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Literary Fiction, Noir, Pulp Fiction, Short Stories

Excerpt from

Wichita Lineman
Grant Jerkins

I looked away from her, to where the kitchen floor used to be.

But we already have plenty of cookie sheets, I said.

I was careful to keep my tone neutral when I said it, but the very act of reaching for that note of neutrality gave my speaking voice a stilted gait, like a drunk trying too hard not to slur his words. No. Ill tell you what it sounded like. What I sounded like. I sounded like an actor in a play. Like I was on a stage in some crummy community theatre somewhere.

I have this dream sometimes, a nightmare, where Im about to start work, and someone makes me smoke a marijuana cigarette right before I climb the utility pole, and when I get up there, I realize the joint had been dipped in formaldehyde or laced with PCP or something. And then Im falling from the sky. From the lines. Thats how this felt. Unreal.

Our cat peeked out of an old Pennzoil carton and watched us with copper yellow eyes. Waiting to see what would happen. Even it could sense the tension between us.

She looked down at the cookie sheet, her lips a tight crease. Like her mouth was a piece of folded notebook paper. I watched the kitty jump out of the box and take off for parts unknown. I run across dead cats fairly often in my line of work.

Dont you want it? she said.

Of course I want it. Its nice. Neutral. Maybe just a hair stilted.

Its nonstick. See? That new diamond-dust stuff. Expensive. And I got it for less than a dollar.

Its really nice. Its just that we have like seventeen sheet pans already. I dont think we can fit anymore under the stove.

We can keep it inside the oven and take it out whenever we want to cook.

Maybe we should just throw away a couple of the old ones.

That didnt go over so well. Even today, I still see her dark eyes glowing. The crease deepened. Severe. It had been bad between us for a long time now.

No, she said. You never know when you might need that many cookie sheets. What about at Christmas when you roll out all those sausage balls? You could use the old cookie sheets to make the sausage balls ahead of time and store them in the refrigerator until youre ready to cook. See?

She had me there. In the unlikely event that I catered a holiday party and needed to serve about seven hundred sausage-and-cheese balls, I would truly have need for all those pans. Im not a caterer. I am a lineman for the county.

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