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Disappointment at the Times Square Automat

Today’s pie was not up to standards. I expected more. After work, I went home and made a fresh pie to take the taste out of my mouth.

        Last week, I tasted your love in the crust and juicy cherries that dripped onto the plate, pinking up the whiteness like a Valentine. The week before you made peach pie tasting of summer love, soft peach curves under a flaky crust.

        I know now you’re a pie-pusher, led astray by your Horn & Hardart masters for an hourly wage. You don’t really love me. Or food. You made the same terrible pie for the woman in high heels and the milkman and the trench coat man. Bland pie for bland people. 

        This pie tasted of ungloved fingers or rancid lard. It was a pie lie. You should’ve pulled it instead of pushing it willy-nilly into its assigned window. You know I get the top left hand-corner piece but had to settle for bottom right, next to a shriveled, solitary apple and crooked grilled cheese you must have cut like my wimpy triangle pie slice. I saw a sudden lack of knife skills in the ragged way the pie sat next to my New Orleans style coffee.

        When I dropped my nickel in the slot and turned the knob, I knew I’d made a mistake, cheated by you, cheated on by you. Where did my usual piping hot window-sill level pie go? Where are the pot pies with pearl onion treasures to discover? Creamy mashed potatoes with square butter pats? On my precious lunch hour, I found only what must have been day-old pie. I thought I loved you and you loved me like a daisy chain that ended perfectly at the automat door. 

        My co-workers tell me there’s no way food appears that quickly. He must be a robot, they tell me. I tell them you’re real and our love is too. They stick to sit-down restaurants and street food stands where they can see who is serving them. Susie Campbell fell in love with a busboy. 

        I like the mystery between us. I’m not buying the robot rumor. I smelled your cologne across the flaky crusts and sugar-soaked fruit, saw a gold watch, your trimmed mustache corners, if only for a moment. I hope you saw a glimpse of my pin curls and Cherries in the Snow lipstick and red dress with puffed sleeves and cherry buttons. 

        I give you latitude — window #26 operator —  because you might be a robot and not a living breathing man baker — government-developed to dispense pie, sandwiches, creamed spinach, baked jacket potatoes and fruit, and not love. 

        I haven’t given up on us. Tomorrow, before taking my apple pie and slamming the glass door to let you know I’m there  — know I’ve caught a glimpse of your hands. I’ll eat tomorrow’s pie as research, looking for fingerprint evidence. I’ll catch you someday. Reveal yourself. Send me an S-O-S in cherry juice on an H&H plate, touch my hand through the tiny doors. Our love is true. Your pies used to be.

Amy Cipolla Barnes (she/her) is the author of three collections: AMBROTYPES (word west,) “Mother Figures” ( ELJ, Editions) and CHILD CRAFT, forthcoming from Belle Point Press, She has words at The Citron Review, Spartan Lit, JMWW Journal, Janus Lit, Flash Frog, No Contact Mag, Leon Review, Complete Sentence, Gown Lawn, The Bureau Dispatch, Nurture Lit, X-R-A-Y Lit, McSweeney’s, SmokeLong Quarterly and many others sites. Her writing has been nominated for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction, included in Best Small Fictions 2022 and long-listed for Wigleaf50 in 2021 and 2022. She’s a Fractured Lit Associate Editor, Gone Lawn co-editor, Ruby Lit assistant editor and reads for NFFD, CRAFT, Taco Bell Quarterly, Retreat West, The MacGuffin, and Narratively.

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