A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Chaos"
Originally featured on 06-12-2009
As part of our series "The Summer of Our Hopes and Fears"

The patient and the doctor had switched seats, the doctor now reclining in a leather chair, the patient sitting upright, furiously taking notes. An egg timer goes off, and they scramble to switch again, knocking over the coffee table and the lamp. The patient starts talking about childhood. “Mine or yours?” asks the doctor. “Does it matter?” asks the patient. The egg timer goes off again, and they scramble. I was neither of them and both, at once. You got tired of being either. Or maybe it was me. And that’s why we broke up.


The line behind me is as restless as ever and extends around the block. Big Macs sizzle in the background.

“Are you ready to order?” she says from behind a register.

I don’t respond. I say nothing. Instead I simply look her in the eye.

“Are you ready to order?” she says, nodding her head impatiently. A deep fryer buzzes.

I still don’t respond. I furrow my brow and sniff. There is an odor to her—fear. Fear and sweat. Don’t sweat it, I think. I’m not that important.

“Hey, guy! You ready to order? How may I help you?” she says forcing a grin.

The menu in front of me this whole time, and I just can’t decide. Yet, I can’t bring myself to walk away, either. I can smell all the fragrant smells of all the things cooking behind her—the tender, delicious things that she could offer me. Still, I say nothing. I could certainly afford to eat. I’m actually starving, stomach like a balled up fist.

“Hey…I asked you a question! Are you ready to fucking order?!? Or what?!?”

She had her own reasons for yelling at me like that. Maybe I reminded her of somebody from her past. But in the end she lost her job. You would have understood how she felt.


The interview is going well. The woman conducting the interview, she’s an older woman and seems strict yet fair. She’s the type of older woman I have an easy time relating to.

“Are there times that you feel like you would be willing to take on extra or special tasks outside of your job description?” she says.

“Yes,” I say and smile. “I’m very interested in anything I can do to expand my own experience level and broaden my knowledge. That way I can be a greater asset to you while learning about myself.”

She likes this and writes it down.

“Is there anything you are unwilling to do? Of course, I mean, within reason?” she says, eyebrow raised.

“When I’m working in the right position for me, there is nothing I am unwilling to do to get the job done right. Nothing at all.”

She likes this—a lot. Writes it down and underlines it.

“Are there any weaknesses you have observed in your own performance as an employee in past?” she asks, nodding supportively. We both know what’s coming.

“I suppose that one of my weaknesses is that I can be a bit of a perfectionist.”

She smiles and then draws a circle around something on my resume.

“And when things aren’t going perfectly…how do you handle that?” At this point she’s nodding before I answer each question, like she’s ali-ooping me a basketball to dunk.

“I’m a professional, so when things aren’t going perfectly, I deal with it in a calm and cool, professional manner.”

She leans forward. “You don’t lose your temper easily, do you? We’ve had our share of that around this office.”

“No,” I force a laugh. “You don’t have to worry about me in that regard.” And so the interview ended with a handshake and a smile, and the job ended when I couldn’t keep my temper in check anymore.

The things I’ll say when I’m ready to fall in love. You remember, don’t you?


A man slips going down my front steps and my dresser falls down onto the walk, breaking a leg. I’m being evicted. There are people here with a moving van to repossess all of my stuff. You can’t keep it if you can’t afford it. I tell the guys doing it that I don’t hold it against them. When my grandmother’s lamp shatters, I smile and tell them it was worthless. I make a joke of it, say that now I finally have an excuse to get a new one. During the day, whenever they look at me with sympathy, I say something to convince them that I’m just fine with all this. It’s not a big deal. Just a part of life, the ups and the downs.

If you were here, you’d tell them not to believe me. You’d know better.

Read More By Doug Dean

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Portland Fiction Project

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