The Batman (from the novella I Can Make It to California Before It’s Time for Dinnner)

Jen Michalski

     I walk to Josh's school, where we play pogs. I wish I brought my pogs because maybe those kids will be there. I go behind the school. I bring out my GI Joe men from my backpack and I play with Grunt and Sargent Slaughter. I am Private Jimmy. We will fight the bad guys, win against the bad guys, POW! POW! I am done playing GI Joes. I lie in the grass like sleeping and look at the clouds. One day Mrs. Rawlings took us outside for recess and we looked at the clouds. She said that clouds look like things sometimes. Mrs. Rawlings saw a bunny once. I don't see any bunny even though I look HARD. I wonder if I will be able to see them when I'm bigger. I don't want to look at clouds anymore or play GI Joes and there are no pog kids. I stand up and go around in a circle. I go around and I fall down because the ground is going and the school is going but I am not going. When the ground and the school stop going I get up and start going in a circle again. I look up at the clouds again to see if they are going. They are, but they are still clouds.

     I am hungry. I could get a Quarter Pounder and French Fries and a chocolate shake at McDonalds with the money Josh gave me. I put my GI Joes in my backpack and I walk to the McDonalds. I go to the counter and ask for a Quarter Pounder, fries, and a chocolate shake please. I give them the 10 bill and they give me a 5 bill and two quarters, one dime, and three pennies. I can get more food if I am hungry again. The lady at the counter asks me to move to the side to wait for my order. I look at the pictures of the burgers and fries and chicken nuggets. The lady gives me my shake and I go to find a straw. I leave my money on the counter. When I get back the lady tells me not to leave my money on the counter because somebody might take it. I put it in my pocket.

     My food comes. I am very happy because last night we had pizza even though it wasn't Friday and today I had McDonald's even though it is not my birthday. Usually we have pot roast for dinner--YUCK--or beef stew--YUCK. And I don't like soup because it falls out of my mouth when I open it. I get three cups of ketchup. I dip each fry in the ketchup and then I eat the fry. Josh says I eat like a dork but Dad says Josh eats like a pig. I would rather be a dork than a pig. I finish my Quarter Pounder and French Fries and shake. I go to the counter and I order chicken nuggets, French Fries, and another chocolate shake but the lady tells me I don't have enough money. But this is all I have I say and she says she will change my order to the small nuggets and small fries and regular shake. I give her the money and she gives me two quarters and four cents.

     She asks me what kind of sauces I would like for my nuggets and I tell her I don't know. She asks me if I like barbecue. I open the barbecue packet and eat it and the lady says those are for your nuggets. I tell her I don't like barbecue can I please have another? She gives me honey mustard and says save this for your nuggets don't eat it. I drink my shake and my stomach hurts a little. My nuggets are ready.
“You forgot your change!” The lady picks my money off the counter. I pull out my wallet and put it on the counter. I reach for the money but it falls on the floor. I bend over and get the quarter and another quarter and one penny, one penny, one penny but I can't find the other penny. Did you see the penny? I ask the man behind me and he shakes his head. I get on my hands and knees like I did when we looked for Josh's contact that he puts in his eye to see and I look for the penny. I crawl and people in the line get out of my way and someone laughs. I find the penny all the way on the other side then I bring the money back to the counter. The lady tells me to move to the side to put it in my wallet so I do I put the two quarters and one, two, three, four pennies in the change purse.

     “I have money in my wallet.” I tell the lady.

     “I wouldn't tell that to everybody you meet,” she says. I put my wallet on my tray and walk to my booth but a man is sitting in it. He is eating two hamburgers and is fat.

     “That is my booth.”

     “I didn't see your name on it.”

     “You don't have to write your name on the seat at McDonald’s,” I say, but I remember that my desk at school has my name on it with a picture of an Army man. “Do you?”

     The man laughs and points to the booth across from him that is not my booth. “Why don't you sit there?”

     “But that is my booth.”

     “And I'm sitting here now.”

     If Mrs. Rawlings was here I would tell on him. I sit in the booth across from the man in my booth. I dip a nugget in the honey mustard dipping sauce. I like it better than the barbecue so I dip my chicken nuggets in it and put my tongue in it to get all the sauce out. I dip my French Fries in the ketchup but then I feel sick. My tummy hurts and I feel sick like when I stay home from school and throw up. I put both hands on my stomach to push it back, but I feel it come up, up, up. I throw up on the table. It's brown and smells like poop.

     “Jesus Christ!” The man who is sitting in my booth says. He gets up and leaves. Then a man comes and tells me I need to leave so he can clean up. I sit in my booth and watch him. When you get sick at school they put dirt on it. I ask him why he doesn’t put dirt on it and he doesn’t answer. I get up to say goodbye to the lady at the counter.

     “I love you,” I say. “Will you marry me?”

     The lady smiles and gives me a Happy Meal toy even though I didn’t get a Happy Meal. I ask her for another one. A man with a tie stands behind her and asks whether I am with someone. I say no but my brother Josh is picking me up. The man with the tie says I should wait out front for Josh. Outside it is becoming night. I rip open the Happy Meal bag. It is the Batman but I have this Batman so I walk across the street. In the middle of the street I leave him. On the corner I watch. The cars go and go and go by him but they do not hit him. I guess it is because he is the Batman.

Jen Michalski's collection of short fiction, Close Encounters (2007), is available from So New Media. Her work has appeared in more than 30 publications, including McSweeney's, Failbetter, storySouth, Hobart, and Thieves Jargon. She is the editor in chief of the literary e-zine JMWW and lives in Baltimore.