Burned Boy – by Kevin Stadt

The man pulls in, parks, and takes the paper out from his bag again. A shiny hyperbolized character born of corporate imagination, all the eerier in its goal of children, ogles him knowingly. This is the only thing I’m good at. So what if turns out I suck at it? Why write “we need to talk” unless… He walks through the glass doors, brought home to learned smells long mastered, and stops to count money before taking his place in line. Damn. I can’t ask her for more, either. Worked full time with full time school and still had better grades than me. Cameras, computers, minimum wages, theoretical hierarchies, unguessed mercenary compliance professionals. He orders predictably nor does he feel good about it. Yeah, this’ll help a lot. Fatter’n hell. Fat and fucking hairy. And sweaty. Shit. Transporting this meal of value to the timed plastic chair and with a view of the parking lot full of cars redeemed for this very project, he checks his watch, the division and progression of change. She’s probably almost done moving out right now. Bet her mom’s there. Lovin that shit. He begins the tiny preparations left to him-the opening, pulling, poking, salting. Then he looks up and sees another consumer at the table across from him, facing him. A little boy.

The child is a living smear. Individual features effaced and he lacks an actual nose but for two misshapen holes and he’s missing ears altogether and one eye may or may not even be there, it’s hard to tell, and honestly he picks up his burger with two hands because turns out he doesn’t have fingers even and if he doesn’t have fingers what else must be gone? Maybe eight years old, the concrete word of God in this fast food restaurant. For what is not the word of God? Where does he want expression? Forged in genuine fire, divinity: the genius to hew reality. And more of an instructor than any pedagogue in all the man’s years of university, with this lesson of shame and the metaphysical continuum. The transparent eyeball.

The boy’s mother returns to him with napkins, ketchup, straws. Helps him, sets him up as she can. The transcendence of their tie, born in the codes and chemicals of the ooze, strikes a cosmic counter. The corporally grotesque bearing the morally sublime. The man exits with animal food abandoned, humiliated into accepting his own holiness, as much Christ as Christ ever was.

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Kevin Stadt has a B.S. in philosophy from Illinois State University, an M.A. in teaching writing from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and he recently finished his Ph.D. in American literature at Northern Illinois University.

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