Custard by Scott Rooker

Surprise

Clarence’s mouth watered as he pulled his great-big white Dodge truck into the gravel driveway.  He could hardly wait to taste the pint of chocolate custard that he had in his passenger seat.  It was his daily treat.  He stopped and pulled the parking brake.  He grabbed the pint and nearly choked himself on the seatbelt, which jerked tightly against his gut.  He unbuckled it, and slid out of the cab.  He walked over the path of flat rocks that lead to his trailer.

He opened the glass door with the broken hydraulic pump.  He unlocked the deadbolt, and entered.  Inside his home, yellow curtains cast a jaundiced hue to the shadows on the walls.  The kitchen linoleum curled under his sandals.  He put the pint of chocolate custard on the countertop, and opened the silverware drawer and got a spoon.

He pulled the lid off the pint.  He dipped the spoon into it.  He savored this first bite.  He let the custard melt on his taste buds.  Licking his lips he swallowed.  He took a second stroke, then a third, then a fourth.  He dipped the spoon into the custard again.  He brought the spoon to his mouth, delivering the frigid delight.

As he sucked the custard, he felt a foreign object on his tongue.  He thought it might be candy, so he rolled it from side to side, sucking the custard that surrounded it.  He tested the consistency of it with his teeth.  He felt a sour feeling.  He brought his hand to his mouth, and pushed the object out with his tongue.  He looked the strange thing over, still covered with a layer of chocolate custard.  He bent down at his sink.  He turned on the water, and held the object under the flow.  He rotated it, and washed it with his fingers.

He screamed in absolute terror.  The shock and horror of what he saw brought him to his knees.  He dropped the thing, and continued screaming.  All the while the, faucet rushed.  He breathed frantically, and shouted, “No!!!!!!  Jesus Christ!!!!”

On the floor was a severed finger.  His screams echoed though the rows of trailers.  He was having trouble comprehending what had just happened.  When he caught his breath, he ripped a paper towel.  Like a scientist he carefully picked up the finger with it.  He put it in the custard pint, closed the lid, and placed it in his freezer.

Derrick

I awoke to the rattling engine of a minivan, and a woman asking, “Are you okay?  Are you okay?  Do you need help?”  I opened my eyelids to the yellow sun.  “I think I’m okay,” I said.
“Alright,” she said.  She rolled up the window and sputtered down the unpaved road.
I pulled myself up by a tuft of grass in the sandy ditch.  Mud was caked to the side of my face that wasn’t sunburned.  All around me there were pine trees.

My head throbbed and I wondered where in the hell I was, and how in the hell I had gotten there.
I felt something heavy in my pocket.  I pulled out a pocket knife I had never seen before.  I thought, What in the hell happened last night?  Where did this knife come from?

I looked down one side of the gravel road.  All along it were identical ranch style brick houses.  I turned toward the other end of the road.  In the distance I saw traffic zooming by.  Walking, I kicked bits of gravel that were lodged in my grass-stained shoes.

Soon I was at the end of the dirt road, where the highway began.  I looked at the street sign.  The dirt road was Elisha Drive.  The highway was Market Street.  I knew Market Street well, but I did not recognize any of the bleak landmarks around me.  There was no sidewalk, so I stumbled in an out of the ditch along the side of the road.  I walked a half a mile that way, desperately hoping to recognize something, anything.

I was starting to panic.  I had to be at work at 3:00PM.  I didn’t know what time it was, but I felt the sun turning in the sky.

I reached a concrete bridge that overlooked a stagnant bog.  Scraggly branches prevented me from walking on this side of the road.  I decided to cross over to the other side of Market Street.  I waited for the last of a line of cars.  Then I sprang into the middle of the street into that little no man’s land that some roads have.  I waited for a line of cars coming from the other direction to pass.

One of those huge Dodge trucks with a big ass and six wheels passed by.  The driver laid on his horn.  I listened to the sound of it trail off down the vanishing roadway.  I dashed across the last bit of road.

Jeff

At Heart’s Delight Frozen Custard on College Road, the manager, Jeff, was fumbling through boxes, searching for the right lids to go with the paper pint containers.

“Jeff,” said Jenny, the morning cashier.

“Yes?” said Jeff.

She said, “Derrick isn’t here.  Can I go ahead and count my drawer?”

“What time is it?” Jeff said.  He looked at his phone.  It was 3:16PM.

“Let me call him,” he said.  He walked to the schedule that was tacked into the cork board.  He entered Derrick’s number in the phone, and waited.  He left a message, and turned to Jenny who was waiting with her register drawer.

“Go ahead,” he said, “Count your drawer.  I’ll work the register.”

God dammit, he thought, How am I supposed to put the paper order up, run the register, finish making the schedule, and clean the custard machine?’

He went to the safe and counted his drawer.  As he counted the pennies he thought about communism.  It couldn’t have been that bad, could it?

He brought the drawer to the drive-thru register.  His frustration was evident as he slammed it shut.  Jeff adjusted his headset.  “Welcome to Heart’s Delight Frozen Custard, may I take your order?” he said into the microphone.

Sarkis and George Kasadjian

Sarkis and George Kasadjian were nineteen, and sixteen, when as stowaways they boarded a ship from the tiny island of Cyprus.  They were refuges from war-torn Armenia, in search of a new beginning.  Eventually, they made their way to the United States.  With the help of an uncle, they settled in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1981.  They began saving money and dreaming about opening a business.  During this time they grew out the mustaches that would later become their trademark.

In the late 1980s the frozen yogurt craze was sweeping the nation.  The brothers opened their first frozen yogurt stand on College Road.  They called it Heart’s Delight Frozen Yogurt.  By the time the frozen yogurt craze began to thaw in 1983, the brothers had opened three more stores.  While their competitors floundered, the brothers innovated.  In 1994 they realized they could charge more for a pint of yogurt by calling it custard.  As such Heart’s Delight Frozen Yogurt became Heart’s Delight Frozen Custard.

One Sunday Sarkis decided to pop in to the College Road location.  Although his brother, George, handled the day-to-day operations, Sarkis still liked to pop in from time to time.  He drove into the parking lot.  A big white Dodge truck turned into the drive-thru as he parked out back.  A landscaping crew was hard at work blowing a swirl of dust and cigarette butts with their leaf blowers.  They stopped as Sarkis walked by.

Sarkis entered the back of the store.  He walked past the dry storage and noticed an idling customer at the drive-thru window.  Looking around he did not see his manager Jeff, or anyone else.  Befuddled Sarkis opened the glass window.  “Hello,” he said to the heavy set man.  He looked at the point of sale terminal, and said, “One pint of chocolate custard, that will be three dollars and seventy-six cents, please.”

The man held a bag of change aloft.  He grabbed the change, and carefully handed it to Sarkis.  Sarkis went to the custard machine and grabbed a cup that sat beside it.  In a swirling motion he filled the chocolate custard.  He brought it back to the window, and as part of the theatrical presentation, he held the custard upside down briefly before turning it right side up and handing it to the man.  “Thank you,” said Sarkis, smiling, “Have a wonderful day.”

“Thank you,” said the man.  He drove off in his white Dodge truck.  He rolled up over the curb.  His rear tire took out a row of freshly planted flowers.  The landscapers were pissed.

Clarence

Clarence had the doors to his Dodge Ram 3500 truck wide open.  He waddled around the wide cab and bent his heavy body down.  He got on his knees.  He dug his hand along the floor under the seats.  He pushed the seats forward and felt the scraps of food and garbage that were wedged along the metal rails on which the seats moved.  He found a coin, then another.

He collected several coins and separated them from bits of hair.  As he pulled the coins from the upholstery he looked at them in the light.  He placed them in a plastic sandwich bag.  When he had extracted all the money, from the car floor, he counted it.  All in all he had three dollars and seventy-six cents.  In addition, he had three Chuck E. Cheese tokens.

He whipped the floor mats against the driveway, and put them back on the car floor.  He hoisted his belly into the driver’s seat.  He turned the ignition, shut his door, and drove.  He dialed his ex-wife, and adjusted his Bluetooth ear piece.

“Hello Crystal,” he said.  “I would like to talk to Jess.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Crystal.

“Just put her on,” he said.

“You’re going to see her next weekend,” said Crystal.

“I just want to ask her something,” he said.

There was someone walking in the center lane.

Clarence laid on the horn, “GET OUT OF THE ROAD MORON!”

“Are you driving,” she asked.  “Why don’t you call back some other time?”

“Like when?” He said.

“Call tomorrow, okay,” Crystal said.  She hung up as the truck turned into the Heart’s Delight Frozen Custard parking lot.

He pulled up to the drive thru, hanging his elbow out the door.  The plastic speaker let out shrill feedback.  A voice said, “Welcome to Heart’s Delight Frozen Custard, may I take your order?”

“Yes,” Clarence shouted over the noise of the leaf blowers, “I’d like a pint of chocolate custard, please.”  He waited for some audible confirmation.

There was a pause.  Then an unintelligible noise.

Clarence drove around the back of the store, and pulled up to the pick-up window.

The Sketch House

Derrick and Daniel were the last of the party still awake.  The others were strewn about the floor.  A few lucky ones slept on the wraparound couch.  Daniel said, “Do you need a beer?”

“Word ass,” said Derrick.

Daniel walked to the fridge.

“We are all out of beer!” He said.  “Hold on.  I’ll be right back.”  He left and walked down the dark hall.

He returned with a green bottle.  He set it on the table.  Derrick looked at the bottle of Jagermeister.  He admired the font on the label.  The two took turns drinking it.

After a bit, Daniel asked, “Have you ever been to the sketch house?”

“The what?” said Derrick.

“The sketch house,” said Daniel.  “Come on, I’ll show you.”  He stood, and gestured for Derrick to follow.

“What is it?” asked Derrick.

Daniel said, “It’s an old abandoned house back up in the woods down the street.”

The two were standing in the doorway.

Daniel said, “It’s the scariest fucking place you can possibly imagine.  You probably want to bring a knife with you, just in case.  I’ll sell you one.”

“A knife,” said Derrick.  “I don’t think I want to go there.”

“Tell you what,” said Daniel.  “I happen to have several knives.  I’ll show them to you, and you can pick out one you like.”

“How much?” Derrick asked

“Five bucks.” Daniel said.  He went down the hall again, and came back with a medium sized box with about a dozen little boxes in it.  Daniel showed Derrick his array of knives.  Derrick held each one and picked out the one he liked.

He wasn’t too keen on going inside the sketch house, but this blade gave him a certain bravado and a feeling of confidence.  They brought the Jagermeister and walked out into the front yard.  They were impervious to the spider webs they walked through as they traversed the dew covered lawns.  They turned down a dirt road.  The gravel crunched beneath their feet.

Daniel gestured towards the dark woods.  Derrick followed.  Amidst a choir of bugs Daniel stopped, and turned on a tiny flashlight.  They crept closer.  Then the beam illuminated a rotten stoop, crooked steps, and a mysterious door.  The porch was littered with shards of shattered glass.  The siding had given way to the rotten bones of the house.  The gutter lay twisted on the ground.  The roof was sunk in, its’ shingles disheveled.

As they stood there, Daniel and Derrick took turns drinking the Jagermeister, building what some would call Dutch courage.  As Daniel opened the door, and they prepared to enter the sketch house, Derrick thought about the knife in his pocket.  He was glad he spent the five dollars it had cost.  Money well spent, he thought.

Emergency

After the white Dodge drove off, Sarkis found Jeff in the bathroom screaming and bleeding.  He was holding a bloody nub where his finger had been severed.  He was coaxing paper towels from the motion controlled dispenser.  The faucet was running.  Blood was in the sink and in the cracks of the tile floor.  Sarkis immediately put pressure on the wound.  Jeff grimaced in pain.

“What happened?!” asked Sarkis.

Jeff said, “I was cleaning the custard machine, scrubbing it down.  I was running the drive-thru.
I answered the phone.  I got distracted.  The fucking blade got me!”

“Let’s go to the Emergency Room, I’m driving you!” said Sarkis.

Sarkis wrapped the wound tightly with gauze.  He locked the front door and they sped off toward the hospital.  Sarkis called his brother George, and told him what had happened.  George rushed to the store to clean up the mess.

George parked, unlocked and relocked the door.  He went to the electrical box near the back door.  He shut off the breaker for the custard machine.  He put on heavy duty gloves, and set a foot stool in front of the custard machine.  He lifted the lid and peered into the chocolate compartment.  He emptied the remaining custard into a bucket.  He noticed a red pool on the surface of the custard, but none outside of the compartment.

He sifted through it with a long spoon, searching for something solid.  He looked again at the walls of the machine.  He prodded the mixing apparatus. He did not find the finger.
He bent down to pick up the handle of the bucket when he heard, a loud banging on the glass door.  Looking up he saw a man frantically slapping his palms on the glass.  George took off the gloves, washed his hands and went to the door.  He opened it.

“I FOUND A FINGER IN MY CUSTARD!” yelled Clarence.  “I’M GOING TO SUE YOU!”

“Sir,” said George, “We had an incident …”

“I DON’T GIVE A FLYING FUCK!” interrupted Clarence, “I’M TAKING YOU TO COURT!”

He slammed the door and walked away.

George opened the door and followed behind him.

“SIR,” George yelled, over the sound of the leaf blowers.  “DO YOU HAVE THE FINGER?  THE DOCTORS NEED IT!”  He ran at the man as he neared his white truck.

George went on, “TIME IS CRUCIAL.  THEY NEED TO REATTACH IT!  PLEASE I BEG YOU!”  Clarence opened the car door.  He turned and yelled, “FORGET IT.  THE FINGER IS SOMEWHERE SAFE.  I’VE ALREADY CONTACTED AN ATTORNEY!”  He got in the truck, closed the door, and yelled out the window, “I WILL SEE YOU IN COURT!”  He backed the truck up, and turned into the flowing traffic.  George sat dejected on the curb breathing the noxious fumes of the leaf blowers.

Epilogue

It was the rainy season in Wilmington.  If it were a normal place it would be awash in the bright hues of autumn.  Instead, the invincible pine trees held onto their needles.  It was a flat grey world.

Clarence once again had scoured the truck floor in search of coins.  A new bag of change sat on the center console of his white Dodge.  In his passenger seat was a tiny box blue box.  His windshield wipers swam in the wake of the cars in front of him, as he drove down Market Street.
He pulled into and parked in the lot of the Wachovia Bank.

He turned off the headlights.  The wipers came to an abrupt halt.  In the silence, he watched the water cascade over the windshield.  It made him have to pee.  It occurred to him, that he had never seen a bathroom in a bank.  He wondered where the employees went.  There must be a secret bathroom, he thought.

He scooted up and grabbed his bi-fold wallet.  He opened it and pulled out a check.  He looked at the cursive words, four thousand and fifty-five dollars and xx/100 cents.  He wondered why it was that cursive was only used to sign names and write checks.  He wondered if his daughter was learning cursive yet.  He tried to remember what a cursive capital Z looked like, but couldn’t.

He had decided to use his out-of-court settlement to start a college fund for his daughter.  Maybe one day she would have the opportunities that he never did, he thought.  He slid the check back into his wallet.  He turned and looked at the tiny blue box.  He opened the lid and looked at the artifact that had started this whole calamity.

Had it all been worth it?  He felt a tinge of guilt for not having given it to the surgeons in time.  But he knew he had done the right thing for his daughter’s future.  Now that the settlement was over, he had decided to put this all behind him.  He would put the finger in a safety deposit box, one that he would never visit or claim. Years later the contents of the safety deposit box would be sold at auction.


Scott Rooker is an artist, musician, and writer from Raleigh, North Carolina.