The Last Happy Meal

She lurched into the room on legs like Roman pillars — large, coarse, and grooved, speckled with the dying glimmer of glass caught in sandstone that struggled to remind you of its more majestic time some thousand years back. Even her hair was done up in a style reminiscent of the plume of a gladiator’s helmet, dyed red and wild, erupting out like a volcano at the top. She stopped in the doorway to smooth her dress and check the elevation of her hair before adjusting her position for presentation. Chin up, back straight, hands crossed together and resting on that horrible front-butt that women like her develop around the age of 43. Women like my mother.

I hate my mother.

I kept my head down, focused on the paint-splatter of paperwork that littered my desk. Of course I noticed her; her existence alone was intrusive enough. But I have a strict rule against stopping before I’m done. Even though it was just paperwork — at this particular moment, an invoice for fryalator repairs — I knew it would be impossible for me to re-acclimate myself to this exact line item, whether it was 5 minutes from now, or next week. I had to finish the line, then I could help her. There was no time or space to say something politely dismissive — even, “One moment, please,” would be one moment too much and distract me from ultimately more important things.

But she didn’t have the patience for that. She cleared her throat by coughing into her fist and advanced towards me, one lumbering pillar at a time. With her come a wafting wind of out-of-code baby powder and a long-forgotten flower shop that over-fertilized its ancient products in the hope of salvage. As she approached me, the scent of fries and Big Macs from the meat locker disappeared, completely and utterly consumed and destroyed by her presence. That smell, and all its selfish power, reminded me of my mother.

I fucking hate my mother.

I scrambled in a panic to finish the line item on the invoice sheet, but it was useless; she finally spoke, and my managerial instinct made me inclined to respond. “Excuse me,” she bellowed in a baritone.

My pencil tip snapped on the paper three-quarters of the way through the last zero. Dammit, I thought. So close. I looked up at her and forced a smile — the way you always do with customers — and opened my mouth to respond. I took my first deep breathe, prepared to speak, but found myself choked by the perfume that billowed down my throat. I spit out shrieks and gasps between my efforts to find oxygen somewhere in the air. Meanwhile, she just stood there, awaiting my response, with nothing on her face but selfish apathy and 4 pounds of Mary Kay make-up, the kind my mother always wears.

I really hate my mother.

30 seconds passed, and my fumbling hand finally found the cup of water that I kept at my desk. It was only a Medium, but it would have to suffice. I pulled it to my lips and slammed it back, wishing it were whiskey. No such luck. Still just warm soda fountain water. I swallowed deep into my gut and took a moment to collect myself before I finally addressed her.

“Hi, ma’am. How may I help you?”

She stared me down against the bridge of her nose, sat silent for a moment, and then responded: “I lost my purse.”

Not what I expected. I grabbed my manager’s visor from my desk and placed it on my head. “I’m very sorry to hear that. How long ago did you notice it was missing?”

“Last Thursday. The 17th.”

I hesitated again. Why would she wait so long to ask about it? “I’m sorry ma’am, but nothing’s been turned into us from the restaurant.”

“Then I’d like you to find it.”

“….Excuse me?”

“As a paying customer, my satisfaction should be your priority.” She wasn’t wrong; at least not according to the manager’s training video. She reached her large, tacky, faux-leather purse, pulled out a wad of cash, and threw it on my desk. “But this might serve as some incentive.” She turned her nose up again and awaited my reaction.

I counted the bills: $2,000 in twenties. I could feel the golden arches smiling along with me. With money like that, I could move out of the basement. My mother would be proud of me.

I hate my fucking mother.

To be continued…

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