSON: I'm not worried about anything.
Neither continues. And the person leaves the car. He walks. He passes homes with quiet lawns, plastic toys on the sidewalks and birds line up on the telephone wires. He ends up at a supermarket in a strip mall. He walks around the supermarket, not looking at anything. He grabs a can of tomato juice and an orange. He seems confused.
EMPLOYEE: Excuse me sir?
An employee greets him from behind a stand. She's handing out free samples. In front of her are crackers and some kind of dip. The person stops in front of the free sample stand.
EMPLOYEE: Would you like to try a free sample? They're delicious. I'm also willing to act like I am interested in your welfare, perhaps by attempting a discussion with you about something vague but relatable. We don't have to reveal anything important about ourselves. That would never happen anyway [smiles beneath her green plastic visor] It's like, a cheese spread with wine in it [undoes her clasped hands and gestures] Would you like a cracker, sir? Would you like me to teach you how to soundlessly murder an infant sir? My husband won't have sex with me. He masturbates in the bathroom and acts like he's brushing his teeth. But it doesn't take that long to brush your teeth. I know it doesn't take that long. Sometimes I try to check his boxers when he is sleeping, to see if they are stained. But I can't tell. Plus he would probably say that the stain was toothpaste. It's upsetting that I am married and in love with a fucking liar and a sneaky masturbator.
PERSON: "Sneaky masturbator" sounds like a cartoon villain I don't want to meet.
EMPLOYEE: [stops smiling] Oh you're gross [pause] Absolutely gross. You were born nine months after your mother swallowed her first genuine feeling of hatred towards her own life.
PERSON: I'm sorry [looks at samples] I don't know what I did wrong.
They stare at the free samples, ugly and uncomfortable under the lights. Very ugly.
EMPLOYEE: It's fine. Forget it. Let's talk about something else [straightens her sign, different tone, not completely sincere] I can't wait to get out tonight. It's supposed to be nice out tomorrow. I think I'm going to go to the park with my husband and bring some sandwiches. I like to lie in the grass and put the wet dandelions behind my ear—not the dry seedy ones [fixing her bra strap] Sometimes I forget to take them out from behind my ear and my husband and I wake up to find them all over in different places on the bed. He gets mad when that happens. He says he's worried about them staining the sheets. Fuck him. Fuck him in his stupid asshole.
The person sets the can and the orange on the stand. Then he rigidly holds out his cupped-hand. The employee hums to herself and spreads room temperature cheese on a cracker. Her knife breaks the cracker.
EMPLOYEE: Ah [making fist] I always fucking break the fucking thing. Here [drops another into his hands, whispering] Bullshit.
She eats the broken cracker and he eats his. And they make sure not to look at each other while eating. Somewhere in the avoidance, the person squints and coughs violently, spreading crumbs and some kind of cheese onto the display, and the employee's face also. The employee stands unmoving, unblinking.
PERSON: [hand to his mouth ready to stifle the next spray] It's good [coughs and retches hard] Good combination. The crumbs are on my tonsils.
He grabs the can and the orange and walks away coughing, red-faced and retching. There's a girl working the front register, blowing bubbles from a plastic wand she keeps in a container of bubble solution next to her. She affects customer recognition, finishing a row of bubbles from the wand. Then she rings up the tomato juice and the orange.
GIRL AT REGISTER: Can I see your ID?
PERSON: I have to show you my ID?
GIRL AT REGISTER: No I just want to see it [blows another stream of bubbles] I'm not lying. For some reason I just want to see your ID. [stream of bubbles stops, she dunks the wand again]
He hands her his ID. The girl looks at it, then back at him.
GIRL AT REGISTER: You look different.
PERSON: How so 'different'?
The girl watches him, alternating between the ID and his face. She dips the plastic wand in the bubble solution and blows some more bubbles. Some hit his face, and explode in lazy sequence. He puts his fingers to his face.
GIRL AT REGISTER: Different—like—you've been buried for a while [hands ID back] But only a little bit. Only a little bit buried. Relax—two, three weeks at most. Relax [another stream of bubbles, tries to catch them in her hand] Your driver's license contains the ghost of a very old you. A very old you that you can recall by name. Care to try our Super-Savers pick of the day? It's fresh cantaloupe.
PERSON: I'm sending you to hell in my mind.
GIRL AT REGISTER: Good because I don't know how to get there by myself.
PERSON: [looking at driver's license] The fastest way to hell is to stand still.
GIRL AT REGISTER: Forever sir [eyebrows up] So no cantaloupe?
PERSON: When I was buried for that little while, I told the worms that you're not far behind [pause] Relax, like two or three weeks.
GIRL AT REGISTER: [sending more bubbles into his face] I was hoping you did.
The person takes his purchases and leaves the store. He walks on the gravel shoulder of a road as the day gets darker. And he finds a place to sit on a dirt incline beneath an overpass. Holding the can and the orange, he looks out at the refineries emitting smoke, less than half a mile away. He imagines the refineries are cloud factories, and that he is employed there. Every day, he punches in and throws a huge lever—activating the machines that make clouds for the sky. And underneath the overpass he puts his head on the dirt. The coolness bites through his hair, touching his skull. He opens the can and drinks.
THE PERSON: [watching the refinery smoke] No one is ever going to miss me.
He drops the can and it rolls down the dirt into the street, where it spills against the gravel. He opens the orange with his thumbnail. The orange is filled with seeds, resembling tiny skulls. And he imagines the shape of the animal possessing skulls this shape. He sees the skulls take on bodies and walk over him, eating his body very slowly. It does not hurt. He flips out the tiny skulls in watery pops. They fall down the dirt incline. At the bottom of the dirt incline there's a puddle. Floating through the puddle there's a dead bird. The person wants to get up and feed the dead bird all the tiny skulls from the orange. But he is too tired. He remains there, watching the cloud factory on the surface of the puddle along the streetside.