One Hundred McChickens
“Do you want whipped cream on that?” Ben asks, and when the customer says no, he doesn’t even write SOY MOCHA FRAP NO WHIP on the cup, because he trusts himself to remember. The drink costs $5.49, more than Ben would ever pay for something like that, but Ben can tell the customer doesn’t have to worry about money because she is holding an iPhone in each hand, and the baby in the stroller beside her is wearing a Givenchy wedding gown. Ben wonders which iPhone she will put down when he hands her the drink; he soon realizes the answer is neither as she leans over the counter and asks Ben to remove the lid and pour the frappuccino directly into her mouth. He does so, slowly at first, until she gargles “Faster!” through the chocolate sludge, opening her mouth wider, and as Ben empties the cup, a lump forms in the customer’s throat. She gulps and it is gone, reminding Ben of the old Popeye cartoons he loved as a kid.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Ben asks as the customer sweeps him off his feet, lies down on the Starbucks floor, and begins bench-pressing him. Ben can feel her iPhones pressing into his back and he is nauseous with the movement and the harshness of the fluorescent lights overhead. He thinks again of Popeye and his biceps, of the childhood couch he’d watched cartoons on, but quickly realizes he is actually picturing a couch he saw in a Raymour & Flanigan commercial. Now that he really thinks about it, there is a couch-shaped blank spot in his memory where his childhood couch once stood.
“What kind of couch do you have?” Ben asks.
“I have many couches,” the customer says, “for I am rich.” The customer’s baby laughs from its stroller. I knew it, Ben thinks.
“What kind of couch do I have?” Ben asks. “Rather, what kind of couch did I have as a kid?” Ben expects the customer’s arms to tire, as he is not a light man, but she continues. She is in excellent shape.
“As a kid?” the customer says. “You’ve never been a kid.”
“Everyone’s been a kid,” Ben says.
“Not you. You’re a barista,” the customer says. Ben cannot deny the logic of this. The customer puts him down, stands, brushes herself off. “I’m ready for another frappuccino.” Ben returns to the blender and mixes another.
“Here you go,” Ben says, reaching out with the drink.
“What are you doing?” the customer says. Ben is in a Foot Locker, holding a Starbucks frappuccino with one hand, a pair of suede boots with the other.
“Sorry,” Ben says. He isn’t supposed to have drinks on the floor, near the merchandise. He puts down the frappuccino and unlaces the boots. He tries to hand them to the customer.
“I’ve got my hands full,” the customer says, two iPhones in each hand. The baby in the stroller beside her spits up a little on its tuxedo. Ben thinks the baby looks better than he did on his own wedding day. “Can you do it?” the customer asks. Two solid gold horseshoes are stuck to the bottoms of her feet, and Ben removes each one with a gentle tug. The customer has high arches, like a dancer. He thinks about his wife and how they only ever danced at their wedding. He cannot remember if his wife is a good dancer or not, or if she would have liked to dance more throughout the course of their marriage than they actually danced. He cannot remember how he came to work at Foot Locker, or if his wife is okay with him working there.
Lapses in memory aside, Ben is a professional. He slides the customer’s feet into the suede boots and laces them up. The customer stands up and admires the shoes in the mirror.
“They look like they were made for you,” Ben says.
“They were made for me,” the customer says, her language garbled due to the iPhone in her mouth.
“My wife has a pair of these and she loves them. You can’t go wrong,” Ben lies. His wife would never wear such an impractical fabric.
“You don’t have a wife,” the customer says before pushing Ben down on all fours and riding him like a horsey.
“You don’t have a wife,” the customer says before pushing Ben down on all fours and riding him like a horsey. Ben allows this, hoping it will help him make the sale. He knows that if he doesn’t improve his numbers, he will soon be fired.
“I’m sorry for lying to you,” Ben says, though he realizes a generic apology implies he is lying about both the existence of his wife and her ownership of the boots. He is 90 percent sure he isn’t lying about having a wife. He strains under the customer’s weight. She isn’t heavy; he just isn’t used to being ridden like a horsey. “I hope this doesn’t change how you feel about the boots.”
“How do you feel about the boots, honestly?” the customer asks. Ben scans the floor for eavesdropping coworkers. The Foot Locker is empty.
“They’ll be ruined after the first rain,” Ben says.
“I knew it,” the customer says. She dismounts and retrieves her baby from its stroller, iPhones still in hand. She places the baby on Ben’s back before he can get up. The baby rides him like a horsey. Ben thinks the punishment fits the crime. After a few minutes, the customer seems satisfied and removes the baby, leaving Ben kneeling at her feet.
“Shall I unlace the boots for you?” Ben asks, reaching for the customer’s ankle.
“What are you doing?” the customer says. Ben is kneeling in sweet ‘n’ sour sauce on the floor of a McDonalds, hands on the customer’s left shoe, which is decidedly not a suede boot.
“Sorry,” Ben says, standing up. He isn’t supposed to touch customers’ feet in the restaurant. His manager was very specific about that. “What can I get you?”
“I’ll have one hundred McChickens,” the customer says, extending an arm made entirely of iPhone Xs towards the menu board. The baby in the stroller beside her is blinding in a diamond bikini.
“A number five, gotcha,” Ben says, punching it in.
“And the contents of the cash register,” the customer says.
“Ooh, I’m really not supposed to give out the contents of the cash register,” Ben says. “My manager was very specific about that.”
“You don’t have a manager,” the customer says. Ben looks around. The McDonalds is empty. Ben cannot argue with the logic of this. The customer waves her iPhone arms at Ben and gestures to the purse hanging from her shoulder. Ben grabs it and stuffs it with cash. The baby laughs from its stroller.
“Take good care of that baby,” Ben says. “I’d like a baby of my own someday.”
“I’d rather have one hundred McChickens,” the customer says.
“Who says you have to choose?” Ben says, and the customer laughs.
“You’re funny,” she says. She rounds the counter and gestures to her blouse. Ben tears it open. The customer pushes Ben towards a nearby pallet of quarter pounder patties, where they begin making love.
“The baby is watching,” Ben says, stopping for a moment. It’s true; the baby looks right at him.
Tara Lemma is a first-year writing instructor and fiction MFA student at Temple University. She also works as an assistant fiction editor at Barrelhouse magazine. Her work has appeared in Lockjaw Magazine, Longleaf Review, and elsewhere.
Illustration by Meg Lionel Murphy.
This story was originally published in Paper Darts Volume 8.
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