Catherine Bush

September 1, 2014


The other week I had my study repainted. Afterwards I re-shelved the books that had been packed away in boxes. While doing so, I pulled out the small hardcover in which my first published story appeared (First Love: an anthology of new poetry and prose, Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1986), opened it up and read the piece for the first time … in many, many years. It’s a strange little story. It didn’t make me cringe as much as I expected. I found myself still fond of its strangeness.

Three Fries, Ten Burgers

I say our number is 18. Cal says it’s 11. We’re already in line past the cashier. Three fries and ten hamburgers, flat little squares like stamps on mini buns, you know, not like anything else anywhere. You never listen to me, Cal says. The man ahead of us ordered a dozen to go. That’s what makes it special at White Castle. The girl behind the wire grid flips these small squares in the white bright light. Blips of hunger or excitement start going off inside me. You never believe me, Cal says. The rows of tiny boxes rock me with amazement. Believe, I say, what’s believe got to do with it? I open up my boxes. Don’t yell, Cal yells. The burgers are the size of buttons. The french fries are like toothpicks; the burgers are like bottle caps. I pick one up. My fingertips tingle; my hands tingle. I swallow. Everything’s fizzing, all the way down my throat, all the way down my arm to the tiny wooden prong. Cal’s yelling something else. He splats his hand on the counter. I’m saying, you’re crazy, you’re crazy. My fries are shrinking smaller than threads; the hamburgers are no bigger than pills, than spores. My stomach pings and aches. Things disappearing right before your eyes, that’s what love is. I know it’s real because it hurts.

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“Fairy tales are almost always the stories of the powerless, of youngest sons, abandoned children, orphans.... Fairy tales are children's stories not in who they were made for but in their focus on the early stages of life, when others have power over you and you have power over no one.”

— Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby