We ate Taco Bell in bed once. A small thing, but it flashes in my mind like distant fireworks. The way you smiled at the Quesarito cheese dripping from my lip made me want to kiss you. Your smile always did that.
Three years later, I’m stumbling out of a bar in South Bend. A Taco Bell sign three blocks over, glowing like candles in a church steeple, caught my eye. I’d left my brother in the bar. He was fine with the neon, cheap beer, and shitty bourbon. I wasn’t. You and I used to drink in places like that. Bumming a cigarette outside was a good enough excuse to leave.
My eyes focused on that bell like a guiding star. I almost tripped twice on the cracked asphalt. A third fracture made me lose my balance and almost kiss the blacktop. “You forget how to walk or something?” I asked myself, mimicking the way you mocked me after I’d tripped on a coffee table.
That iridescent bell was waiting three parking lots away. Everything I wanted was below its light: meat, cheese, bread, and spice to sop up the brain cells I’d killed drinking away our last conversation.
Before that day, we hadn’t seen each other in a year. You were so happy. I wasn’t. I smiled because I didn’t want you thinking something was wrong.
They say smell is the best sense to bring back memories. I don’t have a sense of smell, but flavors can ignite memories like gunpowder. Salt reminds me of the tears I’d taste on your cheek some mornings. Single malt tastes like our last kiss, red wine our first Valentine’s Day. Quesaritos taste like the good times, like things that can only come back under a thick, boozy blast shelter, keeping the explosion from forcing tears to my eyes.
I tripped into the door. Locked. Drive-thru was still open though.
I stumbled into the drive-thru lane and leaned into the speaker. “Hello? Hello?” Nothing. I kept calling into that drain-plug abyss, hoping for a response.
Wheels rolled up behind me. I left the lane and stood behind the speaker. Old habits forced me to keep my hands visible. I wanted the driver to know I meant no harm. I needed her help after all.
The speaker squawked to life under my hands, calling to the driver from the abyss. “Can I take your order?”
The driver rattled off a list of items, pausing to get her passenger’s input. When she was done, I spoke up, “Hey, could I get a Quesarito? I’ve got cash.” She looked surprised to see me there. Understandably so, in hindsight.
Defying my expectations, she calmly asked what kind.
“Steak,” I said. She told the order to the speaker.
When they began to drive forward, I handed over my cash, walked to the other side of the drive-thru, and waited.
My heel tapped in the air. It was a warm winter. I kept my hands out of my coat; my thumb pushing into a pressure point of my palm, just like you used to. I couldn’t forget how your fingers felt. Callused and tan, they made mine look pale by comparison.
The car pulled forward. She handed over my prize and said, “It was more than you gave me.” I gave them everything I had. I didn’t care how much they needed. I just wanted my prize. If they had tried to withhold it, I’d have reached in and yanked it from them.
Stumbling back to the bar, I shoved my face into the foil-wrapped goodness. Every spice-flooded bite returned some drunken memory: the way you chuckled when you were tired, how calculus always excited you, your smiling face in bed, the way we laughed at getting married, and so much more all came back when that taste struck me. But I ate too fast. Soon, it was all nothing but a wrapper in my pocket. All I could remember then was the painful way it ended…and how I wished I could have spared you from it.
The bar’s outside wall was covered in a slogan for “Pete 2020”, soon to be replaced with another name. Around here, national plans tend to crush local hopes. I steadied myself with a hand at the bottom corner of 2020. Deep drinks of oxygen filled my lungs as I dried my eyes. Showing tears was a sign of weakness in my family.
The next day, my brother asked where I’d been while he was in the bar. I told him and he laughed for a while before saying, “You’re lucky you didn’t get shot.”
It might have been worth it. Death would be a small price to pay for one last drunken taste of the good times.
N.B. Turner is a young writer living in Virginia, furiously trying to utilize his roots in Indiana for creative purposes. In between dabbling in poetry and crime fiction, he occasionally drinks corn whiskey while attempting to defend the honor of his homeland. You can follow him on Twitter at @NathanTurner15.