Short story ‘The Burning’ from my Intro to Fiction class.
October 23, 2006
Intro to Fiction
It’s just past eight o’clock. I have delivered my last order of the day and it is time for me to get myself something to eat, instead of bringing food that other people will eat. I am hungry after working and being on the go for the last ten hours. People wonder how I could be hungry after seeing and smelling food day long but the answer is obvious. The sights and smells I’ve been seeing and smelling all day will eventually overpowers anyone’s desire to eat and without realizing it an entire day can go by before the burning sensation of acid in an empty stomach signals the person’s brain that enough is enough, it is time to eat something. This is how I feel now. The intense burning forces my mind to focus on it and nothing else and now the air from my empty stomach is starting to release itself in gaseous form so that is another sign. I must eat.
Today was a day like any other, meaning nothing separated it from any of the others. I am tired and dirty, I stink like what I’ve been handling all day long and I want to shower and put on clean clothes. But I am going to eat first because hunger has always been my most powerful desire, overpowering all the desires including the one to have sex. The sun has set, the moon now provides the light and the air is warm. It is a good feeling, maybe even an exciting feeling. The feeling of being outside when it is dark knowing that although it has been getting darker earlier the atmosphere in the air still crackles and pulses with the noise of the people walking and talking on the sidewalks and music and laughter coming from the cars on the streets can only mean that we are still closer to summer than we are to winter. I inhale a big breath of air and make for my car.
The easiest thing would have been for me to get something to eat from work and make
that my dinner. That is the cheaper and easier way for sure, but also more boring. I want to go somewhere and eat something that I haven’t been around all day and at least for me going somewhere else brings on a new adventure, meeting new people, having an experience unlike the one I had continuously all day. I will most likely end up somewhere I have been before one time or many times so the adventure won’t be an entirely brand new one. I’m not going to Mongolia for dinner after all.
Well, being that it is still summer-like outside that will mean the Dari-Delite will still be
open. I decide to eat there. The service is slow, seeming to be unnecessarily slow, but the
hamburgers are excellent and cheap. I’m not looking for something complicated nor am I looking to give back all the money earned during the day. The Dari-Delite will be perfect. It is a short drive but not a quick one. On Friday night people are more likely to coming to the center of town to find things to do instead of going home way from it and beginning the preparations for the next day. After fifteen minutes or so I pull into the parking lot. A few dozen people are gathered around the ordering windows already eating or waiting to order. I get in line and watch the people while I wait. As can be expected all of the people also waiting are either families or groups of kids with their friends. It doesn’t surprise me that most of the adults aren’t people who need to be
eating more ice cream. I am not surprised either that the kids are just as skinny as the adults are fat. Enjoy it now, I think to myself, because soon enough even eating ice cream will get complicated.
The bespeckled chubby man wearing the yuppy Docker’s uniform who was in front of me has taken the stuff that was handed to him through the window by the girl and has moved off to the seating area with his two kids. I take a step forward and it becomes my turn. The teenaged girl standing inside the window looks up, “May I help you?” “Yes” I say, unconsciously raising my head to look away from her even though she was sitting one foot in front of me and there was no reason to look away except possibly that she and I were too close and I didn’t want to be that intimate with the Dari-Delite girl so soon. I also say the word yes with a drag on the s sound making it sound like yessssssss as if I was pulling it out of my mouth instead of saying it. Does this girl notices that I am a hissing look-diverting jackass or maybe she doesn’t care, she is happy to be sixteen years old and has been putting up with jackasses all day who are not sixteen so it doesn’t mean nothin to her. “I would like a hamburger, an order of fries and a small chocolate
milkshakc I tell her. She gets a worried look on her face and walks away from the window. I wonder what is happening. Does she need to have someone explain to her what a hamburger is or could it be that the milkshake machine is bro n. T at happened once, the last time I ever went to a Dairy Queen. A few seconds later she is back. The worried look is gone, she is smiling. “I’m sorry, the grill is turned off for the night.”
“What do you mean the grill is turned off? What time do you close?” I ask, my eyes not diverting now but looking straight at this girl who a minute ago was a happy teenager but is now the asshole preventing me from eating.
“We close at ten she tells me, her tone still the one of the happy teenager.
“Ten?” I ask. “Ten? If you close at ten why is grill turned off, it’s only a little after eight?”
She turned and looked over her left shoulder towards the rear of the stand. I follow her
eyes and see a stocky gray haired man. “The owner shut it off to clean it. Would you like
“No I wouldn’t like something else, I want a hamburger.” Whatever pleasantness that was in my voice has gone and my mood, so happy and expectant a minute ag tis ng into anger and frustration. The girl didn’t respond so I asked her again, “Cr ou explain to me why, when you have grilled food on your menu you would close down not offer those items to your customers?”
The girl managed only to mumble and stutter. I may as well have asked her to interpret that `knowing’ passage from ‘Light in August) Of course she doesn’t know, why would she, she only works here. Repeating the question has only made her more confused, she is not set-up to understand the rules, only to follow them. She leaves the window again and returns a few seconds later.
“The owner says that the grill is hard to clean and takes a long time and he doesn’t want to wait until the end of the night to do it.” So she talked to the owner and this is what he said. I can only nod my head, sigh deeply, grit my teeth and force out a “Thanks” that sounds anything like gratuity. I practically stomp back to my car, shaking my head and muttering and thinking this will be the last time I ever come here. If I ever tried a stunt like that at my restaurant I would be out of a job quick. Some people want the business and some people don’t.
Anger has surpassed hunger as my dominant feeling. I get in my car and drive home.