The Popcorn Diary

A t first, they are chewy. That is when they are the hottest right from the kettle. I taste the yellowest ones. Everyone likes the yellowest ones. I guess the other people would like the yellowest ones, too, but if I am hungry today, then they are shit out of luck.

I am pretty hungry.

After that, they cool down and become crunchy. I scoop them into bags, and I load the T-3000 again. And then I wait.

Sometimes you can hear the earth turning in that stillness. Or maybe it is just the agitator motor. Entire civilizations pause and listen. They are waiting, too.

And then, like a faint word lost in the breeze, you hear the first one. Or you think you do. You strain your ears, wishing the earth would stop spinning so you could be sure. No, you convince yourself. It was nothing.

But suddenly, like rain on a dusty farm road, the sound builds out of nothing: pop, pop, pop. Soon it is the sound of an approaching battle, and each pop is an expiring heart, aborted in 465-degree coconut oil.

They send out tremors. The tremors go down through the floor and out across the city. Somewhere, she is sitting, gazing out of a window. Absently, she stabs at ice with a straw, twirling it in her empty cup. Something tiny upsets her, and she re-crosses her legs and tugs at a strand of soft dark hair. She falls back in her seat. She doesn't know that it is me. That it is the tremor of my heart exploding.

As quickly as it began, it is over. I reach into the machine and throw down the handle, and a shower fills the box. They make a hot shuffling noise, and a few even explode as they fall, arcing away in lost trajectory. But they are too late. The battle is over. Maybe those last ones are simply too lonely to go on.

People have told me not to touch the T-3000 kettle, and I think of that advice as I raise it into position and re-fill it. I tried it once, by mistake. It was a hot mistake.

I get lonely wiping down the machine. The kettle is cooling down, the bags are all filled, and the heat lamp is off. All I am left with is the squeal of my wiping, and the oppressive stench of the hot wet rag.

Sometimes the rag seems like my life.

Somewhere, people are moving out on the street, coming back from lunch breaks, striding through the sun on healthy limbs. All is calm in the noonday city, as trucks shake the sidewalk reassuringly.

She passes into shadows once again, returning to her work. The world resumes its tasks. I close the T-3000 gently, clean and sad and waiting for tomorrow.

Ole Bye



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