“Inventory of the Friend Zone from an Abandoned Roadside Sex Shop off I-88” — Dennis Scott Herbert


1. A reel to reel video machine sputters then whirs to a start after Charlotte, looking for the light, flips a switch. The player hums from the back corner of the store. Projections of black and white images swirl, like ghosts doing it doggie style, floating through clouds of dust. She starts to look for a phone. I pretend to become a flamboyant ghost. “Oooh,” I say. Her giggle, her smile.
2. Edible undies hang on the wall, being eaten out of the packaging, being eaten out by ants. And I would do the same if that gummy garment were wrapped around Charlotte’s hips. I would eat the ants. An anteater. If Charlotte said, “Come, Anteater. Eat the ants. Eat me.” I would do it.
3. A floppy, rubber dick glitters through the air, lobbed underhand by Charlotte as a joke. Time freezes for a moment, freezes in the glint of a teal sparkle reflecting the fluorescents, and I should karate chop that thing out of mid-air, I should stomp it into the dusty floor. Show her I don’t play around with dicks.
Instead, I screech, I giggle, I skip out of the way.
4. A deflated inflatable lover.
5. One tube of Purple Power Lube. Now I’m an inappropriate mechanic. I say, “We’re going to need this for the piston rods.” She laughs hard. Her voice reverberates off the stained walls, through the stale air. She is too beautiful for me, her dark flowing hair, the curve of her perfect jaw. Yet, here we are. Together.
Stranded en route to another one of her boyfriend’s, another cabin party. We’re not there for power lube to put on pistons because it’s not the pistons. Any man’s man could identify the problem. We’re only there for a landline. Something that will work from way out deep in the boonies.
6. Her pen, maybe, on the floor. Maybe a sign. Maybe it fell out of her bag from the playfulness before, maybe the one that wrote all the words of hers, letters, essays, poems, that I read while locked away from the Minnesota cold.
7. Several dozen leather belts. One could have been the perfect fix for the old Buick, which, we would later find out from a real mechanic, broke down from minor issues  with timing and pulleys. But she didn’t expect me to know any of that anyway.
8. A VHS tape, “Mr. Olympuss.” On the back, a few still frames showcase feats of strength in a Hollywood bedroom. A reminder that I was skinny and weak. A reminder that I was playing to my strengths. When I hear her laugh this time, I shrink.
9. One telephone with a dead dial tone.
10. One pair fuzzy crimson handcuffs—the fantasy of spending the rest of my life with her. A last ditch daydream to keep her from another man, a better man. Me cuffing my wrist. Linking myself to her. Never leaving that place. Surviving off forgotten stale saltines and the mound of expired chocolate body paint.





Dennis Scott Herbert is dangerous. He is a graduate of Mankato’s MFA program and winner of the ‘Toy Wilson Blethen Fine Arts award’. His writing was recently featured on Fear No Lit’s Show Your Work podcast and has appeared in Paper Darts, Squalorly, the Minnesota Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and Hobart among others. He currently lives and writes in Lancaster, PA.

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