CG Burger is the worst, there is no McDonalds here, no fast food of any kind, CG is the only "quaint cafe" in town so everyone has to pack in there to get their overpriced burgers which taste like garbage. CG is by default the bustling hub of activity around here, more a function of need than want. even their name, CG, is fake and computer-generated.
"Phoenix! Phoenix! i'm calling you! didn't you hear me?!"
"no, Aunt Su, i really didn't, i actually didn't hear you, i'm not being evasive. i have the tv low, it's not that, these walls must be thicker than we thought."
Auntie was back from her surgery, four days in the hospital and two to six weeks in recovery here at home, which meant i had to be her sole caretaker, and which meant two was sure to be more six than two. i was happy to do it, i love my aunt, always will, but i had the feeling that after the two-week mark, her demands would become more demanding and less cute. i hadn't had a decent meal since she left. that was my fault for never learning how to cook and always relying on her for a hot lunch. sudden surgery will exacerbate a quandary like this, bring it to the fierce light of day and bang you over the head with it. at any rate, i needed real sustenance, no more ramen, real food, even a fucking CG Burger. i was so hungry i was willing to traverse that dusty road and risk my life crossing at night the legal-100mph highway that divided my neighborhood from the mall for a chili burger.
also, i had to just get out, i had to breathe in the night air, it would be good for me, i was too cooped up at home---really in the four walls of my room---during her entire hospital stay, twiddling my thumbs and having no idea what to do next. at least her return reset things a bit, stopped my inertia, and restarted me back again on track to the routine we had before.
out of the house, and the world is new again. it's so strange that although CG Burger and the mall it's in are walking distance one block away from the house, it felt like i was discovering this mall anew for the first time as a visitor from Scotland or somewhere. the mall looked extremely different at night, the daytime killed its charm, the night presented its actual charm, not the charm in the brochure. it was a winter wonderland, a snowless wonderland but a beautiful December 31 cold with trees adorned gracefully with a billion white lights like the billion stars in the sky which complemented it above. it was night, really night, it was black, not dark blue, it was a giant nothing canvas background of black on which those white-light pinpoints could shine the brightest and show off the highest. darkest before the dawn, right?
one tree in particular caught my gaze as i trudged upon the cobblestone walkway through the mall, feeling it in my shins, i hadn't walked this much since my 3rd-grade school marathon. it was a huge proud shining oak glistening with lights all up in its branches, towering to light up the entire mall, firmly planted in the center of all the action. i walked up to it, right under it, and lifted my head up as far as my shoulders could stretch to get a straight-up-aboveview of the giant plant. all the lights blinded me for a second, but it was a pricking of blindness, not a big swath all at once, my eyesight became gauzy like a dream, i dreamed of building a treehouse on top of it and living there forever.
i reached CG, wasn't as bustling as you'd think with this being New Year's Eve. the tv showing all the football games was smaller than i had remembered. there really wasn't anyone here, a few revelers who were hurriedly swallowing their french fries and SLAMMING, CLICK HERE, RIGHT HERE AT THIS LINK down their peanut-butter smoothies to get to the real party, a dad with his two daughters, dad crying with his head in his hands, the tears falling through the holes in his fingers, the daughters lost to the world texting furiously on their phones with Miley covers. hadn't seen her before,
wow! what a babe! tight jeans, nice ass, tight company-issue CG red shirt, her medium breasts really made the C and the G readable, nipples visible, no bra, one simple silver hoop earring in each ear, straight raven hair in a ponytail, standard-issue red CG hair clip, cute ears, freckles, adorable smile, gleaming eyes like the billion stars.
she was more magic than the tree.
before i had a chance to sit down in my usual chair separated from the main dining hall---that area where suckers order restaurant-food to go and just wait for the damn food with nothing to do at the front but stare out the window---she attacks me with a sparkler. well, she offers a mini-sparkler to me.
"Happy New Year!" thank god she has a normal, tender voice. no baby voice, no Valley Girl voice.
"aren't fireworks illegal in this state? especially indoors?"
"i think it's everything but sparklers. these are tiny so it's okay. also, they're not really sparklers, it's just an illusion."
but how? it looked real. can fireworks be illusions like this? was it a hologram the same way the universe is a hologram? did i miss a day in science class? did i miss a day scanning the HuffPo headlines? dunno, it just was.
"so, yeah, a..."
"i know, chili-burger, well-done..."
"have we met before? how do you know my order?"
"you're a valued customer. everyone knows you around here."
maybe. it's very possible she wasn't new, she could have been working there for a while, working on days i never came in. i actually couldn't remember the last time i was forced to enter a CG Burger. it could have been three months ago or maybe a year. whatever, she was hot, but was i really that valuable a customer? was i really a person of value? again, it was a year ago...
"any plans later tonight? New Year's?" that sexy smile of hers.
"oh, it's all the same every year, all the same holidays, i abandoned them years ago. i dunno, what do they do here again locally? i'm usually watching tv, oblivious to the world." did i just say that, actually say that? that's something that usually remains in my head's silent thoughts.
"oh, well, there's always the Rose Parade on tv if you like tv. and the usual Bowl games. you like football?"
"no, not really." don't know why i said that, i like football, i've liked it for a decade now, maybe that answer would have applied when i was in 3rd grade...
"and there's the suicide marathon..."
what a brilliant name! what a gorgeously goth concept: suicide marathon. "suicide marathon?"
"yeah, you know, everyone gets up early New Year's Day to walk a marathon past the mall, past CG, past your house, all for suicide prevention?"
"oh yeah," i did remember that, i had forgotten about that, that was always quite the sight on Jan 1, i'd always look out my window---tear myself from my tv screen for a moment---and see all the beautiful colors the runners were wearing barreling down the street, and the bullhorn voice of someone in the far distance directing traffic but it was never decipherable as to what he was saying. "suicide" sounds like "Satan" when muffled like that.
i chuckled a bit. "yeah, 'cause the first thing you think of when you start a brand new year of hope is killing yourself." she laughed. gorgeous laugh. i won. of course i was being serious, she thought it was just a joke.
"here we go, want mustard and ketchup with that? salt and pepper? knife? spoon? napkins? extra napkins?" the napkins were just brown, paper-thin bits of nothing with the CG logo on them. "i made sure those french fries were cooked nice and crispy like you wanted."
i don't like crispy french fries. i like them soft and warm and greasy and mushy.
well, that was a treat. she made it worthwhile, all worthwhile. yeah, and the tree, too, the tree. i was happy. i smiled. i was hungry.
on the way back, i was so starved i couldn't wait, i opened up my brown bag, unwrapped the beige wrap and took a bite of my chili burger. sun was coming up. lights were off.
it tasted like garbage.