Burt's Chicken

Shirley Ellis sure was nobody special. Jeez, she didn't even believe in herself much. No husband, average high school grades and a lifetime spinning fried chicken at the little restaurant close to her apartment. It wasn’t much of a life and she knew it. Every night when she crawled back home, covered in grease and French fry fat, she sat down in her late grandmother’s dusty armchair, took a minute for herself and asked the Lord the same very question: Why Lord, did you put me on this earth? And when he wouldn’t give her an answer she would stand up, pace a little, take a couple of deep breaths, sigh and then move to the kitchen to fix her something little to snack on before she went to sleep. Normally she would have eaten at Burt’s Chicken. After the final piece of plump thigh or leg had been dredged in Burt’s secret family flour mix and had been moved to the depths of the fat fryer, Shirley would hang her apron, fold it neatly and tuck it uniformly in the plastic box to be taken care of by one of the Mexicans. She would then check herself in the mirror, rack any loose hair and take a seat out front at one of the small plastic tables normally reserved for customers. Once seated, she rarely looked up. She would unwrap the soggy cardboard box that held her supper, bow her head and say grace. She then would sit up, pull her chair in so she’d be upright like she had been taught properly and begin to eat. Burning mouthfuls of spicy golden chicken, same as every night but it made her happy. Sometimes Burt would even sit down with her, ask her how her day had been and she always smiled and told him that everything was just fine.

There was the one time, he’d had a little too much juice as he’d been at a funeral all day and Shirley had had to hold fort until his return. He’d walked in, all full of bourbon, swaying a little and he’d put the moves on her and she knew it. He was all full of compliments but he never looked at her that way without the liquor. She was no sucker and she didn't want it from him and she told him as straight as she could. He didn't notice how her leg had twitched violently under the table, her nerves on edge, her heart beating fast. On the surface she seemed calm and strong and he’d seen that and taken a step back, apologized for his inappropriateness and headed out back. He never knew how scared she was that night. Fear of losing her job, fear of being touched by a man she didn't want anything with. She’d read about these types of attacks in magazines whilst waiting for the dentist but she couldn't recall what advice they had said. That night she didn't finish her food. Instead she waited a few moments, listening to Burt rummaging around, before she quietly stood up and slipped away into the night. She remembered to put up the closed sign before she left. The next day she was in twenty minutes early just to show that she felt nothing of the previous evening. Burt looked so normal that morning and she reminded herself of how fond she was of him. He told her he had a headache and asked if she would step out to the pharmacist to get him some pills for the pain. He hadn't remembered a thing about it and she was grateful for that.

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