Marvin stepped through the front door of his establishment and onto the sidewalk. He looked up into the midday autumn sky. He stretched his arms out and yelled, “Screw you daddy!”
“Shut the hell up son,” came a gruff scream from somewhere else in town.
Marvin laughed. He felt the world was in his palm. Word of his special ketchup was spreading far and wide. Far for Marvin was 30 minutes away. He’d never been farther than Normville, whose occupants were now driving to his diner to experience his delicacy. He now called his concoction ‘Sweet Paste’ as he didn’t want to be accused of selling something that wasn’t really ketchup. ‘People will sue for crazy things,’ he thought. Sweet paste was his opportunity to make a name for himself, despite his track record.
His father had always told him, “Marvin you’re an idiot. Opportunity won’t knock for you, it’ll only knock you up. Like your random minded sister.” For years Marvin felt his father was right, every time he thought he was going to drink from the champaign of success it always turned into the liquid shit of abject failure. His father helpfully chanted after each occasion, “Got knocked up again, didn’t ya.”
But now, for the first time, he knew this was his moment. “No more drinking liquid shit for me,” Marvin yelled with emphasis. A young boy, just then walking up the street, looked at Marvin and just shook his head. To pounce on this opportunity, Marvin had purchased 20 cases of the oldest tomato paste he could find. He stored them in the back of the diner. Each one opened to ferment to perfection. He secretly tested new variations on Mr. White and Mr. Black, the two retired carpenters turned lazy spies. They were his most valuable patrons. They kept eating the ketchup and giving him written reviews on napkins. The fact they didn’t die was a nice bonus. Though Marvin noticed he did run through a lot more toilet paper at the diner. He’d have to buy more and painstakingly separate all the two-ply sheets into one-ply. But that was a worry for another day.
Marvin looked up Parford’s Main Street and his smile diminished. An elderly lady walked along the opposite side of the street. Her pace was brisk. Marvin imagined she was fueled with pure spite. “Hi Helen. Lovely day.” His voice cracked.
“Oh, sweetie, you’re talking to me. You know my rule,” she replied without slowing her gait or even looking at him.
“What rule is that, Helen?”
“You can’t be talking to me, Marvin. Best be about your business,” Helen said and continued her sprint walk.
Marvin watched Helen. Her voice was always light with an air of kindness. He knew it hid her rotten core. She carried a thin, flexible walking stick, which wasn’t meant for walking. He’d seen her use it to fend off adversaries at the local flea market. Her cane whipping ability struck fear in every behind in Parford and the tri-counties for that matter. He shook his head. “Damn flea market.”
The last time he went to the Parford flea market he got a black eye because he happened to be looking at something someone else was interested in because he was looking at it. The time before that someone hip-checked him to the ground as he looked at a certain sports trading card. And the time before that his Adam’s apple took a karate chop from Helen because, she claimed, he was going to buy a garish candle holder she had her eye on. No matter how much he pleaded that he was only looking at it, and had no interest in buying it, it didn’t stop Helen from fetching her walking stick. Marvin had fled in terror.
Marvin vowed never to look at anything at the flea market again. Even driving by he’d close his eyes until well past it. It resulted in several accidents; mostly him going into the ditch at low speeds. He shook away the unpleasant memory. He smiled as an idea struck him. “I seen Hazel do that stretch of street in less time.”
“Oh sweetie,” Helen said. “That crippled crone couldn’t catch a cold in winter.”
“Well now, Helen,” Marvin said, persisting in his amusement. He knew he toyed with the devil, but his success provided him a new found confidence. “Hazel is spry. Why she even got her nails done here. She’s looking mighty ravishing.”
“More like a right ravaged rat,” Helen said.
“I have an octogenarian deal right now,” Marvin yelled.
“Marvin,” Helen said, stopping abruptly and turning to look at him. She waggled her walking stick in his direction and he took an involuntary step back. “Might your mouth stop moving for just one minute?”
Marvin wilted under her glare. He felt tingling fear rise up his abdomen and shrink his testicles. He smiled, though it was more like the grin of a rhesus monkey, with the skin around his mouth tight from panic. She continued to stare at him and he continued to fear-smile back. She stared. He smiled. Finally, when the muscles in his face were so tight they hurt, he spoke. “Ha… Have a good day Helen.” His words passed through clenched teeth. He watched her turn and continue down the street.
“Told off by the elderly again?”
Marvin jumped and spun to see his accuser. “Oh, Wallis. Didn’t hear you. Want a burger?” His mouth twitched from still smiling.
“No, but I’m wondering.” Wallis glanced at the neglected facade of the diner. The sign simply read Diner and Spa. Though only five letters lit up, which spelled ‘Die pa.’ Marvin had removed the bulbs from most of the letters to save money on electricity. It also helped that it sent a message to his hated father. “Would you let me use a table in your establishment?”
“They’re for paying customers I’m afraid,” Marvin said.
“Ok, I’ll pay for a lunch deal,” Wallis said as he followed Marvin inside.
“Wonderful, it will be ready in about ten minutes.” Marvin’s mouth twitched and he brought up a hand to stop it.
“Oh you misunderstand, Marvin. I will pay for a meal, but I don’t actually want you to serve it to me. I’d hate to have your food anywhere near my mouth. Or my person, really.” Wallis smiled. “I want to keep my health.”
“That sounds absolutely perfect,” Marvin exclaimed. He reveled at the idea of getting paid for a meal and not having to waste time or food or giving a damn preparing it. Only in the lonely hours of the next morning would he feel insulted. “Here, sit here.” He pointed to a table by the front window. His smile now caused the tendons in his neck to ache.
“This is much too public,” Wallis said, turning his nose up in such a haughty disdain that it put a sudden crick in his neck. He immediately grabbed his neck. “I don’t want people believing I associate with you.”
“Sure, then sit wherever you’d like,” Marvin said. His mouth twitched again and he put a hand to the muscle to calm it. He wouldn’t feel insulted for a couple of days.
Marvin watched Wallis select a table beside Mr. Black and Mr. White. The two retired carpenters busily slurped cola through used straws and doused French fries the special Sweet Paste.
“I can’t eat another bite,” Mr. Black said as he took another bite. His chewing slowed and after a moment he swallowed the cud.
“I know,” Mr. White said, himself jamming several fries into his mouth. “Um geddin’ mull, moo.” Bits of fries landed on the table.
“What?” Mr. Black said, taking another nibble.
Mr. White swallowed in a way that looked painful. He stretched his neck forward and bobbed his head down and up as if he neck was a lever pushing food down. “I said I’m getting full, too.”
“Oh,” Mr. Black said. “What news have you got, today?”
“Councillor O’Shea hit Lyn’s Liquor and Lamb Shoppe pretty hard. Heard he spent around $500 on booze and $600 on baby lamb meat,” Mr. White said.
“Baby lamb meat… Hey Marvin, when you gettin’ a baby lamb meat burger?” Mr. Black asked.
“When you’re able to chew with your mouth closed. It’d be a waste of expensive meat having it shot all throughout the diner,” Marvin yelled back. “I’m tired of cleaning the wall after you’ve eaten.”
In reality, the only way Marvin figured he’d be able to get lamb meat would be to kid-nap some baby lambs and slaughter them himself, in secret. “That’s how serial killers start.” He shuddered. Or, he could do what he’d always done, just label the burgers lamb meat, like he labeled his burgers beef. No one need know he scoured the back roads for roadkill. The kill had to be within a few hours. Marvin did have his standards. When he drove he made sure to never go down the road with the Parford Flea Market.
He looked at Wallis. Wallis leaned over so far to hear White’s and Black’s conversation that he almost fell out of his chair. “Something is up,” Marvin said to himself and went to make a phone call.
“Councillor Jamison,” Mr. White said. “Well I’ve been told he’s wearing wooden shoes and has put a confederate flag up at his house. Which, as one of the few black people around, is a little disconcerting.”
“It’s the Norwegian flag,” Wallis said, not able to contain his superior world knowledge.
“What?” Mr. White said.
“Here look,” Wallis said, showing a picture of Norway’s flag on his phone.
“It’s not the stars and bars, thankfully. That kind of crap publicity would ruin my business.”
“How?” Mr. Black asked, taking yet another bit of food and groaning, clutching his chest as he chewed.
“I don’t want to serve a diminishing demographic,” Wallis said.
“It ain’t diminishing from where I sit. Certainly, not now,” Mr. White said.
I know,” Wallis said. “My family fought on the Union side-”
“Seems everyone’s family fought on the Union side,” Mr. White said. “At least in public, but in private everyone’s a little more Ol’ South, if you catch my meaning.”
“I’m sorry if I’ve ever given you reason…” Wallis said and saw his crematorium empire collapsing before his eyes. “I’ll give your family a discount on any services I provide.”
“Hopin’ we die off?” Mr. White said.
“Dear lord no… I’m.. I… I…” Wallis stammered and his face contorted. “I DON’T WANT BLACK PEOPLE TO DIE!”
“Take it easy. You gonna give yourself a stroke,” Mr. White said. “I’m maybe bein’ a little paranoid. I’ll drive by Councillor Jamison’s house and make sure myself.”
“Why is Councillor Jamison suddenly got a liking for Norway? Doesn’t he hate fish and hockey and ice and foreigners?” Mr. Black asked. “He’s always said the National Hockey League is just a pretext for a Canadian invasion.” He swayed a little in his chair, yet still eyed his plate of almost finished food. “I do hate wasting the Mayor’s money…” His hand shook as he reached for a fry.
“Could be a cult of some kind,” Mr. White said. “Those Norway folk were Vikings ya know. They like making a din that’s for sure.”
“I’m not sure Norwegians like to make a din,” Wallis said. He didn’t want to be involved in any conversation that targeted any demographic that could be potential residents of his crematorium. Wallis puffed his chest out a little. He felt he was the least prejudiced man alive. He’d service any person’s final needs regardless of race. He wanted to be able to fill his plots and have his jam too, after all. In the end, everyone provides the same food for worms.
“O’ din this, o’ din that. Everything is din,” Mr. White said.
“That’s Odin,” Wallis said. “A father-god type character from ancient Viking myth.”
“So, it IS a cult,” Mr. White said.
“It’s infiltrated City Hall,” Mr. Black said. He belched up a bit of food, re-chewed it and swallowed it again. He grimaced and massaged his throat.
Before Wallis could respond with disgust Willard burst into the Diner. “This is my side of Main St. What are you doing here?!”
“Talk about civil war,” Mr. White said to Mr. Black. “Brother against brother.”
“Better make notes,” Mr. Black said and got out a cleanish napkin.
“I’m not free to move about the town as others do?” Wallis asked.
“This is the working class side of town you board-saw,” Willard yelled.
“Board-saw? I don’t even know what that means,” Wallis said.
“Bourgeois,” Marvin advised, peering over the counter at the two brothers. “He’s been watching a Karl Marx documentary.”
“You’re a communist.” Wallis pointed a finger at Willard.
“What? No. But I know you’re scum. What with your materialist ways, putting down the worker, capitalist mentality, and all around exploiting people for your own ends.” Willard folded his arms over his chest.
“What is a capitalist?” Wallis asked.
“Some one who.” Willard glanced at everyone, unsure of how to respond. “Some one who wants to live in the state capital. And that’s you with your controlling the wealth ways!”
“You’re an ignorant communist.” Wallis laughed. “Well then I’d best leave.” He rose from the table. Marvin rushed over with a bill. Wallis looked at it a moment and frowned. “The ultra-deluxe lunch special $39.50! I didn’t order this.”
“Technically, you didn’t order anything,” Mr. White said.
“Yeah, but you agreed to pay for it,” Mr. Black said while continuing to write on his napkin. “We all heard you.”
“Who’s the capitalist pig now?” Wallis asked. “I’ll remember this, Marvin.” Wallis pointed at Marvin, holding the pose for an unduly long time. In a huff he eventually paid and left.
“I won! He left. I won,” Willard yelled and whooped. He rushed to the front door and saluted his brother’s back with a a triumphant middle finger. He came back to the others, nodding. “We did it.”
“Workers of the world unite,” Mr. White said and both he and Mr. Black resumed eating.
Marvin however, felt his testicles shrink. He hated threats.