September 30, 2013

Issue 03 Redux: Cheap, Fast, Filling by Roxane Gay

When a piece of flash fiction has particular strength the reader is able to envision the main character almost as a portrait, where we can interpret the life of the protagonist in a complex manner, obviously quite the task to pull off in a thousand words or so. The below 950 words in Roxane Gay's "Cheap, Fast, Filling" from our Issue 03 release, guides the reader into such an experience. We're given a glimpse into the lives of those we rarely hear about, refugees surviving on the bare minimum, their only sustenance coming from empty calories so to speak, exemplified in Lucian, a man flawed by desperation.  

Roxane Gay has become one of our most important voices in literature. She has often been a vocal advocate for minorities in publishing. Besides her many renowned essays on the matter, she recently has spent time blogging for The Nation, illustrating how a broad range of voices participating in the literary conversation will only strengthen our community, which is of course a core value behind Weave's mission. At the time, we were proud and excited to include this wonderful story in our collection. In looking back, we're even more grateful to share this again.

Frank Jackson
Web Editor, Weave Magazine

Cheap, Fast, Filling by Roxane Gay

When Lucien arrives in the United States by way of a trip to Canada, an illegal border crossing, and hitching rides down to Miami, his cousin Christophe, who made his own way to Miami years earlier hands him a 50 dollar bill and tells Lucien to eat Hot Pockets until he gets a job because they are cheap, filling and taste good. Lucien sleeps on the floor in an apartment he shares with five other men like him, all of them pretending this is better than that which came before. There is a small kitchen with an electric stove that has two burners and a microwave that is rarely cleaned. Christophe also tells Lucien that Hot Pockets are easy to prepare. Because he doesn’t know how to cook, Lucien is grateful for his cousin’s advice.

Lucien is in the United States because he loves Miami Vice. He loves the shiny suits Tubbs and Crockett wear. He loves their swagger. He loves the idea of Miami as a perfect place where problems are always solved and there are beautiful women as far as a man can see. In secondaire, Lucien would daydream about Miami while the French nuns frowned and slapped his desk with their rulers. He has not yet seen that Miami but he knows it is there. It has to be there.

Lucien’s apartment is in Pembroke Pines—a world away from Little Haiti and everything that might be familiar in an unfamiliar place. Every morning, he wakes up at five, showers, gets dressed. He walks four miles to the Home Depot on Pines Boulevard where he waits for contractors to cruise through the parking lot looking for cheap, fast labor. He stands in the immigrant bazaar with the Mexicans and Guatemalans and Nicaraguans, sometimes a few Chinese. They stand tall, try to look strong, hope that a long white finger will curl in their direction. Three or four times a week, he is lucky. He grabs his tool belt, hauls himself into the truck bed and enjoys the humid morning air as he is driven to big white houses owned by big white people locked behind gates to keep things safe from people like him.

Once a week, Lucien buys a calling card for $25. It will allow him to talk for 28 minutes. He calls home where he talks to his mother, his uncle, his wife, his four children. He tells elaborate fables about his new life—how he’s found them a new home with a bedroom for each child, and air-conditioning so they can breathe cool dry air. There is a lawn with green grass and a swimming pool in the backyard by which his wife can lay in the sun. His children, two boys and two girls all under the age of ten, clamor for his attention. He strains to understand them through the static on the line. They tell him about school and their friends and the UN soldier who is renting a room in the house, how he’s teaching them Brazilian curse words. When there are only a few minutes left, his wife chases the children into the bedroom they all share. They are alone. There is no time for anything tender. She whispers that she needs Lucien to send more money, there’s no food, there’s no water. She wants to know when he will send for them. He lies. He tells her he’s doing all he can. He says soon.

On the weekends, Christophe picks Lucien up in the truck his boss lets him take home and they go to house parties in Little Haiti. They listen to konpa and drink rum and as all Haitians are wont to do, they philosophize about how to solve their country’s problems. “Haiti,” his father would always tell Lucien while he was growing up, “is a country with seven million dictators.” Sometimes, when it is very late at night, Lucien will find comfort in the arms of a woman who is not his wife. He will go home with her and in the darkness, as he cups her breasts with his hands, and listens to her breathing against him, as he presses his lips against her neck, and her shoulder, then licks the salt from her skin, he will imagine that she tastes like home.

Around the corner from Lucien’s apartment is a 7-11. Sometimes, when he can’t sleep, Lucien likes to go to there because it is cool and bright and white and clean and he can buy Hot Pockets. The man who works there late at night is also Haitian. He understands why Lucien likes to slowly walk up and down each aisle, carefully studying each row filled with perfectly packaged products. When the clerk first arrived in Miami, he did the same thing. Lucien thinks about the sweet things he would buy for his children if they were with him and how much it would please him to watch them eat a Twix bar or a Kit Kat. Each night, before he leaves 7-11, Lucien buys two Hot Pockets that he microwaves, and a Super Big Gulp. He walks home and sits on the curb in front of his building so he can be alone. He drinks slowly, so slowly that there’s no ice left in the cup when he’s done. He eats one of the Hot Pockets and the other one, he holds. He enjoys its warmth, thinks he’s holding the whole of the world in his hands.

Roxane Gay lives and writes in the Midwest.

This story originally appeared in Weave Magazine Issue 03, October 2009

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