One Morning in the Lunch Line

Charlie approached the steam table, held his steel tray out above the sneeze guard, and waited to be served. Sylvia, the blue-aproned lunch attendant, held her spoon poised and waited for his order. Charlie, though, was silent.

“Meatloaf?” she offered at last.

Charlie shook his head.

“Soy burger?” Sylvia asked.

Charlie shook his head. Behind him, queued students fidgeted.

“Beans?”

A shake of the head.

“Fruit cup?”

“No,” Charlie said.

“Mashed potatoes?”

“Nope.”

“Tater tots?”

“Huh uh.”

“Then what,” Syvia the blue-aproned lunch attendant asked, “do you want?”

Charlie pushed his tray even closer to her. “I want Anteater.”

Sylvia started. “You want what?”

“Anteater.”

“Anteater?”

“Anteater,” Charlie insisted.

“What do you mean?” asked Sylvia. “You have to order from the menu.”

Charlie remained silent. He continued holding his tray aloft.

“Young man,” Sylvia asked in her sternest voice, “why don’t you try the meatloaf?”

Charlie shook his head. “I want Anteater.”

“You’re holding up the line,” said Sylvia, but Charlie just stood there, tray pushed out expectantly.

“What’s the holdup?” asked Eddie, the food service supervisor, walking out from the bowels of the kitchen.

“This young man,” Sylvia said. “He’s holding up the line.”

“What does he want?” asked Eddie.

“I don’t know,” Sylvia replied. “He’s talking nonsense.”

“What do you want?” Eddie asked Charlie.

“I want Anteater,” said Charlie.

“Anteater?” Eddie asked Sylvia.

“That’s what he keeps saying.”

“Anteater,” Charlie said again, lifting his tray slightly higher still.

“Anteater,” Eddie said and shook his head in wonder. “Anteater.”

“Anteater,” Sylvia said.

“Try the meatloaf,” Eddie advised Charlie. “It tastes like Anteater.”

“No it doesn’t,” Charlie said.

“No it doesn’t,” Sylvia said, horrified. “It does not.”

“I want Anteater,” Charlie said. “Real Anteater.”

“Where do you think you are, young man?” Sylvia asked Charlie. “Africa?”

“Anteaters come from South America,” said the girl behind Charlie. “Not Africa.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Eddie told her. “This boy can’t have Anteater.”

“You’re holding up the line,” Sylvia told Charlie again. “Choose something else or go sit down.”

“I thought Anteaters were from Australia,” Eddie said. The girl shook her head.  “We learned about Anteaters in Biology class,” she told him.

“I want Anteater,” Charlie said.

Sylvia snorted. “You can’t have it. Not here.”

“We have to keep the line moving,” said Eddie, waving his arm at Charlie.

“Just try the meatloaf,” Sylvia said, appealing to reason. “It’s nice.”

Charlie shook his head.

“We have to keep the line moving,” Eddie said again.

Charlie shook his head.

“All right,” Eddie said after a lengthy pause. “Give it to him.”

“Give it to him?” Sylvia asked.  She picked up a slice of meatloaf with her aluminum tongs and tried to place it on Charlie’s tray. “This is delicious Anteater,” she lied to him.

Charlie was not fooled. He withdrew his tray quickly. “No,” he told them, “I want real Anteater.”

“Give it to him,” Eddie instructed Sylvia again.

“But, Eddie — ″ Sylvia objected, and Eddie cut her off.

“Now,” he told her. “We have to keep the line moving.”

“We’re not supposed to give — “

Charlie held his tray out expectantly and Sylvia gave in. She slid open a secret drawer in the steam table and lifted out a large, juicy slice of Anteater. She laid it on Charlie’s tray brusquely.

“Thanks,” Charlie said.

“Just get out of here, kid,” Eddie growled, and the line began to move again.