(Editor’s note: I have decided to experiment with very short fiction stories on this blog whose theme will tie in with compassion (offbeat or otherwise) but not necessarily with loss. (Also known as “flash fiction.” Your feedback would be invaluable. Please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet me at @chaplainkkaplan.This particular story is largely a true accounting of one of my lunch breaks at work.)
The bashful customer was at Ricky’s luncheonette for the very first time. Margaret tried to balance her need to order what she really wanted with scanning the menu quickly enough to avoid the impression that she did not belong there. She figured a safe choice for fitting in would be to order the roast turkey sub. But the food server’s question nearly put that objective into jeopardy: “What kinda bread you want?” She could have said the usual, but she figured she could push the envelope just a wee bit and ventured to request whole wheat. Not only was she still safe from charges of being odd, the server encouraged her with the information that they had multigrain as well. Relieved, she settled on the latter.
But his next question threatened to make Margaret conspicuous after all: “Whaddya want on it? Peppers? Raw onions?” She really disliked both, and did not see much else in the trays of toppings sitting within view. Too rattled to think of what would sound natural, she came out with, “Could you top it with shredded carrots and some cucumbers?” As nonchalant as could be, the server carefully noted the details of her order.
As Margaret proceeded to a booth to wait for her sub, she overheard the cook raise his voice, “This order here says ‘carrots’? Am I reading this right?” Once that was confirmed by the server, he said, “I’ve worked here for forty years, and I’ve never had an order like that! Forty years!”
Margaret failed to escape publicity after all, which she did not care to court even within the confines of an anonymous lunch place. Not only that, she threatened the thread-bare foundations of the cook’s worldview. She had made it tough for both of them. What was it like for the cook, she pondered, for an exception to his 40-year routine to spring out on him on a day that carried no portents of what was to transpire. Poor unsuspecting soul!
His world premiere sub appeared on the counter. She abashedly moved the suspect preparation from the counter to her seat, and marveled at how tasty it was. She consoled herself with the thought that maybe forcing him to at least tap at the sides of the box if not think outside it would give him that first crucial taste of adventure that would lead to so many more. Would he dare claim the carrot-topped roast turkey as his own invention and post it as an option on the menu? Maybe she would come back and see, in say, one month, after the discomfiting genesis of this knowledge had faded and the idea had resided in his brain long enough to feel innocuous.
When the cook got home from work, he told his tale around the dinner table as his wife got ready to bring the food in from the kitchen: “You’ll never guess what happened at Ricky’s. Some strange gal ordered a roast turkey sub with carrots. Never hearda that.” His wife quickly retreated with the platter in time to avert its appearance. She was serving roast turkey, which had been accompanied with buttered carrots. She figured he’d never notice the absence of a vegetable on this particular evening with buttered rolls in their stead.