Marek Laredo quit his job at the office, broke up with his girlfriend, Sarah, and headed along the highway to the badlands of Death Valley in his blood-red Chevy Camaro. At mile fourteen, he pulled over to the side of the road and whipped his stale necktie out of the air-conditioned interior and into the parched California desert.
Marek leaned back behind the wheel and brushed his wild, curly hair aside. He stepped on the gas and then set his car on cruise control through a smooth stretch of highway.
At Leadfield he spotted an exit sign and turned off the highway for a hot meal. Leadfield was a quiet town with little pink houses and big green lawns. At Tot’s Diner, Marek pulled into the parking lot and screeched to a halt.
Tot’s Diner seemed no different from any of the countless dives Marek had visited in his life. A young man in an apron dragged a dirty mop along the cracked linoleum floor. Obese customers bulged out of shabby blue vinyl booths. A man in a trucker cap shovelled eggs and meat down his throat. A ceiling fan spun overhead, sprinkling years of collected dust onto plates below. As Marek peeled off his shades, a few of the men caught his gaze. Quiet murmuring filled his ears. From one of the booths, the town’s sheriff, gave him the stink eye while chewing a mouthful of steak. You keep your nose clean in my town, son, said the sheriff.
Marek nodded and cracked a thin smile. Play the game, Marek thought. You can wreak vengeance on the drive out but for now, don’t step out of line. The walls of the diner were battleship grey, but the paint had clearly been white once. Feels like I’m in the hull of a ship, Marek whispered. He took a booth by the window so he could see his car.
Need a menu, honey? asked the waitress, a plump middle-aged woman with dull black hair.
Yes, please, he replied. The waitress handed him the menu, a single laminated sheet of lined paper. He immediately decided on the bacon and tomato sandwich. I’ll have a bacon and tomato sandwich, please, he said.
Do you want lettuce with that? she asked, and Marek responded positively.
Hey, that’s just a BLT! said Marek. He laughed awkwardly. The waitress stared at him. The sheriff glared at Marek, clenching a fork between his pale fingers.
Come on, it was just a joke, said Marek. The waitress glared at him. Her stomach bulged from the weight of her heaving breaths. Beads of sweat trickled down her forehead. The metallic ping of cutlery striking linoleum resounded throughout the diner. Marek could feel everyone in the room staring at him with hostility. Amid the silence, someone said, His sorry ass is finished. Marek trembled but couldn’t decide what to do.
The waitress abruptly stormed off toward the kitchen. Marek seized the opportunity to scramble for the exit. His feet skidded on the damp floor. He kicked open the door and ran into the parking lot. He dropped his keys in the dirt. His hands clawed at the car door.
The waitress stepped outside and pulled a pistol from the pocket of her apron. She aimed and shot Marek through the temple. His corpse fell to the ground. No, it ain’t just a BLT, said the waitress. Pity it took your worthless life for you to figure that out.
Racan Souiedan has written creative non-fiction and journalism pieces for Kicks Magazine, Papercubs, Terminal City, the Peak, and Sad Mag.