Carl Boon


Once inside New Plum Farms, Jack and his daughter Kayla found their way to the escalator and took seats opposite each other inside the Hungry Patron Food Court. Kayla wanted a Happy Meal with McNuggets. Jack wanted a beer. A beer would put him at ease. He hated malls, especially the perfume women who worked inside the department stores. They were glamorous and tall and made him nervous. He never felt dressed right, either; his baggy Levis, corduroy shirt, and Reeboks even made Kayla feel embarrassed. All the other dads wore skinny black jeans and designer sweatshirts and appeared happy to be there.

There was no beer in the Hungry Patron, of course, so Jack ordered himself a cup of coffee with Kayla’s Happy Meal. After lunch they’d go to Teen America because the girl had to have—absolutely had to—The Taylor Swift Hoodie. All the girls at school had one and Kayla wanted to fit in. It came in yellow and blue and featured a stenciled profile of the pop star on the back. It cost $99, which meant the drill bits Jack wanted would have to wait until next month. He had a project to finish, but that would have to be put off. Kayla came first.

Jack didn’t know exactly why Kayla came first. He didn’t really understand why she needed another hoodie (he knew her closet was full of them) or the allure of Taylor Swift. And the idea of paying $99 for any article of child’s clothing bemused him. Just another thing for the girl to spill ketchup on in the school cafeteria, he thought. As he sipped his coffee, not bad for McDonald’s, he watched his daughter, his only child, dump packet after packet of ketchup atop the McNuggets arrayed on her tray. He was no fan of ketchup—he was a mustard man—and abhorred McNuggets. He wanted to engage his daughter. Being divorced and stuck in a dreary job at the refinery, he had no one else to engage. He wanted to fight. He hated malls and food courts and bright lights and shopping and the fact that Kayla, almost nine, still occasionally chewed with her mouth open.

“It’s not real chicken, you know. It’s processed crap mashed together in some factory on the outskirts of Des Moines. Real chicken comes with bones and you don’t eat it with ketchup. There’s such a thing as a wishbone, but I guess your mom never taught you about wishbones.” Jack’s mother used to pluck the wishbone from the roasted chicken they always ate on Sunday after church and would let it dry out for a few days. Then she and he would clutch an end and pull. Whoever got the bigger piece would have a dream come true. His mother usually won, but none of her dreams ever seemed to come true. She never got a BMW, a Whirlpool, or a getaway to Cancun in winter. All she got was the bone, which she swiftly tossed in the garbage. He kept his (mostly) short ends in a plastic baggie in his sock and underwear drawer.

Kayla had no idea what a wishbone was.

“It’s a bone in the real chicken that’s kinda shaped like a fork, the kind Jim [he was his ex’s new husband] uses to carve the turkey on Thanksgiving. It’s like a fork, but with only two sharp pieces.”

Kayla understood, but she didn’t really care about wishbones. Having finished her Happy Meal, she was eyeing the Baskin-Robbins across the Hungry Patron. She only got to see her dad a couple times a month, which meant he had to be good for both McDonald’s and ice cream. She wanted two scoops of mint chocolate chip in a sugar cone. Then they would shop for the hoodie. Then they would go to the Carousel Arcade where she would play Hoops-A-Lot for the stuffed dolphin. She loved dolphins.

Jack straightened up her tray, swallowed the three remaining French fries still on it—cold, disheartened fries, he thought—then gathered up Kayla for the walk to Teen America. She wouldn’t hold his hand, and on the way he studied the families, every one of them toting huge shopping bags full of junk that would be forgotten in a month. Every one of them seemed happy—the mothers wearing makeup and the fathers wearing those skinny black jeans he despised. He hated malls, but Kayla loved them. It must be something about the lights, he thought, something about possibility and chance.


Carl Boon is the author of the full-length collection Places & Names: Poems (The Nasiona Press, 2019). His writing has appeared in many journals and magazines, including Prairie Schooner, Posit, and Washington Square Review. He received his Ph.D. in Twentieth-Century American Literature from Ohio University in 2007, and currently lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American literature at Dokuz Eylül University.



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