After a few more years, Dibbs lowered his pickaxe and spat. “Baby, I’m sorry. I just can’t take another day of bustin’ up these frikkin’ rocks.”
“Watch ya language,” griped Oakes. “You wanna work schist all week?”
She might have saved her breath. Warden Hardihar heard every complaint at the quarry, equipped as he was with a Super-Sonar X-Ray Ear-Button Boom.
“Stone is dependable, Mr. Silverspoon.” The warden sauntered over. “Many an otter finds a nice rock and cherishes it for life.” He let his good eye drift towards Oakes’ caboose. “How could you not love this job to pieces?”
“Because I’m sweaty and smelly and itching to be free,” said Dibbs, flashing Oakes a look of What’s this guy, blind? “Come on, Hardihar. Gimme kitchen duty. At least I won’t be peeling.”
The warden craned towards the blazing sun so as not to plow nose-first into Oakes’ glistening breasts. “And you?” he asked her sidewise.
Oakes squinted at Hardihar’s scabby skull. She watched him drip like a hot-boxed birthday cake.
She’d loved candles as a child. Dipping her fingers into the liquid possibility. Its searing thrill. Peeling off print after print and melting them down again. The strange comfort of each new sting…. When had her options gone to shit?
“I got no beef with potatoes,” she said after a time.
“Sometimes otters juggle them,” said Hardihar. “On their tummies. Rocks, I mean. This whole country needs more of that kind of initiative…. All right, kitchen it is!” He poked Dibbs awake. “This is no time for napping in the sun. Do you know how much a man costs to keep?”
K.P. was no quarry breeze but it was safer on the melanoma front. And wouldn’t you know it, but the warden couldn’t get enough of Dibbs’ chow. “This is so tasty,” slurped Hardihar, “I wish I could have s-e-x with it.”
“Coming up!” proclaimed Dibbs, dumping the gazpacho into Hardihar’s lap. Thanks to the kitchen’s crap ventilation, Dibbs was usually dehydrated by noon.
A miscalculated stunt, he realized, as Hardihar’s expression developed like that of a time-lapse fetus. If I get booted back to pickaxe, thought Dibbs, who’ll watch over Oakes?
Dibbs lucked out. He’d lucked out a lot being tall and blond, but this time it was because The Sexy Tomatoes’ hit song started throbbing over the PA system.
You’re hot as a thief, boy.
And a keeper seeks relief
in the old-fashioned secrets
of my wet shirt and pantsssss.
On Dibbs’ penultimate day, the warden gave him a parting gift. “The best bottom-line ladle off the rack! Bought it with my wife’s own money.” Hardihar hiccuped sadly. “I just can’t believe you’re abandoning me. Nobody values loyalty these days.” He gnawed at Dibbs’ final batch of foccacia.
Dibbs patted the warden’s back until they both burped. “Warden, if you and the governor play your cards right you’ll always have Oakes.”
From the kitchen, Oakes glared. She’d gotten double time for Aiding & Abetting Without a Penis and was now sharpening a large wooden spoon.
“Right.” Dibbs adjusted his collar. “Uh, you should probably know I only ever prepped and served. All of these recipes were actually hers.”
The warden sagged against the inconceivable news. That night he binged on Otters Gone Wild but it failed to lift his spirits. Twenty years to life, he thought, and you still never really know a person. The couch in his mother’s rumpus room felt like sleeping on a bag of rocks.
C.B. Auder’s writing and art have recently appeared in Cotton Xenomorph, OCCULUM, Moonchild, Unbroken, and Red Queen Literary Magazine. Find Aud on Twitter @cb_auder.