It’s Christmas Day and I’m shaking in back at the fry station, with a reverse-telescope view of the hungry, lined-up customers. A few wear Santa hats, or those fabric reindeer antlers. When I was new here, I’d put on makeup, do my hair before my shift. Now I come in face shiny with toner, hair corralled tight. Pat is at the counter, where he should never be slotted. His fuse shortens each workday, and this is six for him. “Broke and directionless,” I heard my mother say to my father when their bedroom door was open a crack and they thought I was out. They are teachers and think they know what I need.
This beefy stranger was spoiling for a fight, and Pat had to mouth off. Now Pat is down, rubbing his jaw. The line is impatient, but they are also amused. This is not great. Beefy’s eyes are slits in a puffy puss that must have been handsome in his teenage heyday. He wears a sweatshirt with a giant Santa Face and the words “He knows.” If only it could be Pat and me, here alone together, with no one to pry or judge. He cares too much about appearances.
“Let’s GO!” I yell out tough from behind my mist of grease. But inside I’m praying, “Don’t get up, baby. Stay down and don’t stand to him.” I want to cry out to Beefy and the other fuckers, “Don’t you know this is somebody’s man?”