Christopher Allen ~ Missing Person

I’ve joined the work­force for three rea­sons: 1) the new min­is­ter of music at church is giv­ing voice lessons for $8 a pop, 2) Mama and Daddy don’t have the mon­ey, and 3) free cookies.

I start on prep because I’m “too scrawny to work the counter.” I might have been cre­ative about my age. Manager Judy thinks I’m fif­teen. I’m four­teen tech­ni­cal­ly, but I was a vital enti­ty for eight months and six­teen days in my mother’s uterus, so I don’t cor­rect her when she says I have to stop work­ing at 8pm since I’m fifteen—there are so many ways to tell the truth.

Sheila, my men­tor, keeps a glob of raw cook­ie dough thaw­ing on our “nib­ble plate” in the back—to fat­ten me up, she says. I know every­thing about her. Her father is an “alky,” her moth­er is an “alky,” every­one in her fam­i­ly is an alky. We don’t have alco­hol in our home since my broth­er and I ine­bri­at­ed the dog. Sheila says I talk like the Queen of England, that I should say “me and my broth­er got the dog drunk” so peo­ple don’t think I’m a homo.

You are a homo, right?” she asks. We’re pinch­ing wads of but­ter pecan cook­ie dough from the nib­ble plate, greas­ing pans for the rush. I’m nev­er pre­pared for for­ma­tive moments.

No,” I say like I’m obvi­ous­ly going to get mar­ried and have four chil­dren and prob­a­bly become a min­is­ter of music.

She slides a tray of but­ter pecan cook­ies out of the oven, rolls her eyes.

They smell like joy,” I say.

They sure do.”

Later in the week, Manager Judy pulls me aside, says she needs me up front because my co-work­ers are all “dum­b­ass hicks” and giv­ing away cookies.

I have nev­er inter­act­ed with the pub­lic,” I say. “And I’m appar­ent­ly quite small?”

There’s a counter between you and them. Talk loud.”

The cash reg­is­ter looks like a child’s toy. There are big, mul­ti­col­ored keys for the dif­fer­ent kinds of cook­ies, and you put the weight in your­self. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had with num­bers. The pub­lic is not as scary as I thought.

I’m so sor­ry,” I shout up to the elder­ly cus­tomer in reply to her ques­tion as to whether she can get her cook­ie cake in but­ter pecan. “It’s so unfor­tu­nate,” I say, “but the cook­ie cakes come exclu­sive­ly in choco­late chip. Butter pecan would be scrumptious.”

You know,” she says, study­ing me like a paint­ing, “you’re too pret­ty to be a boy.”

Your order will be ready in 30 min­utes,” I say, because for­ma­tive moments. “The cook­ie cake needs time to cool.”


Manager Judy says it’s time for my manda­to­ry 15-minute break, so I get in line at the men’s restroom. The miss­ing-per­son poster over the water foun­tain stares at me. Jilliane Winters. It’s spooky because of three rea­sons: 1) We look alike; it’s the eyes; 2) my broth­er is obsessed with her; and 3) the com­bi­na­tion of num­bers 1 and 2. The posters have been up for a week now, so we all know she’s dead. When the line final­ly moves me into the restroom, the stall is occu­pied. The gap between the door and the frame is wide enough to see every­thing going on inside. I stare at my ten­nis shoes, but I can’t unsee the move­ment, the flut­ter­ing and the man’s plea­sure when he dis­cov­ers me. We stare like our eyes are some sort of com­mu­ni­ca­tion device con­nect­ing, trans­mit­ting. Homing? But then he flush­es, rush­es out, and I have only 2 min­utes left of my break.


Sheila’s lean­ing through the win­dow to the back­room when I return. “You are, you know.”

I think she’s going to reit­er­ate that I’m a homo, so I’m prepar­ing to dou­ble down on my get­ting mar­ried and becom­ing a min­is­ter of music speech.

Too pret­ty to be a boy.”


It’s your eyes.”

They’re like saucers, too big and cervine for my body—like those cute lit­tle aliens on the 9 o’clock news. Like my body will nev­er catch up. One hun­dred and twen­ty-two pounds. I want to shout it. That’s all I need, and every­thing will be dif­fer­ent. Just two pounds away. I could explain this fact to Sheila, but she wouldn’t under­stand. I read it in the Collier’s. Puberty is all about weight.

Just because it’s true don’t mean some­body should say it,” she says.

Have you ever felt a rev­o­lu­tion, like a dis­lo­ca­tion, that sends the moun­tains inside you slid­ing? Like some molten thing down deep in you has final­ly found its way to a sur­face it nev­er knew it had?

You just did,” I say.

She comes out to the front. “Did what, sugar?”

You said it,” I say.

My body is whirring: an increase of testos­terone and cor­ti­sol in my blood­stream, but know­ing this doesn’t calm the shak­ing or cool the heat spread­ing to my face. Knowing things has nev­er helped me, has only ever made me feel lost.

Sugar,” Sheila says.

Please. Stop call­ing me—”

Sugar?” She starts to put her arms around me. She smells like raw oat­meal cook­ie dough and woman. I start to push her away, but the cus­tomer has come back for her cook­ie cake, so Sheila busies her­self with box­ing it up while I take the mon­ey. I can feel the elder­ly woman inspect­ing me again.

It’s the eyes,” she says final­ly when I look up.


Christopher Allen is the author of the flash fic­tion col­lec­tion Other Household Toxins. His work has appeared in Split Lip Magazine, Booth, Indiana Review and oth­er good places. Allen is a teacher, trans­la­tor, and the edi­tor of SmokeLong Quarterly. He is a nomad.