by Jon Morgan Davies
Linda had gotten her mother to take her son, Toby, for us so that we could spend the day by ourselves in Santa Monica--all the usual romantic crap: a walk along the beach, lunch on the pier, an afternoon at a spa, dinner at a restaurant on the harbor. It wasn't what I'd have chosen, but she'd planned it all, so I figured I owed her the courtesy of appreciating it. It was my birthday. Forty-seven. All I had to do was work the morning, up through lunch. No big deal.
Of course, I wasn't even supposed to be at work, but April, the shift supervisor, had called in sick. I'm the store manager, so things like this happen to me all the time. No big deal really. Though it was my birthday.
Issue #58 soundtrack: Jane Boxall "Pyramid"
Still, I couldn't help it--I spent the morning counting down hours. We'd found a couple of packages of burger buns gnawed into overnight--the extermination had failed again. Louise and Tamika got into an argument over salad prep. Pablo dropped a carton of milk-shake mix and had to mop it up during the breakfast-lunch switch, when he should have been stocking meat patties for rush hour, which meant Kenneth had to take drive-thru for the first half-hour of lunch all by himself. This, in turn, created a lineup of cars so long one could see it from the front of the store. Eventually I had to leave Antonio to dress burgers by himself so that I could fill in at drive-thru register.
It was a typical day.
The man was wearing all white and was driving a white SUV. He had long blond hair, a muscular build, a dark tan, and in his left earlobe, a tiny gold-loop earring, which swayed with his beat-bobbing head. He was one of those guys who thinks he owns the world.
He ordered the Grand Slam meal with a shake, our special for the month, which earned him a plastic keepsake Burger Shack mug. The total was five sixty-nine. I had just one half-hour to go. I gave him back four thirty-one.
"I gave you a twenty," the man sneered.
The man hadn't even bothered to turn down his radio--some top forty crap with an hysteric deejay--how would he know?
"You gave me a ten," I said.
One of the first things I train my cashiers to do is to keep the cash out of the drawer while they make change. Someone tells them that he--and it usually is a he--gave them more than he did, they can whip the bill back out, show him the money. That usually shuts him up--and it prevents fraud, which we get a lot of. But a cashier can't do that on drive-thru. Put the money on the counter, next to the window, and it blows into the kitchen, and someone's got to go traipsing through french fry grease and abandoned tomato slices to recover the bills.
"I gave you a twenty," the man repeated.
"You gave me a ten," I repeated.
I make good money as a store manager--better than I could as a school teacher, but that doesn't stop people from thinking they're better than me--just because I wear a uniform and get ketchup on it. Hey you, I'm always wanting to say to those people, you in your white button-down, what makes you so special? Maybe you're thirty and have a desk job and immaculate clothing, but do you make more than 50k? Do you have a girlfriend? A nearly adopted son who got four A's last semester?
The man and I went back and forth I don't know how long--thirty seconds, a minute. Eventually he called me unprofessional--what the regional manager had called me a month ago because I haven't been able to get the drive-thru times under the company's new two-minute limit--but this guy called me that because I wouldn't give him ten bucks. And he still hadn't turned down his radio. He stared at me like he owned me--lips pursed, eyebrows raised--said there was a reason I was still working fast food. The drive-thru line was building up again. If I hadn't been so angry, I'd have taken down his number and told him I'd send him the change--standard procedure--if he was right. Instead, I said: "Pull into the parking lot and come inside."
I went into the office, grabbed another cash drawer, and returned to the register. It was the height of the lunch rush, but I keyed in my password and closed out the drawer anyway. I let Kenneth go back to managing drive-thru by himself. Our times were going to suck, but sometimes you just have to prove to these people how right you are. I put the old drawer on the counter facing the dining room and waited for the man to enter.
His impeccable white clothes turned out to be pajamas--something like that.
I counted out the drawer in front of him, starting with the coins--I didn't want him getting antsy at the end with me counting every last cent.
He was antsy anyway.
"Oh please," he said, as soon as I started in on the pennies. "We're talking ten dollars."
I did the big bills for him--after the pennies--working my way down to the ones. He was jumping all over the place. I was about halfway through those when I knew he'd been right. You count enough drawers you know how a hundred eleven ones feels in your hand. I had more than that, quite a few more.
Five hundred twenty-two. Five hundred twenty-three. Five hundred twenty-four.
The drawer total had rung out at five hundred fourteen dollars forty-six cents.
I slapped a ten down on the counter for him.
"Freaking loser," he said, stuffing the ten into his pants pocket. "I got customers to see, just like you. I don't have time for crap like this."
Back in the office, I counted the drawer again. Five hundred fourteen dollars forty-four cents. He'd been right. I shook my head, dropped the drawer into the safe, and strode into the kitchen. There were fifteen minutes left in lunch, but we'd already started to slow. I returned to the drive-thru, expedited a couple of orders, and then headed back to the office and grabbed my jacket. No one said anything. "I'm heading out," I told the assistant manager on my way into the dining room. I didn't wait for him to say anything.
"Don't ask," I told Linda, as I headed into the bedroom to grab a change of clothes. She wanted to know how my day had been.
"Good news," she said, when I got out of the shower.
"What's that?" I asked.
"The masseuse called to say he's running late," Linda said.
"Masseuse?" I asked.
"The spa package I ordered," Linda reminded me. "That means we still have time for lunch at the pier."
I nodded. I wasn't into strangers touching me, but I'd never had a massage, and Linda insisted I'd love it. Okay, I'd said. Whatever made her happy.
It seems kind of gooshy to think, but Linda may be the woman of my life. We've been together two years. Before her, women never had enough patience for me. Glenna decided I was too moody. Heidi, by contrast, said I wasn't emotionally open enough. Barbara wanted me to tell her I loved her, so I did, but she said it didn't sound like I did--I had to mean it. I'd said it--I didn't know what else I could do. Each of them had lasted six months. I keep waiting for things to fall apart with Linda.
We did all the things Linda set up for us. Well, half the things--all the things we were to have done that afternoon, though we had to settle for eating at a sandwich shop on the promenade because the pier would have taken too long, and Linda wanted to make sure we made the spa by three. I kept thinking about the man in the drive-thru.
"Is something wrong?" Linda asked, as we ate.
"Nothing," I said.
"Something's wrong," she said.
"I don't want to talk about it," I said. I try hard to be open about my feelings with Linda, but it's not something that comes natural to me, and a day like this, all the stuff I was already doing for her, I just wasn't up for it.
She nodded. "The pigeons here look fatter," she said. There were pigeons all over the promenade. You couldn't walk an inch without stepping on one. "I think more people feed them."
"Well, don't start," I said. She had her sandwich in her hands. "Last thing I want to be around right now is a bunch of pigeons."
"Sorry," she said.
"For what?" I asked.
"For saying stupid things," she said. She put her sandwich down. "You're not tired of me, are you?" she asked. "I feel like you're tired of me."
I rolled my eyes, took a bite of my sandwich. It was my birthday. If only I hadn't had to work on my birthday.
Linda had ordered the half massage package, which was fifty dollars instead of a hundred, forty minutes rather than eighty. We'd be out of there by four and on our way to Malibu for dinner.
We were taken to separate rooms. The men and women at this facility didn't mix, and that was fine by me. I wasn't keen on being naked in front anyone but Linda, and I wasn't keen on her being naked in front of anyone but me. I'd have a male masseuse, she a female.
I took off my clothes and laid on the table, a towel draped around my buttocks, as I'd been instructed. I wondered what kind of wacko would want a job like this, rubbing all these naked people's behinds.
Another fifteen minutes passed before the masseuse showed up. I knew it wasn't fast food, but a wait like this, they could have at least had a couple of magazines to look at--U.S. News and World Report, Business Weekly, something. I'd have fallen asleep if hadn't been for that man at lunch. I felt like punching something.
The masseuse walked in.
It was him. He was still wearing the clothes he'd gotten his meal in. And he still had that stupid earring in his left ear. His hair, I noted, had been pulled back into a pony tail.
Just my luck.
"If you'll just relax, Mr. Spencer," he said. "I'll take care of the rest, and you'll be out of here feeling like a new man." I wondered if he was being sarcastic.
He spread some lotion on his hands and ran his palms down the lower portion of my spine. I gritted my teeth, trying not to jump off the table. I let him mesh his skin with mine, let his hands pass over every muscle of my back.
"You seem tense," the man said.
I grunted. What? Did this guy want to have a conversation now? I wondered what he'd been doing out at my Burger Shack. It was almost an hour away. Did he do house calls? His hands moved up and down, grinding into my shoulders and my hips. Then he was working my legs. I farted a couple of times. I felt like a freaking little kid. I bet he was loving this.
We didn't talk after the first question. I let him work, and he let me try to ignore him. Somewhere in here, he asked me to turn over. I watched him for a few seconds as he worked the flesh around my pudgy pecks. What a poor excuse for a human being, I thought--not of him, but of me. I thought, that's what he'd be thinking. How old was he? Thirty-two? You just wait, Bud. I closed my eyes.
"Feeling pretty good, now, Mr. Spencer?" he asked, when he was done.
"Sure," I said--now that his hands were off me.
"I can go on," he said, "do the whole eighty if you want, but Linda only paid for a half."
I shook my head.
He crossed to the other side of the room with his lotions. Somehow, he hadn't seemed to recognize me. But that's how it is with guys who think the world of themselves--they don't remember anyone they don't consider important.
"You don't have to worry about tipping me either," he continued, stuffing the bottles into a leather bag. "Linda already took care of that."
"She gave me twenty dollars," he said, turning back to me. He had something in his hand, a mug. He took a sip. "I hope you don't mind." It was the Burger Shack mug. I'm pretty sure he was sneering.
"Wasn't it amazing?" Linda asked when we were back in the car.
"It was fine," I said.
"You didn't like it?" she asked.
"It was fine," I said.
I drove to the end of the parking lot and pulled into traffic. I thought of that man with his mug. A man like that--doesn't he make enough money not to rub it in? He didn't even need that ten dollars. "Why'd you give the masseuse a twenty-dollar tip?" I asked. "It was only a half."
"Was that too much?" she asked.
"It was forty percent," I said.
"I know," she said. "But it was your birthday. I wanted him to do a good job."
I shook my head. "Twenty dollars was too much."
"You didn't like it," Linda said again.
"It was fine," I repeated.
I suppose I should have said something then, told Linda about the register drawer, the money, but why prolong the misery by talking about it? I don't like being at work when I'm not there.
We drove on in silence. I don't know how long. We couldn't have gone more than two or three blocks. I was focused on the road--that man, my lousy birthday. We had to turn right to get on to the freeway. That's when I noticed she was crying.
"What's wrong now?" I asked.
"You didn't like it," she said.
"It was fine," I said.
"I spent too much money," she said.
I sighed. She wasn't going to stop crying. What was I supposed to do now?
I turned off the road, came to a stop. "Honey," I said, "it was fine." I turned off the engine, pushed myself toward her, put an arm around her shoulder. But she was still crying. I held her like that I don't know how long, the cars rushing past us, on to their various destinations. I was forty-seven. I had a woman, a kid, a job. I was trying to hold on.
Jon Morgan Davies is a native of California currently residing in Georgia. His work has appeared in such publications as Adirondack Review, Cutbank, and Southern Indiana Review. Visit him online at no1bag.angelfire.com.
John Berry paints spaces of opposition that appear as vacant puzzles or forgotten video game levels. He holds an MFA in Painting from Indiana University and a BFA in Illustration from Rhode Island School of Design. View more of his work online at johngberry.com.
Jane Boxall is an award-winning international concert artist. Born in the UK, Jane completed two degrees in music at the University of York before relocating to the United States in 2004. She studied with renowned percussionist William Moersch at the University of Illinois, earning a doctorate in percussion performance. Jane has performed and toured in the US, UK, Italy, Belgium, France and Ireland. Currently living in Vermont, Jane is an enthusiastic music educator, working with students from pre-school to University. Jane keeps a busy schedule as a solo marimbist, playing new music and vintage ragtime. She is one half of piano-marimba ensemble Ricochet Duo, one half of Snap-Drag drum duo, one third of Drumshtick percussion group, one third of riot-grrrl punk band Doll Fight! and an in-demand session drummer and percussionist. Visit her online at janeboxall.com.