b y  M i c h a e l  P e a r c e

Summer in Chicago and nearly a hundred
outside but in the low-ceiling basement
where we ran the four custom kilns all day
the thermometer was always pushing 125 so
we drank soda non-stop while stretching
bottles, that’s right, pop bottles, Coke, Pepsi,
7Up, heated them up and stretched them so
they became long and twisted and were
labeled Pop Art Bottles and sold for $3.50 in
Old Town hippie shops with names like
Climax and Stick It In Your Ear and that
meant a plump profit because you could
exchange an empty bottle for five cents but
these guys got them from the soda
companies for eight cents, the extra cost no
doubt because they were also paying for
trademark on the product, these guys being
Mickey, Stuart, and Sheldon, three Jewish
guys from Skokie, and the basement
operation was run by Duke and Ron, a black
guy from the South Side and a white guy
from Little Italy who got paid way more than
the $1.30 an hour that I got and way way
more than the $5 a day Stuart paid the
speed freaks who wandered in every so often
to pack the bottles in crates and who would
work diligently for a day or two and then
disappear for a week and such was the
pecking order that I felt special making twice
what they made even though I was getting
minimum wage and had burns all over my
arms and all they had was the occasional
paper cut and one of the bottle-packing
speed freaks was a girl named Lisa who was
pretty with curly strawberry blond hair and
when I got to know her I found out that
Mickey would take her behind the crates
during lunch hour and pay her three bucks
for a blowjob (He sure likes to get his bottle
stretched she said) and one time she showed
me a little sketch pad with drawings and
writings that were truly brilliant, I remember
looking at her and thinking You
made this?
and later this kid Eddie got furious at her I
think because she slept with him and then
jilted him and he tore up the sketch pad and
she said It’s kinda like you were tearing me
up isn’t it and he said That’s right but she
just changed the subject and said There’s
this lesbian who’s in love with me and wants
to take care of me but I’m not the lesbian
type and I said I know you’re not and she
said How could you know you never fucked
me and she said it angrily, like she had
desired me and I was too dumb and too shy
to notice or do anything about it, and that
broke my heart.

Michael Pearce’s stories and poems have appeared
in Epoch, Ascent, Measure, Nimrod, Conjunctions,
Witness, and elsewhere. He lives in Oakland,
California, and plays saxophone in the Bay Area
bands Highwater Blues and The Delta Dogs.
Flash Fiction
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