The moon is strong at night. The plants turn green under the milky light. The wind makes everything rustle.
I’m on my fifth mile of running without a shirt in the middle of a balmy night. Popeyes grips my hunger. I stop running and gather my forward momentum.
A mom is hanging out in her SUV in the parking lot. She rummages through the center console. She has two girls climbing all over, one in the passenger seat, the other in the back.
I walk into Popeyes. A father and his daughter stop sipping on their drinks to turn to me and take a good look at me.
I step up to the counter. The girl with the headset looks at me. My fingers play piano on the counter. I look up at the menu. I think about the backlight. The images make me fart.
She asks what I want, she says it more politely though, a euphemism, Can I take your order?
The menu is really making me fart. I scratch my nose. My chest glistens. I have my shirt in my hand. The keys to my home are bundled inside the cotton.
I tell her I want chicken. She says, What kind of chicken?
There are too many choices. I look at the line of cooked chickens behind her and point to one that looks really gold and crispy. I say I want that one, how much for that one.
I narrow my eyes and can already taste how good it will be.
The girl fiddles with her headset, the microphone foam. She clears her throat when she gives me the chicken, the precise one I pointed to, wrapped. I feel compassion.
How much do I owe you?
She runs my debit card and I listen to the receipt being printed. She takes money from the till and puts it in her pocket. I smile and nod.
The parking lot is empty now, not a car in sight. I hit the sidewalk and see Church’s Chicken. I walk into Church’s Chicken and sit down and unwrap my Popeyes chicken.
Someone passes me mopping the floor. I can’t tell whether it is a boy or a girl because of his/her hat, which hides the hair. So anonymous, this person mopping the floor, no name tag, no voice.
My chicken is good. It is crispy and gold. I look at the way the wall is painted. I think it is painted too well for a Popeyes. Or no, wait, I’m not in Popeyes, that’s right, I’m in Church’s eating Popeyes.
The thought makes me laugh to myself. My body chuckles. A guy tilts his soft drink up, puts it on his lips, and starts slapping the bottom, trying to make the last bit of ice slip onto his tongue.
The skin is so good. It makes we want to curse. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck that’s good. I look at the girl with the headset. She is different from the girl with the headset in Popeyes, but not unique.
I ask for a cup to fill with water. The girl with the headset pulls a cup from a tower of cups and doesn’t say anything, she just wants me gone, go drink your water, here’s the cup, go get whatever you want, just go.
Maybe it is the Popeyes wrapper she sees crumbled in my hand. Or maybe she can’t see the conspicuous wrapper but smells the smell of Popeyes in my breath, surely she has to recognize such a scent. This scent is her competition. Recognizing this scent must have been one of the requirements for her incumbency.
The water doesn’t hit the spot so much as the ice in the water, which makes it cold. I like my water cold when I drink it. But in the shower I like it scalding hot. Don’t trust people like me, people who run in the night without a shirt on and eat one form of chicken in someone’s else kitchen. I throw the wrapper away in the trash and walk out the door as if there were intro music playing.
The street is dark and named Wilson. I’ve always liked that name, Wilson, especially on a street. I used to live on a Wilson St.
I accelerate into the night. The speed bumps lull me up and down. My body is in pain. I push forward on light feet, quicker feet, longer strides.
I see a couple turn the corner and walk toward me, guy and girl. The guy is using his hands to say something. The girl is looking at his hands, waiting for them to get into a position, something definite.
In some people they have one leg longer than the other. This is the way I must be. I think this as I trip on level asphalt. The slope of this road is zero, I think. I think, This is a horizontal line I’m tripping on.
My arms reach out in front up me, my hands open to brace myself from serious injury. I feel the union of skin and asphalt result in a rupture. Blood will spill. I will cringe, probably. The couple will see me fall. The guy will hold his hands in the air, still for the duration of my fall, and the girl will think this is what he’s trying to say.
She will not see me fall but she will see me on the ground, hobbled, damaged. I will live the rest of my life with a pair of scars. Ointment will help hide their visibility, but everyone will still see my scars, at least when I have shorts on.
As fate would have it, however, I don’t fall. None of the falling happens, only the tripping, the stumbling. I am very thankful, full of gratitude. I want to tell the couple, Close call, right? But they only look at me and I look back. I mutter something to myself, That would’ve been bad. A guy drinking a beer on his porch hears me. I say, Hi. He says, Hi. I say, How are you? He says, Fine. Then he looks at me.
Tomorrow I’ll buy my crispy gold Chicken at Church’s and eat it in Popeyes.