“Del Taco” by J. Edward Kruft

5139134629_1c717edd89_o.jpg“Out of the van!” yelled the cops, guns drawn.

Wide-eyed and hands up, Marc answered: “I swear! He said he was eighteen! Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Tell them!”

Meanwhile, in the desert, Monica posed next to a Joshua Tree while her girlfriends spread the blanket and popped the champagne and tapped weed into the bowl and, one of them, Sheila, squat-pissed behind a cactus that was playing a game of stick-em-up.

“Anyone ever notice,” began Joanne, as she was like to do, “that Mr. Murphy had a face like a weeping willow?” This betrayed that they had all been together since high school, excepting pissing-Sheila, whom the other girls tolerated for Monica’s sake, who had a bead on Sheila marrying her brother.

“Can I just say,” said Sheila, buttoning her Levi’s, “that this is one fucking-out-of-the-way place to have a shower?”

Monica said: “This bride-to-be is ready to get baked. Who’s with me?”

They sat around the blanket, Sheila plopped into the middle, and while Joyce got the pipe lit, Mirabel poured champagne into cups made from avocado pits.

Meanwhile, in Laguna, Mrs. Blancas listened on loop to Elaine Stritch belt “Ladies Who Lunch.”

Does anyone still wear…a hat?” she asked along, clutching her gin fizz. She adjusted her turban in the mirror and spoke to herself: “My father used to tell me, he’d tell me, ‘Lolo, you better marry rich, because you are the laziest person I’ve ever encountered.’

And one for Mahler!”

“Can you imagine he said that? To me?”

In the parking lot of Del Taco, Marc sat in the back of the cruiser. A cop was still questioning the boy that Marc thought was a man and he tried desperately to read their lips through the bulletproof window, the heat stifling him. He was caught off guard when the front passenger door opened and the other cop – the cute one, the one with the pencil mustache – got in. He handed Marc back his cell phone. “You might want to call someone. We’ll be heading to booking in just a few. Figure bond will be about ten.”

Marc showed his hands, cuffed behind his back. The cute cop sighed and got into the back with Marc and unlocked one of the cuffs so that it dangled like a gaudy bracelet from his left wrist. “Giorgio for Men?” asked Marc. The cute cop slammed the back door and left Marc alone.

Nothing. Not even voicemail. He dialed again. Nothing. He looked through his contacts.

In the desert, Sheila’s phone rang. Being she was in the middle of the blanket, everyone stopped as she looked at her phone. Monica said: “I can’t believe you get a signal.”

Sheila got up and walked toward the stick-em-up cactus.

“The fuck you want?”

“Sheila,” said Marc, “you with Monica?”

“What’s it to you, you fuck?”

“Sheila, listen, really, I need to talk to my sister. I’ve tried calling her but she doesn’t pick up.”

“You know, you’ve got a lot of nerve….”

“Sheila! Seriously! Now is not the time!”

She hung up.

“Fuck!” yelled Marc, enough that the cops and the boy who pretended to be a man turned to look.

Marc began to cry – not ugly-cry, but a single, dramatic tear – as he dialed once more.

Mrs. Blancas turned down the volume and picked up her princess phone.

“Yes?” Silence. “Yes, who is it?” she asked, looking in the mirror at that mole that ought to be removed.

“Hello, Mrs. Blancas.”

“Oh.”

“Wait. Mom. Don’t hang up.”

Silence. Then: “What do you want, Marco?”

As he searched for words, Marc watched a family walk through the parking lot. The kids were devouring their tacos as they walked, the littlest one dripping salsa verde down his front.

“The tacos here really are delicious,” he said, wiping away the tear, the dangling cuff brushing his cheek.

“What?” asked Mrs. Blancas. “Marco, are you drunk?”

“I said: THE TACOS HERE REALLY ARE DELICOUS! THEY’RE JUST REALLY FUCKING DELICOUS! OKAY?”

“Oh, I can’t do this. Really, you’ve always been such a churl,” said Mrs. Blancas.

“Mom. Really. Please. Don’t hang up.”

Silence.

“Do you remember,” asked Marc, “I broke my arm and you wouldn’t take me to the hospital, until finally I vomited on the dinner table and….”

“Your father was much too tolerant….”

“What has that have to do with….?”

“Someone had to be the heavy.”

“Yeah,” he said. “That was you all over.” Silence. “So, you’re not at Monica’s shower….”

Sheesh. Are you kidding me? It’s in the Goddamned desert!” She huffed. “Now, what’s all this cockamamie talk about tacos? Marco, where are you? Marco? Good God, you’re not in Tijuana, are you….?

The back door opened and the cute cop stuck in his head.

“All set?” he asked.

“Who’s that?” asked Mrs. Blancas. “Marco, who are you with? I hear a voice….”

Marc took a breath. “Here’s the thing, Mrs. Blancas. I’m in a little bit of trouble and as much as it pains me to no-fucking-ends to ask: I, might, kind of, you know, need your help….”

But soon enough he understood it was too late. In her impatience to get answers, Mrs. Blancas had put down the phone to examine more closely her mole, this time with the magnifying glass, and then she readjusted the volume to ten so that the only response Marc received was Elaine Stritch screaming at him, full throat:

AAAAAAAAAAAAAiii’lll drink to that…..


J. Edward Kruft received his MFA in fiction writing from Brooklyn College, and has been a Best Small Fictions nominee. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in several journals, includingJellyfish Review and MoonPark Review. His sister used to needle him with the same knock-knock “joke,” the one where the answer is banana over and over, until finally, the punchline is “orange…you glad I didn’t say banana?” He hated it immensely. He lives in Queens, NY and Sullivan County, NY with his husband, Mike, and their adopted Siberian Husky, Sasha.

His fictions can be found on his Web site: www.jedwardkruft.com
and he can be followed on twitter here: @jedwardkruft.

“Rona and Frank” by J. Edward Kruft

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Rona with her red hair and Frank with his dark bushy eyebrows met in high school.  Rona was good with math and sang in the show choir; Frank was second string in basketball and had a small role in Arsenic and Old Lace. After graduation they married at city hall and Rona got a job as a checker at the A&P; Frank worked at his uncle’s carwash on 21st Street; they could both walk to work from their studio apartment on 36th Avenue. When Rona got pregnant Frank worked double shifts in order to save up. When she lost the baby in the fourth month Frank continued to work constantly although Rona couldn’t understand why and felt abandoned in her grief. For his efforts his uncle promoted Frank to assistant manager which meant he no longer went home with prune hands and the extra money got them a one bedroom on Steinway Street. When Rona got pregnant again Frank was right to suspect the baby wasn’t his and through screams and sobs Rona admitted she didn’t love the other man who was a fellow checker but who made her feel she mattered. Frank stayed with his brother for a time and then told Rona that if she quit her job and never saw the guy again and never told another living soul, they could raise the baby as though it was theirs together. They named the boy Francis Carl and called him Franky and by the time he was walking at nine months people commented how much he looked and acted like Frank. Rebecca was born two years later and was named for Rona’s mother who died after a long illness less than a week after Rona delivered by C-section. Frank held his wife’s arm as they walked slowly from the family car to the graveside at New Calvary, Rona feeling the pull of the stitches with each step. Rebecca made both Rona and Frank feel a general completeness. While Rona raised the kids and volunteered at school and balanced the checkbook and gave blood and made birthday cakes and Christmas cookies and sometimes still sneaked a cigarette after the kids were in bed, Frank opened his own carwash in Lynbrook which is where they now also lived. By third grade Rona and Frank had been told repeatedly by teachers that Franky was gifted and far exceeded his peers even though he was often sick and missed school, and he would go on to skip the sixth and ninth grades. Somewhere along the line because of his keen intellect and his lesser constitution Rona felt obligated to tell Franky the Truth and swore him to the same secrecy she had sworn to his father. Franky was upset but also understood what his father had sacrificed and why his father would never be as close to him as to Rebecca. Rebecca bragged of her brother’s successes and never felt the lesser for being merely average for she was still Daddy’s little girl and she loved that more than anything. And Frank still loved Rona and Rona did her best to still love Frank and for her fortieth birthday Frank bought her a Cadillac and when she said it was too extravagant Frank told her it would also cover their upcoming twenty-second anniversary, which would turn out to be a lie because for that he gave her a trip to Hawaii, and Rona’s red hair was now mostly bottled and Frank’s bushy eyebrows grew ever bushier and grey. And after Franky graduated from Princeton and Rebecca was commuting to NYU Franky told his parents and his sister all together that he was gay and Rebecca winked and said she’d always known and Frank sat stoic in his recliner and Rona ran out back and smoked, not caring if anyone saw. And then Rona and Frank were alone again and Frank started voting republican at least at the local level and Rona began donating blood every week and they didn’t see much of Rebecca who was dating an older man from Scarsdale and saw even less of Franky who was living downtown and then at the age of twenty-seven died, and Frank and Rebecca and everyone at the funeral knew or suspected the truth but Rona chose to believe it was one of the many little illnesses that had plagued him since childhood that had finally bested her little boy. Rona and Frank sold the house and moved back to Queens, to a one bedroom garden co-op where Rona planted verbena and creeping thyme and tended to her Mister Lincoln roses and Frank liked to lie in his hammock and read his Raymond Chandler books or let Rebecca’s girls Frankie and Yvette chase him around the old magnolia. They went on cruises and Frank sold the carwashes and Rona taught him to play two-handed pinochle which he became very good at and they brought back high school like the time Frank swiped the ugliest tie from Woolworth’s to give it to his history teacher as a joke, only to have the teacher die soon after and his widow wanted Frank to know she had buried him in it. They found things again to laugh about and watched reruns together and then Rona started sleeping late and getting headaches and then it was almost like it had been one long run-on sentence that was now about to end and Frank asked Rebecca and her husband to leave the room and he crawled into the hospital bed with Rona and took the oxygen tube from her nose and pressed his lips tight to hers and then pulled away by only inches and said what seemed to be the only words to have ever mattered and the only thing to have ever mattered:

“I love you I love you I love you….”

 

J. Edward Kruft received his MFA in fiction writing from Brooklyn College. He is a Best Short Fictions nominee, and his stories have appeared in several journals, including Soft Cartel and Typehouse Literary Magazine. He loves fried zucchini blossoms and wishes they were available year-round. He lives with his husband, Mike, and their adopted Siberian Husky, Sasha, in Queens, NY and Sullivan County, NY. His recent fiction can be found on his Web site: www.jedwardkruft.com

 

he can be followed on twitter: @jedwardkruft.

“Janky Bourbon” by J. Edward Kruft

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He was hearing Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car for the first time, on his car radio, driving down Wishkah Street. By the end of the first chorus, he had to pull over because he didn’t know how he could possibly listen and drive at the same time, given that he’d had his license only a month, and given that the song fuckingbegs you to pull over and listen. He was stopped in front of the church that used to be a theater – something he’d passed a hundred-million times – but by the time the singer got to telling about her old man’s problems – living with the bottle and such – he’d forgotten where he was: that he was sitting in his ’76 Nova, downtown, and it was raining. Hard. That’s when Max looked up, a little bleary-eyed, and saw him standing under the church/theater marquee.

He cracked his window and called: “Hey.” (Something about the song made this seem okay.) The man waved a little. “Need a lift?” The man nodded and came around to the passenger door and let himself in. “Hey,” Max repeated.

“Hey,” said the man.

“I’m Max,” said Max.

“Janky Bourbon,” said the man and Max reflexively laughed.

“Dude, are you describing yourself? Or are you trying to tell me that’s actually your name?”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

Max nodded. “Okay. I getcha. So…where to?”

“Anywhere,” said Janky.

Max glanced back at the church/theater marquee. “You go to that church?” he asked.

“Oh, nah, man. Me and Christ, we’ve gone our separate ways. We don’t see eye to eye. You know? Nothing personal, but religion and me, we’re not on speaking terms.”

“I getcha. But, you know, you actually look a little like Jesus.”

“Yeah. You know, the pictures they show us.”

“Yeah.”

“The hair.”

“Yeah,” Max conceded. “So,” he asked again. “Where to?”

“Where you going?”

“Me? I’m supposed to be in school right now, so anywhere else is good with me.”

Janky smiled, nodded, and pulled a pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket. He offered one to Max and after they’d both lit their smokes, he said: “Anywhere else is good for me, too.”

Max drove them to the park above the Catholic hospital and pulled the Nova into a space below the tennis courts. The rain was even harder than before, and the windshield was awash so as to render the red brick of the old hospital an amorphous distortion. Janky said, a slight grin on his beard, “You know, Ted Bundy was from these parts.”

Max nodded. “Yeah. He was my uncle.” This disarmed them both and they laughed and laughed, though somewhat nervously.

“So,” said Janky when they finally settled down, “I’d totally blow you.”

“Cool,” said Max.

After, as they were enjoying their cigarettes, Max asked Janky if he was hungry.

“No cash,” said Janky.

“I got a few bucks.”

They went to Denny’s and Max got the clam chowder. Janky said he was fine with coffee, if he could also have Max’s oyster crackers.

“Sure. Sure,” said Max.

After a considerable silence, Janky asked: “Are you a pool player?”

“I am not,” said Max. “Why?”

“I don’t know, you just look like a pool player.”

“I look like a shark?”

Janky seemed to take the question literally, and seriously. “More porpoise-y. I guess because of the nose.”

Max spooned his soup. The clams were rubbery, and he thought to say to Janky that it’s probably a mistake to order seafood at a Denny’s, but he feared that would make him seem flaky, since he’d picked the restaurant, and willingly ordered the chowder. Instead, he surprised himself by blurting: “I have to tell you something.”

“Yeah?”

“This is, like, the first date I’ve ever really been on. Well, that’s kinda a lie. Because I went to the movies with Brenda Franke. But, you know, she askedme, and I didn’t really want to go but I figured it was a way to tell my mom to get off my back: Okay? See? I’m on a fucking date already. Happy?

“Anyway, am I stupid to call this a date?” asked Max.

Janky smiled. “Hey man, call it macaroni if you want.”

“So. Okay. Then, what’s your real name?”

He smiled. “William.”

“So, William. Have you heard this song called Fast Car? It’s super awesome, about this woman who’s with this deadbeat guy, only she keeps telling herself he’s not a deadbeat and that they’re going to make it because he’s, like, got this fast car and if they get in and go real fast, it will, like, I don’t know, take them where they need to go. You know? You ever thought about that, William? That sometimes we just hold on tight and hope that we’re taken where we need to go? You know, even if we’re totally jonesing up the wrong tree?”

William popped an oyster cracker in his mouth and smiled.

 

J. Edward Kruft received his MFA in fiction writing from Brooklyn College. He is a Best Short Fictions nominee, and his stories have appeared in several journals, including Soft Cartel and Typehouse Literary Magazine. He loves fried zucchini blossoms and wishes they were available year-round. He lives with his husband, Mike, and their adopted Siberian Husky, Sasha, in Queens, NY and Sullivan County, NY. His recent fiction can be found on his Web site: www.jedwardkruft.com.

twitter: @jedwardkruft