Take Take Take – By Alex Dickey
“Order up! Twenty-three! Do we have a number twenty-three?”
A woman walked up to the counter in front of me. Her stomach pushed tighter against her gray sweatshirt than her breasts, and her hair was matted against her forehead sticky with sweat. I was looking into eyes that bore the intensity of a hunger not fed for days.
She reached out her bloated hands. The double-double with extra crispy fries sat there steaming. Fuck, I hate this part. She was about to grab hold of the tray, and I flipped the switch located under the counter. The contents burst into flame. Burger, fries, and vanilla milkshake were incinerated. Little heaps of ashen coal now smoldered in front of her.
“No!” She turned away dejected, and began her trek back to the end of the line.
I always hate that part. I turned to my fellow cashier.
“Paul. I’m gonna take a lunch break. You want to come?”
“Yeah, okay. Let me call for some replacements.”
Paul walked over to the landline affixed to the wall next to the register.
“Yeah, could we get two down here? Just for twenty minutes or so. Yeah? Thanks.”
I walked over to the elevator next to the fridge where the meat is stored.
“Hey, you’re the two?” I was looking at the pair of men dressed in civilian attire now coming out of the sliding metal doors. Neither looked much older than me.
“Yeah, that’s us. Are you Paul?” The one with the beard and gray flannel shirt had spoken.
“No. His co-worker. Michael. So, have you guys done this before?”
“Yeah. More than either of us would like to.”
His friend stood without talking, staring vacantly into the packed waiting area.
Good. Teaching some newly departed how to cook and scorch food is not how I want to spend my lunch break. “Well then, I guess you know where the uniforms are. Paul and I’ll be back in a little while.”
“Sounds good, man. Take your time, we’ll make sure not to burn the place down.” He said this with a little laugh.
I walked away and told Paul our replacements were here.
“Good. So, what’ll it be today? This lovely In-N-Out, serving only the freshest in the underworld’s fast-food cuisine? Or maybe Burger King, where you can ‘have it your way,’ so long as your way is charcoaled.”
“I don’t care. Let’s just grab something from here and sit outside.”
We forked two sizzling patties off the stainless steel grill and slapped them on the buns that lay open on our plates. I followed Paul out of the shop to one of the stark white tables. We sat underneath its yellow umbrella giving shade, even there was no need under the gray, colorless sky. The foot-worn pavement surrounding the establishment had no discernable boundaries. Countless starving faces that filled the lot stared at us as we took our seat.
What they would give for just one bite. I clamped my teeth down around the bun and a collective groan issued from the mass. The first time I’d heard it I nearly jumped out of my seat. Now it’s just part of the job.
I swallowed my first bite. “Hey, Paul. Do you ever feel like an asshole?”
“Just sitting out here, eating. Some of these people haven’t eaten in weeks. Others, months.”
Paul was washing down a handful of salt covered fries with a Dr. Pepper. “I don’t know, man. Of all the shit they go through? Us out here eating is just one, very, very small contributor, you know?”
“I guess. It’s just the whole situation seems kinda fucked up. Like, when you died, is this what you expected?”
“Hell fuckin’—shit. I mean, hell fuckin’ no.” Paul had caught himself speaking too loudly. Not that whispering makes a difference—we know that He hears everything.
“I read The Divine Comedy in college, and I thought ‘bull-fuckin’ shit.’ No way any of that ecclesiastical crap could be real.”
“True…but this isn’t really anything like what he described.”
“I didn’t mean in terms of exact content, man. Just the idea in general. The whole ‘circles of hell’ thing? I mean, come on.” I took another mouthful of my burger.
“Yeah, well, times change. Maybe it was like that for Dante. Now? Yes, it’s shitty. No, it’s not as bad as it could be.”
“As bad as it could be? No, definitely not. I agree. But, God’s sort of a Dick, you know?”
I took a look around the third circle. Restaurant, after restaurant, after restaurant. Burger King, McDonalds, Jack In the Box, Applebees, Denny’s, P.F. Chang’s—the list goes on. And what surrounds these restaurants?
Fat people. Fat people as far as the eye could see, standing in line to get into the establishment of their choosing. Fat people of both genders. Fat people of all races. The only unifying factor among the customers is their obesity.
I took a gulp of my vanilla milkshake. “When I read it—and other stuff about Hell—I thought, ‘something must be wrong.’ God is all-powerful and all-knowing and all-loving, and yet He holds this petty of a fucking grudge? He has an entire circle of Hell devoted to gluttony? Seems like a waste of energy if you ask me.”
Paul had finished with his fries and was moving on to the burger. Through a full mouth he said, “Maybe he just needed somewhere for us to go. Fill in our hours. How many more do you have left anyway?”
“2,733.” We all know our number.
“Well see, that’s something. Over halfway done. And at least you can eat, right?”
“I guess. But I mean, this for not going to church on Sundays? Stuck in fucking Purgatory? Working here?”
“Hey, man, I don’t think anyone likes it anymore than you. But what’re you gonna do about it?”
“What can you do? I see these people shuffle in line for hours upon hours. They finally get their turn to taste what got them here in the first place. The meal of their dreams sits there on a platter, the scent dancing around their noses. They reach down and poof. Up in smoke. Back to the end of line. If they’re stuck here, then I guess we are too.”
I was almost finished with my burger. “And for what? Because they had one, two, maybe two hundred too many fucking Happy Meals, they have to wait in line until their bodies have eaten away the excess fat so that they meet Heaven’s standards? It just seems kind of…sadistic.”
Paul was licking the salt and grease from his fingers. “I hear you. But like I said, what’s there to do?”
“Nothing, I guess. Nothing.”
I had finished eating.