Two Pieces of Flash Fiction
All over the country, after everything’s gone to shit, there are two seasons: nuclear winter, and hellfire. The thing about it is, Rooney’s grown up without knowing much else. She’s too young to remember what white snow looks like anywhere other than in cartoons, has never had the extreme satisfaction of stepping on a dead leaf in the fall just to hear the crunch it makes while it disintegrates. Has never had to wear a light jacket in the spring or felt a cool breeze, ever, really. Somehow though, she still manages.
Right now she’s living in Oklahoma. Don’t ask her how she got here, because she won’t tell you if you try. Don’t even ask her what she’s doing, because she’s not going to tell you about that either. What she is going to tell you about, is eggs.
Oklahoma is inland enough that is was spared most of the brunt of the blast. The pavement here, though craggy and uneven from a lack of maintenance, is still mostly whole. And the reason this is important? Eggs.
Rooney loves eggs. Fried eggs, scrambled eggs, poached eggs. You name it, she’s plucked one straight from the chicken’s ass, wiped off the few remaining feathers, and cooked a damn fine meal with it. What she’s never done? Is taken advantage of the extreme heat of the Stillwater noonday sun and cooked one on the pavement.
After a particularly heavy morning of drinking bathtub gin, Rooney raids the coop behind the house she’s been renting a room in. She takes three eggs and stuffs them into the pockets of her baggy shorts and heads out to the town square. Her new best friend Hippolyta, whose had three less glasses of gin than her and is, therefore, the sober one of the bunch, pipes up: You’re wild, girl. I’m telling you, you can’t do it. It’s impossible.
Oh yeah? Rooney asks, with a glint in her eye and a look of bullish confidence that could only come from copious amounts of drinking. Just watch.
Rooney makes a big show of holding her egg up for the crowd of drunk onlookers to see. The sun beats down and the egg, which has taken on a greenish hue due to all the radiation, shines. Rooney produces a spatula from her waistband and gives it three quick taps, cracking it one handed and reveling in the extra moments it takes to fall on to the ground.
The egg hits the pavement with an undeniable splat and a hiss. Rooney scratches her nose with the edge of the spatula and burps. See, she asks, what’d I tell you?
Just because that ground’s hot, doesn’t mean it’s gonna cook genius. Hippolyta challenges her.
Ah, whatever, you’re full of shit.
They’ve only known each other for a few weeks, but they bicker like friends of decades and love each other all the more for it. Hippolyta’s the only one who can keep up with Rooney’s drinking, and her storytelling, and her constant gambling habits. Hippolyta has a little bit of mutie in her, but she can pass for a hume and so she does. Rooney doesn’t mention it. Honestly feels that muties get a bad rap and a whole lot of blame for a biological situation they have no control over. Just all got born in a place that was too close to the blast, is all.
After a few minutes, most of the onlookers have stumbled back into the bar. They’re used to the how quickly their eggs are cooked at the one diner left in town. But Rooney’s patient, and Hippolyta’s stubborn as hell.
Rooney gets down on her hands and knees to inspect her handiwork. Carefully uses the spatula to free up the edges of the egg white so she can pick it up without breaking it. She likes her yolks runny.
All right, all right, the egg’s cooked. Next round’s on me. Now can we get back inside? It’s hotter’n the devil’s blood tit out here.
Rooney gives her friend a passing glance before bringing the egg up to her mouth and opening wide.
Tell me you ain’t really gonna eat that thing?
She takes a giant bite, straight into the yellow, letting it break and ooze down her face and drip onto her collarbone. She lets out a satisfied: Mmm, mmm, mmm. Delicious.
Hippolyta rolls her eyes, You know I was going to buy you the drink whether the egg cooked or not, don’t you? Always do.
Rooney smiles, savoring her road-cooked treat. Takes a second to spit out some of the pebbles and other detritus still sticking to the bottom of it, and says: Yep.
There’s a bar two doors down from the mutie-slaughterhouse. They have an old jukebox with seven-inch records inside. The volume is turned all the way up to drown out all the screaming that drifts over from the slaughterhouse, but it doesn’t really work. Rooney doesn’t agree with new government’s ruling on the situation. Some of her best friends from growing up in the wasteland are muties. She’ll never forget Fat Roger or Chookster. They took care of her better than Eustace ever could. But the government says they’re bad for the air. That they’ve been running tests on the quality in the few safe zones they’ve established around the state, and that the mutie neighborhoods are the only places where the radiation hasn’t slowed down any since the bombs fell sixty years ago.
They passed a law that says everybody who lives in one of the government towns is required to turn any of their mutie friends or family in. They promise they’ll be put down in a safe and humane way, so as to reduce the radiation and not cause the maximum amount of human(mutie) suffering and all that. But Rooney knows it’s bullshit; she hears them every Wednesday and Thursday after her shift at the pencil mill when she’s at this bar to get drunk.
She stuffs a quarter into the juke and starts to play Sam Cooke songs. The wiry bartender makes a face like he hates Cooke, but he doesn’t say anything about it. And she doesn’t feel bad, because the idiot shouldn’t keep music he doesn’t like in the bar he runs if he doesn’t want to hear it. That’s his own damn fault.
Rooney absentmindedly rubs the cross-shaped scar on her side where her mother cut her open and stole her liver as a baby. They say that ever since the blast, nobody needs them anymore. We process chemicals in a different way now, and our livers are supposed to bring the people who hold onto them good luck. Rooney got hers back decades ago and used to keep it on a chain around her neck, but she lost it one day in Tulsa and never went back for it.
There’s something about this bartender that Rooney doesn’t trust. He looks kinda like a photo Eustace said was her pops, and even though she hasn’t seen the photo in years, she can’t get the similarity out of her head. While he pours her seventh glass of bourbon, she strikes up a conversation: You ever live in Cleveland? After it all went to shit.
The barkeep looks at her like he’s seen a ghost. He squints his eyes and whispers: Well I’ll fucking be.
So that’s a yes? Rooney asks, taking another swig of bourbon. Her stomach feels warm, and her head starts to get cloudy, which is exactly what she’s hoping for today. It’s the only way she can get through it.
He scratches his thick white beard and makes a show out of ripping yesterday’s date off the tear-off calendar he keeps behind the bar. He chokes up a little bit and pulls up his shirt to reveal a scar just like the one she has. Rooney cocks an eyebrow and cracks her knuckles. She isn’t sure if this guy is full of shit or what, but by god, if that didn’t look like Eustace’s handiwork.
Rooney’s father extends his hand. She takes it, and his grip is firm like hers. There are blood-curdling screams in the distance, and the Sam Cooke record is skipping. The way the sounds combine is dissonant and grating, and Rooney isn’t sure she’ll be able to sleep tonight.
I can’t believe it’s been fifty years since I’ve seen her, he says. He fills up a second tumbler of bourbon for himself and even though she’s speechless, the two of them clink their glasses together and she takes another huge swig. Beaming, he says: Happy birthday, daughter.
About the Author: Bob Raymonda is the Founding Editor of Breadcrumbs Magazine. He has been featured in Luna Luna Magazine, OCCULUM, Peach Magazine, and Yes Poetry, among others. Learn more at www.bobraymonda.co.