I was trying to put the burger together for the drive-through order and I couldn’t remember if the tomato went first, against the sauce, or the lettuce. The last time I got it wrong Kent jumped all over me. Friggin’ 23-year-old burger buttboy thinks being manager of this dump means something. All he’s got is a high school degree just like me. “Tomato, lettuce, it don’t matter what order it’s in,” I said.
He looked at me and turned so everyone, even the customers, could hear. “Oh, so you know better than the owners of a multi-billion dollar company, people who have studied this stuff at college? Remind me, do you own this chain, or do you just work here? Part-time?”
Like they even have college degrees in where to put the lettuce. I’d like to tell you where to put the lettuce, I thought. But I didn’t say nothing. I didn’t even look at him because I was afraid if I did I might smack him and I really needed this job for my kids.
“There is a reason the company wants it done their way. Because it tastes better. They’ve paid experts thousands of dollars to study this. It’s a nuance. Do you know what a nuance is?” He smirked and turned back into the kitchen that day. But he’d been watching me ever since.
Some days I do remember. Some days I don’t. Now was one of those don’t days. I could feel him glaring from the fry station. We were short help because he was such an asshole Derrick and Tammy quit on him.
Just then a white man with stringy hair and skinny as all get out came up to the register holding a toddler-age girl in his arms. She had caramel skin so I figured it wasn’t his. A son who looked to be about six shuffled up beside him. Looked just like his Daddy. Stringy hair, skinny, angry eyes. I called quickly to Kent – because I knew he hated to have customers wait at the register. Wanted to get that money in quick as he could – “I’ve got them. You finish this.”
“How may I help you, sir?” I turned a little so I could see Kent, strutting over to the burger station like some kind of fighting rooster. Out the side of my eye I saw – lettuce first.
“Hold still, Lizzie! Lizzie! Lemme get a cheeseburger with fries…Lizzie stop squirming! And a coke. Oh, and a kids meal.” He shook her and tightened his arm around her like she was nothing more than an oversized football. But she still kept squirming.
“Which kids meal, sir?” I asked. A line was starting to form behind him and I could tell by the sigh behind me that Kent was impatient at the man.
“Chicken nuggets. Lizzie, I swear to god, you don’t stop that…”
I told him what he owed and he pulled a $20 bill from the pocket of his flannel shirt. The girl snatched at it and he snapped it away from her. She squirmed some more and he set her down hard, holding her arms at her sides with both hands.
“Goddamned, I said stop fidgeting!” He slapped her across the side of her face.
That got me all shook up and I fumbled, counting the change back to him. I tried not to show him nothing. Kent had this little smirk – I couldn’t tell if it was a Way to go smirk, or a What do you expect smirk. It was just a smirk. He snatched the order slip from me and stepped back.
The little girl started to cry so loud everyone in the dining area looked over. The man looked back at them and he got nervous.
“That’s all right. I forgive you. Now knock it off if you want your Happy Meal. You want a happy meal? It got a toy in it.” He put his hand to her head, stroking her hair, then pulled her close to his leg as if comforting her but I could see he was pressing her against his dungarees to muffle her sounds. “Ssshh, it’s okay Baby Doll. I ain’t going to tell your Mama. You want me to tell your Mama? You know what Mama will do to you?” He smiled at me. “Kids.”
I practically threw the change at him. Kent came up with the man’s food all bagged up. “Thank you sir, come back and see us,” he said. I looked down at the boy, who stepped forward and put his little hands on the counter. He looked right up at me.
“Yeah,” he said. “She’s just like all of them. She’s a bad girl.”