My shift starts at 8:30. Belladon’s starts at 11. Sometimes we trade shifts, but always, always, we stay within the realm of our own.
The way Belladon does his job is like this: he struts. He’s majestic in his brown paper briefs, a grease spot marking the very nose of their slope. My uniform—which I wear even when I work the 11—my uniform is more modest: a burgundy velvet cloak. The way I do my job is still unclear.
Sometimes working the 11 makes me feel foreign, Belladon tells me. And when we trade shifts, it feels like I’m coming home. Belladon lies a lot. That’s how he gets me to take his shift.
The cook is sorting through tubs of coleslaw with a Sharpie, hastening their expiry dates with crunching strokes of his wrist. Is it a wrist? No. It’s the graceless place where his hand meets his arm, a collision.
Lately, we’ve noticed groundcherries poking out from between the tubs of coleslaw, finishing off their growth with husky bobs. Belladon says it’s because we’ve stopped ordering sauerkraut. The stink kept the weeds at bay.
I’ve never felt foreign, exactly, here inside my cloak, but then I’ve never felt the urge to strut either. Whether I’m the 8:30 or the 11, it’s always been Belladon’s body that explains my own.
Belladon has stopped wearing his briefs. Are you working the 8:30? I ask. He tells me no. We’ve created a new shift, he says, to fill in the gap between the shifts that already exist.
And there’s no uniform?
More like there’s no copyright. We’ve bumped up its expiry date. The sight of a naked man has finally surpassed being embarrassing.
I shuck a groundcherry and pop it in my mouth. I study Belladon’s penis, which is thin and craggy, like a long shred of cabbage. The cook unloads chestnuts from a grease-stained paper bag. The place where his hand meets his arm crackles.
I reach around inside my cloak for my penis. All I can feel is forest, cicada shrieks, the lusty smell of dusk. I stagger, I tear at the night. I brush past a halo of pubic hair, push into the thicket, further until I trip on a freshly cut stump. Horror is lush in my throat. This, I think, is the nature of doom: the restless mortar between plastic tubs of slop.