Greasing the wheels
If this work of fiction has you a little confused, you should be aware, it’s my entry into the best contest of the year, courtesy of my friend Al Can’t Hang.
The hemisphere swelled, at first like the heave of a well-toned breast at the peak of surprised breath, and then like the stomach of an alien-afflicted belly. The swell ended, the bulge began, and the pressure–for a half of a half of a second–sat in a state of suspended animation. Anything could happen at that moment. The world could be knocked off its axis, cancer could be cured, and Spanish Fly could be cut with all the coke in South America. It was a perfect moment that nobody saw happen. For that, you can blame the kid everybody calls Jose. He was flipping an over-hard egg when the orb of bacon fat pulsated and popped on the griddle. The fat turned clear and flew invisible through the air. It landed right where Mary-Maggie’s neck met her shoulders.
“God dammit, Jose, you lazy son of a bitch.” Mary-Maggie imagined an exclamation point on the end of her sentence, but it didn’t come out that way. She slapped at her neck like she’d been bitten my a mosquito and cursed under her breath. It was just loud enough for the 20-year-old kid from Honduras to hear it, but not loud enough for Lady Melba to hear at the register. “I told you to cook the bacon on the back of the grill. Fourth time this week you’ve burned me.”
“My name’s not Jose, puta,” Jose said. He wasn’t going to bother telling her his name really was Jose. He used a long spatula to pull the pound of bacon to the front edge of the griddle. “You want I should aim for something other than your neck?”
Jose let her see his eyes fall to the place where Mary-Maggie’s t-shirt rose up over her blue jeans. The tattoo that peaked out from the denim was a pink tulip surrounded by black thorns. Jose pressed the spatula down on a piece of bacon and got the desired pop. He gave her a wink.
Whatever Mary-Maggie said next went unheard because Lady Melba had stepped over from the register. “Don’t ignore the man at the end of the counter,” she said and flicked her eyes at me. I heard it all. The smell of the pork mixing with the coffee, toast, and cigarette smoke had stroked raw every one of my senses.
Mary-Maggie sighed and flipped her order book open to a new page. She tugged down on the back of her t-shirt and stepped over to me. “Help you?”
She was probably thirty years old, blonde with black roots, real breasts, and a fake tan. Her t-shirt read “Blue Flames, Class of ’96” and hugged her more than it had on graduation night. I wondered how long it had been since she got the tattoos and if the thorns were pat of the original work or something she added years later.
“You know,” I said. “In some cultures, absorbing pork fat is thought to aid fertility. Some women actually like it. They rub it into their skin. Some even eat it.”
Mary-Maggie looked at me and tapped her pen on her pad. She punched the top of it, clicking the ball-point in an out. “You believe that guy?”
I looked at Jose and he caught me looking. He let his eyes graze across Mary-Maggie’s jeans and gave me a knowing smile. He probably didn’t know know, but he knew in his dreams, and that was good enough. Jose had a lot of dreams, not the least of which was doing naughty things to the counter waitress with his spatula.
“Can’t blame him,” I said. “In some cultures, being able to shoot bacon grease that far is a sign of virility.”
Mary-Maggie stopped clicking her pen. “And which culture is that?”
Now it was my turn to wink. “Mine.”
“What can I get you, sir?” the waitress said, clicking her pen once more.
“One egg, over hard. Coffee, black. Side of bacon. And another side of bacon.”
The waitress ripped the sheet of paper off her pad and threw it to Jose’s side. “Order in,” she said, and then after a pause, “puto.”
Mary-Maggie walked to the far end of the counter and took a pull off a bottle of water. She pulled her t-shirt down again and looked over at me. I heard my two sides of bacon hit Jose’s hot spot just as the waitress took a determined woman’s magazine advice column step toward me, my black coffee in her hand.
“I’m not sure who you think you are, mister. I’ve not seen you in here before, but I don’t think I like how you were talking to me. I’m a lady just like Melba.”
She was getting wound up, but it was clear her heart wasn’t in it.
“You ever had pepper bacon?” I asked. “I think you would enjoy it.”
She stopped and pulled a strand of hair out of her eyes. “You think I would enjoy it? What do you know about what I would enjoy? What do you know about me?”
I made a show of looking her up and down like I was sizing her up. I didn’t need to.
“I know you don’t like your tattoo anymore. I know you got the tulip for a boyfriend. He broke your heart–maybe knocked up your best friend? You got the thorns a few weeks later and probably haven’t been in love since. You bleach your own hair, but go to the place across the street for your tan. You wear sunglasses and a hat when you go in because you don’t want people to see you. Of course, you spend almost all the daylight hours in here, so when are you going to get a tan like that?”
Mary-Maggie looked angry, hot as a bacon bubble, and just as salty.
“I know you don’t like your job and you’d quit if you could just come up with a better idea. You like to curse, you like to drink, and you like to–if you’ll forgive me–screw, but you don’t do those things as often as you like. You know you’re going to get out of here soon, but not soon enough and, if you’re not careful, by the time you find a guy who looks at you like Jose does when he’s cooking, you’re going to be too old to enjoy what it feels like when you get splattered with bacon grease.”
The waitress seemed to soften just a little bit, but barely. She lowered her voice, “Fuck you, buddy.”
“Oh, and I know this, Mary-Maggie: You love bacon. You love the way it smells. You love the way it feels, whether it’s limp off the griddle or hard out of the microwave. Crispy, chewy, fatty, lean, you like it all. You once rendered bacon fat and cooked apples it because you like the taste of meat in your fruit. Even though you and Jose hate each other, he saves you a piece of bacon out of every pound he cooks and you eat it in one bite. He thinks he’s going to get in your pants, and you don’t care if he thinks that as long as you get your taste a couple times a day. If I may be forward, ma’am, I could give you that taste as often as you like and, again forgive me, I think you’d be begging me for it by the end of the week.”
I stopped and took a sip of my coffee.
“Who in the hell are you?” Mary-Maggie asked.
I looked over at Jose. He was eying me like he caught me screwing his sister.
“Who am I? Well, Mary-Maggie, I am a member of the Bacon of the Month Club. And I think you should be, too.”
The period on my sentence fell in concert with a pop, an arc of viscous fat, and a landing that couldn’t have been more perfect. Mary-Maggie jumped like she’d been goosed by the devil himself.
Jose yelled, “Order up!” and as I looked from Mary to my two sides of bacon, I couldn’t decide which one I wanted more.
I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have to choose.