Fiction Funny

“It doesn’t count if you’re already planning your defeat,” Nick said. His perfectly ovalled nails glinted as he tapped them against the side of his sweating martini glass.

“What doesn’t count?” Renee asked. “I’m going to eat the pickles, aren’t I?” Her short, wavy hair was disheveled and the expression on her round face was sour. She looked at the red lattice basket in front of her heaped high with fried pickles cooling into hardened grease. She stabbed one repeatedly with a cocktail straw. “Why did I enter this ridiculous contest?” She sighed.

“Oh cheer up, babe,” Nick said. He leaned over on his bar stool and patted her broad shoulders. He watched his reflection in the mirror behind the bar and adjusted his face into a concerned expression. “You can eat more pickles than I would have thought humanly possible. You got this,” he said heartily, wondering when he could change the subject to something besides pickles.

“I’m an underwear designer, Nick. Not a professional pickle pounder!” Renee grabbed one of the tequila shots in front of her and tossed it back. “How am I supposed to compete with these guys who literally eat things for a living? I mean, have you seen that Bob Drigget? He has about zero gag reflex.” She shifted on the bar stool, avoiding her own angry blue eyes in the mirror.

“And you definitely have zero gag reflex,” Nick laughed, then looked awkward. They had never talked about the drunken blow job in the parking lot after too much happy hour wine. “Another satisfied customer,” Renee said with a smirk. 

Nick cleared his throat. “The point is, don’t count yourself out. And for God’s sake, Renee. It’s a pickle eating contest sponsored by Vlasic. Not a Victoria’s Secret runway.” He regretted it the moment the words left his mouth.

“Are you kidding me?” Renee looked ready to throw the basket of pickles at him. “I need that pickle prize money because no one will buy my damn underwear designs. Victoria’s Secret. I wish!”

Renee exhaled loudly, then bent and began to shovel pickles into her mouth. She swallowed the slimy green spears quickly, as cold breading sprayed off in chunks. Loud gulps almost like moans issued from her throat. 

Nick looked away, stomach churning, but he cheered her on as he timed her on the Miller High Life clock on the wall above the pool table. “Pi-ckles! Pi-ckles! Pi-ckles!” He flicked some breading off of his immaculate navy suit.

Renee swallowed the last pickle with a grunt, then tossed back two more shots of tequila. Nick slow clapped and made a sound like a crowd going wild. The actual crowd at the Regal Beagle remained slumped over their beers and silent. Nick and Renee were past over-dressed, but it was the only place between their apartments with fried pickles.

“So? How’d I do?” Renee wiped her shiny hands and face on a wad of cheap napkins.

“Thirty seconds!” 

“Wow,” Renee said. “I might actually have a chance to win this thing. She brushed crumbs from her partially sheer black top, under which peeked a satin, navy blue bra. “Christ. I hope no one sees me do this. So humiliating.” She knocked back another shot. 

Nick rolled his eyes. She was moments from being an annoying, maudlin drunk and he wanted no part of it. He fished his phone out of his pocket and checked the time. He wondered if he could get Renee to take an Uber home. 

“Got somewhere important to be?” Renee sneered. “The pickles and I aren’t exciting enough for you?” She leaned forward, slipped on her bar stool, and grabbed Nick’s arm. He recoiled from her still faintly glistening fingers and pulled himself free. 

“Come on, Renee,” he said. “I think you’ve had enough. Let me take you home.” He got out his wallet out to pay the bill. 

Renee burst into tears. Of course. “Nicky, Nicky… how did it all go so wrong?” she sobbed. Nick sighed and patted her leg. “It’ll get better,” he said lamely. He was fairly sure it would not get better. Not like this anyway.

“I need this damn pickle money,” she sobbed at a discreet volume. “If I could just get a few thousand, you’re right, things could be better. I could pay my rent. Buy material. Even pay some models and a photographer for a new portfolio.” Nick pushed a glass of ice water toward her and she took a long drink. “I don’t think anyone’s going to hire me when my photos are all selfies.” She grimaced and pinched the fat rolling over the waistband of her black jeans. 

Renee sniffed wetly and scrubbed her face with the grease sodden napkins. She reached one leg out and entwined it with his, peering at him from under her lashes.

“Renee, come on. We’re not going down that road again.” 

The bartender had been watching them from a slouch at the opposite end of the bar and sidled over. “Hey guys,” he said. “Everyone ok down here?” The dim lights glinted on his bald head.

“Yeah, yeah,” Nick said casually. “Pickles!” Renee burst out. “More pickles. Please. And more napkins.” She was hunched over the bar dissecting the wad in her hand. 

The bartender glanced at Nick, who shrugged. Maybe another show of pickle prowess would cheer her up. And soak up some of the alcohol.

Renee continued to shred the napkins without a glance at Nick, who checked Instagram on his phone and posted a picture of the empty martini glass in front of him with the caption, “Martini Monday.” He motioned at the bartender and pointed to the glass. May as well join her, he thought.

They didn’t speak until Nick’s drink and Renee’s pickles arrived. Renee picked one up then dropped it. “Ooh, hot,” she said, shaking her hand. “I wonder how hot the competition pickles are.”

“I think I read in the rules that they’re room temp,” Nick said. He grimaced. He hated pickles.

In a few minutes, Renee looked at Nick, then the clock and said, “Ready?”

Nick grinned. “Go for it, hon!” Pickle after pickle disappeared down Renee’s bulging throat until she chugged the last one and pounded her fist on the bar. The crumbs in the grease soaked paper lining the pickle basket jumped. She grabbed the mostly empty glass of water, tossed out the straw, and drank it quickly.

Then Renee put both hands on the bar and began to breathe deeply. “Oh hell. Damn. Hell,” she whimpered. “I’m going to…” She flung herself off the stool and began to run.

Nick downed his martini, tossed cash onto the bar, and glanced at the bartender, whose grim face said he had cleaned up a lot of vomit and was not excited to do so again. “I knew I shouldn’t have given her more pickles,” he said.

Nick walked slowly to the bathroom, a one seater that illustrated the staff’s aversion to cleaning and the clientele’s inability to aim. Nick had only been in it one time, when an aging frat boy, fueled by a pitcher of Red Bull and vodka, had flirted so hard with him that Nick found himself in the bathroom in a fumbling fling against the filthy sink.

After a hesitant knock, Nick went in and found Renee on the blackened linoleum in front of the toilet. It looked like she’d gotten most of it in the bowl, Nick noted. The bartender would appreciate that. 

Renee groaned, her head on her hand and her hand on the crusty toilet seat. No one should put any body part near that edifice to human repugnance. The odor of bile, pickles, and urine was turning Nicks’s stomach into a low level tsunami. He patted Renee’s head then shuffled away as far as he felt he could.

“Let’s get you home, babe.” The whole scene had sobered Nick so completely that he might never get drunk again. Renee sat back and looked at him. Slow tears slipped from her eyes and her nose was running onto her lips.

“Jesus, Renee,” Nick said. He looked around for paper towels, but the dispenser was empty. He grabbed a ragged roll of toilet paper from the back of the tank and spun off a cloud. He handed it to Renee, who scrubbed it over her face, succeeding only in smearing the fluids around. There was snot on her forehead.

Nick’s stomach heaved. He lurched over to the toilet, nearly kicking Renee out of the way. “Move!” He yelled. He looked down into the bowl at the waterlogged picked chunks and smelled tequila. His stomach heaved and a forceful stream shot from his mouth, spraying brown liquid all over the toilet and Renee, who sat as though stunned.  

Finally, she scrambled away crab style to sit against the wall behind the door. “Oh Nicky, I’m sorry.” Nick was bent over, hands on knees, puffing like a steam engine. He reached for the toilet roll, found it sodden, and dropped his hand. He wiped his mouth and looked at his suit. “No. Not my Van Housen.” His gaze dropped to his shoes. “My Sables! Oh God. My Sables.”

“I’m sorry,” Renee said again. “I’ll pay for the dry cleaning or whatever.” 

Nick walked over to her. “I don’t know. I think vomit really accents my look. The chunks kind of bring out my eyes.” Nick batted his long lashes. 

Renee looked shocked, but then chuckled. “Glad you only had martinis for dinner.” She laughed harder and leaned her head back against the wall. “I love you, Nick,” she gasped.

Nick laughed too, and slid down the wall to sit next to her. They laughed and shook and clung to each other until they wound down to puffs of intermittent giggles. “That was the single most disgusting thing that has ever happened to me,” Nick said.

“Not me,” Renee said. “Remember that time in college when I pooped my pants?” 

“How could I forget that?” Nick said. “I was the one who loaned you a pair of pants. And underwear.” He paused. “Maybe you should quit drinking.” They both laughed.

“I’m scared, Nick. What if I don’t win? This whole stupid contest got way more important now that I don’t have my gig at Kingsford to cover the bills. Not that I ever liked survey research….” She trailed off. “They say follow your passion and the cash will follow, but I don’t see anyone lining up to buy my thongs.”

Nick stood and offered Renee his hand. “You just need a little bit of luck, girl. Maybe this contest is the boost you need.”

Renee pulled herself up while Nick braced his feet. “Right. Maybe Mr. Vlasic wants to play ‘hide the pickle,’” she said sourly.

“Maybe he’ll offer you a dill you can’t refuse,” Nick said. 

“I’d really relish that,” she said. Nick groaned.

They turned to survey the bathroom and slowly looked at each other. “Run?” Renee said, throwing her bag over her shoulder. 

“Run,” Nick said. He turned the lock and opened the door quietly. The bartender was nowhere to be seen and the patrons were deep into their drinks. They tiptoed out and then ran like hell to their cars. The Regal Beagle was off the list, at least until there was a new bartender.

It was nearly 11 when Nick finally arrived on Saturday morning. Renee scowled as she slid into the passenger seat. “We need to get there ASAP, like immediately, thanks lots for being late, jerk.” She was jittery and hopped up on Adderall and black coffee.

She’d left off lipstick since she’d be shovelling pickles into her mouth, but the rest of her face was, as her mother might have said, done up. She’d even gone for bright green eyeshadow the shade of her silky tank top. Renee stared out the window silently.

“Are you wearing it?” Nick asked. Renee nodded and lifted her top to give him a little peek. Delicate yet structured, the deep green satin bra with a light black lace overlay was exquisitely embellished with Swarovski crystal beading in starbursts across the cups. She’d made it in a DD, even though most models were much smaller. “I guess I did kind of make it for myself. And it’s pickle green, so that might be good luck.”

After they pulled into the farm council grounds, everything was a blur. The large stage area was set up with blazing Vlasic banners and giant balloon pickles. It was already teeming with people eating fried pickles on sticks and clutching souvenir pickle bobble heads.

In what seemed like moments, she was jockeying Bob Drigget for space at a worn picnic table. “Do you mind?” she growled, returning the elbow he sent her way. Renee wasn’t going to let the beefy, red-faced Drigget intimidate her. They both looked up when the MC said, “Allll right, contestants. Are you ready for some piiiiickles?” Behind him, eight women in pickle green costumes that managed to be simultaneously hideous and sexy strode out holding huge baskets full of fried pickles. They stopped to flash sparkling smiles at the crowd that was busily taking photos to post on Facebook. 

“You’re goin’ down, sister,” Drigget said with a flash of yellowed teeth. He had his elbows planted and wore a red checked bib over his stained white t-shirt.

“Your poor sister,” Renee said with a smile as baskets containing 50 fried pickles were set in front of them. Since the incident at the Beagle, pickles smelled disgusting. Renee gulped.

The MC shouted at the crowd, “Let’s count them down, folks!” The crowd cheered. “Ten!” Renee clenched her hands. “Nine! Eight!” Renee looked at Drigget and tried to emulate his posture. “Seven! Six! Five! Four!” She began to sweat. “Three! Two! PICKLES!” 

Renee and Drigget immediately began to grab pickles and shove them into their mouths, gulping feverishly. The pickles were too hot and Renee’s throat burned. She slugged back some water. Drigget sneered at her as he shoveled in two at a time. 

On and on the pickles went, so many that Renee lost count. She kept an eye on Drigget’s basket, which was only slightly smaller than hers. He seemed to notice this too, and picked up his pace with nasty swallowing noises. Renee could tell he was slowing, but the time had to almost be up. A last ditch idea came to her. She leaned her head back and began pushing in whole pickles like an angry anaconda. 

Suddenly she stopped. She couldn’t breathe. She clawed at her throat and looked around wildly. Drigget saw her and rolled his eyes. He got up heavily, grabbed her around the middle, and pushed upward with his fist. Pickles and breading flew out of her mouth as quickly as they’d gone in, followed by a geyser of coffee and bile. She looked down. Her cute green tank was soaked through and without thinking, she tore it off and tossed it aside.

“Nice tits,” Drigget said. 

Renee jumped up, threw a pickle at Drigget, mumbled, “Thanks,” and ran off stage. 

“I am so sorry,” Renee said again and gulped out some sobs. The pickle ladies were patting her and saying things like, “It’s ok, no one noticed.” Right. Nobody noticed that projectile pickled barf and topless display. 

“Do you have anything else you can put on?” one of them asked. Up close their outfits were awkwardly made and tacky with a few worn, green sequins and buckling side boning. 

“N-n-no.” She was painfully aware that she was wearing nothing on top but her bra. It wasn’t so lucky after all, she thought. She crossed her arms over her chest. Where was Nick?

“It’s a really nice bra,” another of the pickle ladies said. “And it’s, like, pickle green!” This one was tall and blonde with a sparkly green tiara.

“Where did you get it?” She fingered one of the satin straps. “I’m Sara by the way.” 

“I made it,” Renee said. “I’m an underwear designer. Well, sort of.” Might as well stop kidding herself.

“Oh wow, that’s so cool!” Sara said. “I wish our costumes were that nice.”

“Hello, gals!” said a hearty voice as the MC waded into their midst. “Ready to head to Topeka?” The gals sighed. He noticed Renee standing awkwardly and said, “Oh it’s you!” He laughed loudly until Sara elbowed him.

“Dad!” Sara said. “Renee is just… pickled.”

“Oh!” her father said. Apparently this made a lot of sense to him. “I’ve been there, hon. One time Dick Reynolds and I had so many Mai Tais in Vegas, I lost my pants. Probably in that fancy fountain.”

“Dad!” Sara said again. “Hey, remember how we were talking about getting new costumes?”


“Well, we were. And Renee makes them! Isn’t that amazing?”

Renee started to protest, but Sara shot her a look.

“What do you think, Dad? Can we get new costumes? Please can we?” Sara had her hand on her father’s arm and flashed sincere puppy eyes.

The other pickle ladies chimed in. “Please Bob! Can we?”  

Renee couldn’t believe what was happening. She’d never made any sort of costume, but she was fairly sure she could. Pretty sure anyway.

Bob looked stunned as he nodded and waved them off. “Yes, yes girls, that’s fine. Have this little lady fix you up. Pay her well… she didn’t win the contest after all.” He started laughing again as he walked away.

Sara said, “This is officially my favorite pickle eating contest ever.” 

“Mine too,” she said, as Nick arrived holding a Vlasic souvenir t-shirt.

Let’s trade numbers, Sara said. She fished her phone out of the top of her costume and said, “Can you put pockets on our new outfits?” 

Renee smiled. “Sure thing.”

November 06, 2020 15:51

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.