Fast Food and Box Wine, by Elise Glassman

This is it. Adel felt light-headed. Her arm tingled. A ribbon of pain needled her chest. What timing. Brytt had gone to the bathroom, and Hector, the El Capitan bartender, was nowhere in sight. This was it, her heart was giving in, she’d depart this mortal coil—

“Adel?” Her stepsister Brytt was back on her barstool, staring at her. “What’s wrong?”


“I asked if you wanted another margarita.”

“Sorry! I do. Please.”

“You look funny.”

“It’s just—my heart was racing. I—“

“Adel. You promised.”

“I know.” She had promised so many times. To stop obsessing. To stop consulting Dr. Google over every little ache and pain. But this was different. Even her nose was tingling. The pains in her chest could be serious. The real thing. The thing that led to the thing that ended her.

Hector delivered round two of happy hour margaritas. Adel finished her first one, avoiding her stepsister’s eye. Vigilance was important. She hadn’t been vigilant when she was younger. Suddenly, her father wasn’t coming to visit anymore. He’s sick, her mother had said. You won’t see him for a long time.

Flash forward to the summer she turned sixteen. A knock at the door, her father on the porch, pale and pot-bellied. Mom said you’ve been sick, Adel said, wary.

I was incarcerated, he’d frowned. You look skinny, kiddo.

She’d glared back. You don’t.

The stepsisters were anorexic by then, subsisting on celery and Gatorade. Brytt started having dizzy spells and the ER doctor said they’d die if they didn’t stop with the foolishness. This was how physicians had talked to them back then, as though it was all a big fucking joke. Brytt had moved on to other vices—smoking, home perms, men–but Adel remained obsessed with her body, with all the things that could go wrong.

After round after round of tests came back negative, Adel’s doctor despaired: I can’t keep you as a patient unless you get some help. By help, she’d meant a psychiatrist and Adel had already seen four. The word hypochondriasis had been uttered, with a kind of precious delicacy. Medication offered. Mood stabilizers. Feel good pills. Whatever. She could get that from tequila.

Brytt was saying, “I have to get going, ‘Del. I met this guy at work—

Now she looked up. “You promised no more airport hotel creeps.”

“This one’s different. He’s a financier. He comes up from Portland for work.”

“A financier, what even is that?” Adel sipped her fresh drink, tasted sour lime and salt.

Brytt slipped on her jacket. “Love you. Don’t forget our tattoo appointment in the morning.”

“I won’t. Have fun. Be safe.”

Hector came over to clear away Brytt’s glass. “Anything else, Adel?”

“I’m good.” She handed him cash and waved off change. Her arm still felt tingly. Her heart. It was definitely her heart. Tapping her phone, she opened a dating app. Now that she was out, she intended to stay out.


Sliding out of the bed, Adel took a last look at the sleeping body next to her. The guy had a great body–firm abs and a nice chest–but was bit of a butterface; homely, with a receding chin and thin lips. She peed, dressed, and was just leaving as he stirred.

“You’re going?” he said, yawning.

Work, she mouthed, waving good-bye. What was his name? God, she hoped she hadn’t given him her real number.

She squirmed around on the bench in the reception area at Hot Powder Tattoo. Her vagina felt itchy. She’d used a condom with Butterface, of course, but she’d played with him before putting on the rubber. Maybe she’d get throat cancer from his diseased dick. Shit.

“Remind me again why we made a ten-a.m. appointment,” Brytt yawned, next to her.

“Oh please. Just because the financier kept you up all night.”

“Shush,” Brytt said, but she was smiling.

Adel’s phone buzzed. “Christ. My dad keeps texting me.” She showed her stepsister the string of messages.

Hey whatsup Adel can you call me

Hey dauhgter heyyyy call me?

Call me Adel can you call me please

“He just wants money,” Brytt said. Her own father had a union job and sent money every year on her birthday.

“Maybe,” Adel said.

“Listen. I may have flunked twelfth grade, but I know men. He wants money.”

Their tattoo artist, Ray-Anne, bounced into the waiting area. She was tiny and wiry and her bald head was capped with a mosaic of colorful tattoos. “Whatsup! Ready to get started?”

“Sure,” Adel said.

“I’ve got our design all ready to go,” Ray-Anne said. She pulled out a clipboard. “Just a little paperwork first. Nobody’s prego or on antibiotics, right?”

Adel said, “Uh–I took a Cipro. I fucked this guy and I felt—you know. Just in case.”

“Shoot. We’ll have to catch you next time,” Ray-Anne said, apologetic.

“It’s fine,” she said. She felt relief and regret. Her usual emotions.

Brytt handed her her purse and jacket. “Jerk,” she pronounced.


The next night, they had dinner at Mom’s. Brytt brought a bucket of chicken and tubs of sides. Her kid Connor sulked over his plate of macaroni and cheese. “I want beans.”

“You hate beans,” Brytt said patiently. “So, Mom, you should get a tattoo with us.”

“Oh sure, right after I get my bellybutton pierced,” Mom cracked. She sat in her recliner, holding an unlit cigarette, watching “Wheel of Fortune.” When a commercial came on, she set aside her goblet of sangria and ice and put on her glasses. “You’re getting what tattooed where?”

Brytt showed their mother the fresh tattoo, Ray-Anne’s design and the flowing script: “same ♀ different ♂.”

“Oh, girls. It’s so—visible. And permanent.”

Adel said, “That’s kind of the idea.”

“And where’s yours?” she said, to Adel.

“I—want—beans!” Connor threw his macaroni bowl. A piece of pasta bounced off the table and stuck to the macramé owl on the wall.

Brytt peeled the pasta off the owl’s wooden-bead eye. “Listen, you little noodle–“

“I’m not a noodle! I want beans!” Connor screamed.

Brytt led him to Mom’s bedroom to calm down.

“I’m getting mine in a couple weeks.” Adel had rescheduled, under Brytt’s resentful eye.

No reply. Mom was glued to her show again. At the commercial, she said, “Have you met her new guy?”

“The financier? Not yet.”

“She says he treats her nice.”

Adel’s phone buzzed.

Hey, its Brandon from last night

Had a great time, maybe we can hang out again sometime?

She frowned. So, he had her number. Did he want to hook up again? She added him to her contacts—Butterface Brandon–but didn’t text him back, not just yet. She had rules. “Dad’s been texting me,” she added, to her mother.

“He wants money. Ignore him.”

“He hasn’t said he wants money— “

Her mother’s lips tightened. “What else could he possibly want?” Her parents had been a highly combustible couple, who’d come together just long enough to conceive her.

“I don’t know. Maybe to talk to his daughter?”

Her mother came over and refilled her glass from the wine box. “You need a father in your life, is that what this is about? What about Danny?” Brytt’s father.

“What about Danny? I’m just telling you he texted me. It’s not like I’m getting his name tattooed on my ass.” Adel pushed food around on her plate. Why was everyone so sure he didn’t want to just talk to his daughter? As though that were the unthinkable thing.

“Adel?” her mother was saying.

She looked up from the little fort of mashed potatoes she was constructing.

“You want to finish this?” Her mother held out the box of sangria.

She grabbed it and drank, wiping her lips on a KFC napkin. Fast food and box wine was the truth.


They were back at El Capitan. Adel held her head with one hand and an Irish coffee with the other.

She hadn’t been sleeping. The past few nights, she’d fallen asleep around one or two a.m., and awoke long before her alarm. The minutes were leaden. Her body ached with chills and sweats. Anxiety closed off her throat, bubbles of fear raced her heart. When she looked at her phone it would somehow only be four a.m., and then when she looked again, four oh-seven. Then her mind kicked into gear, racing and darting and diving like a demented animal. She was sick. So very sick. She was certain. The pains in her chest. Her itchy vagina. The headache she’d had all last week.

Remembering her therapy, she’d turn over, plump her pillow, sip water, try to redirect her thoughts to good things, to positive, calming things. The beach. Warm sand. Ocean waves.

But her mind returned, incessantly, to the what-ifs. Her father’s texts. Brytt’s randoms. Connor, did he have ADHD or was her autistic, was Mom an alcoholic, maybe they all had fatal defects–

“Your phone’s blowing up,” Brytt said, preoccupied with her own device.

Six new texts.

More from her father. Same bad spelling, same pleas to meet.

From Mom:

Del I need to talk to you about that tattoo

“If Mom doesn’t shut up about the tattoo,” Adel said, “I’m going to block her.”

“She messaged Connor’s dad to say something.” They laughed. Connor’s dad wasn’t a bad guy. Like their own fathers, he’d left early on, but he paid child support and shared custody and showed up for PTA meetings.

“To me? You better hope she doesn’t get the financier’s number.”

Brytt shrugged. “It’s over. He’s—“ she hooked her index fingers. “‘Too busy’ to date.”

“Oh, honey. You liked this one.”

“I liked the sex, and the free room service. I thought he was into it, though.”

Her sister looked so disappointed that Adel didn’t have the heart to say it. Of course the financier was just one more bored married stiff having an out-of-town fling.

“You think any guy will ever stick around?” Brytt said.

“The sex is hotter if they don’t. And it means they can’t get clingy and annoy us.”

They clinked glasses. Brytt smiled. “Speaking of clingy, what about you and that Butterface guy?”

“Well–we’re meeting up tomorrow,” Adel said, embarrassed. She’d finally replied to Brandon’s text and he’d proposed an actual day and time for a date.

What would they have to talk about? You didn’t go from hooking up to going out. The getting-to-know-you stuff would seem silly. Once you’d had a guy’s balls in your mouth, it didn’t really matter what kind of movies he liked.

The thing was, as Adel settled into a booth across from him the next evening, the getting-to-know-you stuff was kind of fun. They talked about movies and annoying co-workers and showed each other videos on their phones. Somehow, they found a rhythm, Adel openly sarcastic, Brandon drier and deadpan.

Around nine, Brandon set down his empty beer glass. “Listen, I have an early day tomorrow. Would you maybe want to have dinner this weekend?”

Surprised—she’d thought for sure they’d be heading off to fuck—she said, “Uh–sure.”

“You sure?”

“Totally.” She put a twenty on the table. “Be right back.”

In the bathroom, she stared at herself in the mirror. What was wrong? Maybe he’d had beer goggles the other night. Maybe getting to know her was a turn-off. She touched up her lip gloss and went back to their table.

“Did you get the video I just sent you?” he grinned. “The owl one?”

“Let me check.” Not thinking, she pulled out her phone, looked at the notification that said New Msg and Sender: Butterface Brandon.

“’Butterface Brandon?’” He was staring at her phone.

“No–hey, listen, it’s dumb,” she said. “A really dumb joke.”

He slid out of the booth, sidestepped a waiter and hurried out of the bar. She stood up to follow him, then stopped herself. It was better this way. Better that they didn’t stick around.


“You so got caught out!” Brytt was laughing. It was Saturday morning and they were hanging around Mom’s house in Burien, waiting for the UPS guy. Mom had a case of wine being delivered, but she also had a hair appointment, and her roots waited for no one. “You should’ve made Butterface show you his phone.”

Adel hadn’t thought of that. She didn’t know him well enough to be all that sorry, but still. There was a knock on the door. A man stood on Mom’s porch, but he wasn’t wearing UPS brown. Adel glared through the screen. “What are you doing here?”

“Hey, Adel. Ain’t you getting my texts? I need to talk to you.”

Behind Adel, Brytt said, her breath hot on her neck, “Go away or we’re calling 911.”

“Two minutes,” her father pleaded. His clothes overwhelmed his bony frame. Thin strands of black hair were combed across the top of his swollen head, a lollipop on a stick. “I’ve changed, ‘Del. I gave up drinking and drugging. I don’t eat animal products. I swore off the whole medical-financial-political hierarchy.”

“I bet that last one was tough,” Brytt said. “Broke ass.”

Adel said, “Set a timer for two minutes, Brytt. I’ll talk to him outside.”

“Two minutes,” Brytt said, as Adel pointed her father off the porch.

“Don’t start the timer until we’re on the sidewalk,” he whined. “It’s not fair.”

She stood a few feet away, arms folded, braced against the cold wind. “Tick tock.”

“I miss you,” he said. He clasped his hands at his crotch and bowed his shoulders, all the body language signs of submission. But there was a hostility in the hunch of his back, in his squinted flat eyes.

“If this is about money, you better go.”

“It is about money, but not how you think. “

“Sixty seconds!” Brytt yelled.

Adel shook her head. “Go on. Get out of here.”

“It’s Grandma Ethel,” he said, his eyes watery in the cold wind. “She passed in September. She left a small inheritance for you. I’ve been trying to get ahold of you to tell you.”

Adel eyed him, mistrustful. She hadn’t seen Grandma Ethel since she was little. The old lady had moved to Kansas to be near her son in penitentiary, had gotten work at a dental office and had never left, as far as Adel knew.

“Your cousin Walter is the executor,” he went on.

She supposed she should be sad. She supposed she should feel something.

“It’s been a lot of work trying to get ahold of you.” He smiled, the old shit-eating grin stretched unconvincingly across his face. What would it be like to have him smile at her like that and not want anything? “I had to pay for extra texts. The gas to get here— “

“So, you do want money.”

“I found you, ‘Del. Otherwise you wouldn’t even know.” He swayed a little.

“Walter would have found me.”

“Time’s up!” On the porch, Brytt was dialing Mom’s big landline phone.

“You’d better get going,” Adel said.

His face crumbled inward, hurt. “Could I get a few bucks for gas?”

“I’d like to report a prowler,” Brytt was saying.

Adel watched him drive away in a rusty Honda hatchback, exhaust pluming out the rear. They’d had so many porch encounters, she and her feckless father. It seemed to be their spot. Spot, she remembered, going back into the house, absently massaging the place on her arm.

Inside, Brytt was apologizing to 9-1-1. She hung up. “Inheritance, my ass.”

“It can’t hurt to ask Walter,” she said.


After Connor’s grade one play was over—including the standing ovation and the curtain call, kids bobbing up and down like little birds–they did the sane thing and went to the Renton Red Robin for a comfy booth, appetizers, and big, alcoholic drinks.

The actor himself–he’d performed the role of “Sheep #3”—dug into a stack of onion rings, slipping one onto his wrist like a greasy bracelet. The waiter, a pleasantly dimpled girl with a ponytail and a pierced eyebrow, dropped off their drinks and set down a mattress-load of napkins. Adel sipped her boozy shake. The extra shot of whisky burned her throat.

Mom tapped an unlit Virginia Slim on the table. “Adel, any more news from your d-a-d?”

“Mom, Connor knows how to spell,” Brytt said.

“I know how to spell, Gramma,” he echoed. “D-a-d spells bad.”

They laughed, too loudly. Connor glared, and Brytt kissed the top of his head. “You’re a good speller, baby.”

“Walter e-mailed me,” Adel said. “He says the court requires a blood test to prove I’m related.” She was liking the idea of bloodwork. She could find out about other things, too. Ancestry. Deficiencies. Her physiological future.

“Case closed, no way,” Mom said, indignant. “The nerve of those rednecks.”

“It’s a ten-thousand-dollar trust, Ma. Even with taxes, that’ll pay for my AA.”

“Or another killer tattoo,” Brytt said.

“You girls and those fucking tattoos. Could you just stop with this foolishness?” Mom smacked the cigarette on the table. It split apart, tobacco shards flittering across the shiny tabletop, some coming to rest in the thick drips from Adel’s shake.

They stared at Mom. She stared at the cigarette. Her chest heaved up and down, the links of her gold necklace nestled in her tanned clavicle. The Red Robin soundtrack played Kansas.

Brytt slid out of the booth. “Connor, let’s go peepee.”

For once, he went without argument, nibbling his onion-ring bracelet.

“What on earth is wrong with you?” Adel said. The look on her mother’s face made her afraid. What was coming wouldn’t be pleasant.

“Adel–he ain’t necessarily your father,” Mom said slowly, picking at a shred of tobacco.

“Necessarily? What does that mean?”

Mom shook her head, her newly-tinted locks glinting. “He was such a bad guy. Running all over town, sticking his pecker in anything that spread her legs. I was lonely and trying to get even. My period was late when he came around that time.”

“You mean you might already have been pregnant with me.” The dizzy feeling returned.

“I never knew, honey. We had sex, then he told me I was the town bicycle and bashed me in the head with a knife.”

Adel took her mother’s hand, avoiding the sticky spot where the shake had spilled. “That’s why you don’t want me to get a blood test.”

“No, honey, please, don’t. And no tattoos about who’s Mom and who’s Dad.” Her mother squeezed her fingers.

“Mom, ow.” She pulled free.

Brytt and Connor returned, and he had clean-hands high-fives for each of them.


She’d convinced Brandon to meet her at El Capitan. It had taken many apologetic texts and cute cat videos to convince him to say yes. Adel arrived early and claimed two stools at the bar. Hector looked over. “Meeting Brytt?”

“Maybe later,” she said. Brytt had a new guy, a pipe fitter, in the Naval Reserve.

When Brandon arrived, he was unshaven and looked kind of cute. “Well, hi,” she smiled.

They sat at the bar and chatted lightly, like work colleagues. Hector dropped off ice waters. “What can I get you two?”

They ordered, a margarita and a Pacifico. “Hector, this is Brandon,” Adel said.

The men shook hands. “How do you know Adel?” Hector said, in a brotherly way.

Brandon hesitated. “Adel? “

“Adel—that’s me,” she said. “I’m Adel.”

“I know,” he snapped back. Hector melted away.

“Do you?”

“Seriously?” He pulled out his phone. “The night we hooked up, you told me your name was Steffee. You even spelled it out.” Brandon scrolled through his contacts, showed her. Steffee. It was awful. She’d given him the wrong name and the right number.

“I was just trying to be careful,” she said. “I didn’t mean to be a jerk.”

“You think no one ever called me Butterface before?”

She stared at the phone.

He got up. “I have to piss. And then we’re going to talk. You’re really irritating but—I don’t know. Maybe–” He walked off towards the toilets.

Should she stay? She had so much on her mind. Cousin Walter’s e-mails. The pain in her chest. Her itchy ass. A new, troubling bump in her mouth. She sipped her drink. Brandon would be back soon. He seemed smart and nice. And perceptive. All very frightening qualities. So they’d hang out tonight. Maybe they’d fuck and maybe she’d even stay over.

Someday, though, she’d disappear. He wouldn’t need to know why. She’d just go. The only way to stay alive was to keep moving. Nights with the Brandons of the world gave her respite, if only temporary, from contemplation of the unthinkable.

Stop the foolishness, people said. But what else was there? No one had given her any explanations, any guidance, back when she was young and strong and her world was all lies. So why start now with the stopping?


Elise Glassman lives and writes in Seattle. She studied fiction with Laura Kalpakian and Peter Craig at the University of Washington Extension, and with Marilynne Robinson at the Iowa Summer Writer’s Workshop. Her work has appeared in such journals as The Colorado Review, Main Street Rag, The Portland Review, Referential Magazine, Switchback, and Per Contra. Her essay, “Touch,” appeared in the 2013 anthology, Beyond Belief, and her story, “Balls, Daddy” appeared in the Spring 2017 Opossum.

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