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 served as 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, one which elicited many sighs and monosyllabic words, revealed that this young woman named Penelope was Michelle’s replacement. She also made it clear that the reason was nepotism.
This was unfortunate, to say the least. I have become quite fond of my silver-haired server. We shared an innumerable amount of conversations as the woman’s warm personality made it feel like I was talking to my mother. Hearing that she was gone was almost devastating. I was only able to endure because of the prize that awaited me if only I could deal with yet another blemish to the restaurant’s already degrading reputation.
I was willing to endure a lot to remain a regular patron at that establishment. It was receiving poor reviews online and though the proprietor dismissed all the complaints as “worthless comments from Internet Trolls”, the commenters were mostly correct. Chairs did indeed lack footpads and were supported with thirty-year-old Penthouse magazines. I may have peeked at them but even I admit that did not lend the establishment an air of class.
The reviewers who mentioned that the floors were sticky had a point. I nearly lost a couple of soles dragging my feet along those broken tiles. Someone said they couldn’t breathe because of the mold. In the proprietor’s defense, that was a bit of an exaggeration as I had never had an issue breathing through clenched teeth. One woman was especially heated because none of the tables were wiped down and having a thin layer of dust was considered “clean”.
It might surprise you that I actually did not disagree with most of the negative online reviews though that does bring up the question of why did I keep coming back. It was not because of the burger that was often served practically raw when I specifically asked for it to be well-down. His selection of non-alcoholic drinks was nothing to write home about as it only consisted of Coke or Diet Coke and I will say that the latter tasted no different than the former. I have no proof of this, but also I think the only reason why Harry even offers sodas is that he serves Rum and Coke, amongst other alcoholic beverages, at night. Harry’s was something of a pub, after all, I suppose in the same sense that Arnold Schwarzenegger and I are bodybuilders as I once lifted a weight. It wasn’t even because of Michelle. As much as I liked her and still like her, that was 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 lured me to that restaurant day after day after day.
They were served in a circular pattern, not unlike a lily. Each “petal” took me on a taste sensation that nearly overwhelmed 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.
So to continue my sad tale, today, like any other day, I sat down 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. She was so engrossed with her conversation that she neglected to give me a menu. That bothered me a little but ultimately I let it go as I could still order just fine, as I did order the same thing daily. Flagging the waitress down to record my order did take 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. At this point, we also had the aforementioned conversation when I meekly asked where Michelle was and she rather bluntly said, “Dad told me to get a job so she’s gone.”
My meal was prepared rather quickly and I saw the cook place my order on the window sill that led to the kitchen. 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 there now doubtlessly almost cold. My many attempts to notify Penelope that my food was ready were ignored as she seemed too engrossed with her phone call to give me any heed. 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, “Restaurant 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 was forced to reconstruct the burger. Normally I prefer to have ketchup and mustard with my meal but my recent experience showed that asking for such things would have been futile. No matter, I thought. I had my fries and they were waiting to be devoured. They would have to wait, however. As I am wont to do, I started with the burger as 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. I masticated the sandwich with great care, undercooked and cold yet strangely pleasing to my palette. It was an acquired taste, which I admit, is hardly the most flattering of descriptions but most apt to explain my enjoyment. 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.
“You’re done with this, right?” With her phone still next to her ear, Penelope snatched from my hands. By the time my brain had processed what had happened, they were gone having disappeared into the kitchen with Penelope into the kitchen where I could only assume they were thrown away or torn up in the garbage disposal.
My mouth was agape as I struggled to find the words. An entire day’s worth of anticipation had been thrown away like yesterday’s garbage. They 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 was silent. 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 when she handed me the check. She even ignored me 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!”Penelope screamed as I walked out that door, “What the hell are you doing? You didn’t pay!”
I ignored her and entered my blue Honda Accord parked parallel to the restaurant and drove off without saying another word.
I was initially jubilant. Perhaps it could be said that I was even proud. I am loathed to admit it but it was initially a thrilling experience.
Shortly, though, the gravity of the situation began to weigh upon me. I had just committed a crime. I dined and dashed. I started to feel nauseated. Sweat formed on my forehead, my back, and underneath my armpits. 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 for 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 won’t be 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’m sure. 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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