I finished my meal (and that pie was good!) and Carol approached, scribbling on her pad again. I was learning that I was a common man after all, and that what I needed most was a common meal cooked by a common wife. I asked her, “Carol, are you married?”
She cocked an eye and looked at me. “No, I ain’t married.”
“And how did you manage to escape some gentleman’s eye for all this time?”
“For all this time? Well gee, I just don’t know. A lady learns some tricks in her old age, I reckon.”
The construction workers laughed, and I knew at last they had accepted me. But I longed to become more, to transcend the plateau where they had crested.
“Gonna be anything else, hon?” Carol, sweet Carol asked me, wiping the countertop with a rag in one had, looking up at me lazily with her eyes.
I looked down at the crumbs of my pumpkin pie and felt the bubbles of romance in my tummy. I looked back up at her saggy eyes and said, “Carol, I think love you.”
“Aw, honey.” She shook her head and wiped her nose with the same rag she had used on the counter. “No honey, you sure don’t.”
“I do!” I said. “I’ve thought on this hard and long, eating my meatloaf and my buttered roll, and my pumpkin pie most of all. Carol, I want to make babies with you. I want to take you to my office Christmas party. I want to have daughters, I want to have six daughters, and I want to fold down the business section of the newspaper to see you teaching them how to apply eye shadow.”
Carol avoided my gaze, no doubt, I thought at the time, to hide from me her tears of joy. The construction workers were silent behind us.
Carol collected my empty plates. I was beaming my love into her brain. “Aw, shit,” she said, and I loved her for her simple, profane ways. “Shit honey, stone-cold disturbed.”
The construction workers laughed, but it was restrained. Even they could sense the change that was coming.
I clenched my jaw, I clenched my fist, I leaned forward on the counter. “Carol, I want to make sweet love to you. On this very countertop.”
“Okay honey, I think you got to go.” She turned to step away, plates in hand, and I couldn’t bear to let her go until she understood. I grabbed her wrist and she dropped a plate. It broke.
(The plate, that is. Not her lovely, bony wrist.)
“Hey!” she said, and struggled, but I held fast. She yelled, “Phil!”
But before Phil could materialize from the back, the gaggle of construction workers arose from their booths. There had to be a dozen—no, a baker’s dozen—of them, and each rose to sweet Carol’s defense. They meant well, I knew, and I was certain we would all laugh over this in the end, but there was not time to make them understand. I swept up the ketchup bottle with my free hand, and the bottle was red and squeeze-ready. I held tight to my love with other. I pointed the bottle at my foes.
“Stay back!” I said. “This doesn’t concern you!”
The construction workers tightened into a single mass of opposition and neared me. I thrust the bottle at them. They retreated. Others came from behind and I spun, and pointed the ketchup anew. “This will stain!” I said, and they knew it was true.
I heard a squeak from the direction of the kitchen as the door swung open and Phil emerged from its depths. He was an Asian man, a small one and fat, and he hurled an orange, and his aim was true. I struck my temple and darkness took me.