I am honored to have my short story "Madmen Know Nothing" be selected as the winner of the Kelly J Abbott Short Story Contest. A lot of hard work goes into these crazy stories. Read it here, and I hope you all enjoy it.
Madmen Know Nothing
By Salvatore Sodano
I wasn't expecting it to grab hold of me the way it had when he told me. It was the fact that we had worked together for so long, and I have never noticed. Travis and I watch her from each side of the taps, and he slides me a half-pint that I down quickly before anyone sees. Travis sips his beer and returns it underneath the bar and says, "Yeah, well, they make em real good now, you know."
"Apparently," I say and narrow my eyes, trying to telescope my vision on her right foot.
"You're not gonna be able to tell from over here. You can't even tell from up close."
"But she's wearing shoes that show her skin. I can see the skin on the top of her foot from here."
"That ain't skin. I'm tellin' you, Jay."
"You're messing with me. She doesn't even limp."
"Would I lie to you?" Travis grins and returns to stacking the cooler behind the bar.
Kaitlyn stands with both feet together and tucked into her black shoes. She clutches her notepad to her chest and leans over, and smiles as she takes the order from a young couple. She has a forever tired face, eyelids heavy and redrimmed, and she's spackled on too much makeup to fill a pocked chin. Her smile is strong, however. It's bright. Her teeth are superhero straight and pure white; they almost appear fake, like veneers, manmade, like her right foot.
Back in the kitchen, I intercept her and say, "Kaitlyn, are you working tomorrow night?"
She looks at me as if wondering why I am talking to her, and I'm realizing now that we actually had never spoken. It seems surprising to me that we haven't. She sighs as if she's in-the-weeds and says, "Yeah, every Friday night, just like you," and she scurries off with a Ceasar salad in one hand and a tuna melt in the other.
I follow her from a distance and try to listen to her footsteps on the hardwood floor, try to hear if the footfalls match underneath the music playing. I think I can make out that one thud has more of an echo than the other, but it could be the bass drum of the song playing. Her heels are identical from the rear, and I begin imagining to what end does her fake leg begin. At first, I assumed it was just a foot, but then the image of a knee, with a little nub, flashes in my mind. What if it goes to her hip?
She turns around, and our eyes snag. I fling my attention away like a fool, and I can feel her watching me as I walk away. Travis is snickering from behind the bar. He waves me over and slides me another half-pint, which I quickly finish.
Travis knows everything the way bartenders often do in places like this. Some will barter gossip for goods, the free drink, the discounted tab for their friends on their off nights; it costs Travis nothing--a bartender's perk of the trade. He isn't weak to the flirting to his credit, but a good piece of slanderous information goes a long way with him.
"Who told you about the foot?"
"The foot?" He laughs. "Kaitlyn's foot? I cannot reveal my sources, Jay. You know this."
"I gotta see it."
"Yeah. It is somethin'."
"Wait. You've actually seen this thing?"
"Well, I had to."
"How close did you get?"
"Oh. Real close. Close enough, at least."
"Jay, don't go crazy over it. Your table is eyeballin' you." He gestures to my table, to the family with the kids crawling over their father, whose stoic gaze begs for the check.
With each passing hour, we become busier. The opportunities to glance down at the foot lessen, and I am afraid I will never get close enough to see it myself. How did Travis get close to it? Did he drop something near her? No, that's too obvious. He must have slept with her. That's it. I glance at Travis, and I revel in knowing his secret. I want him to see me, see my face, and read that I know, but the bar is now three-deep.
When the kitchen closes, and we are off shift, we all often stay at the bar for a few. The plan was to work my way in over a drink or two, but she hurries past us. I aim my ear to her footsteps before following her outside.
"Katlyn. Kait, wait up a sec." She turns around, and I am not sure if she snarls at me or it's just her natural expression. In the lamplight, her skin even seems like a mask. "Why you running off. I was hoping to have a drink."
"So. Have a drink." She turns to walk away.
"I meant with you." I try on The smile, amateurish, but not terrible.
"Are you kidding?"
"I... happen not to be?"
As obvious as it may seem, I have not considered a response to this question. I stand with my mouth agape as she cocks her head and crosses her arms. "Do you want to--"
"Unbelievable," she says, pouncing on each syllable and leaves.
From that night on, Kaitlyn would navigate as if we're stuck on opposite horses of a merry-go-round, never gaining, never fleeting. When shifts would end, we all would belly up to the bar, and she would dart past us. No one ever notices, or concerns, or glances over their shoulder. Or down at her foot to listen for the acoustics of her footfall on the hardwood. Not anymore. This is the way it is for months until December.
Our holiday party begins after food service ends, staff drinks free, and no one turns down that opportunity, not even Kaitlin. Travis tends bar with a reindeer hat and all the waitress fawn over it. They all throw silver tinsel on each other and seductively slurp on candy canes. I scoop up the last of the egg nog from the bowl into a glass and turn around, almost bumping into Kaitlyn. She might have wanted to smile but doesn't. She studies the empty bowl of egg nog, and I grin, presenting my glass to her.
She doesn't take it. She says, "No. It's okay. Travis will make more probably."
"Really, take it. I don't even like egg nog." This is true. I only took it because it was the last of it.
"Yeah. Merry Christmas," I say and tip my elf's hat.
"Thanks, Jay." She smiles. It seemed to have to fight its way through. "I like the hat."
"Thanks, I like your stockings," I say, and we examine her legs, the green and red stripes up to her knees, and realize this is the closest I have been to the foot. My heart thrums.
"Jay?" She says, and I raise my face to hers, then my eyes. She walks away but smiles as she does.
The lights are dimmer, the music is louder, and there is silver tinsel everywhere and on everyone. Travis and I share another shot, and he asks me if I am okay when I stumble off the bar stool. I wave him off and walk through the crowd. Their hands pat my shoulder, their faces smile, and their laughter doesn't match up to their mouths as if I were watching a lagging movie. I go outside, and Kaitlyn is there smoking a cigarette. She's bundled and cold. Breath-steam and smoke hover around her like a phantom.
"Would you like my jacket?" I say
"Jay. You're not wearing a jacket."
"Well, that appears to be so." I laugh and try The smile again.
I don't know if she leaned up or I leaned down, but I feel her tongue slithering around my mouth. I try and slither mine back, and I feel the edge of her teeth and the edge of her mouth. She tastes like peppermint and ashtray.
"Let's go in. It's freezing." I grab her hand as we head back in, and she pulls it free. "No. Don't do that."
The music is loud and acts as a cover. No one can see us. It is as if we are in a dream, and everyone else is in a snow globe. She grabs a candy cane off the table and sucks on it while looking at me. She slowly backs away from the crowd toward the back hallway, and I follow. Still sucking on the candy cane, she backs against the office door. Never breaking eye contact, she turns the knob and backs into the office. I close the door behind me, lock the door, and go to turn on the light. She stops me. The only light comes from the screensaver on the desktop. She pulls the candy cane from her mouth, and we kiss.
I kiss her neck. She smells of cigarettes. I get some of her hair stuck in my mouth, and I kiss the center of her chest as she sits on the desk, and I fall to my knees. I remove the shoe on her right foot. "What are you doing?" She says. I pull the stocking and expose her leg. "Jay, what the hell are you doing?" I run my palm from the backside of her calf down across the stubble and to her callused heel.
Adrenaline surges like gasoline. I glower at her and say, "What the fuck? What is this?"
I grip her ankle with both hands and tug. She falls off the desk and lands hard on the floor. I fall with her.
"Get off of me," she says. She might have screamed for help, but everything sounds muffled.
I grab her other leg, rip off her shoe and stocking and expose her other foot. Her toes curl and wiggle as she tries to pull her legs away. "Let me go."
"You're a liar," I say and grab her other ankle, pulling it hard where she slides onto her back. I fall on top of her. I want to get off of her, but I am so drunk I can't persuade my muscles to help me up. She grabs something and hits me in the eye, jumps to her feet, and runs out. The shrieks of horror echo over the music as I saunter out from the back with a candy cane impaled in my eye socket. The pain is sharp, deafening, throbbing, and hot. I see Travis behind the bar with terror written on his face, antlers and all. And I collapse.
My last memories of that night are cop cars, mars lights, and the stench of bleached hospital hallways. I have never returned to that job. I never returned for my last paycheck, and I never saw Travis or any of them again. I eventually got a job waiting tables in a different neighborhood. The tips were less, and occasionally the waitstaff would snicker from a distance. And now, every time I blink my dry eyelid across the glass, I smell peppermint.