The Buffet
A Short Story by Alice Clark
Written using the suggestion "Ineffable"
Originally featured on 08-26-2009
As part of our series "Falling Into the Abyss of Wordiness"

I circled the buffets and watched an old man eat a piece of roast beef out of his hand while he made eyes at the salad bar. The oil and gravy ran down his wrist and he licked it up, quickly, with bulging eyes. I moved on to the fried chicken, the Hometown sign above my head welcoming me back for Senior Wednesdays.

“I’m serious about the bunker,” Tom said when we sat down. I didn’t believe him; I thought it was a joke, something to contrast where we were and what we were doing. He had voiced this apocalyptic fear before and I had simply ignored it, a silly game middle class people played. Something we would have talked about back in college, when I was still willing to participate in political conversations in classes at school. When I was talkative and like to play debate games, getting fired up. That kind of thing.

I watched the group of a dozen teenagers at the next table, their lazy skateboards thrown down on the floor amongst them. Tom said that he wanted to have a place to get away to, if necessary, if the apocalypse happened. I kept my eyes down, avoiding looking at him. I asked him if he would rather be in an urban place where there would be more resources and he said that there would be looting and I said that there would always be groups of people that would band together, maybe in the old cold war bomb shelters in old buildings. That people would have to become groups, especially in apartment complexes. A girl named Wendy came by and asked us if we wanted a cinnamon roll sample, and we both declined, its icing showing visible fingerprints. Tom said we could build a rural home underground, somewhere in Canada. Some elderly people a few tables over were eating macaroni salad and cottage cheese and I wondered what they liked about it.

He said he wanted to buy a gun, so he could hunt for food and that I could garden. I pictured Little House on the Prairie and he said no, that we would carve a cave out of a hill. He got thick chocolate ice cream from the buffet, out of a pump, and a man after him sucked the soup residue off his thumb while I waited in line behind him. Tom said that he missed the girl who was willing to talk about underground bunkers and the vegetables best suited to the Canadian north, those that could survive well without commercial fertilizers. I went to go get dessert, something neon, something with whipped cream out of a can. I was full, but would keep eating anyway.

Read More By Alice Clark

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