“The Lunch Bucket Game” by Ronnie Clark

So I’m sittin’ in the lunchroom of the factory one day, chattin’ up the new gal.  She was a secretary.  Name of Suzie.  Only been there like two weeks.  We really hit it off, sitting there in that lunchroom.  She tells me about her ex-husband, a giant of a man with high, cropped hair, and how he left her with two kids for some rich dame up in Wichita.  And this gal really had a way about her.  Somethin’ in the way she looked at you.  Like she was seein’ you on the inside.  Which she had to I guess.  All us guys down at the factory were pretty rough on the outside, and this was her shoppin’ mart now.  I mean, this was where she was gonna to find another father for her kids.  It’s not like she had the opportunity to go down to Pinky’s Bar on a Friday night to meet someone.

I got lost in her eyes.  They searched you in a way that made you feel naked.  And I liked that feeling.  Liked it comin’ on every lunchtime, everyday for the next few weeks, in fact.  We were really gettin’ on!

So, I get home this one Friday, a few weeks after meeting her, three weeks and a day to be exact, and there’s a set of house keys in my lunch bucket.  Well, I know you can figure out where they came from.  So I start gettin’ excited.  I mean real excited, but I’m nervous.  We were really hittin it off!  This could be something good.  And now, even more than I expected.  And I get more nervous.  So, I had a couple beers, you know, before I went over there.  Maybe. . . yeah, a couple.  And I’m not so nervous now, which is good.  So I head over to her place.

I walked her home once before, but that was nothing.  Nothing happened.  She missed her bus, and I offered to give her a ride, and she said something about not wanting to cause me any trouble, and that she thought she hadn’t better, so I said, “Let me walk ya at least.”  She ended up sayin’ okay to that and I walked her.  That was that.  I walked her home.

Anyway, on this other day, the day in question, I had the few beers, and I’m not so nervous anymore.  My head was light and fuzzy, but it’s from the excitement, you know.  I took the set of keys out of my lunch bucket, cause up ‘til then I’d just been staring at ‘em.  Ever since I opened the thing and saw them there.  My mind started racing and my heart beat in crazy rhythms.  From the excitement.  I was just sittin’ there staring at the open lunch bucket with the key ring inside.  Like it was some secret message I was supposed to decode.  Only it didn’t take me long to decode it.  But did I decode it properly?  I mean, was I right?  I wasn’t jumping to conclusions, was I?  Or if I was, they were the right ones, weren’t they?  The ones intended by the encoder.  Anyway, a few beers later, I couldn’t see it any other way.  It had to be the way it was.  The way I saw it.  So I started over there.  Walking.  Keys dangling from my hand.  I just let them dangle there too.  Which was strange.  With my own keys, I normally twirl them around on my fingers,  catching them in my palm every so often, but these were different keys.  They weren’t mine, though intended for me.  There was something sacred about these keys.  Special.  So they just dangled from the ring off my forefinger, lightly jingling on the walk over there.

When I arrive and walk up the walk, I notice an old Ford pick-up in the driveway, which I think doesn’t make sense cause if she has a car then why does she take the bus, but then if I had a nickel for everyone I knew who owned an old Ford that didn’t run I’d be a rich man, so who knew.  I ring the bell.  No answer.  I guess I should have figured as much.  I mean, if she had wanted me to ring her bell, she’d have just put a note in the lunch bucket sayin’ “Ring my bell tonight” or some such.  But she’d given me the key.  So I bring it up to the lock and work it into the keyhole, and my heart doesn’t beat again until the tumblers give way.  I open the door slowly, just peeking my head in at first.  The house is dark with only a faint light gleaming from one of the upstairs bedrooms.  I call out to her.  “Suzie?”  No answer.  I wasn’t exactly sure how this game was played, but could imagine it as this secret rendezvous where you don’t call back when you’re called for, so. . . I go in and shut the door behind me.  Then I hear it.  The sound of bedsheets rustlin’, corners being tucked in.  Final preparations in the search for her kids’ new father, or the lunch bucket game as I call it.  I slowly start up the stairs, careful to give her enough time to make it just right.  As I reach the top, the noises subside.  Two last, faint footsteps and then silence.  The gameboard is ready.  All that’s left now is to play.  Suddenly, my stomach grows warm, my mouth dries up, and my knees dance under my weight.  I slink unsteadily up to the partially open door, quietly place my hand on it and swing it open.  She lay there on the bed naked (as naked as her eyes made me feel), her hair tossed wildly about the pillows, her arms flung out sideways and above her head, her legs spread welcomingly half-covered by the sheets, and her eyes. . . gave her away.

They were no longer searching.  The game was over, though never properly begun.  She was dead.

The looming shadow of a giant of a man with high, cropped hair stepped into my stupified view.  I felt the cold, hard length of steel connect with the side of my face.  Shock waves shot up from my knees to my head when they hit the ground with all the force of my weight.  I was kneeling before her.  My queen with the no-longer-searching eyes.  Then the light in my mind just went black.  My heart was close behind.

 

Ronnie Clark is an actor and writer in Los Angeles.  He is a core member of Los Angeles’ renowned Ghost Road Company, an ensemble-devising theater company known for its uniquely theatrical productions.  He holds a BA from Humboldt State University in Theatre and an MFA in Acting from California Institute of the Arts.

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