The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder:
Since Peter used a side entrance, the men who had entered the lobby—even Robert in his stuffed chair—did not notice him. The woman at the front desk looked up and smiled at Peter as he passed, but he did not acknowledge her. He walked to the dining area, where he filled a cup with water at the juice dispenser. Upon opening the microwave he was momentarily stunned by the miasma of irradiated popcorn. He blinked his eyes against the vapors, steadied his legs. The interior of the microwave, like the interiors of all public microwaves, resembled the scene of a double homicide. He put the cup inside, closed the door, and programmed the oven to heat the water on high for one minute and fifty-six seconds. The start button was concave with history, like the stone steps of ancient cathedral. The microwave rattled and popped. A dim interior bulb cast a faint yellow glow on the revolving cup and the spattered walls. A sign on the top of the microwave, framed like the photograph of a family pet, asked that microwave users please demonstrate a respectful attitude toward fellow users. The clip art image on the sign, inexplicably, was of a guitar. Peter paced as the green digital numbers descended toward zero. He touched the new mouthguard in his pocket. On his phone he checked the weather, sent a text, renewed a prescription. He stood on his left leg, flexing his right knee. He had reached an age when a sore knee might mean either that the knee was sore, or that the knee was shot. He frequently had occasion to consider the phrase bone on bone. The microwave oven rattled along like some World’s Fair exhibit. Could this really be, in our age, the fastest method for heating things up? Peter looked around, but there was nobody else in the dining area. A long banner above the continental buffet station welcomed Prestige Vesta Solutions. On television, heavy wind pushed a car across a tennis court, eliciting nervous laughter and censored profanity from the amateur videographer. Peter ran his hand through his hair, which he had allowed to grow long in anticipation of a Saturday afternoon haircut from Carl. He did not particularly like Carl’s haircuts, but he got one every year, and he worried that he would hurt Carl’s feelings if he did not sign up. Peter stopped the microwave with two second remaining, and removed the hot cup of water. Then, following directions he knew very well, he dropped the new mouthguard into the slow boil. It floated there like a translucent semi-sessile annelid, the kind of tubular aquatic worm that is capable of regeneration. He left the guard in the water for slightly longer than directed, and instead of rinsing it quickly in cold water, as the instructions exhorted in bold font, he placed it directly into his mouth. He bit down hard, sucked vigorously to remove the air and water. He looked around, but there was nobody to remove the air and water. He looked around, but there was nobody else in the dining area. The plastic was soft, and it tasted like synthetic butter. With his finger Peter pressed the scalding plastic into his gums; with his tongue he pushed the guard into the back of his top and bottom teeth. He sculpted the guard, made it his own. It was now unique. After a minute, which he counted more or less accurately in his head, he extracted the mouthguard and rinsed it in cold water from the juice dispenser. He put the mouthguard back into his mouth, and looked around. If the fit was not good, he could boil the mouthguard again. The fit was good, but he decided to boil the mouthguard again.