My favorite part is when she walks away, for two reasons. There’s that joke, “I hate to have you go, but I love to watch you leave,” or whatever clever people say. I love watching that bubble butt bounce step by step, jiggling along happily. And God damn, do I love hearing the sound of her voice get quieter and quieter as she heads to take orders in the back room. The chatter of customers rolls over her piercing squawk as I’m in the kitchen, flipping burgers and burning my hands with fryer grease. Then she comes back, hips waving to me with each step. Her breasts are perky even under the baggy maroon uniform polo. She’s viciously pale. And just for a second I forget how much I like that as she slides a ticket over the counter and croons, “And that says NO MAYO. So that means they don’t want any mayo on their sandwich, okay?”
Oh, so that’s how that works.
She waddles off and disappears behind the drink bar, probably spitting in some bitch’s coffee. I pretend she ceases to exist when she’s out of my view; it makes my job a little easier if I’m not always horny and pissed off. Grease bubbles off of the burger I’m frying and lands on my hand, but it doesn’t hurt. Not anymore. After the number of burns I’ve had on my hands, they don’t feel much anymore. I’ll probably cut off a finger by the time I’m forty. I just watch the grease sizzle on my hard skin then brush it off onto my jean shorts. A few more orders come back, and a few more go out.
I’ve almost forgotten about her special order when the bell on the counter dings, and she’s back. She doesn’t look happy, but she never does. Not unless her boyfriend comes in to visit her an hour before we close. They go into the back room and no one hears from them until twenty minutes after all the work is done, and she comes out tucking in her shirt, acting all surprised. “Oh, is all the work already done? I’m so embarrassed!”
She’s standing there, up at the counter, giving me that look. In her hands is a plate with a club sandwich on it. And there’s mayo on it.
“What does this look like to you?” She asks it like I pissed on the rug.
It’s a club, I reply. There are three layers; it’s supposed to be like that.
“Well what is this?” She lifts off the top piece of toast and flashes the white goo at me, expecting me to be shocked. I know I did it.
That’s mayo. It goes on a club.
“I asked for no mayo. And this very obviously has mayo on it.”
I know. I just said I put mayo on it. It goes on a club.
She’s staring at me, absolutely livid. I am almost positive I can see her cake-make-up steaming off her face. And I’m just staring at her, waiting. This isn’t the first time; we’ve had run-ins like this before. She always expects me to put her tickets ahead of the others, just because her table “says they’re, like, in a really big rush.” I’m not the kind of cook who refuses to do special orders. I just don’t like her. Not that I’ve always disliked her. She just has one of those voices, you know? Like everything she says has that little cooing subtext of “Please? Please help me with this task before me, you big, strong man.” It only works so many times before guys catch on and realize that’s just what kind of a woman she is. Besides, maybe if I “screw up”, she’ll get less of a tip. Maybe she’ll quit.
We’re just staring at each other, a counter between us, keeping her from leaping over it and strangling me. But she’d never do it. Every week, the same thing. Just trying to kill me with her eyes.
Which is why I never saw this coming. One moment, we’re in gridlock, burgers smoking on the grill. The next, she picks up the club, cut at the corners into four parts, toothpicks and all, and chucks it at me. The club flies across the room, toothpicks holding each piece to itself. Two of the pieces miss (one smacks into the side of the freezer, the other falls short) but two of the pieces slam into me. Generally, it doesn’t hurt to get hit with a sandwich. But these toothpicks, they’re sharp. I raise my arm quickly and one of the sandwiches hits it and sticks. No shit. The toothpick pops into my arms like a needle, and the small corner of sandwich just suspends there for a few seconds, like in a fuckin’ movie, before falling to the ground.
The police left after all the customers had been calmed. She had been treated for burns received from flying burgers, and all of the glass from the coffee pot had been picked from my scalp. We both sat bandaged on the smoker’s bench by the dumpster, trading puffs from my last Marlboro, taking in the air and letting the smoke out. Her boyfriend wasn’t coming to get her that night, or any other night. It’s always weird to hear someone talk like a real person for the first time. I don’t think we ever fought again at work.
Sam Pelelo-Ray is a native Iowan and attending the University of Northern Iowa. He is attempting to pursue a degree in theater, then will go on to raise myotonic goats.