Elliott is delighted with the selections, albeit a bit overwhelmed. So many choices, so many alternatives, so many decisions that have to be made; combos or solos, super-sized or regular, sodas or shakes or some sweetened tea? And then the toys. Which to chose to complete the meal? The girls, he assumes, would love the princess action figurines (he has a choice of six). A special treat on their special day. But what about the wee one? Mightn’t he like a truck or soldier or…whatever that is? The colors and the smells and the bright smiling faces are almost too much for Elliot to bear and he begins to breathe, in that way that he does.
The little girl in front of him turns towards Elliot. (He mustn’t he mustn’t he…) She is dressed as a kitten, bewhiskered and black (pussycat, pussycat I love…) but then she is back clutching onto mommy, or so Elliot assumes, resuming her fidget and insistent whine. Elliott would not allow such behavior. If the little girl were his (if the little girl were his), she would not stare at strange men or fidget or whine. She would stand stock still, completely composed, holding onto his hand till their turn had come.
Other ghouls and goblins are waiting in line. Any might come to his doorstep tonight, with a knock or a bell and a bag full of…Elliot has choices to make. He doesn’t want to arrive at the gleaming counter, below bright shiny boards filled with pictures and numbers with decisions unmade; doesn’t want to be one of “those” that get to the front only to stare and to mumble as if the simplest of choices were overwhelming to them (he mustn’t he mustn’t he).
The little pussycat (Elliot has named her “Margaret”) wants a shake – a ‘nilla’ one, is insisting on it. Margaret should not be allowed to have milkshakes, not with this type of behavior. Not a ‘nilla’, or strumberry or that odd shade of ginger that is called ‘pumpkin spice’. Margaret needs discipline, it is painfully clear to him. If Margaret were his and she had acted this way, when they had gotten to the front he would encourage her to speak to the smiling clerk, ‘speak nice and clearly, that’s a good girl’, and when she had completed her task, he would tell the clerk (smiling Bobby or Bill) to cancel her order – tell him that Margaret had not been a good girl, not an exemplary example of how a little princess should act. No meals for her, happy or otherwise. He would ask smiling Billy or Bob to cancel her order. Then he would place his own and she would sit across from Elliott and watch as he ate, savoring each morsel – every humdinger bit. But Margaret cannot be his concern. Margaret is doomed to go through life, clutched to this woman with no parenting skills. ‘You need a license to have a dog, but any bitch can give birth’. There should be a law or a court or a governing body with applications and tests and courses to complete. Elliot could teach such a class. Elliott could run the whole god-damned she-bang.
She is staring again. Margaret. Elliott feels the itch – the palm of his left hand, the back of his knee. He can’t start scratching or the others might notice. They might whisper to the manager or give him a nod and he would ask Elliott to step outside of the line. And there would be questions and concerns and meddling in.
Elliott hates meddlers. A lot of “beezily buzzles” as little Lori might say.
Perhaps Elliott should try the fish? With some salty cut fries?
His little girls (and the wee one in time) would not ever behave like bad Margaret. If Elliott were to ever bring them out? But no, he would be much too nervous to expose them to the light. There are too many possibilities of things going wrong. The world is a dangerous place full of meddlesome people and pointy sharp things. The girls (and the wee one) are happy below with Elliott to protect and Elliott to provide and Elliot to…
He’s breathing again in that way that he does, with the itching getting virulent and Margaret’s stares and should he have them leave off the onions? The girls might not welcome them. Not that they’d complain about whatever Elliott brought home. That lesson had been instilled ages ago.
Now it is Margaret’s turn. Listen to the way the mother speaks to her; cooing and cajoling as if Margaret were in charge.
Elliott breathes in that way that he does and Margaret is screaming now. ‘Sorry, sorry’, the dim-mommy says. ‘She’s had a long day’.
If Margaret were Elliott’s she’d have an even longer night.
The itching and the breathing and the bobbing of heads and Margaret’s screaming and the smiling clerk with his black cap and the ‘stop it, precious ‘ and choices and signs and the stainless steel slab and the dolls and the children back at home, his children back home, Elliot’s children waiting back home. (He mustn’t he mustn’t he) Elliot loves them, cares for them, needs them, wants them, from the moment that each of them came to his door, once bright-shiny-faces and the wee one now, too. Perhaps Elliott will get them all shakes. A ‘nilla like Margaret is screaming about. Shakes and fries and nuggets of chicken, take the treats home to his precious ones there. They will be so grateful.
And Elliott breathes in that way that he does.
Margaret drags her mother away. Margaret, Margaret, Margie, Marge, tasting her name like the food they’ll consume.
Elliot breathes in that way that he does. He itches his palm. And then it is time.
“Do you know what you’d like?” comes the query.
No, Elliott wants to respond.
Yes, Elliott wants to respond.
Margaret, Elliott wants to respond.
Brian Feehan lives in Connecticut. He attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop summer program. He’s had several short stories published, in the Foundling Review and Plots with Guns and five published plays (Heuer Publishing), one of which was a finalist for the Heideman Award at the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville.