TIME TO MOVE ON • by James MacKeogh

“Somebody rescue me!” Carrie thought as she flipped the burger.

She flipped the one next to it. There was that hiss as the new side of the meat met the hot plate. She sighed. An observer, maybe someone sitting at the counter behind her, might guess she had troubles on her shoulders, maybe an interesting story to tell, but she didn’t; it was just boredom.

She leant lightly against the burger flipper she was holding, flat point down on the hot plate. Her head throbbed, she thought she might even have a fever. When you were three weeks behind in rent, even when battling the flu, time off was not an option. Her burning eyes drifted to the window on her left. Cars whizzing through the air on three levels, pedestrians slipping by on those moving walkways everybody loved. Everyone busy, doing whatever. Above them, on the other side of the road, that billboard read: “Migrate to Mars! It will put a spring in your step.”

Meanwhile, back in the middle ages, a voice came from behind her. “Hey babe.” It was pitched low and sleazy. Carrie didn’t turn, pretended she hadn’t heard. This was her job; she needed it but that didn’t mean she liked it. It seemed that every disgusting grub in the city frequented the place, and then on arrival, targeted her. Why did being young and female make you a legal target for losers? Mary, the owner of the cafe didn’t care. In fact seemed to encourage them. “Do they pay?” Mary had asked flatly when Carrie complained. No answer was necessary — customers came first, burger flippers, after.

“Babe!” the voice sounded more urgent. Carrie flipped the meat once more before turning, the steel flipper pointed symbolically at the man behind the voice.

Simply put, he was disgusting. Pimply unshaven chin on a huge round face squeezing uncomfortably out of a work shirt. His long stringy hair that could have contributed a fair splash of grease to the fryer. The expression on his face was pure animal lust as he looked Carrie up and down slowly. His eyes settled on her breasts. “How’s about a feed, baby?”

Carrie thought she might throw up. Her hand gripped the meat flipper tightly but, knowing the boss was probably watching from her spot behind the cash register, she put on her best smile.

“You can have anything you want, big boy.” Waved towards the menu on the wall behind her.

He glanced up at the board then back to her breasts. “Yeah, but how about something special?”

“Just the menu.” She battled to keep her disgust out of her voice.

“Okay, house special and a Coke.” He twirled his finger for her to turn back to the grill. When he lifted his eyes to hers finally, they were like an animal’s. “Back to work, view’s good from the other side too.”

Carrie scribbled the order on a docket and turned back to the grill; his eyes might be all over her ass, but at least she didn’t have to see it. She thought her temperature might be a hundred, her throat was raw and every bone ached. Five more hours to go. She closed her eyes briefly and sighed again.

She thought about the billboard across the road. Mars? Why not! Would it be any different there? Who knows, but could it be worse? Not possible. All her life she had hoped, like most people, to do something exciting, something fulfilling. Right now she’d settle for not being degraded.

Plating up the first order, she piled chips beside the burger and took it down to the one other customer. He didn’t even look up. If he grunted a thanks it wasn’t audible. Walking back to her station, the sleaze devoured her body with his eyes. “Take your time with the burger, honey bunch.”

“Thanks, fella,” she said sweetly.

She dropped an egg onto the plate, moved the onions around a little, and thought of Mars. It was the oldest of the colonies, settled long before she was born. Maybe that was good. They might have a proper society. She realised how little she knew of things like that. Living hand to mouth didn’t leave you much time for idle curiosity.

Two policemen entered and sat near the sleaze. While she handed them menus, the sleaze, undeterred by the police sitting next to him, wiggled his tongue at her, twitching its end; she ignored him. Maybe I’ll join the police, she thought. Random, stupid idea number three thousand.

Putting together his burger, she slapped the meat down on the bun, lettuce on top when suddenly a cockroach raced across the bench and into his meal. Carrie jumped, wondering if anyone had seen. A cockroach for a cockroach, she thought, her mind alive at the idea, thrilled. No, he would see it or at least register the extra crunch and then that would be that, unemployed again.

Drawing the burger close to her to give herself cover, she fished the bug out with a napkin and pitched it into the bin. Opportunity for revenge lost, she was about to place the top half of the bun on when her nose, which had itched and run all day, dropped a large glistening globule of mucus on the bright green lettuce. She froze as it spread irretrievably.

After the briefest of a moment’s hesitation, she placed the bun on top of the germ-laden burger and, pulling out her best smile, delivered it with a flourish to the sleaze.

“There you go bud, extra special, that’ll set you up for the day!”

The sleaze, momentarily surprised by her cheerfulness, was temporarily off balance.

The cop next to him, took his silence as rudeness. “Try a thank you, friend.”

“Thank you,” he mumbled.

Carrie turned back to her grill. An unexpected happy ending, she thought, and her eyes wandered outside to the Mars poster again. Then she began to hum a little.

James MacKeogh lives aboard a sailing boat with with his wife and Max the sea-dog. Beyond loved ones his priorities are writing and a passion for avoiding sensible work.

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