Night Shift

Parker Young

On the way home from the night shift, I stopped at a diner on Sunset Boulevard and ordered the pecan pie. The waitress regarded me with suspicion.

Do you really like pecans? She said it pee-cans.

Yes, I said.

Do you know where they come from? Trees. Live in this city long enough, you’ll forget the power of trees.

I nodded.

Do you work in the movies?

No, I said.



I used to be an actress until I got cast in the wrong commercial.


A STRETCH-E trash bag commercial. A graphic overlay read, Real customers! Not actors! It wasn’t even fine print. Now nobody will hire me because the premise of the only commercial I’ve been in is that I’m not an actor.

I’m sorry, I said.

The contract said nothing about being a non-actor.

I grunted.

I believe the STRETCH-E company has ruined my career intentionally, she said. They tracked my every move and paid off every agent I contacted. All to protect the validity of their commercial in which I’m billed as a non-actor. Their best, most famous commercial, in which I play a pivotal role. Does any of this sound believable?

She left the table. When my pecan pie arrived, another employee brought it, a young man with sinking, sunken eyes. I wondered how he could see with those things. I’d heard of strange things happening to the eyes of people who work the night shift. A man’s irises changed colors. Another guy’s pupils grew big as saucers. During the day, he had to shut himself inside to prevent permanent damage to the optic nerves.

Now I looked down at the laminated menu which, to my consternation, was full of holographic, anthropomorphized food items. A shimmying waffle. A slice of pie tottering below a limbo bar. A bowl of grits which appeared to be gesturing emphatically towards the area of its crotch. I turned the menu over. The second side featured several panels from a comic strip. The story, best I could tell, concerned a fried pickle who was afraid of ranch dressing. A beautiful human chef was trying to console and encourage the pickle, but the pickle was deeply disturbed by its own fear, which it considered to be a massive, unnatural character flaw. Aren’t fried pickles made for ranch? Such was its reasoning. In an attempt to conquer its fear, the pickle dove into a large vat of ranch dressing. The comic ended. It seemed obvious to me that when the comic resumed, the fried pickle would be found dead.

The waitress returned.

Have you seen the commercial? she asked.

I told her no, I’d never seen it, although the truth was that I remembered it with a striking, oppressive lucidity. The graphics, the jingle, her starched white polo shirt. Her pivot to face the camera and proclaim, Nothing out-stretches a STRETCH-E.

The worst part is, we use STRETCH-E bags here, she said.

You did a good job in the commercial, I said. Now I remember.

I know I did.

When I first saw it, I couldn’t stop thinking of you.

Everyone says that.

Thirty minutes later we were ordering breakfast and beer at Ye Rustic Inn on Hillhurst.

I’ve got a confession to make, she said. It’s not me in the commercial. I’m a lookalike.

Have you ever been in anything?

No. Are you crying?

I couldn’t respond.

You never told me what it is you do.

I work at a trash bag factory.

Uh oh, she said.

Twilight crept into the streets. I nearly made several wrong turns in my hurry to drop her off at the diner. At home, I couldn’t fit into my usual parking spot on the curb because of a humongous old van blooming with rust. How much rust is permissible by law? I wondered. A nonsense thought.

Parker Young lives in Chicago. His debut short story collection is forthcoming from Future Tense Books in early 2023.