We’re Fast and We’re Friendly or It’s Free
All morning at Quik Mealz Tasha and Croft hand the customers their coffees, sandwiches, donuts. Some wear masks in their cars, most don’t, some complain that the dining room still isn’t open. They say, “How you guys doing in there anyways?” and “When you guys opening the inside?”
“I don’t know,” Tasha tells them, “soon we hope,” but they don’t actually hope that. It’s too crazy, people would come in then and sneeze all over everything, wear their masks as a chinstrap or not at all. The Quik Mealz crew would have to silently serve them their egg sandwiches and hash browns and not complain unless they wanted to start something, Tasha turning to roll her eyes at Croft after the biggest assholes left.
When Tasha serves Nicky and Jason Talbot their iced coffees Saturday morning, Nicky drives while Jason slouches in the passenger’s side. Nicky has her thick black-nailed hand on Jason’s thigh, strokes his ragged jeans. After Tasha hands back their debit card and receipt, her mind follows them home to their trailer; she’s a fly on the wallpaper while Nicky and Jason screw on the kitchen counter, Nicky ripping open Jason’s flannel shirt, pushing his head into her crotch, one of their big happy Newfies waddling over to lick Nicky’s heel as her legs hang over the counter and she comes, howling at the ceiling.
Tasha doesn’t talk to Croft about it much, but she imagines there’s a lot of them. Milly Jenness with old John Tucker beside her, who’s just had a Viagra, half a hard-on under his baggy sweats; Jenny Gibbs with her fingers in her girlfriend’s pants, beneath the blanket spread over their laps. Tasha keeps it cool, sends them their Maple Dainties and Egg ‘n’ Cheezes, their dozens of donut bites, uses their names, thanks them, mentions the stupid daily special. Still, she sees them, they aren’t fooling her. Who would try to—why would they care? Like her they know the world keeps turning, time’s folding into itself—why shouldn’t we seek pleasure, turn over every rock, when we find it, wallow as if there won’t be a tomorrow, smear ourselves with its filth, its black, musty milk, savor the sweetness of our shared stained skin?
Croft helps Tasha bring in the new trays of donuts, bags up the larger orders, makes the coffee when it’s getting low. Tasha doesn’t recognize it exactly, but he’s having the same thoughts as she is, through the drive-through glass he observes clues to the same sly sweet wickedness. Stan and Lorraine Diamant, newlyweds even though they’re at least sixty—Croft catches them kissing before he sends out their Breakfast Bounty Meals. If Croft was a mouse in the corner of Lorraine’s art studio he’d see the afternoon light streaming around her as she stands at her easel while Stan slides up behind; Lorraine finishing a tree, three wristy strokes, setting down her brush, turning to unbutton Stan’s corduroys, warming his chubby dick in her hand before he slips his fingers under her waistband.
Croft tries not to think about it, but sometimes his junk starts to tingle, he has to go to the restroom to settle down. Thoughts like this are inappropriate at work but of course these are his thoughts, they must be everyone’s thoughts, of course it’s dicks and tits, muscle, skin, bones, fatty folds, androgynous goodness. Customers look in at them and wonder how often they’re sanitizing, what they’re using to wipe down the counter, why their hands are dry as lizard claws, how long it’ll be before they see the smiles behind their masks—but it’s this fucked up world that makes them all this way.
Tuesday Croft is off and Tasha has the early shift, so when she gets home to their apartment at three-thirty, he has the ironing board in the kitchen, ironing her next day’s uniform. “Got our dinner lined up,” he says, “meatloaf, my mom’s recipe,” which she doesn’t love, but still it’s dinner she doesn’t have to cook. They eat, the sounds of the people in the hallway and the apartments around theirs filling the kitchen. “Did you get the bread? Tell me you at least got the bread.” “Get off your tablet and wash your god damn hands RIGHT NOW.”
When Tasha and Croft finish eating, Croft does the dishes and they hop in the car, masks in their pockets, drive to the parking lot behind the old Brook’s Pharmacy. Row of trees in the back, sunset’s slanting rays on the dandelions growing through cracks in the pavement; Tasha turns on the radio and they climb in back. It’s too cramped in the car for much, but it’s quiet and they’re alone so Croft unzips and lowers his jeans, Tasha wiggles her slacks below her hips, they use fingers and mouths, climax one after the other, taking turns, Croft wiping his lips with his sleeve, Tasha catching Croft’s jizz in a Qwik Mealz napkin.
In the post-orgasm glow, red-cheeked, a slash of pink across Croft’s forehead, they drive around, visit Jiffy Burger or Bravo Burrito for dessert, anyplace with a drive-through, order a sundae or an apple pie, sit in the parking lot out back and eat before they go home to bed, groaning happy junk food groans, licking their lips, napkins in their laps.
Food plays a large part in my work most of all because I love it. I enjoy eating out; I enjoy cooking and eating at home. I enjoy gourmet food and its feast of the senses, the sizzle of the unexpected in a new-to-me cuisine, the visceral satisfaction of junk food, the warm nostalgia of a favorite comfort food. For me, a character’s taste in food and drink (along with music, another of my loves) says a lot about them. It’s fun to show a character in a dining room, at a picnic table, in the back seat of a car, lost in a favorite food bliss. So much is revealed about a character at the moment they connect to existence unreservedly, half-closing their eyes to savor the subtlety of the perfectly seasoned bite, or munching through something less refined, sauce rolling down their chin. It’s fun for me to read that kind of scene, too, and of course to live it, and later to try to capture on the page a bit of its idiosyncrasies and joy.
Timothy Boudreau’s recent work appears in Reflex Press, Cease, Cows, and MonkeyBicycle, and has been nominated for Best Microfiction and a Pushcart Prize. His collection Saturday Night and other Short Stories is available through Hobblebush Books. Find him on Twitter at @tcboudreau or at timothyboudreau.com