Adam knocked on the staff door of Mr. Bowtie’s Drive-Thru Burgers at 10:24a.m., four plastic bags of groceries in each hand. The pavement in front of the order windows was desolate — cold air rising from the concrete, creating tiny tornadoes in the dust. Two of the three windows were steel, like those in a downtown jewellery store. His shift had started at nine, but grocery shopping was too boring a task to merit using his own time.
Lea, a pen between her teeth, put her head out the open southernmost window, cap askew and wisps escaping her hairnet, pride in her shoulders, because Lloyd (aka Mr. Bowtie) was trusting her to make next week’s schedule.
“Adam, what’s your last name?”
“Can you let me in?”
“Where’s your key?” She unlocked the steel door from inside and pulled it wide for him. He dropped the bags on top of her cash register and accidentally rang in a small coffee.
“Did you lose your key, Adam?”
“My hands were full. You’re lucky you got your looks.” Spontaneously, he leant in as if he meant to kiss her on the mouth. He landed on her hairnet instead.
Lea blushed. “You’re in a good mood.”
Travis emerged with a moon-age hiss from the refrigerator with a family-sized jar of peanut butter and a spoon.
“We didn’t know if you’d show today,” Lea said to Adam. “What’s your last name?”
“I told her it’s Trash,” said Travis.
“The weekly schedule is practically a legal document,” Lea said.
“Why do you even need my last name for the schedule? I’m the only Adam here.”
“I just think it will look more professional if I write out our full names.”
Adam showed her his employee card. His full name was Adam Garfield Trash. Lea wrote it on the schedule. She kept an eye out the window for Donald and Daisy, the ducks who lived by the picnic tables on the fifty feet of dead grass between Mr Bowtie’s Drive-Thru Burgers and 16 Avenue North. She hadn’t seen them yet today. Travis mocked her for naming them.
“They’re gonna die. This is no place for wildlife. This is Canada’s highway.”
Canada’s highway, four narrow lanes of lumpy concrete, slanted toward the edges so that semi-trailers rumbling on the lanes tilted like they were always ready to fall onto the sidewalks. For this and many other reasons, 16 Avenue was the worst walking road in town. Isolated, dusty sidewalks, and men whistling from pickup truck windows. Yet Lea walked it every day, ten blocks from and to the train station. Once, as she fought the morning wind in her Bowtie polo shirt, someone threw a half-empty cup of soda out a car window at her.
“Didn’t they just repave this road like last year?” Lea said, after she and Adam watched another car hit a bump and send its hubcap flying like a fast-spinning UFO into the trunk of one of Bowtie’s road-grimed poplars.
“Yeah. They repave it every three years in June. And by the end of July it looks like this again. Know why? Because this street is on a hill. This whole half of the city is falling down the hill into a big dung heap at the bottom of the river valley. All the roads department does is put it off and put it off and put it off.”
“Thanks for that ray of sunshine.”
“That hubcap would’ve taken off your head if you were walking just then.”
“It’s a risk I live with every day.”
“I can give you a ride here on Saturdays. I mean, you’d have to come in an hour earlier. Schedule yourself for prep shifts so you work the same time as I do. I’m serious.” He took her pen and scratched out her shift on the schedule and wrote 9 to 6. “Where do you live?”
“What? Jesus, I’m not going all the way down there. But if you catch the train downtown I’ll drive you the rest of the way.”
This agreement trimmed about fifteen minutes off her commute, but she tried to look nonchalant. She liked him but he never laughed, and she was pretty sure he’d forget by next week.
Adam kept all his groceries at Mr. Bowtie’s and all his possessions in his car. Under each seat of the station wagon he’d hidden a slim travelling case. The one in the driver’s seat held a toothbrush, toothpaste, an electric razor (which he liked to recharge on the prep counter next to the blenders), soap, deodorant and two Nirvana CDs. The others held jeans, T-shirts, briefs and socks. Two pairs of shoes, a bottle of laundry detergent and a bottle of antifreeze rattled around in the hatch. His only jacket spent the summer months in a locker in Bowtie’s cellar.
“Does Adam live in his car?” Lea asked Travis a couple weeks after she started, and consequently two weeks after she started tailing Adam. He didn’t, but his bachelor suite downtown held little more than a mattress on the floor. The longest wall was painted (in the most minute detail — bus stops, parking signs, and coffee cups in the gutter) with a mural of the exact view of 12 Avenue, that he would have seen if the wall had not been there. He had not chosen that painting. It was left over from the tenant before.
“Do you want to leave it there?” the landlord had asked, showing him the place.
“I don’t want to repaint,” said Adam.
So it was decided.
“Maybe we can have dinner at your place tonight,” Lea dared to say two hours after he’d kissed her head. She even put her hand on his shoulder. But he’d already forgotten his goodwill. His nicotine patch was exhausted and he rolled an unlit cigarette in his lips as he pattied ground beef with his hands.
He said, “No.”
“Or we could go somewhere on 17th. My treat. For driving me on Saturdays.”
“Do you know how old I am?”
“I’m thirty-six and I flip burgers. Listen to yourself. You need a new job.”
Lea looked wistfully out the drive-thru window toward the road. She saw brown and green, something moving, something organic. She squinted.
“Oh, God. Oh, no.”
Travis and Adam crowded next to her to see what she was looking at.
“Okay, well,” Travis said. “Animals are not people.”
Adam finally let out a choked laugh. Daisy the duck lay on the edge of the right turn lane nearest Mr. Bowtie’s, her top half flattened by a tire. Donald was taking advantage of her immobility to become amorous with her intact rear half.
Leanne said, “Maybe I do need a new job.”