Sitting in a new-ish McDonald’s next to a busy highway, sunlight hammering down in a solid beam through a floor-to-ceiling window of tempered glass. An old Heart song playing on the sound system, one he can’t recall the name of but he’s pretty sure it’s Heart.

It might not be Heart.

The coffee’s still too hot to drink as quickly as he’d like, but he slurps it anyway and burns his tongue and lips. It just makes the next big slurp easier to take. It’s been that kind of week, and if he thinks hard enough about it, he might realize that things have been this self-abusive for some time. But he doesn’t give it much thought at all.

The only other customer at this time of morning is an ancient looking mass of wrinkles hunched over a glowing Apple laptop. He wants to call it an iBook, but he thinks they’ve changed the name. The glowing symbol of the fruit with a bite out of it hasn’t changed, though. He wonders what the old (man? woman?) person is doing with the computer, and for one wild moment contemplates getting up and asking. Then he remembers the wound in his leg and thinks the better of it. Better to just sit there and rest up.

He looks out through the glaring sheet of sunlight to the cars whipping by. To his squinting eyes they become little more than colorful, glinting streaks that produce a thrum that steadily rises and falls in a wave from an ocean of humanity on the move. He sits still and focuses on his breathing. If he flexes his calf, he can feel the sticky puddle of blood that’s formed inside his boot. It had been a bad day to go sockless.

An overweight employee smiles at him as she uses a handheld masher to compress an overflowing trash bin. He smiles back and offers a slight nod. He wonders if she was overweight before she joined the McDonald’s crew, or if the vocation had made her that way. He can’t decide how old she is but settles on “old enough to have kids”, and wonders if she does, and if the job is her only means of supporting them. No, he concedes after a moment’s consideration, a woman like that would have at least one other job. Maybe two.

He shifts his weight, and a white-hot lance of pain shoots up his thigh. He grits his teeth, which turns his smile into a creepy grin. The employee’s smile fades, and she hurriedly finishes up with her trash compacting, then scuttles away.

He’s going to have to get going. He wishes he could leave a tip, but it’s McDonald’s.

2015.04.01 – 2023.10.23

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