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Bystander Boondoggle
About the Author: Carl Robinette is an author of many popular short stories and a freelance journalist. His fiction has been seen in multiple publications in print and online, including Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Carl is currently developing new fiction while working as a contributing reporter with the Los Feliz Ledger in Los Angeles.

Thanksgiving. San Fernando Valley. Eighty-nine degrees. I was reclining in my little drive-up kiosk that I lease. The place used to be a drive-through coffee shack. Now it was my office shack, and also temporarily my apartment. A guy walked over from the bus stop at the corner and asked if I by any chance sold cigarettes. I said no, I don’t sell anything. He tried ordering a coffee. I told him again—I don’t sell anything. He wanted to know what I meant. I told him I wanted to know what he meant asking me what I meant. He asked me if I realized the coffee mug painted on the side of the shack made it look like a coffee place. I told him to cram an egg in it and scram. The guy stank-eyed me and walked across the lot to Judy’s Donuts.

Thanksgiving. An honest holiday. No presents. No fireworks. No used-car-lot inflatable decorations on front lawns. Just good stuff. Overindulgence. Wine. Family fighting. Champagne. The sting of old regrets bubbling out and making me sentimental. I wanted to be grumpy about everything. Then my mood brightened when a big strong woman in firefighter’s clothing walked into Judy’s shop.

Caution: Wet Floor. Cuidado: Piso mojado.

Judy is a compulsive floor polisher. I once told him he was going to kill someone or get sued, big yellow warning cone or not. His doughnut shop is slip city. I know the man as Judy but he also has an entire different name. His actual name. I guess the shop was called Judy’s when he signed the lease and the man just rolled with it.

I basked in the thick aroma of fried dough, coffee and lemon-fresh floors. The tough looking woman I had followed in was picking out a dozen doughnuts when one of her boots slipped on the slick linoleum.


I swooped an arm around her back. She weighed a ton. The weight felt good. My biceps whinnied like proud stallions. Her caramel eyes flared back at me.

She said, “What are you doing?”

“Catching you,” I said.

She told me, yeah well, she wasn’t in need of any catching.

“You were about to fall,” I said.

No, she said, she wasn’t.

“I’m pretty sure you were falling,” I told her.

She said, “I think I would know.”

“Hmm. Maybe so.” I shrugged. “Points for good intentions?”

“Yeah. Ok, weirdo,” She said and asked, what were my intentions exactly?

“Why don’t you marry me and find out?” I told her.

She said something like, “Ugh. What’re you, drunk?”

I said, “Well I’m not hungover yet. So, yes?”

The hot thrill of the old dance had begun.

The firefighter woman said she didn’t have time for chit-chat with some drunk guy but somehow I charmed her out of pepper-spraying me and into having a cup of coffee and a fritter with me instead. She told me her name was Sandy. Sandra Brown. She was there getting doughnuts to bring back to her folks’ place nearby.

Chit-chat, caffeine, sugar rush. Hangover came and went. She wanted to know if I went overboard at a Thanksgiving party the night before.

“Are there Thanksgiving parties?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I never heard of one.”

I sipped my coffee. She squinted at me. Something compelled me to explain why I was in such pitiful condition. I told her the Irish pub across the street had live country music on Wednesday nights. She waited for me to go on but I had nothing else to say. She changed the subject.

She had interesting things to say.

She laughed at some of the things I said. Real, genuine-article laughing. Not just stroking-my-pride.

When both of our coffees were drunk, she said, “Well …”

We stood up together and exchanged contact info.

I told her to swing by the shack after dinner if she wanted to waste more time with me. Judy’s door went bing-bong at my back as Sandy Brown left with her dozen doughnuts and pair of eyes.

This story appears in our NOV 2020 Issue
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