As planned, we stopped for sandwiches in St. Louis on the way to Chicago. We left early enough to get there before noon but by the time we parked, the line for the deli was already wrapped around outside.
“You gotta see these things,” Dad said. “You look at it and go, how am I even gonna eat this?”
We had been inching along in line for a few minutes when Hamish said, “Momma hold you?” and was plucked off the ground to straddle her hips.
“This is what I was talking about,” Dad said.
“Don’t,” Mom said.
“He’s six, hon.”
Mom shifted Hamish up further on her torso and blew her bangs out of her face. “Exactly,” she said.
When it was our turn at the counter, Dad ordered four Aporkalypses with extra Boom Boom sauce on pretzel buns, open-face style.
“Wednesday special only sir,” the man said. He pointed to the sign in front of the register. “Today’s is Mike’s Hot and Sloppy.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Dad said. “It’s on your website.”
“As a special,” the man said. “On Wednesdays. Try the Mike’s Hot and Sloppy. Slow roasted pit beef and cheddar cheese sauce.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Dad said. “No, I think we’ll take the pork one. It’s called something else now, maybe, but that’s what we want. Four of them.”
“Hey c’mon, buddy,” someone said from farther back in the line.
“The Muffuletta is also pretty popular,” the worker said.
“It’s just that we came for it specifically,” Dad said. I brought my whole family. “I mean, I grew up around here.”
“We run outta the pork every week, sir,” the man said. “Even if it was Wednesday, there’s no guarantee.”
“Hey asshole,” a different someone said from back in the line.
Dad looked at me and I shrugged. “What a total disaster,” Dad said and ordered four Mike’s Hot and Sloppies.
The sandwiches came wrapped in thick white paper and we sat on the back patio in wobbly chairs to eat them.
“Maybe it wouldn’t have been as good as I remember it,” Dad said between bites. “Maybe it’s a good thing in a way.”
Mom got up to get more napkins and when she was gone, Dad turned to me and said, “I’m doing this because you can handle it. Okay?” and I said okay.
She came back with wet wipes and boxes for leftovers and we did our best with the sandwiches but they were true to their name and eventually she said that we had better get on the road if we wanted to miss Chicago traffic. He told her to sit down for a sec.
“I’ve made a decision,” Dad said. “I’m not going to Chicago.” He swigged the last of his grape soda.
“You’re not,” she said.
Hamish raised his hand. “Yes Hamish,” Dad said.
“Then where will you get the surgery?”
“That’s a good question, buddy. I’m not going to get the surgery.”
“Rich, seriously,” Mom said.
“It’s my decision, Jo. In the end, I mean, it’s mine to make.”
“I don’t even know what to say,” she said.
“It’s a trial,” he said. “It’s an experiment. It’s not a miracle. Best case scenario? What do I get? More bad days? I’d rather have fewer good days. With you all.” He reached for her but she crossed her arms. “I talked to Brendan about it already. He understands, dontcha bud?”
“Dad,” I said.
“Anyway this is not a discussion. It’s a nice day and we just had lunch and now we’re gonna drive back home. I don’t wanna talk about it anymore. Okay?”
The man who took our order came over to our table with a doggie bag. “Hey sir, so I remembered there was some smoked shoulder left over from a catering order. I told the boys in the kitchen you were a former local and they did the rest. So. Here ya go. On the house. Okay, no problem sir.”
After he left, Dad turned to Mom, who was crying, and said, “Did you do this?”
“Well, I told them why we’re going to Chicago, if that’s what you’re asking,” she said. “Or why we were going anyway.”
“Jo,” he said standing up. “We can still go.”
“No, we don’t have to.” Mom brushed the crumbs from her blouse. “You’re right. It’s your decision. I don’t know what I was thinking. Of course we don’t have to go.”
He looked at the bag. “But if I want to,” he said.
Mom called to Hamish, who was pulling ivy down from a fence. She turned back to Dad. “But you don’t,” she said.
Dad didn’t say anything. He opened the white paper bag, already spotted with pork grease and stuck his face in, breathing deeply. He opened his eyes and closed the bag.
“No,” he said finally. “I really don’t.”
KYLE SEIBEL — Kyle is a writer in Santa Barbara, CA. His stories have appeared in Pithead Chapel, X-R-A-Y, and trampset. His tweets, which mostly suck can be found @kylerseibel. His debut collection HEY YOU ASSHOLES will be published by Bear Creek Press in 2023.
Art by LAURIE MARSHALL — Laurie is a writer and artist working in Northwest Arkansas. Recent stories have been awarded the 2021 Lascaux Flash Fiction Prize, included in the 2022 Bath Flash Fiction Award anthology, and nominated for Best Small Fictions 2022. She reads for Fractured Lit and Longleaf Review. Words and art have been published in Cloves Literary, Twin Pies Literary, New World Writing, and Flash Frog among others. Connect on Twitter @LaurieMMarshall. Buy her a chai latte on Venmo @LaurieMarshallCreative.