“The Chicken Coop” by Katherine Bonnie Bailey
Wilbur worked at a dirty chicken shack off I-65. Except he didn’t. His name wasn’t Wilbur, that’s just what his nametag said, and “The Chicken Coop” didn’t serve fried chicken, that’s just what the sign advertised.
He was only ‘Wilbur’ the first time I met him, but, for me, it stuck. The next time, he was ‘Dave’. The time after, ‘John’. It was odd, but he could fry up a mean batch of Jo Jo taters- thick cut, seasoned magnificently, and crisped to perfection – so I ignored it.
He cooked customer favorites behind the counter while Joyce and Sharon, two elderly waitresses, shuffled around the little hole-in-the-wall scrubbing tables and mopping floors, their arthritic knees creaking.
It couldn’t have been a profitable business. It was rumored Wilbur’s brother financed it to keep him occupied, and I believed it.
Wilbur liked to talk, and over batches of potatoes I learned about my strange friend. In July, that he’d never been in love. In October, that he hated Halloween. In January, that he was ready for a new start. In April, that he’d murdered his brother the previous week.
I listened to his matter-of-fact reasoning while I ate my last three taters, then I wiped my mouth with a napkin and settled my bill. My hand on the doorknob, I paused and asked Wilbur a question, which seemed to surprise him. To my disappointment, he wasn’t able to answer.
I was a good mile down the road when I dialed 911.