A teenaged server slid Will’s lunch across the stainless steel counter. On the tray was a bowl of Asian noodles in broth, a dish of something slate-gray and lumpy, two cinders in the shape of empanadas, and a quart of buttermilk.
“Your total is $37.99.”
Jittery with hunger, Will reached for his wallet but pulled back.
“I didn’t order this,” he said. “No one asked me what I wanted.”
The server’s black olive eyes shined. He nudged the tray closer to Will. In the oatmealish gray sludge a blister formed, swelled, and popped.
“This is fast food. GET SOME NOW, that’s our motto!” The teenager jabbed a thumb at the menu board on the wall behind him. Except for the motto, the menu was blank.
Will’s face burned as he checked his watch. He had half an hour for lunch and only ten minutes remained. The restaurant’s steam and bustle and noise made him anxious, yet more ravenous.
“No one asked me what I wanted,” Will repeated, “so why should I pay for this?”
He sought support from the customers behind him. An expensively outfitted woman glared as if he were a dog rapist. Arms crossed, a leather-jacketed older man weaved from side-to-side and bowed his head; in the middle of his bald spot, a pair of tattooed eyes fixed on Will. Everyone else glowed with hatred.
“Let’s go, asshole!” hissed a girl aged ten or twelve.
Will tried to take a deep breath and his lungs wouldn’t budge. He stared at the ash-toned not-oatmeal.
“What is this, anyway?” said Will. His stomach moaned.
The server grinned like a decayed corpse.
“It’s $37.99. Next order up!”
Will paid him and picked up the tray. A whiff of the broth suggested sunbeam-kissed stagnant rainwater inside a butcher’s dumpster.
The well-dressed woman snatched a fifty out of her handbag. She claimed her order and didn’t look at it or wait for change. Will stepped aside when she stormed past him; he glimpsed a slab of moldy fruitcake, an unpeeled yellow onion, and a box of drywall screws. The leather jacket man, still bent and weaving, edged up to the counter. His scalp-eyes ogled Will. Outside, sirens whined.
Will shuffled away from the queue and scanned the dining area for a place to sit. Hunched over their trays, customers occupied every seat. There were no spoons for the noodle soup.
Michael Grant Smith wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing has appeared in elimae, The Airgonaut, formercactus, Soft Cartel, The Cabinet of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, and other publications. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. To learn too much about Michael, please visit www.michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.