Short Stories

Pain Scale.

I made the headlines for my performance in the burger shop yesterday, and I have already been turned into seventeen different memes (the worst was when they put my gnarled and blurry face from a still frame in the video on that gigantic green fish that hid pickles under his tongue in that one episode of SpongeBob). They tried to diagnose me as an angry black woman, but I had the right to demand a good quality cheeseburger. Yes, it all started because of a cheeseburger. My cheeseburger. My cheeseburger I daydreamed and drooled about all day at work. My cheeseburger that the burger shop workers ruined.


I had the toughest day at work yesterday, well tougher than usual (I am a pediatrician). Yesterday was so overbearing that I skipped lunch because I was with my assistant brainstorming ways to tell a sweet little girl and her anxious parents that there was a relapse just a month after her eighth birthday/remission party. I was there, and there were colorful papier-mâché butterflies everywhere making the backyard feel like such a light, happy, and airy place; butterflies are her favorite. I never paid attention to them until she was sent to me and taught me about them.


When I first met her, when she was six, she was always reading books about the colorful little insects. She adored the creatures so much we based her pain scale off of them–on the overwhelming days where she just wanted to be alone and sleep she would say she was a caterpillar, and on her best days she would say a butterfly– the pain was always there, but when she was a butterfly she would graciously fly above it all and wear a smile. I almost vomited when I sat there with her parents, who wore black circles under their eyes and red inside their sclera, and exhaled the devastating news. The wet burp that came after I said that eerie c-word tasted like saliva and bile.


That’s when I started thinking about the burger. I thought of it to not think of that vomit in my mouth and to not think about the little girl who doesn’t deserve to go through what she’s going through. I thought about that cheeseburger the rest of the day, so of course I wanted it to be perfect.


As I sped along the infinite highway after clocking out of work, I imagined what the burger would look like in my hands, how it would feel against my lips, and what it would taste like on my tongue. I dreamed of cheese the color of a vivid sunflower with a beating heart, and meat a glistening dark brown like my skin in the summer with equal and straight and perfect parallel grill marks on it, crisp green lettuce like freshly cut wet grass, thin onions like small crescent moons, a pretty pair of pickles like green irises, and smooth warm buns. I dreamed of content lying in a small, hot circle but it didn’t.


I stepped through the squeaky glass doors and the smell of a grease and salt filled my nose. I walked up to the register, still in my scrubs, and ordered the biggest burger they had on the menu. The burger shop was crowded. I was order number fifty-nine. All of the people going in and out, all of the conversations and giggles lingering around the room, and the buzzer of the fryer made me anxious. I just wanted my burger.


Order number thirty-six. Order number thirty-nine. Order number thirty-seven. Order number thirty-eight.

I just wanted my burger. I could feel myself melting and aging as I waited.

Order number forty. Order forty-one. Order forty-two. Order forty-three. Order forty-four. Order forty-five.

I just wanted my burger. I began to shake in my scrubs. I looked out the window to take my mind to another place, but the chaos out in the busy city could not cease the chaos that was about to take place in the burger shop.

Order forty-six. Order forty-seven. Order forty-eight.

I needed my burger. I needed it. My stomach let out the most dry, broken, and loud scream. I needed my burger.

Order forty-nine.


My mind snapped at the sound of the giddy co-workers. It ticked me off to see them stand there, huddled together, giggling as the burgers were burned to death on the grills behind them. I needed my burger, and they didn’t fucking care.


“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck! My burger better be fucking fresh! What the fuck are you guys giggling about? Where is my burger? I need my fucking burger, and it better be fresh. Shit. I have been in here for thirty minutes for a goddamn burger. It better not be sitting on the counter waiting and rotting. My shit better be fresh and good, and don’t forget the cheese or the pickles or the lettuce or the onions. Shit.”


My wail silenced the crowded restaurant, and it even silenced the machines behind the counter. Thirty pairs of brown eyes, six pairs of blue ones, two pairs of green ones, and fourteen phones stared at me disapprovingly as I approached the counter with a rapid heartbeat and rage dancing in every fierce taste bud.


“Order fifty-nine,” the worker said.


She had on a large, silly hat. It was red, and sitting on top of the cap was a plush burger with humongous eyes and toothpick legs. It was such a stupid hat. I hurled out a laugh from deep in my belly. She pushed crumpled paper bag towards me with frightened eyes and a fake smile, and slowly backed away up against the ice cream machine. I snatched the bag from the sticky counter and stormed to my car. I pulled the fat lump from the greasy bag and ripped its wrapper off. I took the biggest bite that I could like a savage, but I couldn’t taste shit. I couldn’t taste shit. Then a butterfly, with lengthy wings like a blue and black abstract painting, landed on my window. She flapped her wings, mimicking a sacred dance, before departing from my windshield and mingling with the wind. I watched her fly away, as I spit out the dull and chewed up lump of brown into the bag, and wished I could be a butterfly.


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