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Happy Thoughts

Ever wonder what happens if the PC police and vegetarians get their way? Pulp Modern's own Alec Cizak stops by the Gutter with the answer.

Basically, fuck tofu. Fuck that soft mushy bean curd shit all the way to hell.

Happy Thoughts by Alec Cizak




The potatoes were awful.

If any of the managers in the cafeteria saw Sam frowning, he’d lose his job. A Polite Penalty would follow.
           
Sheila, one of his neighbors on the assembly line, plopped her tray down across from him.

“Happy thoughts, Sam.”
           
He forced himself to smile. “Sweet thoughts to you, Sheila.”
           
“Oh,” she said, “sweet thoughts to you, Sam.” She fanned herself and blushed.
           
Tom, a manager, walked by and nodded. “Bunny rabbits and rainbows,” he said to everyone at the table.
           
“Happy thoughts,” said Sheila and a few other employees.
           
The manager stared at Sam. “Happy thoughts?”
           
“Sunshine and lemonade,” said Sam. The aftertaste from the potatoes made him want to vomit. That would have been a complaint. A definite Polite Penalty.
           
“You flatter me,” said the manager.
           
Sam watched his colleagues eat the potatoes and tofu steak. He hadn’t even tried the “meat.” If it had been cooked right, the foul memory of the potatoes would ruin the pleasure of chewing the steak and imagining what it must have been like when people were allowed to eat animals.
           
He nudged Jim Tank, a younger employee. Forced eye contact. “Snowflakes and sugar cubes?” he said.
           
Jim nodded. He spoke with steak in his mouth. “Green grass and jelly beans.”
           
Sam watched him shovel the meat into his mouth with clumps of potato. His coworker’s eyes watered. Everyone at the table, it seemed, pretended there was nothing wrong with the potatoes.
           
The managers patrolled the aisles greeting workers and making sure no one was in a negative mood.
           
What if I spoke up?
           
The Polite Police would take him away.
           
He imagined his wife, Gwen, getting the news. In public, she would have to shrug and say, “Rain drops and grub worms.” She would have to live with the comments made by others—“Rotten eggs and mildew?” And perhaps, in sorrow, she might utter something incorrect. The Polite Police would then have to destroy her.
           
Pom-poms and pussy cats. No need to risk a tear for things that might be (or could have been … or should be).
           
There was the question of death, however. If you were charged with a Polite Penalty, you were sent to the cremation plant and that was that. What happened afterwards? Sam thought about it all the time. He couldn’t discuss it with anyone. None of the picture books or television shows they were allowed to watch dealt with the subject. It seemed that he would merely cease to exist. Scary.
            
Sam,” said Sheila, “Easter eggs and finger-paint?” She nodded at his plate.
           
“Oh,” he said, “country roads and puppy dogs.” He sawed through the meat with a plastic knife.
           
His colleagues watched him eat.
           
He closed his eyes and shook his head and said, “Sweet, sweet thoughts.” He pictured slicing into a real piece of steak. His father had said that in the old days, people ordered it rare, and blood leaked onto the plate. When Sam told him that sounded “creepy,” his father laughed and said he felt sorry for him. “Americans,” he had said, “are just about finished being human.”
           
Sheila shoved a forkful of potatoes in her mouth, closed her eyes, and, quite obviously, forced herself to swallow without chewing.
           
“Poodles and pussy cats?” said Sam.
           
Sheila slammed her fists on the table. “Sour grapes and crab grass!”
           
The managers looked over at their table. One of them pulled out a cell phone and dialed three numbers.
           
Sheila cried.
           
Dangerous.
           
Sam and his co-workers stared at their plates and munched on the terrible food.
           
The doors to the cafeteria opened and a dozen Polite Police dressed in pitch-black uniforms charged in. They spoke with the managers and then stormed over to Sheila. Their heads were covered in sleek, black helmets with opaque visors. They carried shock sticks and machine guns.
           
When Sam’s father had still been alive, he had called the newly formed Polite Police “the gestapo.” A reference to a time and place Americans no longer cared about. Sam repeated the comparison to his teacher and the Polite Police destroyed his father that night.
           
Sam scooped some potatoes into his mouth.
           
The Polite Police beat Sheila to the ground with their shock sticks. Once they had their boots on her, they gave her some electricity. Her screams turned into gargles and then silence.
           
The potatoes began to taste much, much better.
           
The Polite Police dragged Sheila’s limp body from the cafeteria.
           
Sam finished his food just before the bell rang, signaling time to go back to the assembly line.
           
Jim Tank said, “Happy thoughts?”
           
“Sweet, sweet, sweet thoughts,” said Sam.


Mr. Cizak is a writer from Indianapolis. His work has appeared in several journals and anthologies. He is also the editor of Pulp Modern.