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Fiction #432
(published April 30, 2009)
Pizza Guy
by Andy Henion
I am delivering two large pies—one pepperoni extra cheese, one supreme—to a neighborhood where the homes are sheets of brick and glass and the roads have been plowed to the cobblestone. The brake pedal of the sedan goes nearly to the floor meaning I must start pumping midway down the block to assure proper stoppage in the wintry conditions. Recently I lost my job as a writer of union propaganda and my wife took our child to her parents' house in Dubuque in what she terms a trial separation. My plan to win her back involves reacquiring employment suitable to my education and skill levels and replacing the brake pads or perhaps even trading in the sedan on a crimson sports vehicle with a convertible top that will make my wife feel young and alive again in this, her thirty-ninth year.

The heater blows cool air and because of this I wear a scarf coated with pet hair that aggravates my allergies and I cough and sneeze as I attempt to read the passing house numbers. This causes me to overrun the driveway and I brake too firmly and the car swerves and consequently turns in circles and comes to a stop on the snowy lawn. I take deep breaths and press the accelerator but the wheels only spin, a process that chews up considerable turf but does not achieve the intended result of freeing the sedan from the slush. I secure the pizzas and walk across the yard and up the sidewalk thinking about my pending explanation and hoping I will encounter at least two burly residents to help me dislodge the vehicle but conversely not beat me about the head and torso for the damage to their lawn.

The double doors are nine feet high and the doorbell emits a gong reminiscent of a cathedral. I expect a butler or perhaps a houseboy but instead am greeted by a young girl with coiled red hair. Behind her a petite woman with the same color hair and a cell phone to her ear stands over an older man who is prostrate next to a step ladder. Boxes line the walls and no furniture or decorations are visible.

"Oh," says the woman. "Oh yes. The pizza." She comes to the door and attempts to smile with lips pursed and eyebrows furrowed in such a way that implies she is about to weep.

"We are having issues," she says, and shakes the cell phone at me. "No goddamn service," she says, and hurls the phone against the wall where it breaks into pieces. "Why did we move to this godforsaken tundra?"

"I," I say, but the woman waves me off and orders me to put the pizzas down and help her with her husband who, she explains, is having a heart attack after attempting to replace a light bulb in the chandelier. "Take his feet," she says, and we carry him out of the house and into the garage which holds a sports utility vehicle and a red sports car not unlike the vehicle I had in mind for my wife. We place the man into the backseat of the sports utility vehicle and the woman climbs in the driver's compartment and engages the garage door.

"You'll need to bring the kids," she says. "Francis needs to eat first or there'll be hell to pay. Can I trust you with that, pizza guy?"

"I," I say, but the woman closes the door and drives away.

"Has my father passed?" The girl's voice causes me to jump and produce a sound inconsistent with my gender.

I am not sure how to answer. Her father's face had been blue and his eyes closed but it was difficult to say if breaths were being drawn.

"Are you Francis?" I say.

"That's a negative," says the girl. "My name is Chandra and I asked you, sir, if my father has passed."

"Not yet," I say. "I mean no, he has not."

"But the day is young, is that right?" It is clear the girl is mature beyond her years.

"I," I say, but she cuts me off. "Now come meet Francis," she says.

The boy is sitting cross-legged on the floor with a slice of partially eaten pizza in each hand. He has a bulbous forehead and thick fingers and chews with his mouth open. When he sees me he makes a sour face and rises and runs in my direction. He is nearly my height and a good fifty pounds heavier.

"I'm sorry," I say, or rather shout, as if he will realize his mistake. "Hello?" But he keeps coming and throws the pizza slices at my head and executes a forearm smash to my left breast, knocking me to the floor. Afterward he pumps his arms and yells something unintelligible.

"Touchdown," says the girl.

Francis returns to the boxes of pizza as I stand, massaging my chest. I lift my shirt to inspect for damage.

"Are those man boobs?" says the girl.

"Okay," I say. "Listen. We'll have to take your car. Do you think you can get your brother in there?"

"Francis!" she says. "Hospital!" Francis jumps up and heads for the garage, pizza in hand. "I'll get our coats, says the girl," and before long we are in the sports car and headed for the hospital, Francis crammed into the backseat chomping away and Chandra up front diddling with the radio.

"My father is a broker of high-end affairs," she says. "This is his fourth heart attack. The doctor said his heart is only half working. My father called him a fucking quack."

She finds a public radio station. The broadcaster is issuing a bleak forecast. She keeps the volume low enough to talk over.

"My mother writes bodice rippers under a pen name. Drinks Glenlivet like mineral water. She's twenty years younger than him. About your age, right champ?"

"Okay," I say. "Listen. I need to concentrate on these roads."

Chandra is quiet for a full thirty seconds, then: "So what's your story, Ace?"

I tell her my wife and child have taken an extended trip to Iowa and that I miss them dearly. I tell her I need to bring them back but that will involve a renaissance of my very being.

"Well," she says. "Good luck with that."

We make it to the hospital without incident and park in the emergency room parking lot. Francis unfolds himself from the backseat and takes off for the sliding glass doors, just missing being struck by an oncoming ambulance. The driver honks and bares his teeth.

"Francis loves hospitals," says his sister.

Inside, a male orderly is picking himself off the floor while Francis executes his victory dance. The woman at the front desk is on the phone talking in excited tones to security.

"Ma'am," I say. "Please. His father is under cardiac arrest and he's having a difficult time of it." I motion to Francis who is plastered against the glass of the vending machine grunting at the chocolate bars.

"You see?" I say, and the woman shakes her head and hangs up the phone. "Can I help you?" she says, and Chandra steps forward and provides the appropriate information. The woman taps on a keyboard for a bit and then explains that her father is in surgery and that it will be some time before word on his condition is available but we are welcome to wait in the waiting room down the hall and to the left.

It is here that we find Chandra's mother sitting in plastic chair. She looks close to weeping. She is sipping a bottle of ginger ale.

"Half Glenlivet," whispers Chandra.

"My babies," says the mother, and they go to her and kneel and place their heads in her lap. She puts her arms around their necks and lowers her head, creating the effect of a scrum. I realize this is a good time to depart but I have no money for transportation and it is too frigid to walk. I am deciding on a course of action when Francis springs up and beats on his chest and hollers like a jungle man.

"He's bound up with anxiety," says his mother. "Would you mind?"

"Mind?" I say, but Francis runs past me with pizza sauce hardened on his cheeks and his arms spread like airplane wings. On his face is something akin to a smile. I follow, extending my arms and making airplane sounds with my mouth. A doctor jumps out of the way and shouts for us to settle down. Francis ignores her and bolts down a staircase leading to a basement corridor with gleaming white tile. He runs and slides on his belly a considerable distance. When it's my turn I misjudge the slickness and crash into him. He hoots and grunts and tries to punch me in the head. "Francis," I say. "Look here. Vending machine." Inside a chocolate bar teeters on the edge and I attempt to shake it out. "Help, please," I say, and when he applies his considerable mass the machine tilts and the chocolate bar drops. He grabs it and heads further down the corridor, pumping the candy in the air and shouting something that only a privileged few understand.

"Touchdown," I say, and follow him down.

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