Where The Counter Ends

Car crash, stomach bug, blackened glass methamphetamine pipe, who knows. ‘Muppet Show’ rerun. It should’ve been more than two people on. The hour wasn’t even so late, 8:30? Doesn’t it usually take more to count out and close? Even on a weeknight?

“No pickle. Is there sauce?”

“The special sauce.”

“Wait, yeah. What is that again?”

Now he girds for a lengthy discussion of mayonnaisal properties, squeeze bottle dispensal and federally protected trade secrets. Odds of any swift exit shriveling. He inhales loudly, stuffs his hands into his Dickies. A few more sweaty midafternoon sessions and they’d approach prime conditioning. They’d be good then.

“Is the food ready yet? Daddy?”

Unfortunately, it was. A dozen bite-sized portions of white poultry meat, uniformly breaded and deep-fried and housed within layers of recyclable cardboard, packed in napkins and rubbery tubes of pink yogurt and catsup packets destined to be thrown straight away. All of it already bought and paid for, less than ten feet away. Sitting four, five minutes now.

“Too much dairy I can’t do, so…” “Sir, we can take it off.” “What, you mean like scrape it off the bun? or…” “Sorry, I mean we can take it off your order–”

“Daddy!” And tugging on his sleeve.

Hands back out of his pockets. The chain-link fence bordering the old middle school ledges usually didn’t need to be climbed back then, since the padlock got set loose enough that you could pull the gate back part way and squeeze through. After a few afternoons of the custodian sidling up and sucking down a Newport before asking if they couldn’t move along, they stopped sweating the ‘No Trespassing’ sign. On the odd occasion the Crown Vics rolled by, not once did any cops climb out. They’d bleep the siren once or twice, and everybody moved on.

“Daddy — what are you doing?”

The grin he flashes her as he walked toward the counter’s end seems not to register, or do much to calm her increasingly horrified expression as he steps around and behind the polished steel barrier, crossing some fabled Rubicon separating server and guest. And no smile could convey what this one probably needs to: don’t worry, this is no big deal, I worked at a place like this for a few months a long time ago, we’ve already paid, nobody will mind. You know how daddy rides his skateboard? Sometimes I used to ride it at schools and behind stores and other places like that and sometimes… well, no, probably too early yet to get into ignorance as a defense, or the ethics behind hopping fences, or asking forgiveness rather than permission, that one a slippery slope for sure…


“What?” He has them now, fingers curled into the brightly colored cardboard handles. “They’re right here—“


The manager’s hand firmly guides him by the upper arm back toward his proper side of the counter, draws him up from his reverie of overcast Saturday afternoons, walking fast away from spots as police turned onto the street a block down, reminding each other not to look back at the squad car. His head slowly bobs in quiet acknowledgment as the manager, business owner, security guard, police officer strings together words and admonishments and hand-waving gesticulations to make that same point: No. And next to him, his daughter in shock, on the verge of tears even.

In his hand though, the cardboard and chicken meat, the tricks, grainy footage, the BSing and fresh sneakers and crackling empty water bottles. And as he buckles her in, somewhere hearing her plaintive questions about if and how they would tell mom, he grins again.

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3 Responses to “Where The Counter Ends”

  1. Kurt Silverstein Says:

    Where the counter ends…and the sidewalk begins again? Bravo!

  2. litcrit Says:

    best one in awhile, thanks.

  3. ventullo Says:


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