Picture a diner off the Interstate. A
three-dollar-and-ninety-nine cents a plate hole-in-the-wall you settle for when
you’ve had enough of the chains. You stop for lunch on a Saturday afternoon,
late summer. The waitress, let’s call her Eunice, seats you and would prefer
you ate quickly, quietly, and tipped her something tall. You order the Country
Fried Steak with mashed potatoes and a salad. Your lemonade is kind of orange.
The sounds of silverware tapping teeth drown out the elevator version of “The
Girl from Ipanema” that plays from the small speaker in the far corner. In the
other corner a ten-inch Zenith keeps you entertained with “Alice” reruns. Some
of the patrons watch with their mouths hanging open, heads cocked to the side,
half dead, maybe more.
At this point you’re wishing you’d settled for
A semi pulls into the overstuffed parking lot
conjoined with the Motel 6 next door. A man lands feet first from the cab
wearing a green “Winchester Tractor Pull Finalist 1987” T-shirt stuffed into
his faded Lees. His hat is chocolate and caramel camouflage and worn.
Underneath his swaying belly an over-sized belt buckle suffocates. Let’s call
him Elmer. One of the geriatric diners hobbles out on life support as Elmer makes
his way in. Elmer doesn’t hold the door and the old-timer gets creamed. Elmer
says he’s sorry. The man is spaced out, having driven all night listening to a
maddening loop of top-forty country hits, chugging gas station coffee and
pudding pies. He’s had to tolerate compact-car after compact-car that refuse to
move to the right lane although their top speed is a steady fifty
miles-per-hour. Rather than apologizing with a casual nod when Elmer passes, or
a shrug of the shoulders, the driver’s often half-flex their arms and motion
for Elmer to pull his horn. Elmer could easily run them and their Ford Focus’s,
Dodge Neons and Chevy Sprints into a deep ditch, but is able to move along,
allayed by the simple anticipation of some good eatin’.
He’s earned this.
Eunice sits him not too far from your table and you
can’t help but notice the tattoo that creeps out of his shirt sleeve and for a
moment you think you’ve seen a golden arch, but Elmer picks up his menu before
you can be certain and the inked image disappears into the green sleeve and
flabby bicep. You hear him ask for the Country Breakfast, a large grapefruit
juice and a coffee, and seem to recall the Country Breakfast served two. You’re
halfway through the country-fried steak when Elmer’s breakfast arrives. Seconds
later, the sounds of slurping eggs and the glub of downed juice drown out the
silverware tapping on teeth that drowns out the fluorescent light version of
“All Night Long.” The din of chewing begins to startle you as Elmer wolfs it
all down with grotesque abandon. Just as your tired jaws struggle to consume
that last bite of creamed corn, you hear a voice:
ambles over with the bill ready and Elmer says, “Let me get the fresh halibut
n’ chips, a coke and a bowl a clam chowder.”
ain’t we?” Eunice guesses correctly.
ready to get back on the road when you remember the pie display and figure why
not treat yourself, you can always box it up if you’re too stuffed. You order,
Eunice says yummy and as you wait you can hear Elmer behind you, gnawing on the
bread rolls impatiently. A fresh piece of Banana Cream pie arrives as Eunice
presents Elmer with his second course. You try not to look, but it seems Elmer
has started grunting between bites. This grunting is approval. The diners have
even begun to look at you with sympathetic half-frowns. Next thing you know,
you’re watching it all go down, a fresh piece of fish batter dangling from
Elmer’s chin as you hear muffled through a mouthful of potato fries:
be happening you think and you think that the diners think this can’t be
happening and Eunice tries to conceal her own disbelief when he orders two
dishes of linguine, the super salad and asks if she could bring him a two-liter
of root beer. Everyone can see the man is big-boned, but his size does not seem
to justify such an irresponsible kind of voracity, at least, this what you are
for an extra fork when the next two dishes arrive and with both hands proceeds
to inhale the linguine with the poise of a puppeteer, as if this binging is now
being directed by a higher power. He chugs from the two-liter to wash down the
pasta, lest a greedy hand snatch the following forkfuls.
“Waitress!” he cries and licks both plates of their
buttery residue. A crowd is forming. Motorists and families on their way to
theme parks have stopped to witness the ravenous decline of the hungry trucker.
He orders five plates of French dip, six Caesar salads, two baskets of fries,
four baskets of complimentary bread and all the milk they can muster. Eunice
asks if he will be able to pay for all he has ordered and Elmer pauses, his
face drooping like a wet napkin from either shame or indignation, then reaches
for his stash, but finds that something is very, very wrong. His pocket is all
but sealed shut. Along his bulging left thigh is a hairline rip in his jeans.
Starved and panicked, Elmer tears his pants to the edge of his groin and with a
greased butter knife, slices his pocket open from the outside, thus producing a
warped Master Card.
After chugging the bread, Elmer begins sampling
leftovers from the plates of others. Shrimp salad, cheeseburgers, open-faced
turkey, blueberry pancakes, until the plates are showroom quality. No one seems
to complain. When his next courses arrive he simply tilts his head back and
lets the contents fall in before chewing conservatively. The manager, a wiry
kid, steps out with a comforting grimace for everyone. When Eunice trots back
to the kitchen to prepare the next twenty orders, he mosies on over to Elmer’s
table for a word.
everything?” he asks with a pasted-on smile of yam-colored teeth.
of civil protest bleed in to other sounds as Elmer begins chewing on the
manager’s paisley tie, at first nibbling tentatively, followed by a prodigious
bite. The diners seem to find this impressive because amidst the horrific
screams and hopeless pleas that drown out the sounds of slurping, that drown
out the sounds of silverware tapping teeth that drown out the soothing melody
of the elevator rendition of “The Power of Love,” there remains nothing short
of a laudatory appreciation for this innovative display of cannibal theater as
the manager is swallowed headfirst and whole. As Eunice arrives with more dishes
and several cooks carrying plates in tow, she points to his mouth as if to say
he has something on his face, which she clearly must realize, is the manager’s
right loafer. At this point Eunice explains in a tone not altogether lacking
sympathy and understanding that the restaurant will be forced to close
ensues as patrons and on-lookers, cooks and clientele dash out the double doors
like cattle avoiding the slaughter. Elmer, not completely lacking in moral
timber, starts with the men, but is barely able to stomach the bitter albeit
salty aftertaste of the overly medicated geriatrics. A Canadian couple tries to
squeeze their way past, but find that Elmer continues to expand. The husband is
devoured, khakis, visor and all, as his wife shrieks in horror. With her
newfound loss still marinating, she gives herself in limp sacrifice and is
stuffed into the truck driver’s mouth feet first like an accordion. The head
chef goes next, followed by a black fraternity, a fellow trucker by the name of
Larry, several single moms, Eunice, who Elmer laments with agonizing tears
before swallowing, and yourself. You don’t even see it coming as you have been
stuffed behind Elmer’s left buttock, suffocating as he fills every inch of the
room, until he feels you trying to claw your way out in vein. He reaches around
and pulls you out like a splinter, flattening you between his thumbnail as you
see the great pit opening, tongue now the size of a compact car and close your
eyes for the last time, a veritable mercy eating.
room to breathe, Elmer chews his way through the walls and devours the roof
with an ice cream lick. He’s loose on the city within seconds, picking cars
like fruit for a quick snack between meals. The Motel 6 and its guests are the
next to go. Then the Honda dealership, a local Laundromat, Magnet Universe, and
last but not least, Winchell’s. When Elmer is finished and only a thousand
times more famished than before the last gorging, this once modest town
resembles the surface of the moon. Every street has been licked clean of
pavement as he heads for the interstate, kneeling at the end of exit number
twelve and opening wide as tires squeal and screams ring out before
hydroplaning into the abyss, the final vision of many a motorist being a
two-story Wells Fargo jammed between two molars.
town and city he devours, Elmer all but doubles in size, until the entire state
has perished in his bowels. Helicopters are deployed, bombs dropped and a
ground assault jettisoned, but all too late as the tiny nukes and atomic
pebbles amount to the damage of mosquito bites. With half of the country
consumed by his wanting, Elmer starts thinking quite seriously about dessert.
The eastern half of the United States is taken in three bites, Canada in two
more and Bermuda with the disregard of an after dinner pickle. The Atlantic
Ocean washes everything down nicely. The Europeans are downed before they know
what’s eating them, the African continent gives itself in sacrificial
submission. Asia and the former Soviet Union are chewed and swallowed, when
Elmer starts to feel a bit stuffed, but with Australia to go, it’s a piece of
cake and the Indian Ocean serves as a rather pleasant and agreeable chaser.
With a fell swoop downward he swallows the earth’s core, inhales the sky and
chips a tooth on the moon. The sun being all that’s left, he cleans his plate,
and feels the onset of heartburn as he floats in the darkness of space, arms
dangling, ready to burst. After the nine planets, to him the size of peanut
M&M’s, a grumbling drone begins to echo throughout the galaxy and Elmer’s
eyes pop open in mute surprise, his cheeks expanding, flushing redder and
forms called it The Great Movement in the Sky.