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The Charlie Trout was the oldest restaurant in town, visited regularly by anyone with a taste for hearty foods. Many townspeople came every week to order their favorite dishes, whether it be roast beef under a steaming blanket of fragrant gravy or grilled fish over a bed of wild rice. Centuries of customers had left their imprint on the small place; a permanently smoky atmosphere, bar stools worn smooth by decades of bottoms, and the feel of cultured, seasoned cuisine. An air of food-induced satisfaction seemed ingrained into the very walls.
It was well known that Charlie had actually existed, caught by the founder of the restaurant, Bill. “It was a huge thing,” he often raved under the influence of beer and tobacco. “It was longer than my arm, and just as strong. Flopped like a fighter in my grip.” Bill would chuckle and drain his beer glass, enjoying his fellow smokers’ attention.
“But I won the battle, gutted the fish and fried it with a sauce I concocted that night. My family liked it so much that they convinced me to open this restaurant. I dedicated it to my pal, Charlie Trout. I even paid for a stained-glass sign of him. Cost me a fortune.”
The restaurant prospered long after Bill died, the ownership being passed along each generation. They learned the business as soon as they could talk and happily carried out their learnings until the next set of children came along. The people of the town were fed well and took their offspring to the Charlie Trout, spawning a new set of regulars.
But a little thing called time dictated that it was not to be this way forever.
* * *
Sundays were always quiet at the Charlie Trout. Most families stayed at home for dinner, leading to an unusually empty restaurant. Estelle looked at the only two diners, waiting for their order and reading newspapers or smoking to pass the time. They were Sally and Trevor, two of the oldest people in the village.
Lately, no younger citizens like Estelle had come to the Charlie Trout, as some corporate fast-food place had recently established a base in even this tiny town. They were modern, unlike the Charlie Trout, and lured teens to them with peppy pop music, plastic seats and burgers.
Just thinking about the potential stupidity of teens made Estelle scowl, who was mature beyond her years. Chains like these, which had dug their gilded claws deep into town soil, were sapping away their culture and history. Soon, it would just be a generic city like any other, with their fast-food restaurants and modern coffee shops. But the next generation wouldn’t see it until it was too late, and what did they care? To them adults were old-fashioned, stupid and clung onto the “old times” too desperately.
Estelle was bringing over-heaped dishes to Sally and Trevor when the mahogany door opened and Michael Vince entered. He was a healthy, lean man in his sixties, still with a full head of straw-colored hair. But today he actually looked his age as he slumped, dejected, onto a chair.
“The usual, Mike?” Estelle asked, pausing by his table.
He shook his head. “A pepper steak for me, Tilly.”
Estelle’s arms, glistening from the steam in the kitchen and well muscled from years of bearing plates, trembled and threatened to drop Sally and Trevor’s meals. Mike never ordered pepper steak unless something catastrophic had happened. The day his wife died, the first thing he did was order a pepper steak at the Charlie Trout while they wheeled her to the morgue.
Mike was still into his steak long after Sally and Trevor had left, so Estelle sat opposite him while he ate, trying to tease apart the strands of this next sad event. But he refused to say a word until he finished his meal. For once, Estelle didn’t take the empty plate to the kitchen right away.
“What happened, Mike?” she asked gently. “Please tell me.”
He reluctantly looked up. “Your eyes are the exact color of autumn leaves,” Mike offered unexpectedly. “Crisp, with flecks of green. Those eyes belonged to Bill, you know, your great-great grandfather. And that’s the only legacy you’ll have left after next week.”
She trembled, as she suddenly felt like she was falling down a dark hole. No, it couldn’t be happening. “They’re closing us down,” Estelle whispered.
Mike nodded. “Your business can’t compete with the chains anymore, and they’re buying you.”
Her face fell into her hands. Why her? She was the only remaining heir of Bill, the founder of this restaurant. A teenager, charged with running a business. And it had to be her generation that saw the end of Charlie Trout. Moisture ran between her fingertips, and Estelle realized she was crying.
A gnarled hand rested on her shoulder. “I’m sorry,” Mike said. “But nothing lasts forever. This restaurant had a long reign.” Estelle, nodded, still hiding her face. Everything she knew had to do with culinary business. What could she do now?
* * *
An ugly yellow monster tore at the building formerly known as the oldest restaurant in town. Centuries of cultured business were reduced to rubble before the town’s eyes. Estelle watched the wood splintering, the clouds of aged dust fluttering into the air, all to be replaced. She was numb; the tears had already fallen.
Townspeople around her mourned as well, not only for the Charlie Trout but the end of their time. As if to conclude that thought, the stained glass sign of Charlie Trout glinted in the sun, refracting a myriad of rainbow colors before it was unhinged by the crude claws and fell, shattering into millions of glittering fragments on the ground. Estelle walked away before she could see any more of her family legacy torn apart.
* * *
There were two of them, a young boy and girl. They had multiple piercings all over their faces and identical spiked black do’s. The boy, with a wearily sardonic look in his black-lined eyes, reached the counter.
Estelle forced a smile on her face. “Welcome to McDonald’s, how may I help you?”