So I’m standing in the deli waiting for my usual, a BLT without mayo, when the girl behind the counter who takes the orders, calls out, “Next,” and a kid who looks to be maybe fifteen, sixteen, slight, wearing one of those hats with a flat brim and shorts that are so baggy his boxers stick out of the top, steps up, reaches into the back of his pants, and pulls out a gun. It’s the third week in August and the girl behind the counter, a skinny blonde with an end of the season attitude, who’s here on a summer work visa from some Eastern European country, says, “Oh, great.”
The two women standing next to me take a couple of steps back. The younger one ducks in behind the older one.
The kid waves the gun at the older woman and says, “What are you looking at?”
She points feebly at the gun and says, “Uh, the gun.”
“Don’t you worry about that,” the kid says.
The deli man has stopped making sandwiches and is standing with his hands up, palms turned out.
“Let’s not get riled up,” he says. “Zarina,” he calls over to the girl behind the cash register. “Open your drawer.”
The kid bounces from one foot to the other.
“Don’t any of you make a move, including her,” he says, and waves the gun at the cashier.
The gun is black and looks two sizes too big for his hand. He fumbles around in the pocket of his shorts and pulls out a crumpled sheet of paper. He shakes it a couple of times to open it out so he can read it.
“I need two pastrami sandwiches on rye, a pound of your red bliss potato salad, and a couple of Cokes. One diet. One regular.”
The deli man starts to put his hands down, rethinks his decision and keeps them up.
“Seriously?” he says. “You’re holding me up for a couple of pastrami sandwiches?”
The kid waves the gun again.
“One with coleslaw. One with mustard and some hots, but go easy on the hots.”
“If you’re that desperate, put the piece away,” the deli man says. “It’s on the house.”
The order taker rolls her eyes.
The older woman says, “Chips. Make sure he gets some chips.”
“I don’t believe you,” I say under my breath. “You’re brown nosing a guy with a gun?”
She’s got bulging blue eyes and white hair. She must have been a looker in her day. The younger woman, a limp blonde with an overbite, is still cringing behind her.
“Yeah,” the kid says. “Don’t forget the chips.”
The deli man wiggles his fingers at the kid and says, “You want sandwiches. I’ve got to use these.”
“Go ahead,” the kid says. “And be quick about it. My girl is waiting on the beach.”
The deli man makes the sandwiches, wraps them and tapes the wrappers closed. He drops them into a bag, adds the Cokes, a couple of bags of chips, a wad of napkins and a bonus, two packages of Ring-Dings. He hands the bag to the order taker and she, after a brief hesitation, hands the bag to the kid. He lowers the gun a little and looks inside the bag.
“Thanks man,” he says, flourishes the gun one more time and is out the door.
I stand stunned with the two women. The deli man scrambles for the phone to call the police. The cashier sinks down onto the stool behind the register. The order taker crosses her arms on the counter and rests her head on them. What little color she had has drained from her face.
“You Americans,” she says, “He left that poor girl alone on the beach. A Serbian man would never leave his girlfriend alone on the beach.”
“What?” the older woman shrieks. Her eyes look like they might pop right out of her head. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
The deli man is off the phone and has walked outside. He’s standing on the sidewalk, looking up and down the street, waiting for the police. The younger woman steps forward. She’s shaking. The older woman puts her arm around her.
“What’s the matter with her?” the Serbian girl says. “She’s never seen a gun before?”
The question is directed at me. I shrug.
Police sirens wail in the distance. The phone rings. The Serbian girl answers it. We watch her calmly scribble on her order pad and read the order back into the phone, as though the last twenty minutes never happened, “Two meatball subs. One corned beef on rye with coleslaw. One smoked turkey with lettuce, tomato and honey mustard on lightly toasted white. Two Sprites. Two ginger ales. One package of chocolate chip cookies.” She pauses and sighs before she continues.
“And three packages of Twinkies.”
Joan Wilking’s short fiction has been published in The Atlantic, The Bellevue Literary Review, The Barcelona Review, Other Voices, The Mississippi Review, Ascent, The MacGuffin, Hobart, The Huffington Post, The Santa Fe Writer’s Project Journal and many other literary magazines and anthologies online and in print. Her story, Deer Season, was a finalist for the 2010 Nelson Algren Short Story Competition of the Chicago Tribune. Her essay, “Too Soon,” is in the May 2014 issue of Brevity. Her essay “Sunday Times” is online at The Manifest Station and her short story, “Clutter,” in the Fall 2014 issue of Elm Leaves Journal is a Pushcart Prize nominee.
Debra Weinstein is a photographer and the author of a novel, Apprentice to the Flower Poet Z. (Random House) and a book of poetry, Rodent Angel (NYU Press).
“Bag Lunch” is the result of a collaboration during workshops led by the author Pam Houston and the photographer David Hilliard at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA in which writers wrote stories inspired by photographers’ pictures.