What first caught my eye was her hair. She was sitting a few tables down from me at a late night McDonald’s. You couldn’t miss the hair. Screaming, neon, electric blue. I didn’t think you could get that color outside of a cartoon. I stared. You would have too.
She caught me looking. I looked away. I hadn’t missed the self-defense spray canister of Mace sitting on the table next to her left hand. Move along. Nothing to see. No one here but us harmless fellow french fry aficionados.
The hair said Notice Me! The Mace said ‘That’s close enough.’
I saw her again a few nights later. When you work the graveyard shift and work 80 hours a week, the choice of places to eat is limited. Sneer if you must at the health value of a Big Mac, lament the loss of local cuisine to an over-arching global corporate culture. Over-arching, see what I did there? I crack myself up. Anyway. At 2 am, on a cold night, hot greasy food is both warming and comforting.
So, it wasn’t a surprise to see her there again. There was a rotating cast of regulars who knew each other on sight. We’d nod. Maybe make a remark about the weather. General neighbors-in-the-big-city behavior.
What was a surprise was her hair. It was lime green.
A week later it was blond with red tips. As I walked out past her table, I gave a friendly smile and said, “Color-coordinated. Nice.”
She gave me a flat stare. I left.
Did she not get it? I mean, she’s sitting at McDonald’s with yellow and red hair, how could she not realize she matched the decor?
Of course she realized. She just thought I was an idiot for pointing it out. I was going for clever and overshot. I obsessed about the Internet adage: *“The failure mode of clever is ‘asshole.’ ”
It was a few days before I saw her again. When she came in, she ignored me. She sat down. Ate without looking at me. I tried to be encouraged that she chose a seat approximately the same distance away. At least I hadn’t caused her to retreat to the far side of the dining area.
She finished her meal ¨C grilled chicken, double fries, water ¨C gathered her garbage and rose to leave. Passing in front of my table, she stopped. Without looking at me, she said, “Originally, the chairs were designed so you would hunch over your food and eat faster.” Then she walked on, dumped her tray, and left.
The next time, she was there before me. I sat a few tables away from her. A little closer than previously but nothing that would qualify as stalker distance. As the mandatory unwrapping and meal preparation commenced, I held up a fry. “McDonald’s uses an average of 250 pounds of potatoes per day per store.”
She nodded. We ate in silence.
A few minutes later, she held up one of her fries and regarded it. “I wonder if their potato chopping machine is big enough to chop up a person.” She looked over at me. “A night-shift worker could have a side hustle of disposing of bodies in between fry batches.”
I probably should have looked horrified. A normal person would have looked horrified. Seven years of working in an ER does strange things to your brain.
I shook my head. “Wouldn’t help. You’d still have the same amount of material when you were done, just sliced. A proper body disposable service would reduce the amount to be disposed of. Dissolution. Combustion. One of those methods.”
She nodded. We finished our meals in silence and left.
I wish I could say that I sensed her deep kindness. Or I that sensed her pain and knew she must be approached as one would approach a wounded bird or some other condescending animal trainer bullshit. The truth was simple. I was bored. I was lonely. And I really wanted to know what was up with that hair.
I didn’t see her for a few weeks. Changed jobs? Changed McDonald’s? I was surprised at how much I missed her. We had not exchanged more than a few words. Yet I was starting to count her as a friend.
Which says something about our mutual attraction, and about my limited social life.
She came back. Her hair was jet black with a wide, white stripe. As she walked over carrying her tray, I nodded and raised my eyebrows.
‘Business trip.” She paused. “Long one.”
I nodded again. “Did they have a McDonald’s?”
She smiled. She sat down at my table.
A few months later, we were sitting at our table.
“If we got married, we could have the wedding catered by McDonald’s,” I said.
She sat back in her seat, “We are getting married?”
I held up an admonishing finger. “If, IF, two people, who had meet at a McDonald’s, were to get married, hypothetically, it is amusing to envision a wedding reception with burgers and heat lamps.”
She leaned forward. “The cake would be a fortress made of apple pies.”
“You would wear a ¨C I paused to check her current hair color ¨C magenta taffeta gown.”
“What would you wear?”
“Oh that’s easy.” I gestured at myself. “Matching scrubs.”
“The wedding favors would be in Happy Meal boxes.”
We both paused to imagine the uproar this would cause. We both smiled. And that is why I proposed to her at McDonald’s.
Katherine Walcott is a freelance writer and journalist who is wandering into the forests of fiction.