Adapted from an old college paper circa late 1980s:
“About Every Six Months Or So”
About every six months or so I have a craving… I desire the smell and taste of ground up, red, bovine flesh usually formed into a circular disk and which is best prepared, grilled or broiled over an open flame, sizzling to medium-well perfection. This is no BBQ “oinker” with a red round apple in its mouth, or the stomach turning nausea experienced [because of a pork allergy] when roommates wake one up with the sound and smell of pork strips frying to a curly, crinkly, crispy, tar-like color early on Sunday morning. No, this is the experience of a ground Angus burger patty that has a squirt of thick rich ketchup, a thin spreading of potent Dijon mustard, a thick juicy beefsteak tomato slice; and of course a large vibrant green leaf of lettuce all trapped within a Kaiser roll. Please note that sometimes when the mood strikes, a slice of aged Swiss cheese and sautéed mushrooms, or on a very rare occasion maybe a sour pickle or relish on the side is a positive addition to the order of the day.
As I drove down the wide, wet boulevard toward Flakey Jake’s in Tempe, and I wondered to myself, “I’ve been so good lately, so why do I crave these sensations? I know that am a divine spirit temporarily encased in human flesh, and yet why do I desire to consume the charred remains of some dead animal whose only purpose in life was to eventually become meals for some cannibalistic humans?” I drove on with these questions in mind, not expecting the answers to other, unasked questions yet to come.
Eventually, I’ve arrived at my destination from across town. After cruising the crowded parking lot for nearly ten minutes, I finally spy on a romantic couple preparing to leave. Once they conclude their quick, passionate embrace in the misty cool breeze, courteously he opens the passenger door of his white Toyota 4×4 pickup, carefully assisting his young female companion inside. Once inside she reaches over to unlock the driver’s door. As he circles around the front of his pride and joy, smiling all the way, he nods to me as he notices that I’m patiently waiting for his parking spot.
Concurrently, with a forced smile on my face, I sit in my old red Mustang almost patiently waiting for the space they now occupy. Quickly the truck starts up and all of the many light begin to shine, including a tight row of KC’s on the roll bar. As they pull away the KC’s slowly fade out, and then once the way was cleared I parked my Mustang in the empty space. As I open the door and step outside on the cold, wet, drizzly, January night I smiled just slightly as I chose to celebrate my birthday alone this year, having ditched one of my night classes to treat myself before heading into work on 3rd shift at the gas station. With a shiver, I grabbed my notebook, slammed the locked door, and then dashed across the parking lot to the warm, inviting entrance of Flakey Jake’s.
Once inside the appetizing scents of baking bread, grilling burgers, and wedge cut fries fresh out of the fryer cease my olfactory receptors, triggering a drowning, saliva response in my mouth. Swallowing without hesitation as I reach the order counter; a short, cute, and giggly young, blond haired girl, asks me for my order. I briefly glanced down at her name-tag and then back to her face.
Successfully I responded clearly, concisely, full of finesse, no stutter, spittle, stumbling, or clutter, “Sure Tara, I’ll have your ½ lb. burger w/ sautéed mushrooms, a regular side of fries, and a large chocolate malt.”
“Of course sir.” She then asks, “Would you like anything else?”
I laughed, and said, “Yes, but if I told you what it was I could very well find myself thrown out of this fine establishment.”
With a hearty laugh she rang up my order, and I handed her my credit card and then she exclaimed, “Yes, and my boyfriend, the manager, wouldn’t stop at just that! But if you promise not to say anything I won’t either.” and with a wink she continued, “It’ll be our secret, and I ever breakup with him, I can’t think of any other guy I would rather go out with.”
Flushed, I told her ever so softly, “Thanks, but is a breakup probable?”
Sincerely she replied, “No, not really since we’ve been dating for over 2 years and we’re engaged to be married next month. Plus the announcements have already been mailed.”
Slightly sorrowful, I responded, “Oh- Well then congratulations! I really hope everything works out well for both of you.”
She smiled, handed me my order slip, payment receipt, and credit card then said, “Thank you. I think it will.”
I smiled back weakly as I accepted my card and receipts and replied, “You’re welcome, and thank you.” As I turned away, I’m sure I wore a slightly disappointed look on my face. Methodically, I plodded toward the far end of the counter where the self-serve soda fountain stood. Slowly, I rounded the corner past the pick-up window to the ice cream counter in the far back corner, just before the hallway leading to the restrooms.
Unexpectedly, my spirits were lifted by a tantalizingly sexy, mischievous looking, redhead. Her auburn hair sparkled and glistened in wavy-tight spirals and numerous highlights. She looked to be about my age, and she seemed ready, willing, and downright eager to exchange my malt receipt for a rich, thick, extra large, double chocolate malt. Quickly, I noticed her name-tag said Siobhan. I flashed her a warm, friendly smile, and the sizzling twinkle in her eyes put a skip back into my step and a joyful bounce in my heart, not to mention restoring a bright smile on my face.
Cheerfully, I step up to the sparkly clean freezer case of glass and chrome, and before I had a chance to say a word… As quick as lightening, she snatched the ticket for my chocolate malt from my still slightly cold, damp, left hand. After glancing over the check-marked ticket she projected with a spellbinding Irish lilt, “So, a chocolate lover you are?”
At that moment, a young man with a name-tag labeled, Steve, walked up behind Siobhan and tapped her shoulder. Without a word or even turning away to look at him, she handed my receipt to Steve.
After that moment’s pleasant shock of hearing her beautiful accent, and then an embarrassingly long hesitation from Steve’s interruption, once again flushed- I clumsily replied, “Ah yeah. I like chocolate, a lot.”
Smiling wide she impishly retorts, “And what else do you like laddie?”
Chuckling quite loudly, I fully realized in that moment- apparently the management encourages such harmless flirting with single, male guests. All for the repeat business, I would guess! Then, almost smoothly, in a forced, clearly imperfect, very fake Irish brogue I blurted a response without thinking, “Young Irish Lasses, such as yourself!”
With surprise in her eyes, she chuckled and then quickly continuing to flirt, she quipped, “Have you any other vices I should know about before I let you ask me out?”
With a sly grin, I bluntly stated a hearty, “No! Not at this time. I’d rather not spoil all of my mysteries. Shouldn’t I leave something of myself for you to discover?”
Together we laughed again, as I unblinkingly stared into her piercing emerald green eyes. We both paused, took a breath, and then I seriously asked, “I don’t yet know how to correctly pronounce your name, but I really would love to go out with you. What’s your phone number?”
Again, she very briefly laughed, and then she deeply sighed. Her mood shifted, and Siobhan said with a suddenly serious look on her face, her emerald eyes peering deeply into my soul, “Thank you for asking. It’s been a terrible week so far, but you just definitely made it much better! I wish I could go out with you, but I can’t. My husband could and would kill us both, without batting an eye. He’s a terrible drunk, and just wicked mean the rest of the time.”
Startled and yet even more enamored, I smiled warmly and just as I was about to speak- I was interrupted by the rumbling crackle of a young male voice over the intercom stating, “Number 42, your order is ready.”
I quickly smiled and said, “I understand. It’s probably not a good idea then to tempt such fates.”
Siobhan sighed, “No, it’s definitely not a good idea, though I wish we co-” stopping herself in mid-sentence – pausing just a moment with a big, genuine smile on her face she said, “Oh, by the way luv, everyone has trouble pronouncing my first name correctly the first time. It’s pronounced ‘Shivon’.”
Grinning like an idiot, I repeated her name, “Siobhan. Okay, I got it!”
“Yes you did.”
Still flashing a broad smile back, I leaned forward a bit and slipped a dollar into her nearly empty tip jar, and replied, “Thank you Siobhan. I think that’s my order number, so I should go pick-up my food now.” And with a brief stammer I struggled to continue; “I, a-um—“ sighing loudly, “Ah- Have a great night!”
Siobhan smiled back at me, and tilted her head ever so slightly forward and to her right, her thick auburn wavy spirals gently framing her soft facial features, and falling just past her shoulders as I grabbed my just completed extra large, double chocolate malt from atop of the freezer case. Still staring, quite entranced by Siobhan, absently I said, “Thank you Steve.”
I heard Steve begin to laugh as he returned to the kitchen. I gradually turned away- from Siobhan and toward the pick-up counter with my malt in one hand and my notebook in the other.
Upon arriving at the pick-up counter, I handed my order slip to the tall, lanky, awkward young man who announced my order number, and I casually stated, “Seems kind of quiet here tonight.”
The young man, with a name-tag of Ryan replied, “Yeah, I think the rainy weather has most everyone staying at home tonight. Of course a month ago, between Christmas and New Year’s we were crazy busy every night of the week, regardless of the weather.”
I grinned slightly and with a chuckle said, “Yeah, the holiday season does seem to do that to people. It just makes everyone want to go out and party, but not everyday can be a holiday.”
Ryan quietly nodded, and with a sigh mumbled, “ Yeah, and now it’s mostly quiet around here.”
Falling into the darkness of my own deep thoughts, I absently said, “Today is my birthday- too bad the two best looking ladies I’ve met tonight are both taken.”
With a hardy laugh, Ryan quipped, “It’s your birthday?!”
Suddenly realizing I was thinking out loud, I stuttered, “I-a-yeah. It’s my birthday – what’s left it.”
Ryan asked, “And you’re celebrating alone?”
With a weak smile I replied, “Well, tonight is a weeknight, and everyone I know is busy. I’m supposed to get together with a few friends this Friday, and with some family Sunday afternoon.”
Ryan eagerly grinned and said, “So, you’ve got yourself a hot date Saturday night?”
With a deep sigh, I replied, “No, not yet. Although Siobhan over there would have been absolutely perfect. Too bad she’s married.”
Ryan sighed in agreement, “Yeah, I hear you. Almost every guy who works here, and most of the guys who come in here instantly fall for that devilishly sweet accent. Too bad her husband is such an asshole. She deserves so much better. He treats her terribly, but you didn’t hear that from me.”
With a slight smile returning to my face, I replied, “Understood, and thank you. Your secret is safe with me.”
Grinning slightly, I sigh, “Well, my dinner is almost complete. Time to dress it up before it goes cold. Thanks again Ryan.”
Ryan waved back, “Enjoy!”
Turning toward the “Condiments+ Bar” I dress my burger up with a slice of Swiss cheese, green leafy lettuce, one thick beefsteak tomato slice, a thin-fine smear of spicy Dijon mustard, and instead of ketchup a dollop of dark sweet BBQ sauce on the still steamy burger, and of course a side of BBQ sauce for the fries.
While dressing up my burger with lettuce, tomato, and such, I noticed that Ryan ran over to Siobhan and then to Tara. He briefly spoke with both of them.
Once my meal was complete and ready to eat, I glanced across the open seating area and spied the sweet spot, right near the middle where I could casually glance up in the direction of both Siobhan and Tara without appearing suspicious. Quickly, I headed over to my preferred booth, and sat myself down.
Like a man starving, I gulped down most of my chocolate malt straightaway, and I then tore into almost half of my ½ pound burger, swallowing without chewing it much at all. Once my initial pangs of hunger were satiated, I paused, put down my burger, smiled slightly, and closed my eyes.
While stopped for a moment to rest my eyes and take a few deep breaths, the manager, David walked up and asked, “Is everything alright?”
Startled, my eyes blinked and I nodded, “Yes, I’m fine – it’s great. I just needed to slow down, and not eat quite so fast. Also, I could use a glass of water.”
David replied laughing, “Of course. I’ll have that brought right out.”
I responded, “Thank you.” Then I grabbed several wedge fries, dipped them in the dark, rich, sweet BBQ sauce, and chewed them up voraciously. Suddenly I realized that I hadn’t slowed down eating at all. I was inhaling those fries like a hungry wolf.
A few minutes later Siobhan arrived with a tall glass of ice water. She smiled sweetly and then chided, “You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s your birthday and you didn’t tell me?” And then with feigned disappointment she laughed, “How dare you?!”
Embarrassed I dropped my gaze to Siobhan’s spotless white sneakers and said, “Well, I didn’t want to trouble y-“
Siobhan laughed and then faux-threatened me, “You’re in trouble now mister! I’m going to make sure of it!”
I looked up just as Siobhan sat down right next to me in the booth. Making herself quite comfortable, she began helping herself, first taking a small sip of my chocolate malt. She then chuckled, “Oh, I hope you don’t mind. I don’t have any cuties, really.”
Flushed and grinning with a mixture of joy and embarrassment, I gazed at her lovely face for a few moments and absently said, “That’s okay Siobhan. It tastes great, and there isn’t much left. Besides, I’m happy to share- but only with you.”
With her sitting so close, my left arm was rather uncomfortable, so I slipped it out from between us, lightly draping it over her shoulders, my left hand gently squeezing her left upper arm and shoulder.
Siobhan grinned, tactfully avoiding my eyes, but leaning into me she then helped herself to some fries, noticeably skipping the BBQ sauce.
Softly she whispered with her devilish knowing, “Yes, I noticed that. I’m glad Steve made a good one for you while we chatted, but I’ll leave the rest for you luv. I’m breaking several rules just sitting here with you, but I can’t help it. You’re just so adorable. What’s your name?”
Feeling my blood rush to my face, I whispered, “Thank you Siobhan. My name is Chad.”
Surprised, Siobhan turned toward me and queried, “Really? Did you know that you have an old Celtic name? Is it a family name?”
I replied, “Yes, my name really is Chad, and yes. I read somewhere a long time ago that my first name is Celtic, and no it’s not a family name.”
Siobhan grinned, “I love it!” She then turned away and grabbed a few more fries.
Deeply and sincerely, I softly said, “Thank you Siobhan. You have an incredibly beautiful name as well.”
With a sigh, Siobhan paused, chewed, and then exclaimed, “Damn! I really should go back to work. If I sit here any longer, I will be the one in trouble.”
With another squeeze of her left shoulder, her head turned toward me, and for a moment our eyes locked, Siobhan’s right arm dropped under the table, and her hand squeezed my left thigh, just above the knee.
Breathlessly Siobhan whispered, “I have to go. Now!” With those words having barely left her lips, she abruptly stood, turned, and rushed away.
While Siobhan was keeping me busy, I failed to notice that across the room that Ryan had apparently rushed up to David to say something.
As I continued eating, alone once again, I noticed some odd activity occurring behind the order counter. After several minutes, just as I finished chewing my last burger morsel and fry, the chocolate malt was long gone by this point; I glanced up to see almost all of the counter and kitchen staff heading toward my table, with Siobhan leading the way.
With the crowd of employees standing about like a thick forest, in the otherwise nearly empty dining area, Siobhan leaned down and lightly and much too briefly kissed my lips; and with a loud chuckle she exclaimed, “Happy Birthday Chad, and thank you for not putting fresh onions on your burger!”
Siobhan and the crowd around us laughed loudly. I grinned and then joined in the laughter, “ You’re welcome Siobhan.”
At that moment, David and Ryan started singing Happy Birthday as Ryan placed a cupcake in front of me, Tara inserted a candle, and David lit it. Once the song concluded, I closed my eyes for a few moments, smiled briefly, and then blew out the candle. For a few moments, there was loud applause, and then most of the crowd quickly and quietly dispersed, except for David, Tara, and Siobhan.
David quickly interjected, “Thank you for coming in tonight for your birthday.”
“Thank you David.” and then I glanced over to Tara and then Siobhan, “Thank you all for making tonight special.”
Almost in unison Tara and David said, “You’re welcome.” Then they looked at each other, turned away, and began heading back up to the order counter.
Siobhan waited a moment for them to leave, and then asked, “What did you wish for?”
With a mischievous chortle, “I can’t tell you that! If I do tell you, my wish won’t come true.”
Siobhan sighed, “Well, I wish I wasn’t married.”
Innocently I asked, “If you don’t want to be married anymore, you don’t have to stay married, do you?”
In a soft and serious tone, Siobhan quietly stated, “Actually, my husband sponsored me to live and work here in the U.S., and we’ve only been married for about year, so far. He’s definitely not turned out to be the man I thought I was marrying, and if I get a divorce now, Immigration will probably send me back to Dublin, Glasgow, or they could just dump my sorry ass in London. Tout suite!”
Surprised, I sighed, “Oh, I understand. I’m sorry.”
Softly smiling Siobhan said, “It’s okay Chad. You didn’t know. I hope you didn’t waste your birthday wish on me.”
I chuckled, “It’s not a wasted wish at all. As long as you’re happy Siobhan, what I wished for cannot be wasted.”
Slightly flushed, Siobhan replied, “That’s really sweet. Thank you luv.”
Softly, and sincerely I whispered, “You’re quite welcome.”
Taking a deep breath, Siobhan sighs, “I have to go back to work now. The ice cream counter won’t clean itself!”
Nodding in agreement, I then countered, “No it won’t, bu it does look like David is giving you a hand.”
Surprised she turned away for a moment and then back to me she replied, “Oh, that’s very nice of him. I hope Tara doesn’t mind.”
Looking away, toward the order counter I saw Tara staring back, watching us closely. I then quipped, “Actually, I think she understands.”
Turning back toward Siobhan who had now once again sat comfortably back down next to me, I smiled, “Thank you Siobhan for making my birthday extra special.”
She turned, looking away toward the order counter, “Oh! We have an audience!” Then turning back toward me softly she whispered, “You’re very welcome Chad. I just wish I could do more. If I wasn’t married-”
“Don’t go there Siobhan. What is, Is. The fact is, you are married; however, you have the power to change that. Just remember that not all changes you could make may turn out the way you’d like. Honestly, if or when you go home to the UK; I’d love to go with you, but we both know that’s probably not likely.”
“Very true Chad, immigration is very complicated, and it’s a very expensive process. I had no idea, until about a year and a half ago how difficult it really was.”
“Siobhan, I’ll take your word for it. Right now you should go back to work because I don’t want to cause you any trouble.”
“Thank you Chad. I just wish my husband was more like you.”
Grinning and gazing deeply into her emerald eyes, I whispered, “Thank you.” For a few moments, her left hand cupped my jaw, just below my right ear and she pulled me in for a slow, soft, tender kiss. Then, once the kiss ended, our eyes locked for another few seconds. Slowly her head turned toward the main entrance as I laughed, “You know Siobhan, if wishes were horses we’d all be in a world of-“
Siobhan exclaimed, “Shit!” I started laughing, and then Siobhan quickly turned back toward me and again whispered, “I have to go luv, my husband just walked in the front door!”
As she quickly stood, my arm dropped down to my side and seriously I stated, “Go back to work Siobhan, and please take good care of yourself, okay?”
Siobhan replied, “Yes. Thank you. Goodbye.”
I smiled then sighed as I watched her walk away toward the ice cream counter, and then quietly and solemnly I finished my cupcake washing it down with the last gulp of water. Once finished, I grabbed my tray and my notebook. I briefly looked around, but I didn’t see Siobhan anywhere. So I headed for the main entrance/exit, I emptied my tray, and then left it in the dirty tray rack.
As I was just a few steps away from the door, Tara called out, “Happy Birthday, and have a great night!”
With a wave of my notebook in hand, I smiled and said, “Thank you Tara” as I walked out the door.
Under the eve, just outside the entrance door, I dug out of my front, left Levi’s pocket the old mustang door key, and then I darted across the parking lot to my old “red stallion”.
A few weeks later, I found myself still obsessed with thoughts of Siobhan, wondering how she was fairing with work and her unhappy marriage. So, I headed back down the wide boulevard to Tempe. Once I arrived and eventually parked my car, I walked across the large, busy parking lot. As I strode up to the door, my heart sank as my stomach growled. I found that this Flakey Jakes location was now closed, no longer in business.
In recent years, almost thirty years later, I’ve long since discovered a pale facsimile in the heart of old Scottsdale, at the former location of Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor. In the façade of Fuddrucker’s, a rather tasty burger can be found; but never again did I see Siobhan, and a small corner of my heart still wonders from time to time, about what might have been.
My birthday wish for Siobhan that year was simply to be happy. I sincerely hope she found that happiness I wished for her so long ago. Although I will never know, not while I’m living anyway, I just have to hope, pray, and have faith that she found the happiness she so desperately sought and so deeply deserved.
As for answers to my carnivorous cravings that I continue to have to this very day. Apparently, my “O” blood type has a lot to do with it; but that’s another story for another time.
[An early writing sample exhibiting description and dialogue writing for a lower division, college class. I experienced this story in late January and started writing this story in early February 1988. I slightly altered the ending, and added the last few lines in August 2017.]
Disclaimer: Most names have been changed to protect those depicted.