Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled Consumed With Guilt. Please enjoy.
I never wanted to be a criminal. Oh mama, what would you think of your baby boy now? A cop car is parked outside my home right now. He’s been out there for nearly an hour. He’s waiting for me. He wants to give me a chance to confess. I will, but only after writing down my thoughts so I don’t get flustered when I make my statement in court. Public speaking makes me so nervous.
If only I hadn’t lost my temper. If only I hadn’t done that terrible thing to that poor girl. She may have been rude to me. She may have ignored me. She may have taken something from me. But she didn’t deserve that. Nobody deserves what I did to her.
I was so happy too when I arrived at Harry’s. After a long and lonely weekend baking in that hot summer sun, along with yet another stressful day at work, I needed a respite at my usual haunt. When lunchtime rolled around, I practically sprinted out the door, though I suppose it’d be more accurate to say I walked quickly. I’m embarrassed to say I nearly exceeded the speed limit a couple of times on my excursion as my preoccupation with my future meal was a distraction.
However, my excitement soon turned to disappointment. Michelle wasn’t there. In her stead was a much younger, flaxen-haired teenager with light brown eyebrows. A brief conversation with the young woman named Penelope, one which elicited many sighs and monosyllabic words, she informed that she was to be the replacement for my usual server and made it clear that she had received her position thanks to nepotism.
This was unfortunate to say the least. I have become quite fond of my silver haired. We have conversed often. She is the only server there, after all, or at least the only one during the lunch hour. The woman has a very warm personality. She reminds me a lot of my mother. I was practically floored to learn she had been replaced.
Yet, I was willing to endure a lot to remain a regular patron at that establishment. At first, the degradation was gradual but with each passing day it has become far more precipitous.
In retrospect, the foot pads falling off the chairs should have been the proverbial shot across the bow when it comes to Harry’s slowly falling apart. Instead of replacing them, Harry decided to support them thirty year old Penthouse magazines. True, I may have peaked at a couple of them, but it was hardly the image of a classy establishment.
Things began to escalate from there. The floors grew ever stickier. The walls began to mold. A strange smell began to emanate from the facility. The tables have also stopped being wiped down. It has gotten to the point where if there was merely a thin layer of dust covering a table it is one of the clean ones. As you can see, a change of servers was minor in comparison to everything else.
Why do I keep coming back, then? It’s not the undercooked burger that’s often practically raw (and I do prefer a well-done burger). It certainly isn’t the selection of non-alcoholic drinks. Coke or Diet Coke. I must mention too that the Diet Coke suspiciously tastes like regular Coke. I have no proof of this, but I think the only reason why Harry even offers sodas is because he serves Rum and Coke, amongst other alcoholic beverages, at night. Harry’s was something of a pub after all.
It wasn’t even because of Michelle. As much as I like her, that is not enough for me to make the fifteen minute excursion from my office. No, it was those scrumptious, steaming hot golden yellow steak fries that made my visits a daily affair.
Served in a circular pattern not unlike a lily, each “petal” takes me on a taste sensation that nearly overwhelms my senses. Somehow Harry happened upon a perfect combination of spices that has never been put on a fried potato stick anywhere else. If ambrosia had a similar taste, I now know why Tantalus stole it from the gods.
I sat down at my usual spot right next to the entrance. Penelope did not seat me as she was more concerned with discussing her various relationships with people of various genders on her cell phone presumably with a friend.
So engrossed in her conversation, Penelope neglected to give me a menu. That bothered me a little but I ultimately I let it go as I could still order just fine. I have the thing memorized, after all, which, I must admit, was hardly a herculean task. There are only two options, both burgers, a fish and a ham. There used to be a lot more when Harry cared. Figuring that an undercooked burger was probably safer than undercooked fish, I opted for that.
Flagging the waitress down to record my order took some effort. She ignored my first four attempts to get her attention and by the fifth one I was tempted to raise my voice. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and eventually the young lady was able to pull herself away from the conversation.
“What?” she asked gruffly. She glared as she pressed a button on her phone.
“If it’s not too much trouble, I would like to order a hamburger and a side of those delicious steak fries.”
“Fries come with the food, you don’t have to order it.” She turned towards the kitchen and shouted to the cook through the window, “Hey Frank! The nerd wants a burger!” A little rude, I admit. I nearly chastised her for her choice of vocabulary, but I thought better of it. Sticks and stones, after all.
My meal was cooked rather quickly. The cook had placed my order next to the window sill. With a large smile on my face, I began waiting for the young lady to serve the food. A minute passed. Then five. Then ten. Soon, fifteen minutes had passed and my food remained sitting on the window sill. All my attempts to notify Penelope that my food was ready fell on deaf ears. She was too engrossed with her phone call to take notice of me. My lunch hour was dwindling so I decided to take the initiative and pick the food up myself.
“What the hell are you doing?” Penelope screamed as I walked towards the window.
“I’m just trying to get my food,” I answered.
“Customers ain’t allowed,” the overweight grease stained fry cook explained as he wiped his nose with his sleeve, “Bar policy.”
“Now sit your ass down and I’ll give you the food!” the young lady said.
I did as she instructed.
“Give me a second, Angie, some asshole wants his food.” Brusquely, she grabbed my food, marched over to me demonstrably and slung it onto my table. I was barely able to keep the fries from bouncing out of the basket and had to reconstruct the burger that had fallen apart on impact. Normally I prefer to have my burger with ketchup and mustard but my recent experience showed that getting such things from my server would have been futile.
No matter, though. I had my fries and they were waiting to be devoured. They would have to wait, however. As I am wont to do, I began consumption of the burger first. I always saved the best for last.
It usually takes me a while to eat, much longer than most people, but that is because I take my health seriously. I always chew my food the recommended forty times before swallowing so that the food properly liquefies and the digestive process can extract nutrients properly. If it means my meals take a little bit longer to eat, so be it.
Slowly but surely, I masticated that sandwich, undercooked and cold yet strangely pleasing to my palette. An acquired taste is hardly the most flattering of descriptions but most apt to explain my enjoyment of Harry’s burgers. Inch by inch I chewed my way through, savoring as best I could the taste and flavor until finally the task was complete. I had finished. It was time for the fries.
I rubbed my hands in anticipation. This was going to be the best moment of my day. Practically salivating, I reached towards the basket. What I had been thinking about since this morning was finally going to be mine.
“You’re done with this, right?” With her phone still next to her ear, Penelope grabbed the basket practically snatching the fries from my hand. By the time my brain had processed what had happened, she had already disposed of them, having disappeared briefly into the kitchen to do that nasty deed.
My mouth was agape. I could not say a word. An entire day’s worth of anticipation had been thrown away like yesterday’s garbage. Eating them would have brightened an otherwise gray and dismal day, though I must admit not literally as the sun was and is still shining brightly this afternoon.
Almost in tears, I stared but Penelope said nothing. That is to say, she said nothing to me. She had plenty to say to her companion over the phone. The young lady did not even take a second to pause even as she handed me the check. I was even ignored as I tried to stammer out a protest.
That is when I lost my temper. I became a monster. I did the unthinkable.
I rose from my seat. Furious. I nearly slammed the table with rage. Without saying a word, I walked out of the restaurant. Without paying.
“Hey!” I heard Penelope screamed just as I walked out that door, “You didn’t pay! What the hell are you doing?”
I ignored her. Wordlessly, I entered my blue Honda Accord which was parked parallel to the restaurant and drove off.
At first I was jubilant, proud even, I’m ashamed to say but soon the gravity of the situation began to weigh upon me.
I had just committed a crime. I dined and dashed. I began to feel nauseated. Sweat formed on my forehead, my back, and underneath my arm pits. I couldn’t go back to work, not with this prodigious guilt enveloping my very being. I didn’t know what else to do. I knew I had to go to the police, to confess but I wasn’t ready. I needed some time to think. So I drove home.
And that is where I am now. All of this occurred a couple of hours ago. I’ve been sitting here alone in my living room, stewing in remorse.
Stealing is wrong. I know that. Yet I did it anyway. The Mariana Trench would only adequately describe a tenth of the depth of guilt I feel for my actions.
I feel most awful for Penelope. It was her first day on the job and I overreacted. She was probably just nervous. Now she’s going to have pay for my meal which may not seem like much money but it is to a teenager like her. I’ve heard waitresses only work for tips. Harry probably won’t be happy with her either. Losing my patronage may have been devastating.
I know what I must do. The police are waiting outside my door. I knew they’d find me. It was just a matter of time. I wonder what mama will say when she hears her little boy has been arrested. Hopefully, she isn’t too upset. You mustn’t blame yourself, mama. You taught me right and wrong. I just didn’t listen.
Okay, so I will just go out there and confess. Maybe. What do you think they’ll do to guys like me in prison? Nothing good, I suppose. Now that I think about it, do I really have to confess now? He wouldn’t mind if I waited until tomorrow, would he?
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