Author : H. Chaskin

Above the clouds, it still rains. No pitter-patter. More like split-pea mist.

Floating highway roars outside. Looks like Jetsons. Smells like Jersey.

Naked Lady Calendar: July. Never used to rain in July.

Electric eye jingles an 8-bit interlude above the door. Octo-Gen with no teeth dodders in. Orders a hockey puck, so I burn one.

Behind the counter, flipping the burger. Synth-beef smells like octane. Octo-gen eyes an antique on the shelf. Faded decal on the side. “Historic Route 66”. Been there since I started here. Décor, I guess.

Octo-Gen: That takes me back. Nice machine. Pre-paperless.

Octo-gens talk too much.

Clock: 22:47. All night job. Kid in college.

My son: Georgetown: What’s left of it. Studying law. Rebuild, maybe.

8-bit interlude: Second customer. Fat Officer Flatfoot. Works the Ottawa shift. Tired, like I’m tired.

Officer: Don Martin Special. American Charlie in Red Pants. Dust the Roof, Hold the Pom-Pom.

Drawer 42. Unwrap green cube. Nuke It: 30 seconds. Enjoy your meal.

Downs it like a duck. Barely chews. Siren: Blip.

Officer: And a java for the road. CHNO-plus, no Sucra.

Bitter bean pills liquify in the styro-can. Flatfoot scans his token, and the black-and-white hovers. Disappears into the soup.

8-bit interlude: Dried-up floozy with blurry lipstick. Little boy with her. Running, maybe.

Floozy: Radio sandwich, mystery in the alley. And Balloon Juice for the kid.

Me: Radio’s fritzed. Mercury recall, you see.

Floozy: Just the mystery, then. And Balloon Juice for the kid.

Me: New special tonight. Graveyard stew. For the kid, I mean.

Floozy: Just the mystery.

Token scan. She puts fifty on one, thirty on another, and the rest on a temp-card. I don’t ask questions.

Drawer 22. Unwrap gray cube. Nuke It: 35 seconds. Enjoy your meal.

8-bit interlude: Man in pilot jacket. Scraggly beard. Looks like mariner.

Floozy pokes at the hash with her chopsticks. Kid won’t drink. Busy night.

Mariner: Jumbled-cluck. Green-o. No synth-prots.

Doesn’t look like a high roller. I remind him.

Me: Greeno’s top dollar.

Mariner: No object.

We keep the real stuff in the back.

Freezer door hisses shut and I come back with egg. God help me, real egg. White and round. Cold.

Tell him to swipe his token before I crack it. Instead, he asks for the register. Tall order. Short gun. Snub nose. In his jacket pocket. Old gun. Wonder if it works.

Me: What’s a register?

He points to the antique on the shelf and it hits me. He’s a past-master. Nostalgia bandits. Luddite Bakunins who order green-o and steal antiques.

Floozy is crying. Kid spilled his balloon juice. I hand past-master the relic. He cradles it like it’s worth something. Backs out of the place, gun pointed my way all the time.

“Down with the automats!” he yells from the door. And gone into the soup.

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