by Ann Robinson
My ex is a vegan, which means he refuses to eat animals and their byproducts. A week after Gordon left, I was still finding bean sprouts in my fridge, those little shoots with tiny, budlike heads, invaders from outer space, pillow stuffing for Lilliputians. I’d open the freezer and falafel balls would clunk to the floor. When Gordon was living here, tofu vied with Velveeta for prominence on the top shelf. Vegans see the world differently from the rest of us, and are always on the lookout for converts. In the end, it was not our eating habits that drove us apart, but Gordon’s nasty little games. “Harm no living creature,” he used to say, parroting the vegan philosophy, but I noticed it didn’t stop him from playing rough. “Beef-eating bitch!” he’d hiss, then pop me in the kisser—a light tap, but it would sting. “Just kidding, love,” he’d say.
Now that Gordon’s gone, I have an uncontrollable desire to patronize every fast food place in town. A voice in my head keeps asking, “Where’s the beef?” The only restaurant Gordon tolerated was Korean. The proprietor would serve him clear noodles cooked in vegetable broth. I would eat tasty little steamed fish dumplings while yearning for deep fried haddock at Long John Silver’s. Gordon is British. He says fast food is an American obsession. “Look at that bloke in the next car,” he’d say when we were stopped for a light. “Chips dangling from his mouth and a burger in his hand. Whatever happened to lunch hour? You’re all going to die of indigestion.” I wanted to point out that he had a high-risk coronary profile despite his efforts to avoid cholesterol, but I knew the argument was futile. According to Gordon, beef was to blame for all the world’s ills.
The minute I pull into the Burger Bin parking lot, my mouth starts to water. Ever since I got out of high school, I’ve been coming here. The girls behind the counter wear their caps pushed back on their loosely-netted hair. “Hey, girl, where ya been?” asks Red, a tall and hefty softball player with an easy laugh and freckles so close together they hide her skin.
“Around,” I say, avoiding mention of Gordon. “Gimme the biggest burger you have, with extra cheese, pickles on the side, a small order fries, and a large Coke. For here.” In the background, Peaches and Herb are crooning Reunited, and it feels so good.
Yeah, I think. Me and beef together again, minus what’s-his-name to spoil my fun.
“Ow!” Bitsy yells. Red’s petite sidekick stands at the Fryolator, ready to plunge a bundle of frozen potato straws into the popping grease. “Sonuvabitch! It happened again!” she wails.
“How many times I gotta tell you, step back when you dip those fries,” Red scolds, shaking her head. “One of these days you’re gonna fall in and get burnt to a crisp. Bitsy Bits. Here, lemme see,” she says, inspecting the burn. “I think I better call Roy,” she says, scraping my now-burned hamburger into the garbage and putting a new frozen patty onto the grill. “Hafta get the manager’s okay before Bitsy can go to the doctor,” she explains as she lifts my soggy fries from the oil and dumps them into the sink. “Sorry about this. I’ll redo them, but first I gotta call Roy.”
“Don’t worry about the fries. I shouldn’t eat them, anyway,” I demur, thinking Gordon would be proud. As I dig into my burger, the Peaches and Herb medley fades and Mettalica roars in and Red shakes her shoulders to the wailing guitars. I’m still the only customer, and there’s no sign of Roy. Bitsy remains sequestered. I don’t care; I’m content. In my soul, I’m a carnivore, byproducts and all. Gordon, I hope you’re happy in herbivore heaven, because I sure as hell prefer the flavor here, below.
Just as I’m about to leave, Red says, “Hey. Wanna do me a real big favor? My shift’s up in five minutes, and I gotta go home, take care of my mom. Could you just wait here for Roy?”
“What about Bitsy?”
“Oh, she’s still nursing her wounds. Won’t come outta the bathroom until he gets here.” Red rolls her eyes.
I’m beginning to get the picture: there’s something going on between Bitsy and Roy. “Okay,” I say, not sure of what I’m getting into. “As long as it’s not too long.”
“Anybody comes in, tell ’em we’re closed,” she instructs. “Hey. I really appreciate this. Drop by some time and I’ll give you a free burger. Roy won’t care. He gives freebies to chicks all the time.”
I watch her walk out to the small blue Escort that’s idling by the curb. There’s a man at the wheel who looks like Gordon — same close-cropped hair, same denim jacket. Funny how guys look the same from a distance.
Twenty minutes later, there’s still no Roy, and Bitsy’s still in the bathroom. “Hey,” I yell before going in to check on her. “You all right?” The place reeks of smoke, and it’s empty. She must have sneaked out while Red and I were talking. Damn! Why haven’t I noticed the open register? Bitsy must have taken the cash. For all I know, Red’s in on this, too. And maybe Roy. Well, I’m not hanging around to see what’s going to happen next, that’s for sure.
On the radio the next morning I hear a report of the robbery. “Anyone with information is urged to come forward,” the announcer concludes. That means me. I could, of course, join the Witness Protection Plan. Then even Gordon, who threatens to pick up the three pairs of boxers that were in the dryer the day I kicked him out, wouldn’t be able to find me.
There’s a Help Wanted sign in the window of the Burger Bin. I call and ask for Roy the manager. “There’s nobody named Roy working here,” the man says. “Never has been.”
I picture Red and Bitsy on the road, driving from town and town like Thelma and Louise. And Gordon? At night, when I’ve finished watching TV, sometimes I hear a sound and wonder if it’s the back door opening, or just Herbie the cat jumping down from my kitchen table. Gordon always said red meat would be my downfall. I’m glad he isn’t here to gloat.
This story was previously published in Ad Hoc Monadnock Online.
Ann Robinson received a Bachelor of Arts from Connecticut College and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from Vermont College. Since 1967, she has lived in southwestern New Hampshire, where she wrote and produced award-winning radio commercials and published feature articles in newspapers and magazines. Her short stories and humorous essays have appeared in a variety of commercial and literary magazines, in regional anthologies, and on New Hampshire Public Radio. A collection of short fiction, Ordinary Perils, was published in 2002. She is Senior Editor of the literary anthology Shadow and Light published in 2011 by the Monadnock Writers’ Group, an organization she helped to establish in 1984. At present she is assembling a collection of her nonfiction writings titled Pastiche—a writer’s miscellany.