The Last Dorito


The Last Dorito


And then there was the time a cockroach crawled into my mouth.

It started like any other day. I backed the car out of the driveway into an oncoming FedEx van that spun me around. The driver didn’t even stop. They’re manic about their schedules. It’s imperative to get your stuff on time.

The car still worked so I went to the office where someone else was sitting at my desk furiously typing away, staring intently at the screen. Me, I tended to glimpse at the computer. All of my personal stuff in the cubicle was gone. And I had a big project due.

“Hey,” I said. “What are you doing here?”

She paused. “Um, my job. Who are you?”

“The guy who’s used that chair for eight years.”

“I just started, they put me here, don’t know what to tell you.”

“What about my pictures? My mug collection?”

“Desk was clear. Take it up with management?”

“What are you working on?”

“A big project.”

I walked casually into my boss’s office and asked, “What the hell, Carl?”

Carl threw a handful of nuts in my face. They stung and one lodged in my eye. A real Mr. Peanut monocle.

“You haven’t pulled your weight for a long time. Your reputation is in arrears. I drank quite a bit last night and it came to me in flash. I’m making you a janitor. Couldn’t bring myself to fire you, I like you.”

I backed away and bowed, folding up the overalls he’d shoved in my hands.

Since I hadn’t been fired, I decided to take an early lunch. Went to the nearby taco stand and ordered three street tacos with onions and cilantro. Maybe that was my problem, the onions.

I used their bathroom to change into my overalls and found my stockbroker at the urinal.


“Love this place, but the peppers make me pee. By the way, all those mutual funds your mom left you? Pretty much dried up. Meant to call.”

I decided not to change my clothes in front of Carl. “We’ll talk,” I said.

I had no idea how to be a janitor, which was not a judgement call. All the janitors I ran across had been cool and calm. The idea simply intimidated me. So I went to Goodwill and donated the overalls and browsed. There were some really nice small glass vases, a quarter a piece. Had always thought about putting flowers around the house but never bought any vases so I paid for three.

Walking down the street, an old man tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and he slapped me.

“Whaddya do that for?” I asked.

“Looked like you needed it,” he replied.

I examined his face. It was a wreck, deep furrows, red eyes, wild sideburns. He was beautiful in an awful way.

“Know what my wife said to me today?” he asked.

“Can’t guess,” I replied.

“She said, ‘Carl, you have gorgeous eyes. I’d love to see them floating in a glass.’”

Then he laid down on the sidewalk.

I left him, rubbing my sore cheek, holding my bag of vases, considering that perhaps I was not kind and should have told him something nice about his eyes that didn’t involve pulling them out of their sockets.

I returned to the building, chastised, knocked down to a lower pay scale. I thought of apologizing to Carl about giving the overalls away and asking for another pair.

Before that, I went to the bathroom. It was big and always clean and I was again intimidated. Sitting down under a sink on the tile, drowsy, I leaned against the wall with a pipe in my back and dozed.

Then it happened. Something in my mouth woke me. When I yawned the roach crawled onto my chin. I swiped at it. It landed on the blue tile, but didn’t scamper off like they usually did whenever I turned the light on in my bathroom or kitchen.

I sensed it wanted to slap me like that old man had, if cockroaches could slap, which I’m sure they couldn’t. The roach gave me the harshest stare, if they could … well, nuff said.

“Yes?” I said defensively.

“What a day, huh?” he said.

“Better than yours, I’ll bet.”

“Friend, you don’t know how good I have it, or you have it. It’s a wonderful life.”

“How’s your life?”

“A joy, long as I don’t get squashed.” The roach sighed. “Ever read Kafka?”

“What an obvious thing to ask.”

“Us roaches never dream about turning into humans, I’ll guarantee you that.”

“Well, be on your way.”

He gave me a salute, somehow, and scurried along the wall until finding a crack to squeeze through.

So, now … to stand or not to stand? The floor was so comfortable.

I contemplated the day so far. Same as any other, like I told you. Except for the FedEx truck hitting me and the roach in my mouth. The roach seemed like a cool cat, I had to admit. Not so much the van.

I didn’t want to be a janitor and I didn’t want to reclaim my desk, if it was reclaimable, no offense to any office mates. My car was dented, I had no information about the dentee to offer my insurance company. But who cared about the aesthetics of cars? And my insurance, pretty sure, had lapsed.

Speaking of lapsing, my mom was dead. I knew that, old news, and her financial legacy even deader. I didn’t cry when she died, not sure why, just tried to get by. TMI.

Life was tough in this old world. Or maybe that was a cynical fallacy. Maybe, like the roach said, life was wonderful.

I liked my life, certain parts of it. There were parts I adored. Nobody was ever going to tell me differently. But I didn’t know many folks, and family and friends were mostly out of touch.

The tacos didn’t last and hunger hit. I floated down the hall and found a frozen meal I kept in the kitchen and stared at it in the microwave as the clock counted down, time slipping away very clearly while my happy anticipation focused on the Ham and Cheddar Hot Pocket with Croissant Crust, even though there was always too much crust. The economical price, a buck and a half for lunch, dwarfed flavor and all that sodium.

As I chewed mundanely, the woman who had been given my desk strode in.

“Oh, still here,” she said.

“Should I be gone?”

“Didn’t mean that at all.” She opened the fridge and retrieved a store-bought salad.

“Do those things come with dressing?”

“Of course, see, a packet.” She held it out. “What’s your name?”

“Bob. Yours?”

“Carla. I came across your notes for the big project. Good work. Making my job much easier.”

I smirked, then laid my Hot Pocket on the paper plate. Carla was wearing a necklace of round, beige stones. “I love that necklace.” I nodded and smiled. “Is that a birthstone?”

“Nope, just a stone. Not even. Plastic. What’s the deal with birthstones?”

“Don’t know, ’cause I hate birthdays.” I squinted at her. “You’re an intelligent person.”

“Why would you assume that?” Her eyes opened wide.

“Am I assuming? That’s a fault. But I’m not wrong, am I?”

“You’re not. But here we are.”

I was unknown to her, save for our first encounter that she, apparently, hadn’t been warned about. Strange that she showed me her lunch so casually. I could tell she was a sensitive soul, which broke my heart. I felt ashamed, and was glad for her.

“Excuse me. Ignore me.”

“Are you ok?” she asked.

“My mom died a few years ago and my inheritance is gone and they want to make me a janitor.”

“Oh. Maybe TMI. Do you know what that means, TMI?”

“Yes. I’m not a dinosaur.”

“I love those dinosaurs with the big heads and tiny arms. What are they called?”

“Something rex, or ex.”

“Do you need an aspirin?” Her phrasing was sweet, not at all snide, sweet as honey, not savory like the salty crust of my frozen food that I could not finish without producing nausea. Was I falling in love?

“I’m going to eat my store-bought salad at my, yours, someone’s desk,” she said. “Do you mind?”

“It’s better to eat in the kitchen. You’ll find that. But I’m not lecturing.”

“What’s your name? I’m Carla.”

“I told you, I think, Bob.”

She looked at me with sad sympathy. “I do remember. Stop by if you want. Would love to get a sense of the desk, and if there are any drawers I shouldn’t open.”

I nodded, she left. I felt a strong urge to pee and left my Hot Pocket for anyone who possessed the desire and found the bathroom again. The urge to urinate subsided, then disappeared utterly.

I sat on the tile. “Hey, Joseph K, you here?” I called out three times. Nada.

A voice finally echoed, “Joseph K? Now who’s being obvious?”

“Come out. But don’t crawl in my mouth again.”

“Sorry about that. I love onions and cilantro, what can I tell you?”

“Probably a lot.” I laughed and it felt good.

He suddenly appeared at my knee. Then my boss Carl stumbled in. “Hold on,” I said to the roach.

“To what?” Carl asked. “What are you doing on the floor?”


“Where are your overalls?”

“We need to talk about that.”

“Bob, maybe you don’t have what it takes to be a janitor.”

The roach dashed, for some reason, to the middle of the bathroom. Carl leapt and twisted and stamped. It was bad.

“What are you doing?!” I cried.

He moved his shoe to reveal the crushed corpse.

“Just vermin!” Carl shouted.

“Not vermin! They’re pests! Google it!”

I jumped up and lunged at Carl, pushed him into an open stall. “Bob! What are you doing?”

“You used to be nice,” I yelled while pushing his head toward the toilet. “You haven’t been nice since you started boozing. We all know it!” I plunged his face into the bowl. A cliché, I know.

His shouts blew bubbles into the water. I wasn’t going to drown him, so I yanked him by the collar and sat hard on the floor, and waited for him to slug me. And finally fire me. He turned and laid his head against the porcelain.

“You just killed my only friend,” I said quietly.

He shook his head and sprinkles flew. “Didn’t think you had any, but sorry.”

I thought about slapping him like the old man had done to me, because it seemed like he might need it too. But that storyline had been wrung out.

“We’re all sorry.” I rubbed my face and spit.

“I’m going to rehab next week,” Carl said. “I’ve been so unfair.”

My heart flooded with warmth. I’d always liked Carl, he’d invited me to dinners at his house with his wife and kids. I had seen the recent change in him, but I was a cubicle person, not prone to call out management. “Sorry I plunged your head into a toilet.”

“Sorry I murdered your friend.”

“Hopefully there will be others.”

“Other murders?” I laughed appreciatively. “I know you’re kind, Bob. Even to cockroaches. That’s such a plus in an employee. But I still want you to be a janitor.”

I examined his wet, sincere face. “I’ll be the best janitor you’ve ever seen.”

He laughed. And laughed and laughed and laughed.

We all laughed.

After he left, I rested against the pipe and nodded off.

Bam, bam, bam. I sat up in my bed, then stood up in my small room in the house where I lived with three other guys, this sober living house. Skitch in the next room was playing his video game.

I was the newest tenant, sixth months in, third time around. We all got along pretty well, but ate different foods, didn’t like to eat together, and couldn’t agree on what to watch on the big screen in the living room. And sharing one bathroom was, well … I spent a lot of time on my phone in my room. The backyard was a wreck, so you couldn’t sit out there and have fun with an app.

State disability and Social Security sustained me. Wasn’t planning any European jaunts, anyhow. My car worked and I would drive every other day to the neighborhood casino and play nickel keno while drinking free Sprite.

Having pretty much alienated everybody, social contact was scant, except with my housemates, when they weren’t surly. Not how I had imagined my golden years, but I’d been off the gold standard for a while.

I ate a lot of Doritos and drank a lot of soda, and still thought about liquor all the time, so how bad was junk food and sugar, comparatively? I sat back on the bed and grabbed a bag of the ranch-flavored chips.

I pictured Joseph K as I chewed, knowing my use of the name would displease him, god love that roach, and got melancholy about his interrupted life. He might have had years left in that clean bathroom. Then again, I didn’t know his age, or how long they tended to live. So maybe he was elderly. In any case, I liked him and think he liked me back. It’s nice to meet folks along the way, regardless of how things turn out.

Ultimately, I needed to admit the day had, in fact, been unusual. Which was ok, because most were so damn usual.

Did the car actually get damaged? I’d check in the morning. Travelling was something I wanted to think about. And love and friendships and whatnot. Lot of thinking to do, whenever I got around to it. Skitch had stopped his explosions, so maybe I’d venture out and see what the household was up to. Or try that new game I’d downloaded.

I swallowed a big piece of Dorito and felt it stick in my throat. I grabbed last night’s glass of water and chugged. Didn’t help much.

I coughed a couple of times to try and dislodge the chip, and up came some phlegm. Grabbed a Kleenex and spit. Blood. I coughed up more blood, much more. Felt dizzy and coughed and coughed. My throat hurt. I turned on my side, coughed and spit, then had a real fit. Red all over my hand, all over the sheets, all over the place.

That was unusual, too.

Chris Callard

Chris Callard lives in Long Beach, CA. His poems have appeared in Ariel Chart, Cadence Collective, One Sentence Poems. His short fiction in Gemini Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, A Story in 100 Words, and ZZyZxWriterZ. He has had work nominated for Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions.

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