Across the monitor in delayed succession the new deliveries specifics sputter out: Address, order, estimated time of arrival, and or if there are any special sides. I’m first in line to take the next batch, three or four I lug in a worn-out bag and race around town, mapping out the quickest routes to get where the customers wait. I never want to be more than two minutes with one customer. How you doing tonight? You see the game? You need any cheese and peppers, any plates and napkins? That is my small talk. That is why my manager pats me on the back and says, “The best, the best damn driver I ever had.”
I cut a couple of pizzas and handle the oven until all of mine are ready, marked by the number of their order on the box they steam in. My first order, the closest and according to the special notes section MOST URGENT is a regular cheese. No special sides, no toppings. I grab the bag and exit through the back door. I start my car and sit in silence while I let it warm up. A vibration in my pocket. My manager.
“Make sure you take the closest one first. He’s a friend. He’ll tip you good.”
“Sure thing.” I drop the phone into the cup holder under the radio. Big tip, sounds good.
Taking a left on Flying Fish then a right onto Marlin, I ease in front of the house that matches the address listed on the tag. No lights on. No car in the driveway.
Big tip, sounds good.
I exit the car and leave it in park, don’t bother to turn anything off. Take the customer's pizza out the bag; preparing to make the exchange, collect the extra change. It’s nothing. I don’t close the door, save the seconds.
I walk on their lawn. Usually I try to avoid doing this, but when I’m in a rush I find it acceptable. No toys, no basketball hoops, no forgotten sweatshirts. No kids then I guess. Only some fallen leaves from a naked tree. I approach the entrance and stand on the dirty welcome mat. Ring the doorbell. I don’t hear anything, but sometimes you can’t pick it up from outside.
The door swings open and she’s crying. A kid watches a football game on the couch in the corner of the living room, stretched out while icing a kneecap. Her tears are the only thing between us. Her hand covers her right eye.
“Thanks for coming by. We’re starving.” I can see her knees trembling. She takes the pizza from me before I can say anything, turns, and then disappears, sniffling into a hallway. An eruption from the TV. Someone’s scored a touchdown in the football game.
A short man enters and stands where she was just standing. Sunglasses sit atop slicked-back black hair. He pats me on the back and offers I come in and “chill for a bit” but I say “nah it’s ok I have other orders.” Then he says he’ll get me “a beer for the road at least and the money too” so he leaves as quickly as he came. He wears a washed out Quicksilver shirt. A whiff of his beer hits me. The commercials flash by the screen and light up the dark living room.
I can hear the opening and closing of drawers and cabinets. He asks her “why do you keep lying, why do you keep lying to me,” repeatedly. Her sobs sometime overpower his pleas. A plate falls and causes a loud crash as the punt returner catches the kickoff and takes a knee. They’ll start at the twenty.
“Use the fucking plastic ones he gave us!” He opens and closes the refrigerator. “Ahhhh dammit, where the fuck do you keep the band-aides….” his voice trails off as he enters another part of the house. More drawers and cabinets are opened and then closed.
An interception, back to the house. The crowd goes wild and the kid sits motionless in front of the screen. The commentators mention the start time for next week’s games.
“They’re in here,” she squeaks. “Derek, the food is waiting. Come and eat.” Her voice is coming closer.
She appears in the doorway, wiping her eyes. A band-aid covers her index finger. I try to avoid eye contact but I can’t help and look at her. She’s not looking at me though, only staring at her exposed feet. I can’t tell if the eye she covered before is bruised or discolored or misshapen. She just peers down with her arms folded, standing halfway outside the doorway. Looking past her I see a picture of the three of them huddled together smiling on a coffee table next to an open bag of Doritos.
My manager’s friend steps in and doesn’t acknowledge her, blocking her from my view.
“Don’t’ worry about that. Here you go,” he says and hands me $40 for a $16 pizza. She’s not crying anymore. I think.
“Thanks,” he adds.
“Don’t listen to him.” The words barely leave her.
“Don’t worry about her,” he reaches for something in his back pocket; a sweating silver Coors placed in my palm, “Almost forgot.”
I place the beer in my pocket. “Have a good -,” but the door is closed before I can finish. I turn around and walk through their lawn again. Maybe I hear another plate fall and break into dozens of tiny pieces, but it could be my feet tearing apart the leaves below me.
I sit in my car and drink the beer while listening to the engine run. I don’t remember anything special from the rest of the deliveries, but when I come back to the store my manager is waiting at the back door with another full bag for me. I hide the hollow beer can under my seat. I park with the car still on and walk up to him.
He takes the empty, dirty old bag off my shoulder and hands me another full, dirty old bag. Before the back door fully comes to a swinging close I could hear him say to Eric, our cook, “That’s why he’s the best, man. The best damn driver I ever had.” Then they chuckle as I hear our store’s phone ring and they continue working.