Fiction: Taco Bell Tryptich

By Sumitra Singam

Panel One – Left
Large cardboard box, flattened, 825mmx600mm, incidental cuts causing herniation of honeycombed layers within, food and other stains spattered across the surface, situated in the employee entrance alcove of Taco Bell.
A man - slight, long dark hair plastered to his scalp, wearing a number of bulky layers, myriad stains darkening the fabric in amoebic puddles – lies on his side on the cardboard, his hands encased in blue fingerless gloves, a loose thread unravelling from his left pinkie. His face is lined, dirt ingrained in the creases, his beard matted. In fractured sleep, his eyes move in a jerky nystagmus. The viewer is invited to speculate on the nature of his dreams – if he had told his wife immediately upon losing his job, pulled the kids out of private school, sold the house, retired to his childhood home in the town where he grew up never minding about the looks and whispers. Or if in fact, this outcome was inevitable regardless of his prior actions, that the edifices of Work and House and Car and Dog would be pulled down as easily as this box was flattened by Sachdev Singh, employee of Taco Bell.

Panel Two – Middle
A rectangular box on wheels, 1830mmx900mmx900mm, high-density polyethylene, blue the colour of his wife’s eyes, lid flung open; commonly called a ‘dumpster’, situated by the kitchen door of Taco Bell.
The man, nails ragged with ingrained dirt under them, sorts through the detritus in the dumpster. He picks up wrappers, soiled napkins, a pot of sauce with a smear of barbecue left in it. In the white space, the viewer is invited to speculate on the meals he would prepare for his family. Venison, on special order from the butcher, jus rich with red wine, potatoes done in duck fat, rosemary and salt sprinkled over them absent-mindedly, as if there would always be more. Whether he thinks of his sons, teenagers now, standing on footstools, peeling carrots, handing him spatulas. Whether he wonders where they might be, what they eat, how they sleep, if they think of him.
He finds a half-eaten Chipotle Crunch and stuffs it into his mouth before he can consider who might have eaten the other half, why it had been thrown out. He drains the dregs of a bottle of Corona, and the viewer may infer that he feels as insubstantial as the froth that fills his mouth.

Panel Three - Right
Rectangular box painted in hi-vis white on tarmac, a white station wagon parked in the adjacent box. Plastic bags, receipts and napkins floating like wraiths in the chill night breeze, the whole scene given a sickly purple glow by the neon ‘Taco Bell’ sign in the top left corner.
The man sniffs, shifting from foot to foot, then steps forward eagerly as another man exits the station wagon. He is tall, muscular, he has a black beanie on. His face is hard and angular, his lips a flat straight line. Our man passes over some notes, glad to have the sweaty feel of them off his hands. The drug dealer is surprisingly tender, “Did you use protection? HIV is on the up again, my man. You need clean needles?” 
Our man doesn’t answer, he scurries back to Panel One, fixing himself a shot. His forehead uncreases, his eyes lose the wild, darting look. He unhunches, smiles into the bruised sky, and like a child, settles on his side to sleep, curls into the dusty, flat, sweet smell of his body odour. The viewer may conclude that at least for now, he has found home.

Sumitra Singam is a Malaysian-Indian-Australian coconut who writes in Naarm/Melbourne. She travelled through many spaces, both beautiful and traumatic to get there and writes to make sense of her experiences. She’ll be the one in the kitchen making chai (where’s your cardamom?). She works in mental health. You can find her and her other publication credits on twitter: @pleomorphic2