Shane hasn’t seen or heard from his mother in five years. Now, she orders a Whopper combo at the counter, ten minutes before closing time. He recognizes her smoker’s voice and drops a fry basket in the grease. Marisa, his girlfriend, takes her order. Other than Marisa and Linda, the manager, everyone else has clocked out. The dining room’s empty. Marisa works the counter and drive-thru. Shane mans the kitchen.
“No onions,” Shane’s mother says.
“Yes. Cheese. To go.”
Grease pops. Every night, he leaves with tiny red welts on his arms that Marisa rubs with Aloe Vera gel. The menthol and lidocaine cool his skin and make him hard with her massaging the gel and kissing his neck. She covers her mouth when he’s inside her so her son, Ricky, won’t hear. She speaks his mother’s order into the microphone.
“Whopper with cheese. No onions.”
Her voice is soft, the opposite of his mother’s. He remembers Dr. Phil saying insecure people seek partners like their abusive parents, but Marisa’s nothing like his mother. She would never put a cigarette out on his arm.
He pulls his mother’s patty from the freezer, feeds it through the chain flame broiler, and considers the possibilities. He should serve this patty to someone else. He should pull another patty from the freezer. He should sneak into the walk-in cooler under the false pretense to fetch more mayo. He should slide the patty through his butt crack like a credit card, or hock a loogie on it. Options. He should stuff it in his waistband and add condiments in the bathroom.
Linda inspects the kitchen. She runs a tight ship. Grease drips below the rolling chain. He stares at the water-stained ceiling.
“Daydreamer,” she says.
“Sorry,” he whispers
She points at his untucked maroon shirt.
“Oh,” he says.
“Fix it when you’re done,” she says. “I don’t care if it’s late.”
The training video he watched showed a smiling Whopper Engineer—corporate term—in pleated pants and a military tucked shirt who washed his hands every two minutes.
“Sure,” he mumbles.
“Check the ‘tude at the door,” she says.
Marisa whistles from the chute that holds Whoppers, Junior Whoopers, BK Broilers, and Double-Bacon Cheeseburgers. Shane hates to admit his mother’s smart, but smart customers order special sandwiches made fresh. Have It Your Way.
“You alright?” Marisa asks.
He hasn’t mentioned his mother to her yet, how she began drinking after his father died in Desert Storm, how Child Services showed up after a teacher from his high school called about the deep scratch across his cheek. They inspected the rest of his body and discovered bruises and the scar from his mother’s cigarette. He cycled through foster care for three years. None of the families could handle his rage. He spent his senior year at a group home where staff shuttled him to school in a van.
“I be alright,” he says.
“Um, okay,” Marisa says.
The patty drops. He’s glad his mother can’t see his face from where she’s standing.
At the group home, the other boys called him pussy for letting a woman, even if it was his mom, push him around.
“That’s not how it works,” he said. “My body froze. I was paralyzed. I was taught to respect my mother.”
“Whatever,” they said. “Pussy.”
Marisa dips her head below the chute and looks into the kitchen.
“Again, weirdo,” she says, “no onions.”
And then he remembers: his mother is intolerant to onions.
He grabs the patty with the tongs and places it on the heel bun. He slides to the steel countertop facing the microwave and prep station. He adds cheese to the patty and melts it in the microwave. He slathers the crown bun with mayo, adds lettuce and tomato, and takes enough onions for a Whopper with extra onions. Marisa, back turned, talks to his mother. He rubs the cheesed patty with the onions, then crushes them in his palm so the juice trickles the meat.
“Hurry up,” Marisa says.
It’s a miracle she hasn’t said his name by now.
“Clean the shake machine before leaving,” Linda says, and closes her office door to count the money.
He adds ketchup and pickles, wraps the burger and slides it down the chute. Marisa bags it with fries and hands it to his mother.
“Thank you,” she says.
He wonders if she’s returned to town to reunite with him. She quit her TJ Maxx job and entered rehab a week before his graduation, and they lost what little contact they’d had. She rarely visited him in the group home.
“What’s wrong?” Marisa says, back in the kitchen, broom in hand.
“Nothing,” he says.
“You’re a weirdo,” she says. “But I like that.”
She jabs the broom handle at his dick, but he dodges.
“You need that to work, babe.”
“Fuck off,” she says.
“I’ll be back,” he says, and heads to the bathroom.
In the stall, he reads the graffiti: CALL JENINE FOR BEST BJ EVER. BK SOME SHIT. FUCK CATS. He predicts the future.
She’ll bite into the Whopper at a red light and crap her pants two miles later. She’ll leave Linda a threatening message. He’ll lose his job and an investigative reporter will visit the restaurant. Marisa shouldn’t lose her job, but she will. What about Ricky? That morning, he clung to Shane’s leg as he left Marisa’s apartment.
“Ricky,” she said. “Leave him alone.”
“He’s okay,” Shane said.
Marisa knocks on the bathroom door.
“Sure,” he says.
He was fourteen when his mother caught him going through her purse. She grabbed him by the hair, led him to the bathroom and jerked his head back.
“Look in the mirror,” she said.
He screamed. She blew bourbon breath on his neck and pressed two nails under his eye.
“Be quiet,” she said.
About the author:
Michael Fischer's writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Beloit Fiction Journal, Natural Bridge, Phoebe, Green Mountains Review, and several other places. He is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Wabash College.