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QUEEN BEE BY MAYEE ZHU

MEN TAKING NOTES IN LECTURES BY MARK RUSSELL
May 19, 2019
IRAQI PROVERBS/THE MOURN: ART BY MARYAM AKASHI
May 21, 2019

 

Queen  Bee

 

I stared at the sandwich, and I swore the sandwich soulfully stared at me back. Slivers of lightly charred, but not burnt, tender beef. Cheese like molten gold drizzled over thinly sliced peppers. Sammy’s Subs truly sold the queen bee of sandwiches, and like all queen bees, she came with a price tag. One that I could not afford.

“Are you just going to look, boy?” barked the cashier, spit flying out and hitting the glass pane separating us. His face was always red, and even after all my visits, I still had not decided whether it was from constant anger or a health condition. Uncomfortable at his aggressiveness, I flickered my eyes and as if by fate, they landed on Queen Bee’s price. $20.

“Yeah, that’s right,” sneered the cashier. “I could shell a fat Andrew Jackson out right now for you, but I know brats like you couldn’t appreciate that. Now go and get back to that trailer park you crawled out of.”

Guys like him thought that I littered Sammy’s Subs with my presence. I ducked my head and left, scuffing my shoes on the store’s WELCOME mat on my way out.


Today was the day. Mrs. Hardemann, a lady I went to church with, just got back from visiting her parents in Florida and paid me a crisp twenty for taking care of her two cats for one week. She only asked me because she knew I was willing to work dirt cheap.

I walked into Sammy’s Subs with a kick in my step. My treasure’s guardian dragon, who had the stinky breath to match, glared at me as I entered.

I slapped the bill down on the formica counter. “I’d like one…” Queen Bee. “Philly Cheesesteak.”

It was remarkable how much someone’s face could resemble an overripe, slightly rotten tomato. The cashier’s face darkened as he picked up my bill.

He took his sweet time with the register. $21.40. “Twenty is not going to cut it,” he sneered.

Luckily, I had scrounged up enough coins from parking lots and the cracks between vending machines over the past month. I retrieved the stash from my pocket, carefully counted out the coins, and laid the exact change down onto the counter.

I emerged two minutes later, victorious, from Sammy’s Subs, with Queen Bee holding my hand. She was warm, inviting, and smelled like heaven.

I ambled to a nearby park and sat down on a bench. Queen Bee was thicker than my lanky arm. I unwrapped her, carefully and lovingly, like I was undressing a girlfriend for the first time.

There she sat. As mouthwatering and tempting as ever. Hands trembling slightly, I brought her to my mouth and took the first bite.

My eyes widened.

My heart skipped a beat.

I spat out the whole damn piece.

Queen Bee was disgusting. The meat was as dry as a barefoot marathon runner’s feet. The cheese was as cloying as my sister’s awfully written fanfiction that she forced me to read. How could something so beautiful taste so revolting? I sat there, horrified. My whole body shook at this divine injustice. I could’ve used the twenty dollars for groceries, somewhat helping my momma with her bills, or even buying a pack of thirty comic books from the local library. Anything would’ve been better than that earth-shattering moment when I realized Queen Bee was not as wonderful as I thought she would be.

I burst into tears. A flock of pigeons that had sidled up to me and were hopefully eyeing my sandwich screeched and took flight. One lone pigeon ignored the ruckus, boldly waddled up to me, and made eye contact. I sighed. Might as well. If I couldn’t enjoy it, maybe this pigeon could.

I broke off a piece of the bread and held it out for the bird. She happily took the whole piece and swallowed. I didn’t have to be one of those bird specialists to tell you that was a bad move. Her eyes bulged, and her chest heaved as she choked on the too-large piece of bread. I had no idea how to do the Heimlich, much less on a bird, so I swung my palm and smacked the bird’s back, hoping it would dislodge that overpriced, dangerous piece of shit.

Passersby gave me scandalous looks. A pigtailed girl dressed in a sunshine yellow coat asked her mom, “Mommy, why is that boy smacking around that bird?”

I stopped. Unsurprisingly, the pigeon keeled over and died in the next few seconds. Great. I was now an animal killer.

I picked up my sandwich, ignoring the mother’s whispered response back to her daughter and started walking back to my trailer.

As if the day couldn’t get any worse, when I finally got home, I saw my no-good Pops sitting in a lawn chair at the front of what we called the lawn and what other neighbors called the concrete right next to the neighborhood trash bins. Pops popped in from time to time, and whenever he did, I wished he would do the proper thing an AWOL dad did and go on and run off with a mistress and never come back already.

“What you got there, boy?” asked Pops, a Budweiser clenched in a leathery hand.

“Sandwich,” I said. I caught Ma peeking at us from the window, a fresh green-black bruise displayed on her harried face. I looked from my sandwich to Ma, then to Pops. “I was thinking on saving it for dinner.”

Pops strode over to me in three, long-legged strides. He swiped the sandwich from me and tore a big chunk out of it. He didn’t even bother to chew and just swallowed the whole terrible chunk. I smiled, waiting for his true reaction to hit. Maybe today wasn’t such a bad day after all.

 


Mayee Zhu is an aspiring writer who is currently a tutor for a local community college and an intern for a small publishing company.

Her first novel manuscript was a shoddy mashup of her favorite childhood TV shows, X-Men and Pokemon. She was very proud of the finished product, sent the full two hundred pages to an agent, and asked if he’d like to represent her. She was soundly rejected, but he was very nice about it, and she continued writing ever since.