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French Fries with Dawn

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Ernie

A guy walks into the fast food joint. He’s one of those late nighters, appearing like a ghost through the front door, materializing as the smell of oil reaches him. It smells terrible in here, of different meats and sauces and artificial fizzy drinks. He comes over and pulls out a wallet, the expensive kind, smooth leather, hand crafted at the seams. There are at least ten credit cards in there, all different colors. The guy pulls out a wad of cash, takes a couple of ones and fives and turns to me. “Hi,” he says. I can tell he wants to strike up a conversation, but I’m not paid minimum wage to talk to some poor guy who needs a life. “How can I help you sir?” I almost choke on the last syllable; it comes out so fast and in audible.“Oh, um, can I have a burger, a milkshake, and some fries.”

He says this like all his life he’s only eaten champagne and restaurant oysters. The guy hands me his cash and I find the difference, dropping a few coins into his hand.I tell him the order will be right out and he gives me a weak smile then stumbles over to a table, putting his head down on the greasy table, red and checkered. I turn back to my post and ignore the guy.

Marc

I think today has been the worst day of my life. I lost the biggest case of my career, and have learned that life is not worth living. And now, to top it all off, I’m sitting at some greasy table waiting for some food that probably has hair and dead skin in it. The guy at the counter is giving me this weird look, like he can’t understand how a guy like me, bred on caviar, even knows what fast food is. I mean, I do, its fries and burgers and milkshakes and salads and… Well all I care about is that it’s fast, and that means I can leave soon.Outside, staring at the bright red and yellow lettering of the sign on the building, and the brightly colored posters of food plastered to the glass walls, it didn’t look too bad. But this place reeks of disappointment and lost opportunity. All it does is remind of me of what happened. “Your order is ready.” The cashier now turned waiter is standing above me, a platter balanced precariously on his hand. He has a shock of red hair on his head and a sprinkling on his pasty fingers. He puts the metal platter down on the table, it carries a burger wrapped in yellow paper, a milkshake that is a light pink that means it is automatically artificial, and a carton of fries, each identical and lined up like a little army of potato men.“Thank you.”The cashier nods and turns.Before I even realize it my mouth is shouting “Wait, what’s your name?”The only sound is the faint hum of the machines in the back. The man turns around slowly and gives me another look, but doesn’t look particularly freaked out. I take it as a good sign. “Ernie.”He says it suddenly, closing the conversation.I munch on a stale fry, tasting only a hint of potato.


Elijah

I have one very good friend, Dawn. When Dawn breaks I don’t have to worry about invisible deer or missing roads. When Dawn breaks I can see again. However at the moment Dawn is far away, it’s only eleven o’clock at night, and my truck is wrapped in a shroud of black. I’m delivering some new factory equipment to the other side of the state. It’s taking a few days, so I’m glad to stop at a little fast food joint nestled in a quaint town. I park the truck, and take long strides towards the place. My stomach is grumbling so loud it sounds like I haven’t eaten in ten days, though it’s only been a few hours.Through the glass, I can see one guy in the restaurant, munching on a typical fast food meal. He looks pretty down, though there isn’t anything in my job description that says I have to cheer people up, it looks like he really needs it. The kid at the counter can’t be more than 18, and he gives of a human carrot vibe with all that loudly colored hair.When I walk in they both look up. They seem pretty surprised, as though they were off in their own little world. If that happened to me in the truck I could crash and die. There isn’t room for imagination when your life is on the road. I place my order, a salad and an orange soda, and all of a sudden feel compelled to go sit next to the man in the booth. He has this small droopy mustache that needs to be combed, and is dressed in a suit that looks personally tailored, not that I would know, the only suit I have is from Macys, brown and bought for senior prom. He has a leather watch on his wrist, a skinny one that has golden plated hands. His tie is dark red, looks like silk. I’ve never met a guy like this in my life. I’ve only seen them walking down the street with their briefcases swinging arrogantly. Heads held up high and a grim grin that is supposed to give us the impression that they are serious business men. They don’t fool me one minute. The men who wear lumber jack shirts and jeans, with dirt under their fingernails and baseball caps, those are the ones who don’t need to prove anything. The man looks at me strangely, “Excuse me?” He looks confused for a second.

“You just looked like you needed some company sir. I’m Elijah.” I don’t know why I added the sir, it just felt right.








Ernie
A truck driver comes in, the very opposite of Marc. (He’s been giving himself a pep talk for the past ten minutes, that’s how I know his name)The guy places a normal order, and pays me with a twenty dollar bill coming from a torn up wallet seen people like him. containing nothing more than a small picture of his kid and more cash. My type of fellow. I’ve never seen him before, but I’ve met enough truck drivers to last me a life time. They don’t talk much, just eat and stare at their truck in the lot. This trucker can’t be more than a decade older than I am, 18, senior year. He still has that young aura around him.When I come out with his salad and soda, the driver is sitting in the booth with Mr. Rich-Guy-Marc, trying to strike up a conversation.“Thank you!” He tells me warmly, and opens the plastic container which holds the salad.“If you’re trying to talk to him, I don’t think it’s gonna work, he looks like he’s had a pretty rotten day.” I warn the driver, though I don’t know why. My boss, Mike, with the pot belly, always tells us to mind our own business.The guy holds out his hand and says, “Elijah, and you?” in a friendly tone.I shake his hand and give him my name, the full one. Arnold. Marc finally looks up and gives me a look. Hasn’t he ever heard of a nickname?“I thought it was Ernie, wouldn’t your name be Ernest or something.”The way he says it it’s not a question, but a fact.“Well when I was little my parents called me Arnie for a little while, and since that sounded strange they changed it to Ernie. Tada!”Sarcasm is one of my strong points.



Marc
All of a sudden somebody is trying to rescue me from drowning in self pity. Not appreciated. A guy in his late twenties who appears to be a truck driver slides into my booth and gives me his name and an opinion of my sorry state. Not appreciated. I ignore him and watch hamburger juice dribble down my tie, staining the silk that my mother bought for me last Christmas. She isn’t going to be happy about this, but it’s not like she’s going to notice anyway, spending her days buying more ties in every single other color imaginable.Apparently the cashier has a bogus name, something I could never imagine being acceptable where I grew up. I ask him and he gives me this little witty remark, ending it with a flourish of his hands. I slurp on the last of the shake, stirring the particles of ice around with the straw. Mr. Elijah the trucker is digging into his salad, spearing huge mouthfuls and drenching each bit with dressing. Ernie takes this as an invitation and only leaves for a second, bringing back an enormous platter of fries, heaps and heaps on top of each other, and ketchup swirled on each layer. He sets it down in the middle of the table. The only thing I can think is what the fluff is that for? Elijah laughs, a great big scope of air that fills the awkward silence, leaving it even more awkward.He turns to me and asks, “So what is your name?” Ernie cuts in, “His name is Marc, I think.”I nod, and Elijah says, “Well Marc, what’s wrong?”“Oh, not much. I only lost the biggest case in my career. I’m a lawyer, and I think my law firm never wants to see me again. So I pretty much have no more life.”“Your job can’t be everything!” exclaims Elijah.At that moment I realize he’s wrong.




Elijah

I love my job, it takes me everywhere, and I didn’t have to go to College for it. But I also have my wife, Sheila, who was my high school sweetheart, and my daughter Nicole. Marc is obviously one of those bachelors who think they can live without anybody, no contact with family, a lonesome cowboy. But even lonesome cowboys have a horse. When I tell him that his job really can’t be everything he looks at me and says, “I guess it is, I don’t have any siblings, my parents live 5 hours away.”He seems to think for a minute, and Ernie watches him intently, munching on fries slowly. “Oh jeez! I need something to do besides my job!” He puts his head down on the table and groans. Ernie looks at him cheerfully.“There’s always eating fries! It takes your mind off things!”Marc looks at him strangely and I realize that this hoity-toity man has probably never eaten a French fry with his hands. As if reading my mind he says, “I can do that; I’ve eaten a fry before!’

Before I can say anything he grabs a handful of fries and stuffs them into his mouth. Ernie does the same. They look ridiculous, like chipmunks storing food into their cheeks. I take one fry, a small one that is slightly burned, and pop it into my mouth, wiping my hands on an already greasy napkin. I always was refined when it came to eating food. As much as I can be when I’m eating French fries in a fast food joint somewhere before Dawn.





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