Chuck

Chuck

by Janet E. Sever

“The smell of those tacos starves me to death,” Deborah confided to her employee. The Thriftown was empty and they’d completed their list of chores. But she was hesitant to send Clara home—she knew the other woman needed the money, and business tended to pick up at the end of the day. Besides, it was nice to sit and chat for a change.

“Ugh. Never, ever buy anything from those guys,” Clara said. “Not sanitary.”

“Really? Their truck looks clean.” Tony’s Tacos had started parking in the corner of their shopping center a few weeks before, and Deborah didn’t admit she’d already bought from them. The tacos were mouthwatering—warm soft corn tortillas, finely shredded meat slow-cooked for hours with seasoning that wasn’t spicy, wasn’t bland, just complex flavors topped with fresh cilantro and shredded cabbage. Her mouth watered.

“It’s dead in here. Why don’t you go home?” Deborah avoided Clara’s grimace, feeling selfish and small, but as soon as she saw Clara turn the corner, she put the “closed” sign on the door and ran over and ordered three tacos. She ended up devouring them so quickly that she almost didn’t enjoy them, because the evening rush was even busier than usual.

Clara had worked for Deborah for years. She’d walked in and asked for a job, confessing she had no prior experience, no references, and little to offer other than her desire to change her life of prostitution, drug addiction and felony record. Deborah turned her down, but as she watched Clara leave, saw the dejected slope of her shoulders, she impulsively changed her mind and hired her. Clara had been a loyal employee, and despite having to walk to work, she’d never been late to a single shift. They’d become something like friends, though there was a low employee/employer wall between them. Only once had Clara crossed it—the day Deborah had come in with a black eye, front tooth missing. Clara had put her arm around her tight and murmured in her ear “You get ready to deal with that bastard, tell me. I know people.” Deborah had never taken her up on it, though many times she’d been tempted.

The night she handled the rush alone, she got home late, and Chuck was raging. Not unusual, but as Deborah hurried to fix his dinner, chopping okra with the big knife, Chuck shoved her, hard. Try as she might afterward, Deborah couldn’t figure out how it happened, knew only that the knife was sticking out of Chuck’s throat as he lay on the floor, blood pooling on the linoleum. She picked up the phone to call the police, but found herself dialing Clara instead.

“Go to the movies,” Clara instructed. “Leave the back door unlocked.”

When Deborah got home from the latest “Captain America” movie, the floor was clean and the knife back in the block. Deborah slept well that night, alone in her bed. She didn’t know what happened to Chuck and didn’t care.

Life and work resumed, Deborah and Clara chatting with customers and dressing mannequins. A week or so later, when Chuck’s sister called, Deborah told Myra that Chuck had taken up with a new woman and had moved out. Myra snorted, “What a shithead! Not surprised. Too damn dumb to know when he has a good woman,” and told Deborah she’d call her next week about lunch.

When she hung up, the smell of Tony’s Tacos wafted over. “Those smell so good. I’m going to get some. You sure you don’t want any, Clara? My treat.”

“I told you,” Clara said, voice low and firm. “Never, ever eat anything from that truck.”

“Aw, come on. It can’t be that bad.”

“Deborah, I know them.” Clara grabbed her, nails like talons digging into her arm. Her voice hissed, angry. “Those are the people. The people that I know.”

Deborah swallowed, fought nausea, thought of all the times she’d eaten Tony’s Tacos. She now knew what happened to Chuck.

“McDonald’s OK?” she asked.

◊ ◊ ◊

Janet E. Sever
Janet E. Sever lives and writes weird little stories in Memphis, TN. Her work has appeared on The Drabblecast, in The Foliate Oak, Kaleidotrope, and various other publications.

6 thoughts on “Chuck

  1. Chuck steak? Shades of the Demon Barber, Sweeney Todd? Nicely seasoned riff. Not sure about Clara’s anger in ” Her voice hissed, angry.” Maybe just “hissed” would do. AGB

  2. I suspected there was something wrong with the meat at that taco truck when Clara warned her the first time. Good story, Janet. I think I’ll be avoiding tacos for a while though.

  3. I liked the story and thought it a tale well told. Maybe you could place a little less emphasis on the ending and lose, “…..fought nausea, thought of all the times she’d eaten Tony’s Tacos. She now knew what happened to Chuck.” The inference is already clear, I think.

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