America

Zach flipped the hair out of his eyes for like the hundredth time.

“Welcome to McDonald’s. May I take your order?”

Ever since he had gotten it colored and straightened because Amy thought it would look “smokey,” whatever that meant, it had just been bugging him.

“America.”

Zach pulled a string of his black hair down between his eyes and looked at it. He was wondering if the hair color actually got into the hair or just sort-of covered it like paint. He was wondering how hard it would be to reverse. Do they make hair dye reversal kits? The pose — staring at his own hair — made his eyes look up and toward each other. Taken together with the rest of his shoulder-length straightened purple-black hair and sickly white skin, this made him look like a mentally ill gothic mendicant, eyes to heaven, ghoulish intentions in his heart, or so he would have thought if he could have seen himself, and if he knew what “mendicant” meant. He broke the pose to tap the headset strapped to his perfectly straightened hair.

“Welcome to McDonald’s. May I take your order?” he said again.

“[Crackle, pop] America [static]”

Zach frowned and smacked the earpiece again. “I’m sorry, would you repeat your order?”

“I want [indistinguishable] America!”

“I’m sorry, sir. All I’m hearing is ‘America’. Just a moment.” Zach took the headset off, flipped the power switch, counted to five in his head, then switched it back on. “Ok, sorry about that, sir. Were you asking if our cheeseburgers have American cheese? They do.”

“No! I just [swooshing sound] -ing America!”

“Sir, are you ordering America?”

“[Static]”

“Sir, please pull forward.”

As the blue sedan inched away from the signboard, Zach could see a stack of other cars behind it. He sighed. If the line got longer than five cars, it triggered fast-food armageddon. His boss, Brent, would tolerate almost any infraction — being late to work, texting at work, screwing up an order, injecting ebola into the all-beef patties — literally anything except a five-car line. When the line got to five cars, Brent started yelling.

Zach made a mental note to ask Brent to upgrade the headsets, which was weird because Zach never made mental notes. Then he opened the tiny window that had been engineered for convenient exchanges through the driver side window of a late model American-made crossover, but with dimensions restrictive enough to inhibit any customer-to-employee violence, which was a thing, and stuck his head out.

Then he saw the problem; or at least part of the problem; the headsets were still a problem. The driver of the blue sedan was a old Asian dude. Asians are the worst, Zach thought. And then he quickly added, even though it was only in his head, Not as people in general, just as orderers because, generally speaking, they can be hard to understand. Sometimes. Is that good? Yes. Good. I’m not racist.

“America!”

Zach snapped out of his reverie and locked eyes with the Asian man.

“Hello sir,” this would have been a good place to insert a smile, but Zach was out of practice at that, so he didn’t. “What is your order?”

“America!”

Zach made the kind-of “um” sound that you make when your mouth stays open. “Uhhhhhhh…you want to order America?”

“Yes!” the Asian man said, in what sounded like a thick accent but Zach couldn’t tell because he was only saying one word. “America!”

“Sir, we don’t serve America.”

“America!”

“Just a moment, sir.”

Zach pulled his head back through the tiny window, careful not to bang it on the steel frame built to deter customer-to-employee violence — he knew to do this because he wasn’t a rookie — and started to call for Brent. But just then a miracle happened. On the screen in front of his register — the screen that showed the orders — Zach saw, in big red flashing capital letters, the word “A-M-E-R-I-C-A” with little dashes in between each letter. He blinked. Then, he saw movement to his right and noticed something new. There was one of those burger slides — the stainless steel ramps where the guys in the back put the burgers when they’re done making them so that the counter staff can fill the orders. But this burger slide was huge. It seemed to reach all the way across the restaurant. And at the top there was a bright light, brighter than any light Zach had ever seen. Zach squinted into the light and saw a shadowy shape in front of it. Then the shape descended the burger slide, coming right at Zach, but more slowly than an actual slide, as if gravity wasn’t working right. It was more like a march, or a parade. Then the shape stopped right in front of Zach. It was a burger. Wrapped in red, white and blue paper. Zach picked it up.

He looked at the burger in his hand and felt a swell of something that may have been pride. Like a hero must feel, he thought. Like Peeta must have felt that one time he got over on the Capitol by threatening suicide, even though he wouldn’t have really done it if they had called his bluff, and also it wasn’t really him that was the hero so much as Katniss, and also it was just a movie. But still, he seemed awesome in the moment. What would Amy think about Zach holding America in his hands? Would Brent give him a raise? Zach thrust the burger into the air and said, “Haha! Did you see that?!”

No one had. The giant burger slide was gone. None of his coworkers were in sight. There was one customer at the counter who looked blankly at Zach and the burger lifted high, and then looked at her phone. Zach looked out the window to the Asian man who was tapping his fingers on the steering wheel of the blue sedan. He hadn’t seen it either. Zach grabbed a paper sack and dropped the burger in. It fell through the bottom of the sack because it was so heavy and grease-soaked. Zach picked it up off the floor, double-bagged it, and handed it to the Asian man.

“How much,” the Asian man said.

“No charge,” Zach said. “America is free.”

The man furrowed his brow as if he disagreed, or at least, had a lot of thoughts on the matter, and started to pull away.

Zach felt a bolt of panic, as if the whole experience was about to leave forever. As if his memory of double-bagged America and all the significance it carried was leaving with that blue sedan. He scrambled for the window and poked his head out, looking for something, anything, to make it real. A token to keep. Confirmation that he wasn’t crazy.

And then he saw it. The make of the blue sedan, emblazoned on the top left corner of the trunk and encircled by an eternal ring: FORD.

And above the FORD logo, rising out of the driver side window like the iron arm of Lady Liberty, pointing to a sky of limitless freedom and opportunity, the Asian man lifted his hand in a salute that showed patriotism, courage, candor, and hope. And his middle finger.

Wow. Zach though to himself. America was real.

Flipping the hair out of his eyes and raising his own hand to return the wave, Zach whispered softly, “Good-bye, America.”

Ryan SandersComment