May 11, 2018

Flash Fiction by Robert L. Penick: "Nice"

Robert L. Penick's work has appeared in over 100 different literary journals, including The Hudson Review, North American Review, and The California Quarterly. He lives in Louisville, KY, USA, with his free-range box turtle, Sheldon, and edits Ristau, a tiny literary annual. More of his writing can be found at

Cornhusks Pixabay

    Harlan had ten turkeys baking in ovens while another twenty sat in warmers.  It was two p.m. on Christmas Day in Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, population 494.  Dinner was at four or five-fifteen, depending on an inmate’s job and housing assignments.  Six of his work aides had been continually basting since the baking started, but the oldest birds would be dry, he was certain.  At the beginning of the month, he requested cranberry sauce be put on the menu. His sergeant ran it up the chain of command and got a big fuck you in return.  So, it would be green beans, mashed potatoes, and arid fowl, with a cube of pumpkin pie-like substance for dessert.  He was a chef; this was supposed to be his art. Or at least a passable craft. And these were real people. At Christmas time.
    Harlan had been Kitchen Director for nineteen years, and this was his worst holiday meal in terms of disappointment.  During the recession, the commodities were scarcer, the expectations lower. One Christmas he’d fashioned dinner from forty-eight boxes of government surplus chicken strips.  Instant potatoes and canned corn rounded out that menu. Those were hard times, though. This year was supposed to be different. He’d had visions of corn husk centerpieces and perhaps some artwork on the walls.  There was certainly enough free talent and manpower to make it happen. But no, it was a fire hazard. The inmates might spontaneously riot and burn the building down. And the deal with the cranberry sauce, that was the capper.  Nineteen years in and six more until his first parole hearing. He was doing what he could. He was trying to make things nice.

~Robert L. Penick

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