Illustrated by BeakerFA
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~ One ~
The only time June even considered stopping at a fast food restaurant was when she was on the road. At home, she typically shunned 'em and for all the obvious reasons: though every eatery gave lip service to offering low-cal fare, one look at the clientele was enough to tell you how superficial that claim was. Clearly, the big draw in these joints was the fattening fare, and as someone hyper-conscious about the way she looked as a professional woman, she habitually steered clear of high-cal items. The daughter of two well-fed midwestern farmers and the first in her family to get a college education, June had worked hard to outgrow the trappings of her rural heritage. In her mind, fatness was a major part of that package.
As an adult single woman in her early thirties, June could hardly be called "fat." Her 5'9" body was trimly shapely, with a bit more breast than she preferred (men may've dug 'em, but they didn't have to deal with the late-night backaches) and fulsomely curvy calves. On the job, she favored skirts that showed the latter off, though she also made a point of selecting loose enough blouses so no one could accuse her of unprofessionally packaging her DDs. Working as a reviewer in the social services field, she came into contact with other professional women regularly; in her experience, these ladies could be snappishly judgmental when it came to the unwritten dress code.
In any case, June was slim and pretty (she had the kind of fresh-faced womanliness you associated with models in magazine facial cream ads) and intended to remain that way by avoiding fattening foods as much as possible. At least twice a month, however, her job required her to travel around the state, visiting hospitals and social service agencies to examine their client records. Much of this work was basic auditing - checking to make sure all the expected contractual elements were in place - and it operated on a three-year cycle: a certification review, follow-up a year later and a brief technical assistance review in year three. As an auditor, she was swiftly efficient. Where many of her peers typically took two days to complete a single review, June was able to zip through in one. Fast food dining was a part of the process. Only good reason she knew to even enter a burger place was to facilitate a speedy review, get in and out of town quickly.
Which is why she found herself one summer afternoon at a nondescript burger joint in a city by the Illinois River. She'd asked her agency contact, girlishly plump young Quality Assurance Coordinator about five years younger and fifty pounds heavier than June, if she could recommend a good place nearby. "Aaron's Eatery," had been the answer. "It's not a chain, but they're quick and good and most of the townees know to eat there."
"Quick is best," June had answered, and she'd grabbed her purse and headed out for a speedy meal. The eatery in question was three blocks away, a prefab construction that looked like it might've once housed a more familiar franchise, though its sign was agreeably hand-painted with a cartoon headshot of a grinning mustachioed man who presumably was supposed to be Aaron. As she stepped out of the car, June's pert nose was struck by the tantalizing scent of grilled beef.
Inside, the setting could've passed for a MacDonald's or Arby's with one noticeable difference: all the prefab booths were twice as roomy as you usually saw in a chain restaurant. Good thing, too, since at least half the customers that she saw at the counter obviously required the extra space. They wobbled from counter to booth, holding their overstuffed trays out away from their distended paunches, jowled faces quivering, an army of overfed Illinoisans. She'd never seen so many portly men and women in one restaurant. In the background, a series of rock 'n' roll oldies was playing, Fats Domino declaring that he was ready, willin' and able to rock 'n' roll all night. Somehow, she doubted that any of the out-of-shape regulars here could make a comparable claim . . .
June's usual routine was to order a sandwich and a pop to go, then take it back to where she was conducting her review. But today, when the round-faced teenager behind the counter asked if her order was "for here" or "to go," she uncharacteristically decided to eat in. Her audit was ahead of schedule, and, besides, it'd provide a good object lesson to dine in the company of all these overfed farmlanders. She ordered a small cheeseburger (you could get it in quarter or half-pound size), a small bag of fries and a diet cola - then took her stash to a booth that afforded the best view of the other customers.
First one she glommed onto was a pretty-faced woman, maybe five years her senior, sitting in a booth by herself. Roundly obese, in a pair of dark poly slacks and a billowing cotton top decorated with stylized floral patterns which did nothing to hide her overfed forefront, wearing a pair of white walking shows that barely looked used, the portly gal was energetically digging into what looked to be a half-pounder, regularly taking deep swallows from a super-sized milk shake. (Not even bothering with the pretense of a Diet Coke, June thought with a grin.) On her left hand, a simple gold wedding band could be seen biting into a pudgy finger. Husband probably lost interest in her years ago, June decided, so she decided to fill her time eating.
She sat, silently dining with a faraway expression on her porcine face, heedless of the fact that June was watching her. The woman's dark hair was short - much shorter than June's pinned up blond locks - and neatly coiffed, while her face was subtly made up. She looked like the kind of globular farm wife June remembered from childhood family gatherings, only slightly better dressed. You didn't often expect a woman her size (300 pounds, perhaps?) to pay so much attention to the way she presented herself in public. Especially when her time out meant lunching at a modest burger place.
But - be fair - they did know how to make a good cheeseburger at Aaron's Eatery. The meat was especially juicy, flavorful, and obviously came from a well-marbled cut of beef. (Fat, she remembered once reading, was where you found much of the burger flavor.) As she took a second deep bite, June noticed something else about her fellow diners: while they carried on chattily waiting for their meals at the counter, there wasn't a lot of idle conversation going on in the booths. Once they sat down to eat, not a one - man, woman or podgy child - wasted much time talking. They sat instead, silently and appreciatively working on their meals.
June couldn't blame 'em. She was having a difficult time herself tearing her attention from her own cheeseburger. Each bite released a burst of flavor that made her usual diet-smart dining seem pallid in her memory. Good thing there wasn't an Aaron's in her hometown, she thought; if there was, she'd soon need to be digging out her mother's old caftans . . .
As she finished her sandwich (half wishing she'd had the foresight to order a half-pounder), the moon-faced counter girl showed by the side of her booth. "Like one of our special after dinner mints?" she asked, brandishing a bowl filled with tiny wrapped candies. "Aaron makes 'em himself." Nodding, June reached and picked out a single mint, then took a second 'un for later. As she rose, the fat woman she'd been watching similarly stood and headed back toward the counter. On her way, she smiled at June as the reviewer popped the homemade Aaron's mint into her mouth.
Sometimes, when June ate fast food for the first time in weeks, she really felt it afterwards in the pit of her stomach. But perhaps it was the peppermints, because by the time she returned to her car, she felt as if she'd only eaten a light snack. She returned to work to once more delve into the agency files, stopping only twice in the afternoon to buy a snack from the break room vending machine, and was done with the job per her usual efficacious time-line.
Quitting time was 4:00 p.m., and, in anticipation of the two-hour drive home, she decided to stop at Aaron's on the way out of town. Wasn't something she usually did, but over the last hour, she'd been flashing back to how good her lunch had tasted. She usually tried to avoid eating in the car - it was too easy to spill glop on the car seat or, worse yet, her work dress - but just this once wouldn't be a problem.
This time, June ordered the half-pounder . . .
Text Copyright 2005 (c) - OakHaus Designs
Illustrations Copyright 2005 (c) - BeakerFA