"he was outcast from life's feast." - james joyce, "dubliners"
when bob reached the bottom of the stairs, he felt proud of himself for taking it so well when the doctor told him he had six weeks to live. the doctor's office was in a small commercial mall, over a t j maxx discount store which was beside a burger king.
it was the middle of december, and night was falling early. bob turned to get to the wider part of the parking lot and his car, and his eye fell on the signs in the window of the burger king. bob had always been an assiduously healthy eater - and a lot of good it did me, he told himself ruefully - and had never in his life been inside a burger king, a mcdonalds or any similar establishment. he started to pass by, then stopped.
although he had only six weeks to live, he had nothing in particular to do. he was just going to go home and watch reruns of seinfeld and drew carey, like he did every night. suddenly he was hungry. on an impulse he went into the burger king.
he wandered wide eyed up to the counter. he stared up at the illustrated menus on the back wall. the two young women behind the counter didn't seem to think it odd that he took so much time looking at the menu.
a whopper! he had heard the term, but there was something unreal about actually seeing it on the wall. he stepped a little closer to the counter and one of the young women asked, "can i help you?"
"i'll have a whopper, please."
"anything with it? fries, onion rings?"
bob didn't laugh, although he might have if she had actually said, "do you want fries with that?"
"anything to drink?"
"uh - coffee."
"how do you want it?"
incredible! he was actually ordering in a burger king! this was much more amazing than dying in six weeks.
when the order came - in less than a minute! - bob took his tray and moved to a table in the back as far from the other customers as he could get. he realized he had forgotten to take any napkins and got up to get some, keeping a careful eye on the tray he left on the table.
he returned to the table and sat down. he suddenly noticed how bright the whole place was. why did it have to be so bright? he picked up the whopper in two hands, hesitated, and bit into it.
and his whole life changed.
for the first time in his life, bob knew ecstasy. and that was just from biting into the whopper. when he actually started chewing, swallowing, and digesting it - tears erupted in his eyes.
time dissolved. his consciousness stood outside himself, watching himself devour the whopper. slow down, slow down, it told him - don't choke, don't choke yourself. and enjoy the moment.
he finished the burger and swallowed a couple of mouthfuls of the black coffee, barely noticing how hot it was. normal consciousness drained back into his body.
he looked at around at the other patrons of the establishment - mostly overweight teenage girls in blue or gray sweatshirts. nobody seemed to have noticed him and his transcendant experience. they were concentrating on their portions, in a manner both businesslike and blase.
he wanted another one.
now the problem began. bob was a very self conscious person - perhaps the world's most self conscious person. would he look silly going back for another one?
would the girls at the counter, the other diners, laugh at him, openly or secretly? no, he told himself, they didn't laugh or even notice when i stood gawking at the menu like a martian. surely they won't laugh if i just order another one? people must order seconds every day - wasn't that why americans were overweight? and yet - and yet -
with a supreme effort of will bob forced himself up out of his chair. the girl hardly looked up when he ordered the second burger.
he went and sat back down with a barely suppressed sigh of relief.
he hardly had time to start thinking about the strange turns his now shortened life had taken when the whopper was ready. this is great, he thought, this is what the word "fast" really means.
he ate the second burger more slowly, "like a civilized human being" (one of his favorite phrases). and as he devoured the burger and sipped his black coffee - maybe he should start putting cream and sugar - two sugars! - in it - terrible and regretful thoughts started percolating in his brain.