The Quotable

The Final Day at Leonard’s Sub Shop

Before Shelia, there was Caitlin who was studying to be a mortician. She had a clear plastic model of a torso lying on her kitchen table. When Trevor came over, she popped the cover off and took out the plastic guts one by one, explaining to him what each one did. After that, he was in love with her, but she stopped calling him back, and he didn’t understand why. More than once he had fallen in love with girls who stopped calling him back.

Trevor met Shelia at Leonard’s Sub Shop. She was already working there when Trevor started.  Now, it’s the final day at Leonard’s, and Shelia will be moving to Sweden to train to be an MMA fighter.

Trevor and Bobby are staring up at the ketchup stains on the ceiling. “I think that one was mine.” Bobby points to one of the shiny red globs about the size of a quarter.

“Yeah. That mustard over there was me,” Trevor says sadly. Leonard’s never had a lot of customers so they would make a game of shooting the condiment bottles at the ceiling. “Do you think I should clean it up?”

“Don’t bother,” Bobby says. “Professional cleaners are coming tomorrow to clean the whole building.”

Trevor frowns. “We’re professionals, aren’t we?”

“Not really. I think you have to earn a living doing something to be a professional.”

Bobby lives with his rich girlfriend, and Trevor lives with his parents. “I sort of make a living,” Trevor says. “I mean, I live. I am alive. Right?”

“Huh?” Bobby mumbles, texting on his phone.

“I’m going to get the stepladder.” Trevor peels off his food service gloves, throws them in the trashcan, and walks back to the sinks. The stepladder is leaning against the wall behind the mops and brooms, and he moves them aside. Shelia walks past, a blur of blue t-shirt and long blonde hair in Trevor’s peripheral vision. The door to the walk-in refrigerator closes. Trevor leans the mops and brooms back against the wall and follows her.

In the dim light, she’s standing by the mostly empty shelves looking for something. He puts his arms around her.

“Trevor, what are you doing?” she asks, but hugs him back.

“It’s cold back here.” He shivers.

“I’m not going to suck your dick again.”

It’s one of his best secrets: one night she gave him head back here after they closed. Bobby and Angela, the manager, were outside smoking, but Trevor was still afraid someone would walk in on them and that added to the thrill. In the chilly air, her warm mouth had felt electric.

“We can just hug,” he says. “Hugging is underrated. Everyone talks about sex, but no one ever says I’m going to get a really good hug tonight.”

Shelia squeezes her arms around him harder. “I’m going to miss you.”

She is taller than him, and can easily beat him at arm wrestling. She has a black belt in karate and knows jujitsu and tae kwon do. He thinks it’s hot that she could beat him up.

“You don’t have to go,” he says. “You could stay.”

She laughs. “And do what?”

“I don’t know,” Trevor says. He and Shelia are nothing more than friends who have hooked up a handful of times. But two weeks ago, when she told him she was moving to Sweden, a river of regret flooded his heart. If he could turn back time, he would treat her in a way that would make his mother proud—buy her dinner and flowers and a goldfish or whatever guys are supposed to buy girls. He presses his cheek into her warm shoulder. “We could get married.” Shelia would look beautiful with a shiny ring on her finger.  “I could get a career.” He would give up this musician nonsense. They would live in a little house together, have a pile of blonde haired children, and vacation in the Northeast every summer.

Shelia releases her arms from around him. “Trevor, you’re funny.” She rubs his shoulder in a motherly way, scanning her eyes over the shelves. “What did I even come back here for? Whatever it was, we don’t have any more of it.”

Trevor’s heart feels low in his chest as if it has moved out of place. Why does his brain make him think these ridiculous thoughts? The rational part of him doesn’t want to get married or give up music for some white-bread suburban life.

Shelia pushes open the door. “Are you coming or what?”

Trevor follows her out of the freezer to the front of the store.

Howard Delft, who manages the Chevy dealership down the road, is at the front counter. He comes in nearly every day, and Trevor knows his order. He picks up the sub roll and cuts it longways with the serrated knife. One day, Trevor sliced his finger open and kept making Mr. Delft’s sandwich even though he was bleeding. He didn’t have any diseases so figured it didn’t matter.

Mr. Delft gets the six-inch turkey on wheat with American cheese, tomatoes, peppers, and honey mustard sauce. Taking the bottle of honey mustard in his hand, Trevor writes Shelia in sloppy letters across the top of the roll. He draws a heart on the turkey before piling on the dressings. When he closes the sub, drips of honey mustard leak out.

He takes the wrapped sandwich to the counter and puts it on Mr. Delft’s tray. Trevor still thinks of people older than thirty as Mr. or Mrs., grownups in a distant future where things are cold and formal, even though he’s technically a grownup himself.

“Man, I sure am going to miss coming here.” Mr. Delft shakes his head and takes the tray from the counter.

“It’s a great loss to the community,” Bobby says. Trevor tries not to laugh, but Mr. Delft does not detect Bobby’s sarcasm.

“It is.” Mr. Delft nods sincerely. “This was a nice little place.”

Once Mr. Delft has walked away, Bobby turns to Trevor. “So how was it?” he whispers.

“How was what?” Trevor asks.

Bobby grins. “You know, back there. With Shelia.”

Trevor doesn’t know how to interpret this question. Does Bobby know about Shelia sucking his dick in the refrigerator? Or is he guessing? And how would he know? Is it possible that although Trevor has kept it a secret, Shelia has not? Shelia doesn’t seem like the type to run her mouth, but it’s possible; she is friends with Bobby too. Important things are worth keeping a secret, but if she had told, maybe it wasn’t important to her.

“We hugged,” Trevor says. “It was very nice.”

Shelia appears from the back, drying her hands with a paper towel. Bobby’s grin grows wider.

Trevor retrieves the stepladder from the back. He gets a roll of paper towels and a bottle of cleaning spray and climbs to where he can reach the ceiling. From this perspective, he can see how dirty everything is, the layer of dust and unspecified gunk on top of the shelves and cabinets. Bobby is ringing in an order at the front counter. Trevor can also see Angela, the manager, sitting across from Mr. Delft at one of the booths, smiling.

Trevor is older than Angela, but she has a two-year old daughter. She often left him alone to make sandwiches while she had loud phone-arguments with the kid’s father in the back. Inevitably, she would start crying. Then Trevor would hand her a wad of napkins, and say Come on, Angela, let’s listen to the radio. He would turn the volume up and stifle his laughter while Angela sang along, her voice like a raccoon screeching.

Trevor scrubs at the dried mustard, and Angela leans forward on her elbows, talking to Mr. Delft. Shelia has disappeared from his line of sight, and when he turns his head to look for her, he almost falls off the ladder. It’s easier to spy on Angela and Mr. Delft.

Mr. Delft is good looking for an older guy, Trevor guesses, and he has money, which must be why Angela is flirting with him, rubbing her earlobe and appearing attentive.

Mr. Delft laughs at something Angela has said and takes a large bite of his sub. He chews it and swallows. Trevor can tell by the way his Adam’s apple moves that something has gone wrong in the swallowing process. Mr. Delft’s hand goes to his throat.

“Are you choking?” Angela yells. “Oh my God.”

Trevor stumbles down from the stepladder and rushes past the counter. Mr. Delft stands up by the booth, his face turning bright red. Angela is growing hysterical. “Oh my God, do something,” she screams.

“I know the Heimlich,” Trevor says. Or at least he remembers watching a video about it in tenth grade health class, though the exact details are foggy now. He wraps his arms around Mr. Delft, in what he hopes is the correct way. Trevor squeezes Mr. Delft’s rib cage and he gasps, which Trevor takes as encouraging.

Then Shelia shoves her hand against his shoulder. “Move, Trevor,” she says. He jumps out of the way, banging his knee against the edge of the booth . Shelia punches Mr. Delft in the back. He coughs and spits out a chunk of turkey sub onto the floor. Then he sits back down at the booth.

“Oh my God,” Angela screams.

“Holy shit.” Trevor is dazed as if he were the one deprived of oxygen. Shelia stands there with her hand still in a fist, her blonde ponytail in disarray. She looks fuzzy in Trevor’s vision like a mirage, distant and surreal.

Mr. Delft rubs his chest. “Wow,” he says, still gasping for air. “I think you broke my ribs or something. Thank you.”

Shelia shrugs. “Something my karate instructor showed me.”

Within ten minutes, Mr. Delft feels well enough to hop into his brand new Chevy and drive back to work, depositing the other half of his uneaten sub in the trashcan. A trickle of customers start to show up.

“That was amazing.” Trevor squirts mayonnaise on a sub and shoves it over to Shelia so she can wrap it. “You saved his life.”

“It’s not a big deal. You tried to save him too.”

“Yeah, but you actually did. It was amazing.” The words feel clunky in his mouth this time. The spell that Shelia unknowingly held over him has been broken. Now he can only see her as she appeared immediately after saving Mr. Delft. How could he have been in love with someone so distant and unknowable?

He throws some pickles onto a sub. “One more day of smelling like a pickle,” he says. Even after he goes home and takes a shower he’s paranoid that he smells like pickles. The odor remains in his nostrils for hours. “That’s something I won’t have to worry about when I’m a famous musician.”

In the past, Shelia was quick to support this idea, but now she says nothing. For a second, Trevor considers asking her if she wants to hang out tonight, then decides against it. He can see in her eyes that she is already far away, across the vast ocean, in a gym somewhere in Gothenburg, punching, kicking, wrestling her way into the future.


Sean Walsh has had fiction published in Avery Anthology, Bluestem, The Citron Review, and Black Fox. He lives in Maryland.

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