Enjoy Your Meal
|......Carver was watching her again. She could feel his eyes boring into the back of her neck. He gave her the creeps when he stared at her like that. Why couldn't he go and pester somebody else?|
......Sandra crammed the Styrofoam box into the bag, almost spilling its contents as her fingers, made nervous by Carver's penetrating gaze, played tricks on her.
......"There you go, sir. One Special, fries and a strawberry shake," she said to the youth at the counter, uncomfortably aware of the dubious look he gave her spotted face and the trickle of sweat running down her cheek.
......"Enjoy your meal, and please call again."
......Sandra handed the bag to the youth and turned her fixed, artificial smile to the next customer, a housewife with a legion of offspring in tow.
......"Yes madam, how may I help you?"
......"Four Kiddymeals, a Fishyslice, one Megaburger with double cheese, a Baconburger, one Special, two big fries, three small fries, a coffee, two Chocshakes and three Orangolas," the woman reeled off at breakneck pace.
......Sandra's big fingers rattled clumsily over the keypad, desperately trying to keep up with the rapid-fire order as she punched it into the till. Still feeling Carver's eyes upon her, she prayed that she'd got it right. What a disaster it would be if she got it wrong while he was watching her.
......Eager to demonstrate her capability to the ever observant Carver, she turned quickly from the till intending to get the woman's order from the heated dispensers behind her with as much speed and efficiency as she could muster. At that moment, the waitress attending the neighbouring till - a smaller, though still chubby girl - was returning, hands laden, from the same destination. Sandra, flustered by Carver's watchful gaze, her mind locked on the imperative of getting the order right, failed to see the other coming amidst the melee of the bustling serving area. There was a solid, meaty thump as Sandra's bulky frame made abrupt contact with the other's, less well-padded person. The smaller waitress rebounded off Sandra, her arms flailing to maintain her balance, straight into the iced drinks machine. There was a loud crash and the girl slid slowly down the machine to the floor, the machine's freezing contents pouring over her, and came to rest in the mess of Megaburgers cast from her hands by the impact with Sandra.
......Ridiculously, Sandra still wore the smile she'd been intensively instructed to maintain at all times as she looked down on the fallen girl. Mercifully, she seemed unharmed: dazed, bedraggled and soaked, but otherwise unhurt. Sandra bent over her and, picking scraps of lettuce and cheese from her, blustered, "Are you all right? I'm terribly sorry... I wasn't watching where I was going. I'm really sor..."
......"Sandra!" A strident voice interrupted her panicked solicitudes. "What the hell have you done now, you lumbering great oaf? Get up. Leave her alone, before you cause more havoc."
......Sandra rose, the smile even yet still fixed to her face, though it resembled more a pained grimace now. Carver, the manager of Megaburgers, glared down at her, his six-foot-plus skin and bone body trembling with barely suppressed fury. Sandra, head bowed, stared at her feet, around which a sticky pool was forming as the drinks machine continued to spew forth iced liquids in six different flavours, and tried to steel herself for the tirade that was sure to follow, while staff and customers looked on with varying degrees of concern.
......Carver's mouth opened to deliver his wrath to the creator of the chaos, when, just as several choice invectives were about to disgorge from his lips, he was halted by a voice from the rear of the heated display: "No Specials left, Mr Carver!"
......Carver turned sharply from Sandra to the sweating cook who had uttered these words, the anger on his face now mixed with dismay. His head jerking on his long neck, he looked from the cook and then cast a worried glance to the lines of queuing customers at the long counter. He turned back to the cook, expectantly awaiting Carver's managerial response to this latest disaster, then finally back to Sandra's bowed head.
......Throwing up his arms in despair, he spluttered, "That's all I need! A floor swimming in grease and cola because of a clumsy fat hulk's stupidity. And now... We're out of Specials at our busiest time."
......This last he said with a lowered voice, while looking furtively at the prospective diners at the counter, some of who were already starting to leave.
......"You," he said, pointing at Sandra, "get your gross body out of my sight and go clean the toilets. It's all you're fit for. I'll deal with you later. You, you and you, clean that mess up and stop that bloody machine dribbling all over the place. The rest of you, get serving."
......With that, Carver stalked off, like an oversized stick insect, to the steamy preparation area at the rear of the display to vent his ire on the unfortunate cooks who should have informed him earlier of the imminent deficiency of the restaurant's main claim to fame.
......With a scowl at the manager's retreating back, Sandra went off to her banishment: hurriedly, and keeping her head down lest her colleagues castigate her for inflaming Carver's already notorious temper - temper they would all, no doubt, feel the brunt of before the day was out.
......In the confines of the toilets, Sandra angrily wiped a cloth over the already sparkling sinks while looking her reflection in the wall mirrors above them. Near to tears, the practised, servile smile finally gone, she stared disconsolately at her reflected grossness.
......Her eyes, almost lost in the folds of her blotchy fat face, stared back at her sullenly. Her heavy jowls wobbled with the motion of her flabby arms as her wiping became more vigorous. She had to agree it wasn't a pretty sight, but what right did Carver have to say such things to her?
......She knew she was overweight: she didn't need that skinny so-and-so to tell her; she could see it for herself. True, she had been clumsy, and not for the first time - she was always having accidents. But that didn't mean the bony sod could insult her, did it?
......She felt bad enough about her size, without some undernourished skeleton needing to point it out to her. She'd tried to slim, time after time, but there must be something wrong with her glands: diets didn't seem to work. No matter how religiously she tried to stick to them she just got bigger and bigger. She hated her body, every wobbling pound of it; she hated even more being reminded of it.
......Lumbering great oaf indeed! Fat hulk! How dare he?
......Her unattractively bulging bosom strained at the fabric of her uniform, threatening to burst the buttons as she took out her anger on the sinks.
......She wasn't the only fat person on the staff, anyway: none of them were what you could call willowy. Every one of them was large. So why pick on her? It was Carver's responsibility to hire the staff, and the fact was, he rarely employed anyone who didn't have a weight problem. It was as if for some reason he wanted to emphasise his own cadaverous frame; make his own lack of substance look attractive when compared with those around him. Or perhaps he just liked to pick on fat people.
......And he didn't exactly encourage them to lose weight, did he? On the contrary, he was continually pressing them to eat his rotten burgers and fries. "Show the punters how good our food is," he was always saying, "So good, we eat it ourselves."
......How did he expect them to slim if they were always eating stomach-swelling chips and quarter pounders? It was as though he wanted them to be fat.
......Anyway, the food wasn't all that good. In fact it was decidedly poor. Greasy and unappetising: Sandra wouldn't have touched it if it weren't free. She would rather have a Big Mac any day.
......Just so long as we don't eat his precious Specials, she thought bitterly, swiping at her image in the glass with the cloth as if to erase the fatness from it. We're not allowed to eat them, are we? Oh no, we mustn't touch them. That said, the Specials did always seem to be in limited supply for some reason: there never was enough of them. Why this was, Sandra didn't know; she only knew they were for consumption by customers only. It wouldn't do for the staff to devour the only thing that got people to come into Carver's grotty burger bar in the first place.
......And they did come in - in their droves. And for what? What was so special about Specials anyway?
......They were just ordinary-looking burgers in ordinary buns with no trimmings. No lettuce, tomato, mustard or relish to brighten them up; just a piece of meat in a bun. They certainly didn't look very special. The meat itself was yellowish-white, sort of shiny-looking and creamy in texture, something like chicken or pork. It couldn't be chicken however, because another item on the menu was Chickburgers, which were supposed to be made of chicken - gristly and tasteless though they were. The restaurant also served what passed for pork ribs - if you stretched your imagination a bit - so that ruled that particular animal out too. What the Specials were composed of was a mystery.
......The menu gave no description of the Specials as it did for the rest of the restaurant's so-called fare; it merely said, 'Megaburgers Special,' and the price; no list of the 'delicious' ingredients 'to tempt the taste buds and make the mouth water' like the other items. No, the contents of the Specials were a secret, known only to Carver.
......Whatever they were made of, they were certainly popular; much to the dismay of the major nationwide burger branches nearby. These household names had suffered a dramatic fall in their custom since Megaburgers had opened its doors a year ago and had tried all sorts of tempting offers and publicity campaigns to recapture their dwindling share of the market.
......All in vain. Once people got a taste of a Megabugers Special no ordinary burger would do. This despite their price, which was four times more than any rival burger. The American owned conglomerates gnashed their teeth and Carver raked the money in.
......The enigma of the attraction of the insipid-looking delicacy had perplexed Sandra until the day she tried one. This at great risk to her continued employment, for Carver, though he had no objection to his staff sampling anything else on the menu, who even actively incited them to eat all they wanted, forbade them to so much as think of tasting the famed Specials. This was a decree he enforced by constant surveillance. Like some predatory bird he hovered over his employees, gimlet eyes watching their every move, swooping down constantly to check his prized product like that same bird its aerie.
......This particular day Carver had been called away to check a discrepancy in a delivery of fresh buns. Sandra, having just coped with a rush of customers, all virtually salivating for the restaurant's speciality, and feeling more than usually hungry determined that, while the coast was clear, she would finally discover for herself what all the fuss was about. After furtively peering all around to ensure she was unobserved she secreted one of the mysterious burgers in the folds of her striped uniform and sneaked off with her contraband to the toilets.
......In the privacy of one of the cubicles, not, she knew, the most hygienic place to eat, but at least safe from Carver's vulture-eye, Sandra tasted her first Special. Her initial instinct upon first biting into the bun was to gag and spit out the mouthful of bread and meat. It tasted awful! Slimy, sickly sweet, yet at the same time astringently bitter, it was utterly disgusting. It was cloying and nauseating and induced an urgent desire to vomit. Perhaps it was off - Sandra couldn't believe that it was this rancid-tasting substance had made Megaburgers the most popular fast-food restaurant in town. Trust her to pick a bad one!
......Leaning over the toilet bowl, face ashen, about to spit out the noxious mouthful, she paused, chewed a little more, then slowly straightened up. Her look of sickened repulsion gradually became a voracious grin. She gave the burger a puzzled frown then, almost unaware of her actions, she began to cram the meat into her mouth as fast as she could. Wolfishly, hardly pausing to chew, she devoured the burger as if it were the last meal she would ever eat.
......It was as though her taste buds had suddenly woken up for the first time. Gone was her nausea. How could she have thought the burger so disgusting? The yellowish meat melted in her mouth, so juicy and succulent. Savoury and so appetising, it demanded to be eaten; it had a flavour so exquisitely different from anything else Sandra had ever tasted. Large greedy bite followed large greedy bite, and all too soon the burger was gone, even to the last crumb and smear of grease adhering to her fingers. Sandra remembered how deflated she'd felt then, and how strangely dissatisfied. The burger had woken a hunger in her - a hunger she knew no other food would fulfil.
......Even now, several weeks after her illicit feast in the toilets, she remembered the Special's unique taste and she salivated at the memory. The opportunity had not presented itself again for her to steal another, though not from want of trying. She took to hanging around the section of the heated cabinet where the Specials were kept ready to be served, eyeing them lustfully and ever seeking the chance to snatch one. However, Carver suddenly seemed to be extra vigilant, as if somehow he knew her intention. Perhaps it was the hunger in her eye, the greedy way she looked at the Specials; perhaps somehow he knew she had tasted one, for he seemed to watch her more intently from then on. Sandra's craving went unsated. She could only jealously ogle the customers as their Specials to their tables to eat them with the same feverish rapaciousness she had done.
......Now there were no Specials left. Word would quickly go round, and before too long the restaurant would be desolate. Its famous speciality not being available and the quality of its other dishes not sufficient to tempt diners in, they would soon go elsewhere. If they had to eat ordinary burgers, they'd go to where the ordinary burgers were much more palatable. The McDonald's across the precinct would do a roaring trade, so too the Burger King by the cathedral, while grotty old Megaburgers would be full of nothing but empty plastic tables. Carver would prowl around like a bad tempered bear with a migraine seeing his profits plummet and would make life hell for all of them.
......Sandra had seen it happen so many times before. There never seemed to be enough of the strangely delectable burgers. They were always running out. It was so stupid. Why, she wondered, when Specials were so good and made the restaurant so well visited, were they in such short supply? Surely it made sense to ensure they never ran out? Even she could see that.
......Sandra squeezed herself into the same cubicle in which she'd eaten her one and only Special and disinterestedly mopped the tiled floor. She had no doubt Carver would keep his promise to deal with her later. He would have plenty of time, after all, what with the place being empty as the Sahara desert.
......Her only prayer was that he wouldn't sack her. That she couldn't bear. She knew her limitations only too well and was well aware how difficult it would be for her to get work anywhere else. She thought herself extremely fortunate to have been set on at Megaburgers, much as she hated the place. She had no qualifications, no talents, she wasn't overly intelligent: unemployment was very high and nobody wanted a fat, clumsy girl like her. At least the money wasn't too bad and the work not too taxing - if it wasn't for Carver she could almost be happy.
Her hopes were low, though. In the short time she'd worked there she had seen staff come and go with alarming regularity. No one stayed very long, and they rarely left under their own volition - Carver needed little excuse to dismiss anyone.
......Now she thought about it: it always seemed to be the fattest that got the sack. Strange that: one day there they were, slaving away with the rest of them, the next they were gone. It was almost as if they were singled out because of their size. Did Carver really have something against obesity? If so, why did he always appear to make a point of employing the grossest people he could find?
......Then, the most worrying thought of all: Sandra knew herself to be by far the fattest person currently on the payroll! If Carver was mounting a one-man vendetta against the overweight, that, and her latest mishap - one of a long series- was ample reason for him to come down on her. The chances of her having a job tomorrow looked very flimsy.
......Sandra continued her exile in the toilets for a further two hours, half-heartedly mopping and cleaning while she brooded upon life in general and Megabugers in particular. As her sojourn continued she became increasingly depressed, her thoughts getting more and more self-pitying. She was feeling particularly sorry for herself when, finally, to her great relief, another large waitress, sent by Carver, released her from her ostracism.
......Her punishment was yet not complete, however. Carver still not trusting her behind the counter, the rest of the day saw her morosely cleaning tables and mopping the floor of the restaurant itself, disregarded by everyone. Fortunately, this task was not too arduous as, her prediction being fulfilled, the place was virtually deserted and remained so, news rapidly having spread that no Specials were to be had. Thankfully too, Carver didn't trouble her, his attention being fully occupied in assuring the few customers who did stray in that the speciality of the house would again be available the next day.
......Closing time dragged its slow, cumbersome way round, and still there was no sign of Carver keeping his promise. Perhaps he's forgotten, thought Sandra, or maybe he considered her to have suffered enough. Yet past experience told her otherwise. On too many previous occasions she had been kept back after closing to feel the razor-sharp edge of his tongue, to be humiliated for her clumsiness and worthlessness. Why should this time be different?
......Still she hoped. Finally, when the chairs were neatly stacked on the tables and the floor given a final mop and Carver had still not approached her, her hopes rose. With the rest of the personnel she trouped off to the staff room to collect her coat. She'd got away with it after all!
......None of her colleagues had much to say to her while they changed out of their uniforms. They had all, in one way or another, suffered Carver in one of his foulest tempers and held Sandra responsible for making their day as miserable as her own. As a result none of them felt disposed to talk to her, so all ignored her.
......Sandra hung back, avoiding the cold stares of the others, trying to make herself as inconspicuous as possible given her size. Soon everybody was gone and she was left alone. Closing the door of her locker on her uniform she got into her coat and walked heavily back into the restaurant, her thoughts on home and freedom.
......Her hand on the door to the street, inches from liberty, the sharp voice called. She toyed with the notion of pretending not to hear it. But no, it would be much worse for her tomorrow. She turned to confront Carver.
......He was smiling!
......He never smiled. Sandra couldn't recall ever seeing his face with any other expression but one of saturnine gloominess. She had always thought it set in plaster. Yet amazingly he was almost beaming! This was weird.
......"Sandra, I think I was a little harsh with you earlier. Perhaps I shouldn't have said the things I did - after all, accidents will happen."
......He was apologising!
......"Oh, that's all right, Mr Carver. I suppose I was a little clumsy," she replied flustered, her face glowing brightly.
......"Perhaps... But I shouldn't have referred to your, er, figure in the way I did. It really was uncalled for." This in a simpering tone, his smile becoming oily.
......"No. It was wrong of me. As it happens, I prefer to see people who are... How shall I put it? Pleasingly proportioned." He cast a disparaging eye at his own skeletal frame. "With plenty of meat on them, you might say."
......With that his smile contorted into a leer. What was he up to? Surely he wasn't on the make? Sandra didn't have much experience of the opposite sex, and was completely bewildered by Carver's alien behaviour. She didn't know whether to be flattered or repulsed by his unusual comments.
......Carver's bony arm descended on her ample shoulder. "Let's go to the back, I'm about to prepare some Specials for tomorrow. Perhaps you'd be interested in seeing how they're made? He began to propel her towards the cooking area. What was this, now he was letting her into his secret?
......Carver's arm, though thin, was surprisingly strong. Sandra found herself being forced behind the display stands despite not yet having made up her mind she wanted to go. An innate fear of authority made her reluctant to disobey her superior, yet she still expected to be punished in some way, despite his uncharacteristic kindness. If that punishment was to be the sack, then she was willing to consider almost anything to avoid her fate. But was she willing to consider carver's sexual advances - if that was what his present strange behaviour could be construed as?
......Her thoughts whirling from joblessness to the revolting prospect of Carver's embrace and back again, Sandra found herself standing at the solid, gleaming steel-topped table where the various components of the Megaburgers menu were prepared. Lost in her confusion, she didn't realise that the manager was speaking; also his arm had left her shoulder and was now wrapped around her middle, his and casually toying with the embarrassing roll of flesh above her skirt.
......"Sorry... What were you saying, Mr Carver?" she said hurriedly.
......"Oh please, call me Cecil," he said, his smile now ingratiatingly sickly. "It is after hours, after all." His hand tweaked the fold of fat.
......Cecil! Cecil Carver! He was definitely after something, entrusting her with the knowledge of such a ridiculous Christian name! Was he into fat girls or something? He seemed to be taking great delight in playing with her flabby waist. Sandra had heard of bosses taking advantage of their position to seduce their staff... But Carver? She tried to edge away from him, but he gripped the handful of flesh tighter causing her to wince.
......"I'm sorry. Am I hurting you?" he asked, his hand mercifully leaving her, though not before accidentally, or not so accidentally, brushing across her extensive buttocks.
......What did he want her for? He wasn't going to sack her, that was becoming increasingly plain. Was he really lusting after her body? Sandra found it hard to believe. Despite her dislike of him she felt faintly flattered; not many men - hardly any, if she was honest - fancied her in that way. But he was horrible - bony and creepy - she couldn't bear the thought of... Doing it with him. How gross! He was speaking again: "You might not have realised that I personally prepare the Specials myself. They don't come ready-made like the ordinary burgers," he said with a proprietorial air, "They're not mass produced in some factory like the rest."
......Oh good! He was on about his precious Specials again. Perhaps she ought to keep his mind on that subject; it might stop him groping at her at least.
......"Oh really, Mr Carver... Er, Cecil," she said, feigning an interested expression, "No, I didn't know that. But why do you do them yourself?"
......"Because," Carver replied, taking hold of her upper arm, his long fingers encompassing most of it despite its girth and brushing uncomfortably against her breast, "No one else knows what goes into them but me. They are made to my own secret recipe. I would never dream of allowing anyone else to make them. The cooks merely warm them up after I have created them. They are my Specials." This he said with a look glowing with almost fatherly pride.
......His hand was squeezing her flesh as if it were testing its consistency. "And you, my dear, can consider yourself highly honoured. I am about to let you into my little secret."
......Suddenly Sandra didn't want to be there. Carver's hand left her arm and he went to a cupboard where he selected several different jars of herbs and spices, these he returned with and placed on a small table at the side of the steel-topped one.
......Meanwhile Sandra tried to back away, but to no avail; his hand was back around her waist. Smiling conspiratorially at her Carver said, "These help bring out the flavour - the subtle nuances - of the main ingredient."
......Reaching with his free arm into a drawer and sorted through it until he found what he wanted: a large butcher's cleaver. His grip on Sandra tightened and he looked down on her with a gleam in his eye that matched the one of the cleaver's blade.
......Suddenly things fitted into place. The strange meat from an unknown source; its restricted availability; Carver's predilection for overweight employees; the large turnover of staff; his assurances that Specials would be on the menu again tomorrow - it all made sudden, gory sense.
......With an awful realisation screaming in her brain, Sandra somehow managed to extricate herself from Carver's grasp. She backed away from the madly gloating manager, his fingers now testing the cleaver's sharpness as he came after her. Then her wide behind came up against the steel-topped table's edge. Carver towered over her, cleaver raised.
......"Now for the main ingredient."
......The next day Megaburgers was crowded to capacity. Hungry customers impatiently waited their turn at the long counter as heavily built, smiling waitresses rushed to serve them and bid them to: "Enjoy your meal."
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