Brakes squealed. Seconds later, the bells above the door chimed . A skinny, one-armed man walked straight to the counter, where a woman was partially hidden behind a TV. “Where’s the latrine, sister?”
“It’s for paying customers,” the woman behind the TV said.
The man looked around and saw hot dogs glistening inside a steamer. “How much for a dog?”
“Ninety-nine cents plus tax.”
The man felt his front and back pockets with his left hand. “She-it-she-it-she-it-she-it. Sheeeee-it!” He tossed back his dirty blond hair and rocked on his worn-down boot heels.
“Damn corporations!” The man crossed his left arm over his chest. His hand rubbed the nub where his right bicep would be if he had one. “Sorry, sister.” He stomped down aisle 2 and pushed in the whitewashed door with the blue ‘Toilet’ sign. He stood hunched over, facing inside, nub against the open door.
The clerk, having glanced back and forth between the TV and the overhead surveillance mirror, stepped out from behind the counter and stalked down aisle 2 in knee-high boots. “No, not this one! It’s out of order!” She stopped in front of the salsa rack six feet from the doorway and hugged her left arm under her breast.
When the drizzle of water against water subsided, the man shook and zipped. He bent his knees and lifted his left leg.
“Stop! It’s clo – ”
He cocked the pointy tip of his left boot, pushed down the flusher, spun around and looked up.
Under the bright florescent ceiling light, she faced him with a gaunt, symmetric face and prominent forehead. If her bouffant hairdo was a red kite in the breeze of the overhead fan, her empty right shirtsleeve was its wagging tail.
He blinked and folded his arm across his chest.
She arched an eyebrow. “It’s rude to stare.” Wiggling past him, she rushed to the toilet and looked down, her nub against the stuck door, her boots standing where his boots had stood. The water was rising. “Dag gummit! Rajan is going to… Mister, I need this job.”
The man edged so close behind her that she felt his heat against her hair, her neck, her nub.
Their two good arms swung in parallel, inches apart.
The scent of her red hair filled his nostrils and mouth. “So, you’re? You’re also – ”
Water oozed over the rim of the toilet bowl. She could not step back without falling into him and, so, just watched as the water glided under the soles of her imitation leather boots.
“My boo,” he whispered into her ear. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry don’t pay the rent,” she said.
“A hand grenade exploded on me in Iraq,” he said. “Army is paying for college. I can’t play my guitar… or do open heart surgery. You?”
“Rocket propelled grenade penetrated our Humvee,” she said.
“I hate it when that happens.” The man’s voice stiffened. “No worries. I mop as well as a soldier with two arms.”
They both shivered.
His nose edged over her nub to her earlobe. “I’m Elroy.”
“Rajan comes at five,” she mumbled, swaying her empty sleeve back against where his missing hand would have taken hers.
A student in the Stanford Creative Writing Certificate Program, Kenton K. Yee has placed stories in The Los Angeles Review, PANK (forthcoming), Brain Harvest, Word Riot, Apollo’s Lyre, and Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader, among others. He imagines from San Francisco.