P. I. Navarro

Of Time and Tacos

I’m back at Taco Bell
where I worked during high school
wearing the purple polo shirt
that makes everyone look like Grimace
and a nametag that says _____.
I am two days late for my shift
but it doesn’t matter
since no one can find the schedule.

On the line, Hu grits his teeth
and keeps pulling the trigger on the guac gun
painting the glasses and hanging paunch
of the Vietnam vet who is lost in flashbacks
and keeps shouting about sneaky gooks.

Luckily, the old man isn’t at his usual station
chopping green onions with a big-ass knife
and just stands there stuck
between the past and something else.

In the parking lot, kids wave pistols and burn rubber
in their lowered Hondas and Toyotas.
Hu’s laughter echoes from the PA system
while drunks shout through the static of the drive-thru speakers.

I scrub all the green mush
off all the stainless steel,
the touch screens and the plastic counter,
and off sweet little Billy
whose only duties are to smile
and wipe off the colorful serving trays.

The steam table rattles
and the dehydrated beans
that look like brown ashes
mix with hot water
and keep growing and overflow
onto the floor.
The clear bags of ground beef burst
all over the rubbery strips
of chicken and steak.
The Iceburg lettuce wilts
and the shredded cheese melts
as steam fills the room
and the outlines of customers
look like shades crowding up purgatory.

Walking back to my parents’ apartment
I pull up the hood on my black sweatshirt
and try not to step on sticks and leaves
as I pass the graveyard
where the ghosts of high school
the vampires, and werewolves
smoke clove cigarettes and make out.

Some of my old friends drive by
stuffed into their little mail truck
heading to the skate spots
and looking for kids to fight
like those Nazi skinheads
who were cowards
but had one big Mexican friend
who knew Karate and once
beat up three black kids
at the same time.

Inside the apartment
my mom and dad sleep in the living room.
I leave my filthy sneakers near the front door
and turn off the TV.
I open my bedroom door
and instead find a stairwell.
Through a window
I see the dark sea swell
while a rogue wave
grows in the distance.
I race the rising water
up each flight of stairs
and am choked by the stench
of salt and dead things.

P. I. Navarro is a writer and drummer who lives in Atlanta, GA. He runs the writing workshop and collective Aleph with Kory Oliver. He also edits the fiction section of

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