The robber raised a gun and I peeled an orange. I figured that’s what he wanted. He didn’t look like a robber. No more than anyone at 3am. Insomniacs. Kids. Guys looking for roses and rope, women wanting the phone. I point to painkillers, condoms and say, ‘Over there, Mate…’ Man, woman, or dog. I ring the sale without ditching my book.
The gunman was disguised as a pug. Not that I’d know, I was deep into Murakami and dying for spaghetti. With only yesterday’s sushi in the chiller, I settled for bruised fruit.
‘I want you to…’ The robber wagged his weapon.
‘Empty the register?’ I said.
I could hear him breathing in his suit, silk tongue flapping like displaying his gums at a show. ‘Surprise me,’ he said, ‘Just do something to surprise me, I won’t shoot.’
I picked up a blood orange and peeled it. He nodded, ears flopping. I placed the peel on the counter. Holding the strip to his velvet nose, he left sniffing, zest dangling on his dog mouth. It felt like being kissed.
‘You should have done something,’ Jackson said. I could hear him shaving his chest after work. I did do something, I said, I peeled one winding strip. I knew he wouldn’t get it. Doreen didn’t either, but it was my shift, not hers. I replaced the phone, knocked a vibrator and everything dominoed. Cuffs, beads, lube clattered off the nightstand. I kicked it under the bed until next time he came over.
I wasn’t convinced the gun was legit when the pug wandered in again. It looked plastic. Maybe licorice, a gun some kid put in his mouth and bit the end off to make someone laugh.
‘Surprise me,’ he said.
I grabbed Doritos, tipped the crisps and folded the packet. Placing the origami triangle between us, I said, ‘I can fold these smaller than anyone.’
The pug inspected the triangle. ‘That’s small. Where’d you learn that?’‘
‘School. Work. People make loads of packet shit. Snowflakes, bathmats, purses.’
‘Have you?’ he asked.
‘I just make triangles,’ I said.
I called Jackson while he was oiling his pecks. He kept dropping the phone. I knew he was wearing nothing but shorts because that’s what he always wore. ‘You shoulda…Seriously, I woulda…Babe, I’ve gotta… some guy wants…’ I hung up without learning what some guy wanted. Live-chats started with someone asking if my boyfriend worked out. They started that way.
Nothing shocked us anymore, occasionally someone asked if he played guitar. Or what he wanted to be, before he discovered sharing a house with five guys pays rent.
I would log into the webcams to see him boil pasta, but his housemates drifted into the kitchen. They looked so fresh and blond making dinner in their underwear it felt like stealing daffodils.
On Saturday, I covered Doreen’s shift while she used the osteopath voucher she got for her birthday. Walking to work, I couldn’t stop wondering how to surprise the robber. Maybe I could make a balloon animal and pop it. Or juggle apricots. I wondered if there was anything I could say to blow someone away without having to do anything.
The air smoldered when I arrived. Doreen dropped her gun, called her lousy son and rubbed her stiff neck. I knelt to the robber on the ground, easing off the headpiece. He looked like my boyfriend’s roommates. One that got into lasagna, receded, or met someone and had to leave. He was blushing. Hair ruffled, tan as chrysanthemums. The look on his face was like cat sitting.
When I first met Jackson, we borrowed an SUV and drove nowhere. The sky flying at us, words streaming. Live Dog Show. Today. Prizes for Costumes. We stopped at a village bursting with posters. Prizes and live were purple, like there was another show where the dogs aren’t alive. Only four pets showed. The outfits looked cobbled. The winner wore goggles and silver bottles. They couldn’t make him sit and he wolfed his paper medal. Nobody cared. They didn’t care their dog show sucked. ‘Wasn’t that great? That scuba diving Labrador,’ Jackson kept saying, He squeezed my leg, didn’t let go, sunlight curling up on my lap the whole ride back to his uncle’s cat.
I stroked the mask on the floor, lifted the dog gun and pulled the trigger. A small red flag scrolled from the barrel like something a kid carried from a cartoon. Gotcha! It said. Gotcha.
Angela Readman’s novel Something like Breathing was published in 2019. Her flash has won The Anton Chekhov Award for Short Fiction, and the NFFD competition. Her first flash chapbook What Gorilla’s Do at Night was published in 2020 in a Raveena Press Triple. She also writes poetry, her collection The Book of Tides is published by Nine Arches.
Photography by Charles Deluvio