You are reading Fiddleblack #18
“Hi, um can I have… I’ll take a number seven with medium fries and a Diet Coke,” she said. “A number seven, medium fries, with a Diet Coke. That’ll be eight fifty-three please.” Jolene Driver took great solace in the saccharine reverberation of the faceless voice that crackled through the speaker box. She was a regular, who frequented the fast food establishment between the hours of five o’clock and six o’clock on weekdays, employees also noted some irregular snacking on weekends during odd hours after midnight. Usually an employee wearing a visor that shaded his carbuncular face handed her the number seven, medium fries, and Diet Coke. And this day was no exception. She paid using a debit card and she parked on the far right side of the lot, four spaces in from the freeway and seven from the fence, a space she designated as “her spot” over this past summer.
First she would line up the dipping sauces according to chronological use: burger first meant ketchup farthest to the left. Tapping the straw on the dash until the plastic would become exposed through the wrapper, and accordion off, she would pierce the straw through the plastic lid with a distinct dignity and fold back the wrapper around the sandwich to expose one side to eat, while keeping her hands from getting greasy. She had established a one to three ratio: for every one bite of burger or sandwich there would be three fries to follow. The pace was meticulous, but not enough so that timing was sacrificed, as the tempo of the ceremony was swift and determined. Then all of the remains she would shove back in the paper bag, give it a crumple for good measure, and toss it into the backseat. Soon after cracking her window and lighting a menthol hundred, she would drive home.
Idiosyncrasies are never decided all in one day, as they are not really decisions at all in fact, and Jolene Driver was no more peculiar or particular than the next person. She was a simple young woman still living with her parents Mr. and Mrs. Driver. The Mr. was a superintendent at a neighboring school district and the Mrs. an accountant that worked from home. The couple slept in separate beds due to Mr. Driver’s bad back, at least that is what they told Jolene when she was twelve and the downstairs den had suddenly become his bedroom. Now twenty-four, she slept on a twin daybed in the same small bedroom painted a pastel pink with a primrose wallpaper border. A cork-board on the wall had an old high school schedule tacked to it surrounded by pictures of friends she no longer spoke to. They all had live-in boyfriends or moved away after college and got real jobs, not to say Jolene’s job at Home Goods was fake, just a dead end.
The Home Goods she worked at was on Route Seventeen South opposite the McDonald’s, between a shoe outlet and electronics store. It was a mecca for the middle class, stay-at-home moms in the area with an unwarranted sense of entitlement. The fine owners of Home Goods catered to such a clientele, maintaining a policy that those employees with a “diminishing effect” to the store’s atmosphere would be placed in positions that called for limited customer interaction. Jolene was pudgy, wore blue eye shadow, and had acrylic, zebra-print tips on her nails. So, in accordance with company protocol she was sentenced to mindless tallying of generic paintings that depicted mossy cement benches overlooking ponds in a warehouse connected to the store. The position required isolation from not only the customers, but also her co-workers, and she considered this to be a perk. On the rare occasion an older woman with a perm and clip-on pearl earrings that cashiered sat with her to complain about recent dental work Jolene would reply with phoned in sympathies to ensure these occasions remained few and far between:
“I can only chew on the one side of my mouth and of course we don’t have dental here so I had to pay out of pocket.”
“Oh, wow that sucks Doris.”
“And of course my grandkids don’t even call to see how I am doing, always on the damned computer.”
“Don’t worry I never call my grandma either she’s really boring.”
It was not that she disliked people or prospects of friendship there was just nothing she could ever think to say. Stupid is a harsh characterization. A better way to put it would be that Jolene consistently chose to not be smart. The only thing other than eat fast food that she did with any kind of determination was clock-out after her shift, first one out of the automatic doors for three weeks running and then straight to the drive-thru with the windows rolled down and top forty hits blaring. So maybe the sheer determination to gorge herself on Mc-what-have-yous fueled that ability as well, making fast food her sole raison d’etre.
Her McDonald’s was one U-turn off the nearest exit and that Friday at six a long line wrapped all the way around the building’s side. Pulling behind a soccer mom driving a minivan, treating the kids to soft-serve cones after the big game, Jolene fiddled with the radio and unbuttoned her pants in preparation. “Can I get two chicken wraps, a large fry, a Diet Coke, and umm and a McFlurry?” she said in her best phone voice while unbuckling her seatbelt to make way for the impending expansion of her midsection. “Ok,” the voice said as Jolene slid her hands down her panties “two chicken wraps…” the voice said. Jolene carefully maneuvered to avoid nicking herself with her prosthetic nail tips, finding the soft padding of her fingers. “A large Diet Coke,” the voice said. This alone cultivated wetness. “And a McFlurry. Will that be all?” Undulating in her seat, she had to use great self-restraint to stop from moaning “How much does that come out to?” she said into the voice box. The question would be unnecessary. The mechanized voice knew what she wanted to hear. “That will be eight thirty five please. Have a nice day.”
A nice day indeed, she brought herself to a climax while the car coasted forwards less than a foot away from the pick up window. The same scrawny, crater-faced boy as always held out the bag and the soda. She grabbed it with her left hand instead of her right. It was only polite. Her forehead resembled the soda cup with all its condensation, and she used the beads of water to wash the fishy residue off her hand. Parking in the same spot, her spot, on the right side of the lot, Jolene would take inventory of her condiments and then proceeded to stuff her face automatically with the food. Three fries interspersed with bites of the chicken wrap and sips of Diet Coke. Ranch dressing dripped down her chin, which she never bothered to wipe with a napkin until after the last bite. She was satisfied. The food helped suffocate any post-masturbatory remorse or shame that may have otherwise burgeoned, and it was a happy meal.
Coasting down the highway with a heavy foot, passing all the chain stores and struggling mom-and-pop shops, like Bird Depot and the Persian rug store, the cement divider and the dashed, white line syncopated in the passing night made her weary-eyed at the wheel. The drive needed very little attention, and life in its totality required very little attention on Jolene’s part. Every day the same as the one before it, a piece of another year passing, and the leaves would fall one day again, another ugly sweater would lay wrapped under the Christmas tree, maybe a distant uncle would die, or perhaps the old La-Z-Boy recliner would be replaced with a new one, and then: this, that, and the other thing brought her back home to a driveway with a crack up the pavement’s center, and the menthol cigarette just a filter in hand, and every little box framing a number on the calendared months functioned in this way—where time was a hamster wheel for a dead hamster whose ghost kept running.
Within an hour or so of arriving at home Jolene joined her mother in the living room to watch a singing competition on TV. They always sat with multiple throw pillows separating them and Jolene wished they were not there. Sitting with wide eyes in front of the screen, they both looked scared to move, living in a hardly secret fear that the rearranging of a leg or a rapid blinking episode would force them to acknowledge the other one’s presence. During the commercial break Jolene looked off into the distance and said to Mrs. Driver with certain stillness like an eye of a storm, “I am going to kill myself Mom.” Her mother turned and looked at her with wildly cocked eyebrows and raised her hands to her mouth. “Oh Honey, we will get your father and sit down to talk about this,” she cooed. Jolene turned her head quick left then right and chose a direction to flee in. “Goodbye forever!” she shouted as she trampled up the stairs with the back of her hand pressed against her forehead. She locked herself in the bathroom and rummaged under the sink for a new razor to slit her wrists with. Mrs. Driver called Mr. Driver for help and he had ran to get the ax from the tool shed, knocking the door off its hinges just in the nick of time. “Oh, Jolene you can quit Home Goods and we will send you on a month long vacation to Maui, it doesn’t have to be like this!” her parents pleaded as they draped themselves over her as she lay on the cool, tiled bathroom floor in front of the disheveled medicine cabinet.
Then the commercial break ended, her eyes refocused on the TV set and one of their favorite contestants had been voted off the show. Jolene could not suppress a cough, so they were cornered into making small talk about how they thought a different contestant deserved to get the ax.
In the following weeks the drive-thru knuckle shuffle became a daily affair. Complicated sauce orders were her aphrodisiac. The rolls around her waist expanded and folded in new places. Select co-workers thought it would only be right to start congratulating her on “expecting” and denial seemed too tiresome. So, her solution was to look at the ground more when she walked around and substitute lunch with more menthol cigarettes. The front-of -house cashiers at McDonald’s witnessed two small eyes stare at the golden arches from the picnic table out in front of Home Goods. If they looked closely enough in between the speeding cars they could have seen how her eyebrows rose to mimic the giant “M,” which her pupils held a reflection of, all underneath a cloud of smoke.
It was a Friday again. The only thing standing between Jolene and the weekend, were close to three hundred faux gold-plated soap dispensers. Each one had to be accounted for and needed a price sticker. She sat on the floor with her legs splayed out in a V-shape, price tag gun in hand, with the soap dispensers surrounding her. Distracted with thoughts of “two barbecue sauce packets, one buffalo, and two ketchup, please,” this simple task turned out to be quite arduous, losing track of the inventory in a mind cluttered with not-far-off fantasies. It was past five o’clock and after miscounting the soap dispensers for the fifth time she got up carefully. A frustrated and hot urgency throbbed between her legs. She huffed and hawed. Picking a few dispensers up, she began to violently throw them at the concrete wall of the warehouse. She did not need to put up with this job anymore. She needed to bring her reveries to fruition. The dispensers did not shatter into a million tiny shards as she anticipated because they were made of thick plastic. This only added to her pulsing frustration, and after a few more anti-climatic attempts one finally had a small crack. She kicked them all over and stormed out of the store without clocking out to give the tantrum some more fanfare for her imaginary audience.
She got in the car and slammed the door to head to the drive-thru, wild like an animal, though her instinct was synthetic with no link to her primitive self. There was nothing back there at Home Goods or home, the emptiest most nothing-filled voids, a cavernous life that led to these carnivorous cathartics. The drive-thru line was so long that the car’s fender hung into the exit lane of the highway. Jolene could not care any less about the neighboring cars, getting right down to business by eavesdropping on the hybrid’s order just one car ahead. What was a repetitive formality to the older couple in the blue hybrid was a verbal caressing, and strictly foreplay for Jolene. When it was her turn to order she licked her lips and perched her breasts on top of the rolled down window. “Hi, can I get a double cheeseburger, medium fries, Diet Coke, no ice, a barbeque sauce, buffalo sauce, and two mayo packets?” When the attendant replied, her shoulders arched into driver’s seat, and her mouth splayed open as her pupils rolled behind open eyelids. Flushed and moist, she gave money to the pubescent boy with her left hand and then grabbed the order.
She lined up the accoutrements on the dashboard and the straw was already placed in the lid. She reached into the bag, and to her dismay, one of the sauces had exploded all over all of its contents. Checking the dash she saw one barbecue, two mayos, and a buffalo sauce. Jolene swiped her finger through the bag to taste test, the smell of dogwood trees in the springtime tap danced on her taste buds, and then, she realized that the acne-ridden boy had in fact ejaculated into both the bag and her burger. Horrified with arousal, she thought about him watching her pleasure herself on a black and white security video. Maybe it streamed live or maybe all he could hear were her moans or just her feminine scent coupled with sweat on the back of her neck got him off.
Idiosyncrasies are not decisions at all. No, no they are perversions that seep from our pores, as if there were no room left between bone and skin for them to fit inside the body, so they manifest outside ourselves in a motion picture for us to idly stand by and view to see what the world’s transgressions against us have made, what kind of Frankenstein they manufactured and brought to life within and now without.
Jolene smothered half the burger into her face in one ravenous bite as meat juice and semen dripped down her chin, nestling into her cleavage. Struggling, she ripped her pants down around her ankles letting the lightly viscous sauce roll down her body. It was the first and last time she would ever have the essence of man inside her. Gorging herself on the fries by the handful dipping them between her second pair of lips, imagining they were fingers belonging to the slender boy at the window, then swallowing them whole leaving a ring of salt around her thin lips. She licked her fingers clean one by one. After wiping herself off with some napkins, pulling up her pants, throwing all of the garbage into the empty bag, crumpling it, with a grin from ear to ear, she tossed it under the seat and drove home.
Callie Miaoulis is an emerging literary author from New Jersey, who after graduating from SUNY New Paltz, took a short writing residency in the Blue Ridge Mountains where she worked on completing her collection of short stories, Stories for the Faint of Heart. Currently she lives in a tool shed in Arizona, attempting to make madness and sincerity collide.