Friday, April 27, 2012

Bypass Burger


Miss Mary Teresa Sterling tapped her long fingernail on the menu, “And give me a margarita with that, too.”

It was the waitress’s first day at the Heart Attack Grill, her third in Las Vegas, and her head was hurting so badly under the harsh lighting she couldn’t remember if she had taken any aspirin or not. “I’m sorry, I want to be sure I have your order correct. Could you repeat what you said, please?”
“What’s your name?”
Still thinking about Manny saying she was too slow to be a waitress, that it was her looks keeping her in the game, she hardly heard the woman. Had she been asked something? She opened her mouth to speak and finally said, “I’m……Uh, let me just try and repeat back to you what I got down. You want the Double Bypass Burger with fries, extra mayonnaise…Is that right?”

The woman stared at the girl, flicked her eyes to the menu and tapped again on the photograph of the burger. Then she leaned forward a few inches running her eyes up and down the waitress’s uniform and seeing what appeared to be a nurse from Victoria’s Secret. “Yes, that’s right…Heidi,” reading the name off the girl’s name tag. “And don’t forget the margarita.” She pulled out a cigarette and tapping the filter against a lighter, called out to the retreating waitress, “Bring the drink first.”

Enjoying a deep pull on her cigarette and picking a fleck of imaginary tobacco from her lip, she looked out at the slots lined up in the lobby, her mind on work like always. She was a big, full-figured woman with dainty hands and beautiful features, hair a rich and lustrous shade of chestnut. Between thoughts of how she was going to make next month’s rent she noticed that the slots looked odd, like something you would see in a hospital room, heart monitors with pull down handles. She reached for the ashtray, not surprised it was a miniature bedpan in pink ceramic. Another time she might have been disgusted with the restaurant’s emergency room decor, but for now she just wanted her drink and a chance to work out the possibility of a bank loan. That was about the only thing that would give her the operating capital she needed to keep the doors open at her agency. She had four girls working in shows now and that brought in just about enough to put gas in her rusted out Coupe de Ville. A year ago she had girls in every show on the strip. Looking at the couple leaning toward each other at a nearby table clinking their glasses in a toast, she began to wonder if the waitress had forgotten her drink. After all, she had trouble taking the order. She turned her head and the waitress was standing there with a margarita in a pint-sized martini glass.
“Thanks. Listen, honey,” the woman said, deciding to have a little fun. “I know you’re busy but do you happen to know if this is an authentic margarita?”
“Huh?…Yeah, I think so.” Heidi had no idea what the lady was talking about but threw in as an afterthought, “The bartender looks like he might be from Mexico.”
“Oh, well if he’s from Mexico it must be authentic, right.”
“I guess.”

After delivering the woman’s drink, Heidi’s phone vibrated in her pocket. Turning toward the kitchen she tried to get straight in her head the orders she had in, all of it swirling in confusion along with whatever authentic margaritas were. Two steps inside the door and Manny was yelling at her. “Hey, you! You going to leave this food up here all day? Get it together. Take this milkshake out to fourteen and the Quadruple to twelve. Come back and I'll have that Double ready for you.” 

She grabbed the milkshake in one hand, the burger in the other and started back to the dining room, but staggered by the weight of the hamburger platter, she quickly put it down again. Stacked with two pounds of beef, eight slices of cheese, a whole sliced tomato and one sliced onion, all surrounded by a half-pound of French fries, the Quadruple was hell to carry. This one was the Bacon Quad that included eight slices of bacon. She cradled the platter in one arm, picked up the milkshake again and reeled away to table fourteen.

Back in the kitchen, the phone vibrating once more in her pocket, Heidi made a move at detouring to the ladies room but Manny caught her, ordering her to take a side of mayo to a man at the bar. “And here’s the Double for the woman at thirteen.”

She got to the woman’s table with the Double but something didn’t look right about the woman. “I’ve got your burger. Is everything okay? Do you need anything else?” 
The woman sat with her chin in her palm, a cigarette clamped between two extended fingers, the other hand drumming nails on the tabletop. Her face was blotched and her voice dry. “No, I’m good.” She was staring again and before Heidi could turn away she said, “I think you’re wasting your time in this place. You ever think about doing something else?”
“I’m sorry?”
“Hey, I’m not coming on to you. I have an agency. I place girls in shows, you know, in the hotels and casinos…showgirls.” She looked down at the hamburger and fries. “You think about it. Think about it and if you’re interested I’ll give you my card.”

Finally able to steal a moment and head for the bathroom, Heidi telephoned Buddy and was astounded to hear that he had decided to leave town. “You drag me all the way across the country from Georgia to this desert town and three days later tell me you’ve had enough, you’re leaving? You don’t even have to say it, Buddy. What damn plan you got brewing in that hard head of yours this time?” Someone flushed the toilet in the next stall and the door banged open. “Hold on. I can’t hear you.” A second later someone banged on the stall door.
“Heidi, Manny’s looking for you. He’s pissed as usual. Better get out here.”
“Thanks, Rita. I gotta go, Buddy. I’ll call you later.”

She delivered another six pounds of food, wrote a check for one table, signed a free pass for another customer, bonus for weighing over 350 pounds, and was back in the kitchen to pick up four butter-fat milkshakes when Manny called her. Heidi found him at the bar and he whispered, “What’s with the lady on thirteen?”
“Who?”
“The fat lady sitting in front of the window. What’s wrong with her?”
“What do you mean?”
“Go over there and see if she’s okay,” the manager told her, worried because of an incident last month when a customer suffered a heart attack while being wheeled to his car after eating a Quadruple Bypass Burger. Yeah, the burgers were advertised as big enough to cause heart attacks but that happening on the premises didn’t help business.

“Ma’am, are you okay?” It was a stupid question considering that the woman was clutching her breast and gasping for breath. Her face was a sheen of oily sweat and Heidi could see a large pulsing vein in her throat. “Can I get you something? Should I bring some water?"
The platter in front of her was empty of all but a few uneaten fries, a cigarette smoldered in the mini-bedpan and a crumpled business card lay beside the empty margarita glass. The woman forced her eyes up and motioned to her business card. “Call me, honey. I can take you outta this deathtrap” she said, as her eyes flew wide and she slid to the floor between table and chair.

Watching from the bar, Manny covered his face with both hands, then picked up the telephone to call 911.

Before bending down to help the woman, just in case she was going to be okay, Heidi reached over and slipped the business card in her pocket.

4 comments:

  1. Not easy to do two or three page stories and have all the elements of character and plot solid in all aspects. You managed to do that in this story. A fun glimpse at relationships--whether between a couple or employee and manager or someone's desire to drown their company's woe with an authentic margarita and a hamburger as big as Dallas. Good job.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America