WHAT HAPPENED

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“FIREFLIES”  by Andy Jenkins

“How many today?”

“Just one.”

“Follow me.”

I do a quick scan. No empty booths. I hate sitting at the tables. They are like islands out there in the middle of the floor. She guides me towards a large booth with a couple of people sitting on one side. No, no, please, not there…

“How’s this?”

No, no, no… “Fine. Thanks.” I sit.  Across from me, some 5 feet away are two people. A woman and a man.

The woman talks to her companion in a loud voice. He answers in whispers, if at all. She is gobbling down her food. He hasn’t touched his. She is large and white. He, Asian and small. I can’t figure their deal out. Not siblings. Spouses? No. Neighbors? Maybe.

She coughs and clears her throat, her tonsils wrestling in a field of phlegm. I play it nonchalant and don’t look up. But my mind does what it does and wanders off into a mine-field. I picture bacteria exiting her gravy-wet lips and swirling around in the air like fireflies, the majority of them settling on, or near, her plate and drink. A few, though, will wander farther, being held on the wings of her medicated breath. One or two will inevitably land on my plate.

I’m not a germ-o-phobe. Really. I try to think of something else before I take another bite of my French dip or sip of my coffee. But instead, I pick up my phone and pretend I have something to do. I go straight to Instagram and start scrolling. Food pictures. I put the phone down and pick up my sandwich.

Fuck it.

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Originally Published in Level magazine (UK)
Illustration: Travis Millard

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