Crashing the Excerpt Monday Party

I seem to have missed a memo. More likely, the powers that be were sitting around discussing this “Excerpt Monday” thing, and they said No way are we inviting that spiky curmudgeon with all the rants!

Well, I’m crashing the party! They don’t like it, they can throw me out.

From my current project, A Canto for Zillie, I offer this short lunchroom scene, featuring Victoria, the new girl, and Zillie, who’s lived here all her life:

   Trudging through the lunch line, Zillie wonders for the jillionth time why she never makes her own lunch. Or she could at least go down the street to Barb’s Big Bite. Well, not without risking the wrath of Bergstrom, now that she has practice after school. She’ll set her alarm fifteen minutes early tomorrow, and get up and make a lunch. Ha. Right.
   Victoria’s sudden voice behind her makes her jump a little. “I told myself I was going to make a lunch today, but then I didn’t get up. What is it today? I can’t see the board from here.”
   “It’s in the paper, you know.”
   “In the paper? The newspaper?”
   “Yeah, right next to the weather. Why, you think they have anything better to print? Fishy-Pats and Tots, it says.” She plucks a tray from the stack, turning it over and turning to Victoria. “Look,” she says, pointing to the bottom of the tray. “Fentner Plastics, Inc. Seattle 9, Washington. When did they first start using ZIP codes? Nineteen-sixty-something, right? These trays are older than my father.” She turns the tray right-side up again, adds a fork and knife. “And if you didn’t get up, how are you here?”
   “Well, I did, but it was like three minutes before school started. I sleep in my clothes and keep a toothbrush in the car.”
   “Yeah, right. You really look like you sleep in your clothes, Victoria. That’s how you maintain that perfect look.”
   “Hmp. Perfect. Right. Fishy-Pats. Is that anything like cow pats?”
   “No, this is way worse. It’s like fish fillets, only not. Totally not. It’s sort of a cross between toothpaste and oatmeal, except it tastes like fish oil, and then they bread it and deep-fry it.”
   “Oh, nummy. I assume the Tots would be potatoes?”
   “Well, maybe they would be. In some other reality.” Zillie holds her tray in under the sneeze guard, watching the lunch lady slop on something vile, yellow, and lumpy. “In this reality, they’re just like the Fishy-Pats, except smaller, shaped like Tootsie Rolls, and without the fish oil. Which is a good thing, except it leaves them with no taste at all. Commonly called Tater Tur– uh, never mind. Tater poops, basically.”
   “Well, then maybe it’s a good thing they have no taste. Like anything they serve in here has any taste. Except the things with bad tastes. How come there’s no salt in here, by the way? And what is this yellow stuff, anyway?” Trays loaded, they head for the table.
   “Yeah, everybody in the school that likes food at all carries salt and pepper in their packs or purses. They’ll put out ketchup and mustard and all kinds of things that are half salt, half sugar, and half vinegar, but salt itself is some kind of deadly taboo. Here, use mine.”
   “Oh, these are cute! Little lids and everything.”
   “Yeah, but you can just get the little packets from MacDonald’s or somewhere, too. Or, in a pinch, there’s like a thousand of them in Zach’s car at any given point in time, and he never locks it, so there you go.”
   “That’s, what, like a week’s supply? Given how much you need, eating this stuff? So, fish oil and tater poops, hmm? Which is which?”
   “The ones that taste like the floor of a fish-packing plant are the fish, and the ones that taste like dirt are the potatoes.”
   “Um. Yeah, can I have that salt and pepper again? And seriously, what is this yellow stuff?”
   “That, my friend, is the finest creamed corn money can buy. At least, it’s the finest you can get for three cents a pound on the infamous creamed corn black market. That is actually the only thing they serve here that even I won’t eat. Not even Zach, and between the two of us…” but it’s too late. She wasn’t going to say his name, and now all the sunlight gets sucked down into some swirling vortex somewhere.
    “So, what’s up with you?” she asks, smiling brightly.

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