Being Small and Broke

By Abigail Mitchell

starry sky, silhouette of mountains, and highway

4:00 AM on the dashboard
means the highway is for tractor-trailers that
roar and hiss by my wheezy engine
like intergalactic giants
I always picture gliding over me like I’m a bump
in the road.

The sky is a blanket of black and cold; stars poke
through, bright little needle heads. It’s probably
not safe for me to drive,
but I do, nightmarish and nauseous, heavy and sleepy.
It’s for rent, for food—In a way, it’s just as dangerous not to.

I take the exit and swerve into the lot.
There is no “closed” sign, people just know.
It’s that kind of place.
The kind of place where on time is late,
and late is an insult.
I float through the back door ten minutes early.
Get the coffee ready, eight pots brewed two at a time.
Flick on the lights and unlock the door. People file in
for light-and-sweets in styrofoam cups, coins clatter,
plink, plink, plink.

I smile, but smile is not really the word
for that wan stretching of the lips, corners jerking up
and down cyclically. “Have a great day.”
For eight hours I’ll watch that tip jar fill,
then I’ll take it home, empty,
count, return.

I snag a blueberry muffin from the shelf.
“Are you trying to get fat?”
he bellows from across the counter,
stretching his old chicken neck to see
If my manager is listening.
“We’re allowed,” I say.
“You should watch your figure.” I bite another
mouthful and chew. He doesn’t leave a tip.

Watch my figure. If I take my eyes off the beasts
they’ll crunch my arms like
sardine bones.
Maybe I should get fat–too fat—give them
more to chew through before they hit bone.
Pad my figure with rubbery slime–
I’d be so big you couldn’t miss me, couldn’t tread on me
like a pebble or a twig on the road. He leaves. I decide not
to take the highway home.

Abigail Mitchell is a young writer and student who worked for a time in a doughnut shop. Her story, “Read This If He’s Your High School Boyfriend,” was included in an anthology published by BusyB Writing in the fall of 2020. She lives in Griswold, Connecticut.

Photo by enriquelopezgarre