“Best Of Drive-Thru” by Mack Gelber

Image by Andrew Martin

—Welcome to Large Burger. Where the burgers are large and the smiles are on the house. Can I take your order?
—Do you have a chicken?
—We offer a range of chicken options including our signature Ranch Wagon and Ultimate Chicken five-piece dinner. Chicken sandwiches are also available in nugget form, with a variety of dipping sauces including our popular Asian-Glazin’.
—I’m looking for a chicken. He’s not coming home.
—Our chicken is guaranteed one-hundred percent free-range and sustainably harvested. Patties are locally sourced from Guatemala and assembled by machines.
—He’s healthy, good-natured. I take excellent care of him.
—Perhaps I can interest you in our Large Chicken Smokehouse Grinder, now available for a limited time only.
—He might be in the closet. Sometimes I wake up and he isn’t here, and I look and I look, and then I remember to check the closet. Please. I’m trying to keep it together. I swear to God. I am really, really trying.


—Also, I’ll have a vanilla swirly.


—Welcome to Large Burger. Your one-stop shop for all your burger needs. Can I take your order?
—Can I take your order, sir?
—What? Speak up. This is America, little girl.
—Better now, sir? Can I help you with anything today?
—You think it’s funny, torturing an old man? Someday you’ll look like me. They’ll laugh at you, hurl sprockets at your head. I hope you remember my face.
—I apologize, sir. There must be some issue with the microphone. Maybe you’d like to come inside?
—Do you know what happens when a man catches fire? What happens to his insides? Or his dermis?
—With valid identification we offer a senior discount on qualifying items, including our Large Chicken Smokehouse Grinder, now available for a limited time only.
—I’ll tell you. Listen to me, little girl. I’ll tell you what it is to burn.


—Welcome to Large Burger. Voted Favourite Burger Restaurant in Best Of The Plains Region, 2007. Can I take your order?
—I know what you did.
—Say again, sir? Please speak directly into the clown nose.
—I’ve been looking for you a long, long time.
—In that case, you must be very hungry! For future reference, all Large Burger franchise locations are available on our website, with directions by car and train.
—You pulled out all the stops, didn’t you, Nightingale? The uniform. The little fucked up car. What is that, a Subaru? Jesus.
—Sir, this is the drive-thru window. If you’d rather purchase a meal inside, we offer the same quality fare and service for which Large Burger is internationally renowned.
—I know who you are.


—Welcome to Large Burger. Chew it! Can I take your order?
—I’m looking for a chicken. He’s close now. I can feel it.
—Your order, please, ma’am?
—Listen. I know he’s inside the establishment. I know all about what’s going on in there, so could you please stop acting like nothing’s happening? Please. I don’t want to have to beg.
—I’m sorry, ma’am, but I’m afraid there’s no chicken here. Just the kind that comes on a kaiser roll.
—You hurt people when you pretend actions don’t have consequences. Do you know what a consequence is? Huh? Do you?
—Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to pull around.
—You’re keeping my baby in there, and you’re acting like nothing’s happening. There’s a consequence for that, lady, and it’s not a fucking kaiser roll.
—Our manager will be right out, and he’d be happy to speak to you about any complaints you may wish to lodge against Large Burger or our affiliates at 连雀.
—Baby. Baby, it’s me. I know you’re scared, but right now I need you to hold on. Can you do that for me? I’m going to be with you very soon. Don’t take any strange medicine. You hear me? Don’t listen to this bitch.


—Welcome to Large Burger. Where the burgers are large and the smiles are on the house. I am legally obligated to inform you that our Smileburger Original sandwich is not on the house. It is three ninety-nine.
—Nightingale. Guess who.
—I’ll take your order when you’re ready, sir.
—You have a beautiful home. Love what you’ve done with the grounds. What’s that called? Cobblestone?
—Sir, I need you to order or move to make room for other customers.
—And the kitchen: wow. I bet you make some mean Ranch Wagons in there. Who knew flipping burgers could be so lucrative? Do you get tips?
—I’m afraid I’m going to have to flag you on, sir. This is one of our busiest times. I’m flagging you on now. Please advance your vehicle.
—I’ve seen the cones. They’re beautiful. No, I’m moving. See? I’m moving.


—By the way, my kid sister’s in town. What the hell do you people do for fun around here? Stare at corn? Christ.


—Welcome to Large Burger. For the discriminating burgervore.
—Yeah, hi. I want one Large Burger, all the toppings, double cheese. Hold the tomato.
—One Large Burger, no tomato, double cheese. Anything else, sir?
—Yeah, let me get a Large Chicken Sandwich with Asian-Glazin’, pickles on the side. Order of Large Fries – large, please. Rings if you’ve got ’em. Throw a couple of ketchups in there, mustard, mayo. Two orders of the cornbread, with the little diced-up little chillies. You still make those? Yeah? Two orders of the cornbread. A riblet. Actually let’s make it two Large Burgers, double cheese, no tomato. You can go ahead and put those together. Kind of fold them into each other. Keep the riblet separate. Uh, I’ll also get an Ultimate five-piece dinner, a fifteen-piece nuggets, a Ranch Wagon, a Whack Stack. A black-and-white shake. A slice of apple pie. You got Mello Yello?
—Yes, sir, we have Mello Yello.
—Well, Tom Terrific! Okay. You wanna read that back to me?
—Two Large Burgers, no tomato, double cheese. Asian-Glazin’, side pickles. Mustard sachet. Mayonnaise sachet. Ten-piece nuggets.
—Fifteen-piece nuggets. Whack Stack. A Ranch Wagon folded into a riblet.
—No. Wrong! Separate, I said, I want the riblet separate! Can we be a little more engaged here, please? Fuck!
—Riblet separate. Cornbread. Two orders cornbread, with the little diced-up chillies. Fries and rings, large – large fries. Ketchup sachet. A slice of apple pie. A slice of apple pie. A slice of apple pie.
—Sorry. Ma’am?
—A slice of apple pie.
—Hello? Ma’am?
—…Yes, sir?
—Are you all right?


—Welcome to Large Burger. Please be patient while we calibrate your smile.
—Large Burger. Order please.
—Mommy misses her baby. She misses him so very, very much.
—Order please. I will not hesitate to call the manager.
—I see you, you know. I see you inside your microphone, counting your money, drinking the blood of innocents!
—Ma’am. I will not hesitate. Large Burger is a money-making establishment. It is not a chicken coop. It is not ominous. It is a fast service subsidiary of 连雀 Heavy Industries with over two-hundred franchise locations in the United States and across the globe. Large Burger does not kidnap.
—Sometimes we like to sing a song: Yummy, yummy, yummy, I’ve got love in my tummy–
—What do you want, lady? Do you want a burger? Here, have a burger. Have all the burgers. Have a chicken sandwich! What does it take?
and I feel like loving you. Yes I feel like loving you. Yes I do. Yes I do.


—Large Burger.
—Hello, I’d like a double chocolate shake and a – just kidding. Howdy, Nightingale. Some weather, huh? I don’t know why, rain always makes me hungry.
—No. Service denied. Please pull around.
—Did you know over one hundred people are killed each year due to faulty gas lines? You’re just standing around, fixing up a Whack Stack, and then…
—I’m within my rights to contact the authorities if this threatening behaviour continues. I can do that if I need to. I have a button.
—Authorities – is that what you call those goons in the minivan, “authorities”? Two six-foot guys with the nine-irons and the haircuts, came knocking around my motel room last night? I’ve never met cops who liked golf so much. Good swing, too.
—Sir, this is not the time to be pushing me.
—It’s a shame; I really liked that TV. Thanks for scaring my sister, by the way. Class act. She’s seven.
—Sir. Sir? Just whip it out already. I know you’re going to do it, so can we just get it over with? Please? Let’s settle this like adults. I think we’re both very tired.
—I’ve seen the cones. I know how you’re moving them. I know everything about your little operation, Nightingale, and all you can do is sit in your booth and watch while I burn your world to ashes. You can send in the brigade, have them slash my tires, leave messages on the mirror in shaving cream. I don’t care, and do you want to know why? Do you? Because you’ll still be in there, and I’ll still be out here.


—You want something?
—Large Burger, medium fries. Medium diet cola.
—Drive up to the window. Your shitty meal will be ready momentarily.
—Excuse me?
—I said to please sit tight while we coagulate your burger.
—Excuse me. Miss. Do you know who you’re talking to?
—You sound kind of like Lee Majors. Lee Majors?
—This is quality control. Corporate. Normally I’d reserve my comments for the Quality Evaluation Thumbnail, but I don’t let anybody talk to me that way.
—My apologies, Mr Majors. I wasn’t aware that you’d renounced the glamour of show business for the life of a mid-level beef spook. Next time I’ll be sure to treat you with the kind of conduct befitting a man of your stature.
—I’d like to have a word with your manager.
—I am the manager.
—Your manager, please.
—I am the manager of this fine establishment. I run it from top to bottom, and I run a tight ship. Go ahead, file a complaint. Be a hero. Did you know that over one hundred people are killed each year in explosions resulting from faulty gas lines? You’re just standing around, picking your ass, and then–
—You’ll be receiving word from corporate.


—Hi there! Can I place an order with you?
—Clown nose.
—Too cute. Give me one second here… Honey? Do you know what you want?
—We’re out of Smileburgers.
—You want to talk to the lady? You want to talk to the nice lady? That’s a big boy. Miss, I’m going to put my son on?
—Too cute.
—…Hiya. I wanna Smileburger.
—We’re out of Smileburgers.
—I wanna Smileburger. I wanna hundred Smileburgers.
—We’re out of Smileburgers.
—Hi, miss? Sorry. You’re sure you can’t rustle up a Smileburger for him?
—We don’t have any Smileburgers.
—Would you mind checking quickly for me? I’m sorry. It’s just that he really wants a Smileburger.
—Okay. Let me check. We’re out of Smileburgers.
—Hey, I’m just trying to feed my son. We made a special trip out here. We drove all the way from Pine Acres. Do you know how many hours I’ve been listening to Kidz Bop?
—Ma’am, this is our busiest time. If you don’t place an order I’m going to have to ask you to pull around to make room for other customers.
—There’s no one behind me.
—Please pull around now. Do not force me to contact the authorities.
—Mom, why won’t she give me a Smileburger?
—Do you know who I am? Do you? This is my domain, lady, my little petty fiefdom, and around here I’m fuckin’ God. I am the arbiter of the Smileburgers – and no, you can’t have one. That’s right: I’ll take away everything you have, lady, everything you love, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Fine, drive away. Drive far away! Large Burger values your patronage! Someday your children will replace you!



—Why’d you have to hurt her?

—She didn’t know anything. She was just a little girl.

—What, you want me to place an order? Large fries and a Whack Stack? Extra ketchup, please! You monster.

—You know, I used to work in a place like this. I flipped the burgers. For the first week I had to wear this hat that said “I’M A ROOKIE – PLEASE BE PATIENT”. That was what they called you, “rookie”, like it was ice hockey or something. Bunch of asshats.

—The fryolators always put me in a trance. I would stare at the fry oil for hours, space out. They said if you spilled pop in there the whole apparatus would detonate on impact, sending death and raining oil everywhere. That was how they phrased it in the training video, “raining oil”. It’s funny what sticks with you.

—You were in my dream last night.

—I was nineteen, back in my burger-flipping uniform, wearing the rookie hat. I never worked the drive-thru in real life, didn’t have what they called the necessary people skills, but in the dream I guess it was my lucky day, right? I was standing in that booth, actually, pretty much where you’re standing now. Anyway, a car pulls up, the only car we’ve had all day, and I can’t see you but I know you’re in there. You park in front of the speaker, but instead of ordering you get out and walk up to me. You stand right in front of the booth. And it’s weird: you’re hovering right on the other side of the glass, kind of watching me, maybe, or half-watching me. Like you’re seeing straight through to the rear wall and the long row of freezers, just past my shoulder, to something I can’t quite see. Meanwhile I can hear the grill grilling, the fryer frying. And I look out the window and I think: raining oil.

—Raining oil.

—Then I wake up.


—Have you seen my baby?

—Oh. It’s you.
—He’s not coming home. I’ve looked everywhere, I’ve spent days sitting by the phone. I’ve washed my hands a hundred times but it doesn’t ring, it still doesn’t ring.
—I just want to see him again.
—Ma’am, I think something bad is going to happen here. This isn’t a good place for you.
—Have you seen him? Is he here? Please, just tell me: is he here?
—He’s… Oh, Christ. He’s here.
—He’s here?
—The chicken is here. The chicken – your chicken – is here, and he’s doing great. Better than ever, actually. Yes. Your chicken, he loves you, he misses you, and he’s grateful, so very, very grateful. But now it’s time for him to go. He hopes you can understand that. It’s time for him to leave.
—Baby, can you hear me? Are they treating you well? Are you getting everything you need?
—I’m sorry, ma’am, but now it’s time for you to go, too. Please do this for me. Please. I need you to drive.
—My darling. My sweet, sweet bean. Everyone here’s been so nice to me.


—Welcome to Large Burger! Where the burgers are large, and the smiles are on the house. My name is Mavis and I’ll be your meal facilitator today. Can I take your order, sir?
—Can I take your order please, sir?
—What? Speak up. This is America, little girl.
—Sir, I am so sorry. This is my first day. Can you hear me now?
—You think it’s funny, tormenting an old man? Someday you’ll look like me. They’ll laugh at you, hurl sprockets at your head. I hope you remember my face.
—I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with this thing. Hey, Gerry? Sorry, Gerry? Can you help me with this customer?
—Do you know what happens when a man catches fire? What happens to his insides? Or his dermis?
—I’ll be right back, sir. I just need to check something with the manager.
—I’ll tell you. Listen to me, little girl. I’ll tell you what it is to burn.


Mack Gelber works as a writer and editor. His fiction has appeared in Joyland Magazine and the Bushwick Review, with work forthcoming in Juked. Find him on Twitter at @mackgelber.

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  1. agfotr57

    fantastic! original piece of writing in a literary world that too often repeats itself. well done.

  2. Andrew

    Welp, this was great.

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