The Five Hundred Dollar Cheeseburger
a short story
The Five Hundred Dollar Cheeseburger
On Scott’s third night in Biloxi John Wayne was stealing all his money. Scott had been up most of the night. He won ninety dollars from the Black Widow and then two hundred playing the Cash Coaster when Brie was sitting next to him. Now John Wayne was stealing all his money through his ten gallon mouth and silver spittoons because Brie was standing at the mahogany counter of the players club.
“Come on, those are five sheriff badges!” Scott yelled at the screen and tapped its plastic-on-metal sides.
The seventy-four year old woman sitting in the naugahyde seat next to Scott stared at him through square pink glasses. The spine of her body had been slowly curving inward, swallowing itself. She was squinting her bug eyes at Scott when the ash from her cigarette fell onto her purple blouse. She saw him look. She turned away quickly to press her buttons. Scott ignored the glance and pressed his own buttons.
He stared down aisle of flashing colored lights and looked for Brie. She was his good luck charm. He was always winning when she was around, whenever they went to the boats. She wasn’t at the players club counter anymore. He thought about cashing out and going to look for her when he caught the eye of a tall, blonde cocktail waitress dressed in a gold shift that reflected
the purple and blue light of the video slots. He was already buzzed but he never turned down a free beer. She walked down his aisle calling out, “Drinks, drinks.”
He stopped pressing the flickering buttons that read bet or line and fished out several dollar bills that he had folded and tucked into his shirt pocket. He was tall, twenty-five, not bad looking, some have called him handsome. He ran his tongue over his teeth before holding up one of the folded dollar in his hand as the waitress waltzed by. He ordered a green Heineken, in the bottle, and placed the dollar in the cup on her black tray. She smiled and repeated the words to him as she wrote it down on a small pad that read Treasure Bay at the top. He gave her a wink as she turned on her heels.
Scott put a few more twenty dollar bills into the John Wayne slot machine. He could feel that it was about to hit, that they’d be having steak at Waffle House that morning and something better than that for dinner tomorrow. But every pull was a near miss and the bonus rounds were paying squat.
“Do you always flirt when your wife isn’t around?” the crooked backed old lady at the machine next to Scott asked without ever turning her eyes away from the screen.
Scott choked on his beer at her question. “Excuse me, my wife?”
The old lady straightened her hands in her lap and never once looked away from the frogs and princesses that were on her screen. She pulled out an extra long Misty from a sequined pouch and lit the cigarette with an electronic lighter. “You should be ashamed,” she said while pulling in her cheeks.
“She’s not my wife,” he said lighting a Marlboro.
The old woman looked confused, like she had been looking for something in a kitchen cabinet that suddenly wasn’t there. Her machine had just hit the bonus and she was pressing the animated lily pads on her video screen. “Well, my husband was a loser too.” Scott turned in his chair and stared down at the old lady while she pressed her papery fingers against the glass of the screen. “Not a lot of girls will sit with you when you’re losing.” She knocked on the screen and pressed another lily pad and retriggered the bonus. “And I know a loser when I see one.” She was up nearly three hundred dollars off a fifty cent bet.
Scott fiddled with his hands after putting out his cigarette. He ducked his head down the aisle hoping the leggy, blonde waitress would be back with his beer.
“You should marry the girl,” the old lady said with ashes falling off her cigarette and into her lap.
Brie was sitting at the bar near the lobby when Scott walked in and tapped her on the shoulder. She was drinking a seven and seven and staring at her reflection in the polished black granite of the bar. She pulled her curly brown hair over one shoulder and looked at Scott.
“Are you ready to go?” she asked. She turned her back to the bar and stifled a yawn. It was three in the morning.
“Yeah, let’s go.” Scott told her. “I lost all my money, here’s your card.” He handed her the bright blue player’s club card. Her name was written in raised silver letters. She ran her fingers
over it before she slid the card into the video poker machine in the bar.
Scott was down five hundred dollars. He couldn’t pull anymore out of the ATM machine at the casino. When he played his last ten spins, he knew that he wouldn’t make back what he lost but he didn’t care. He was a little drunk and ready to go home.
“We have enough for a burger,” she said. “It’s triple point Wednesday, there’s almost enough for two.”
Scott laughed and told her “Sure. At least we’ll be going back with food.”
Brie finished the last of her drink and placed the heavy glass tumbler back on the bar and called the bartender over. “Can I get an IP burger and a Sprite to go?”
Scott walked up the stairs behind Brie with his hands overhead. She was carrying a Styrofoam to-go box and a huge purse that swung from her right elbow. She looked like she might topple over. When they reached 201C, Brie opened her purse and pulled out a set of keys that was more keychain than keys.
“Listen, Cheryl’s asleep, we have to be quiet, but we could probably mix up some more drinks,” Brie said before opening the door.
The apartment was on Le Juene Drive in Biloxi in a complex called The Lexington. The insides were dark and a single lamp made from blown amber glass was the only light in the living room. Two mismatched couches were placed in front of a television and formed an L shape.
Brie tossed her bag onto the couch and kicked off her shoes. She turned on the track lights in the kitchen and opened the white wooden cabinet doors to pull out some bottles. Scott was sitting on the brown suede couch in the living room and picked up one of the People magazines next to a pile of a thousand foils of unwrapped Hershey’s Kisses.
“All we have is Cuervo, is a margarita okay?” She was already pouring the tequila into blue glass tumblers. Scott could hear the ice cubes clink in the glass as she dropped them into the tequila before she poured in the mix. He didn’t bother to answer.
On the tan walls of the living room a green garland was hung up in the shape of a Christmas tree and an old framed map, a garage sale find, hung near the window looking out over the first floor of the complex. Scott noticed the three fourths size blue guitar with mother of pearl inlays that was propped against the corner near the wooden kitchen table. “Do you still play?” Scott asked from the couch.
Brie walked in from the galley kitchen carrying two margaritas in short blue glasses. She spilled some of the one in her right hand onto the carpet. “Yeah, a little, sometimes. Not like before though,” she said.
“Do you still sing?” Scot t asked as he grabbed the glass from her right hand. Brie sat next to him on the couch and curled her legs up underneath her as the cushion gave way.
“You know, I’ve kind of given up on that. I think I’m getting too old to be somebody, you know what I mean?”
Scott shut his eyes as he listened to her speak. “I know exactly what you mean.”
Brie was stirring the ice in her drink with her pinky finger when she noticed the time, glowing in green digits, on the oven and microwave. “I have to work tomorrow, Scott. Do you want to stay up and watch TV?”
He took a big gulp of his drink and set the glass on top of a cork coaster on the coffee table. “You should call in sick.”
“I can’t, I need this job.” She pulling her legs from out underneath her body and set her feet parallel on the floor. “I really need this job, Scott, I can’t.” Brie picked up both blue glasses off of the coffee table and walked back into the kitchen as Scott fished in his pockets for the soft pack of cigarettes. He felt heavy and burdened as he felt the weight of the night was sinking in, he knew it would be morning soon and he would be leaving.
Brie walked back into the living room toward the couch with two small saucers, each holding a half of an Angus cheeseburger. “Let’s just eat and go to bed, take comfort in food after losing all that money you know?” She said.
Scott took a bite out of the burger half but he wasn’t feeling that hungry. He watched Brie eating her burger and taking sips of Sprite out of the white Styrofoam cup. “How about you don’t call in sick and we just leave?” Scott was eying the balcony. “How about we just pick up and leave, go somewhere completely new—you know—get new jobs, stay on the road, do something exciting like you used to say you wanted do to someday.”
Brie was finishing off the Sprite as he told her these things. These things about leaving. She thought about just being gone, how her boss would walk in around ten and notice that she wasn’t at her desk. How Eugene and Sarah in the break room would wonder if she was out sick for the first day and then what? Figured she quit after a few more days. She’d leave a note for Cheryl, tell her to sell the TV to cover her portion of the rent that month. That she was sorry but it was just a spur of the moment decision. She’d think Brie was crazy. Brie cleared her throat and cupped her hands together while leaning forward. “Do you want to go to Sedona?”
“Yeah, Sedona, with all those hippies and those crystals, that’d be fun huh?” Scott liked the idea. “I could learn to take pictures of auras or reiki massage,” he said.
“There are vortexes in Sedona, you know. I read that one time.” Brie opened the Styrofoam cup and poured some of the ice into her mouth.
Scott yawned and pulled out the pack of cigarettes. There was only one left. “We should just go, right now,” he said. Brie nodded her head in agreement before falling back into the couch.
“I’m going to take a shower and throw some things together,” Brie said. “You have to smoke out on the balcony.” She picked herself off of the couch and walked into her bedroom. Scott could hear the running water of the shower. He walked outside the sliding glass doors by the kitchen table and stepped outside onto the small concrete balcony with green metal rails. From below where he stood, some cars were moving in and out of the parking lot.
He stood on the balcony and smoked his last cigarette as the blue light of dawn was
spreading on the horizon and seeping in through all the open windows. And he knew that they wouldn’t be going anywhere.
About the author
Mark Burr is a poet from Ocean Springs MS. He was last published in Prairie Schooner. He is currently working on a chapbook. He also writes short stories and takes cool pictures with his camera.