He had the tiniest sprinkling of a moustache above his lip, like a fine dusting of cinnamon. His puff of curly, brown hair was stuffed into his company-issued uniform hat so that it poofed out above his ears, very Curly and Moe but I was into it. His nametag was supposed to read ‘Drew’ but he had scratched out the first few letters and added a ‘!’ in Sharpie, so that it now read ‘ew!’.
“Dishwasher burrito,” he said, looking at me the way Tyler Durden looked at the narrator in Fight Club. ‘Soap. I make and sell soap.’ I was very into Fight Club.
I giggled. “You can’t be serious.”
He dunked his hands into the scalding hot water of the sanitizing sink, fishing around the bottom for a hot pan caked with refried beans, reconstituted again in the dirty water. His laugh smelled spicy, like the Beef 5-Layer with extra Fire sauce that I knew he always had before his shift started.
“Hell yeah, I’m serious. Night crew is the real deal, baby. If you can’t hang…”
He trailed off, but I couldn’t hear anything over my pounding heartbeat after the word ‘baby’ rolled off his tongue. My school-girl crush on Drew was as overwhelming as any emotions are when you’re 16, but I maintained my cool with an iron grip. I had been dying to get on nights ever since I met Drew a few months back, during the brief overlap when day-shift swapped over to night crew and I caught a glimpse of him as I was grabbing my backpack out of my locker and clocking out. They seemed so fucking cool, the night crew kids. They were older, all over 16, and could work past 9PM, so they got the night shift, while I was stuck with the other 15-year-olds and adults during the day, a much lamer group if you ask me. Now that I had turned 16 and could work closing, I wanted nothing more than to be ‘in’ with the night crew, and to get Drew’s attention. I would do whatever it took, including eating a dishwasher burrito.
“Whatever! I can totally fucking hang.”
I slapped his arm playfully. Was that too much? Was the swearing too much?
He leaned away, but continued laughing, keeping the flow of Fire Sauce breath coming.
“Fine, fine. End of shift tonight. Dishwasher burrito. She’s all yours, Forrest Gump.”
Another arrow through the heart. Everyone knew I ran cross-country, that I was up every morning with the sun to put in some miles before I came in for my shift, but they didn’t understand it. I wanted to lead the varsity team next year, maybe make top-10 at the divisional meet. They just wanted to get through the night shift so they could go party. We weren’t the same in that way. But when Drew started calling me Forrest Gump, they had all picked up on it, and now it landed somewhere between affectionate and insulting.
It was a Friday so the drive-thru was running at full-steam all night, a consistent stream of rowdy teenagers and drunk college kids. It was hectic but went by quickly, my hands rolling soft shells and folding Crunchwraps with a memorized dexterity. My head was always a step ahead of what my hands were doing, on the next order before the first one was out the window. I was fast and focused on the line.
The lobby closed at midnight. After I locked the doors and restocked the drink station, I flipped all the chairs onto the tabletops so I could sweep and mop the floors. Andrea was behind the counter counting out her till, staring at me through the overturned chair legs spiking through the air.
“So,” she began, licking her finger to thumb through a stack of ones, “Drew says you’re doing the dishwasher burrito tonight.”
My stomach flipped, thinking about Drew talking about me. “Yep.” I answered definitively, overly confident, hoping to compensate for my nerves.
Andrea laughed, threw her head back on her skinny neck. I could see the black hole in her mouth where she was missing a molar and the black dot of her pierced tongue. “Holy shit, this is gonna be good.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked as I bent to sweep a pile into the dustpan, hardened pieces of shredded cheese, lettuce, browning and floppy, pebbles of dried-out meat and crusty beans. I tried not to imagine them swimming around in my mouth.
Her laugh was acidic and cruel over the plink-plink-plink of pennies as she counted them out into her till. “Oh, nothing. This will just be a sight to see.”
I dumped the contents of the dustpan into the trash and noticed the strands of hair and blades of dried grass and what could quite possibly be shit weaving all of the taco garbage together. The anticipation was making me sweat, acrid spots that bled through the purple and black cotton of my armpits and smelled like fryer grease. I laughed nervously, not sure what else to do.
My dread grew as I went through the motions of closing duties. Drew was at the drive-thru window, taking the last few dwindling orders before we locked up. I stole glances at him as I wiped down the line and restocked boxes, leaning against the counter and picking his nails, the headset pressing against his ears. He would stand suddenly when an order came through, spitting out the schpeel like it was a single word, not even a question – “WelcometoTacoBellcanItakeyourorder.”
I was going to fuck this up for sure.
I was grabbing my backpack from my locker when he came around the corner.
“Alright, Forrest, you ready for this shit?” His voice was louder than necessary, meant to rouse the attention of the others. “Dishwasher burrito time!”
I swallowed down the bile already teeming at the threshold of my throat. “Yeah, I guess so.”
I followed Drew to the sink where they were all already waiting, giggling in anticipation like they were about to witness a miracle. He walked up to the edge of the sink and peeked over the side, scrunching up his face as he looked at its contents. “Oh, man, that’s fuckin’ brutal, dude!”
My stomach turned as I checked it out. The sink had been drained, and now all that was left was a brownish-gray sludge, punctuated by red spots of tomato skins and black knobs of meat, a rim of greasy suds surrounding it.
“Andrea, you wanna do the honors?” asked Drew.
Andrea stepped forward. She had a burrito-sized flour tortilla draped over one hand and a serving scoop gripped in the other, an evil smile snaking across her face. The sludge squelched as she dipped the scoop into it, plopping across the bottom of the sink as she brought it up to the tortilla and dropped it in. The other night-crewers groaned in disgust, drawing hands to faces, cowering like this fear was for them. Andrea went in for another scoop, loading the burrito up. She handed it off to Drew gently, like it was a newborn baby. He bounced it in his hand to settle the contents, then set it on the counter to wrap it. I was shaking as I stared at his hands working, his greasy fingernails pressing little half-moons into the tortilla. The brush of his fingertips against my palm as he passed it off to me sent a shiver down my spine.
“Alright, Forrest,” he said, serious and low, his eyes wide dark pools that could see right through into my hollow, terrified soul. “Go for it, baby.”
The syllables rolling around in his mouth were enough. The things we do when we have a crush, when we are fucking young.
They all stared at me in disbelief, drawing out this painful interim moment into an eternity. Up until that second, I was the only one who believed that I would actually do it. So I fucking did it.
I focused on their yells and maniacal laughter, anything to draw my attention away from what was going on in my mouth. If I gave a microsecond of thought to the shit that was smearing against my teeth, filling up the gaggy places underneath my tongue and down my throat, I’d lose it. If I tried to separate the tastes, identify what was congealed nacho cheese or smashed spicy potatoes or the occasional hard chunk of overcooked beef, all accented by the harsh bite of soap and the filmy scum of cooled grease, I’d throw up. If I recognized each horrible texture as what it had been when it was in a hot pan on the line hours ago, I’d die. Mind over matter, I told myself. I can do hard things, repeating the stupid little mantras I also told myself when I was in the middle of a hard run, trying to chase down another ponytailed high schooler in a race. Pain is temporary – Drew’s attention is forever.
As we walked out of the restaurant to the parking lot, I lagged behind everyone, stumbling, my belly roiling like a cement truck. There were no pats on the back. No congratulations. No acknowledgement of my asinine accomplishment. The sounds of their laughter and their horrified looks of vicarious embarrassment were seared into my brain. I watched Drew walking next to Andrea ahead of me, the bright street lights shining on his flattened hair when he removed his hat. She laughed obnoxiously and smacked him on the arm, just like I had earlier. I couldn’t hear their words, but there was nothing else they could be talking about besides me.
I jammed my key into the door of my busted-up Buick as Drew yelled to me over the roof of his car. “Nice job tonight, Forrest. I’d brush my teeth when I got home, if I were you.”
I couldn’t hear Andrea’s cackle at this comment as she climbed into his passenger seat, but I felt it as a prickly wave of shame. The humiliation was as nauseating as the wet lump that was now spinning in my stomach. Fuckyoufuckyoufuckyouall. “Haha, yeah, for sure.”
“Just so you know,” he said, one foot already on the gas pedal. “No one actually eats the dishwasher burrito.” He slammed the door behind him, the bass of some shitty rap song bouncing the second he started the car, and peeled off into the night without another look at me.
As soon as he was gone, as soon as they all were, I leaned over next to my tires and puked.
Brittney Uecker (she/her) is a librarian and writer living in rural Montana, where the closest TB is over 100 miles away. Her fiction and poetry has been in HAD, Fever Dream, Second Chance Lit, and others. She is a Black Bean Quesarito with double Cinnamon Twists.