Chapter 1: The Flame, Ignited
You see before you an old man, burdened and weathered by the myriad small hardships and crises of life. Such is the destiny of those who toil with their hands to harvest the Earth’s bounty. But I have not always been this way. I want to tell you a story from my prime.
Back when I was a young man—it was a simpler time back then, we called it February—my job at Subway was just that. A job. Nine to five behind the cash register. I swiped cards and made change, caught up in the hectic fervor of lunchtime and the wild fever (though I hardly dare use that word any more) of the dinner rush. The days blurred together.
Then suddenly the world began to change and soon I was Eating Fresh™ all by myself. The customers were the first to disappear. Eventually, I was the only one left.
It wasn’t all bad. I finally got to choose which Pandora station to play. No one interrupted while I practiced making change. I got very good at it.
One day last week while eating lunch, I stared forlornly at the potato chip in my hand. For an instant, time stood still and I was struck by the tragedy of growing old alone, my romantic soul forever hidden from the world. And in the silence, interrupted only by the crunching of my chip bag, my gaze fell upon a view of paradise through the glass front window.
That was the moment when I saw her. I had never noticed her before. I still don’t know her name. She’s the cashier at McDonald’s across the street. There are no customers over there either, I noticed. I put Celine Dion on Pandora and wandered in a daze over to the slushie machine. The brain freeze did nothing to cool the fire now engulfing my soul.
That was last Friday, and since then everything has been different. From that moment on, whenever I grew tired of eating the chocolate chip cookie dough or counting the straws (six hundred and nineteen), I would sit at one of the booths and stare through the glass.
She has brown hair and eats chicken nuggets with a ferocity that sometimes terrifies me. I wonder what she is hungry for, deep down. Maybe she is as lonely as I am. Perhaps, one day, she will catch my eye. I could bring her a present. Maybe a napkin. I have lots.