My First Public Short-Short-Story Reading: “Customer Service Relations” [F]

“Customer Service Relations” is a very short story that focuses on a close friendship formed between a boy and a street vendor. In fact, it is part of a chapter to a larger story that I am still working on. There was an opportunity last night at the weekly Auckland Write Club meet to share creative prose, so I did, which is something I have never done before. I formatted the story to fit on three pages and asked if anyone would be so kind to read it out aloud on my behalf. Four people were keen, so I gave the pages to three of them to take turns reading (thank you). It was fantastic! The way they spoke the lines I had crafted on paper and brought the characters to life. The way they and the room reacted to moments I hadn’t anticipate getting a reaction from. They were a very well read and enthusiastic group of fellow writers and lovers of fiction. It felt good to be among them and to see trust mutually reciprocated — me trusting them with my story and them trusting me for the same thing. At a whooping 400 words long; if you do take the time to read it, I thank you. 😀

Why whenever I eat does it feel as if I haven’t eaten in days?

“One fish burger. Fries still coming, kid,” Neil shouted from the back of the van.

“Thanks, Neil.”

Smells good. To eat is pure pleasure. No one can argue that. Unless you underwent recent abdominal surgery and had to supplement your daily intake of nutrients through a IV line. No, that would not be too pleasant at all. Speaking of, was this my order? It tastes different somehow in a too fucking delicious kind of way.

“Plenty of onions, kid. Just the way you like it,” Neil divulged his secret in reaction to what my face was probably asking.

“It’s delicious.”

But I hate onions. Any root pulled from the earth shouldn’t taste this nice. Potato starch is made good with the added salt and lemon pepper, but onions? I must be real hungry to be wolfing this abomination down.

“I’ll have another one to go thanks, Neil.”

Cooking takes time, and clocks run differently when your life centers around the night-shift. That’s where Neil comes in — he’s my fridge now. Met him twelve years ago running this oily food hut and I swear he hasn’t aged a bit. Not in memory anyway. Does that mean my thoughts of the past are not so accurate? A familiar comfort in either case. He still has a gut, even his moustache is the same shape as I remember. I bet we’d all see the original colour of asphalt in the shape of his caravan if he ever moved it. The iconic White Lady isn’t so white anymore.

A police vehicle pulled up behind, reflected in a hung stainless steel frying pan. The passenger window winds down and the man behind the wheel leans over his gearstick.

“Evening, say you wouldn’t happen to have any of those mini-donuts?” asked the officer.

“No sorry. You want Betsy on the other side of the square. Look for the yellow caravan,” Neil replied.

“Right-o. You have a good night aye.”

The policeman drove away with his silent siren flashing. Neil and I shared the same glance.

This once rundown ashtray of a bus terminal has become the bustling hotspot for nightclubs, eateries and street vendors of every variety. My, how things have changed. I was still a school boy in uniform the day I met Neil, twelve years ago, before the idea of me becoming a night keeper was even conceivable. Shit, was I crying?

“Kid, are you ok?” A younger Neil had asked me.

I was naive then. Angry at shows of authority. Sulking on his counter and playing with the straws in the milkshake tumbler.

“You should stop making donuts,” I remember saying. Should have been a choirboy with a voice like that.

“Those aren’t free you know,” motioning at the straws. “You got allergies or something, kid?”

“You’d get a lot more customers if the cops weren’t circling the block every hour, like Makos. I heard that policemen don’t like to tip either. Is that true?”

I remember the look on his face. Stretched. Whether it was because I pronounced the name of the shark wrong or he thought I had a point, at that time I had no clue.

“Kid, the cops they bring good business. And my donuts are delicious. Here try these. You’ll feel better.” He handed me a bread basket of warm rejects. “Don’t forget to chew.”

Manners are easily forgotten when you’re hungry and upset.

“I know how to chew,” I said with fried dough flying out my gob.

“That’s good, kid. Now when you’re done eating you go home to your parents. They must be out looking for you. This late, if anything is going to bring around ‘Makos’, it’s you.”

Neil saw right through me — privileged boy on the wrong side of town. Stupid kid.

“How would you know? You don’t know them! You don’t know anything about me!”

I doused him in mustard sauce before running away. The wrong way. Years passed before I returned to The White Lady, for donuts of all things. Neil said he didn’t have any to sell me. No grudge was held. Better business he said. Told me he had sold the recipe to his sister, Betsy.

The frying pan caught light and blinded me for a second.

“Take it easy, kid.”

He handed me my order to go, wrapped hot in today’s newspaper.

“Feels a little light. I hope this is the fish I ordered and not another one of your onion burgers.”

Neil gallantly yawped and took aim at me with his spatula saying, “next time you’re cooking for me boy!”

Yeah right. Neil doesn’t keep the condiments on the bench anymore either.

This is only part of a larger world that I am slowly but surely realising day by day. One page at a time. I have ideas for chapters written in backs of several different daily planners and some notes on my cell-phone, but this is where I write the majority of the story, in what I call the scratch draft:

Wish me luck. Or send me money, I’m cool with either.

~ by Fionnlagh on September 30, 2016.

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