TROPICAL BURGER PARADISE by Rose Baldwin
Daphne Miller’s feet hurt as she stood in Mike’s Magic Burgers, careful to keep her slim, silk-suited body away from the well-worn wooden counter where orders were taken. She was tired of waiting by the time a fifty-something-year-old man with a short buzz cut, plaid flannel shirt, faded jeans, and soiled apron appeared. His eyes sparkled, and he had an impish, deep-dimpled smile. In spite of her peevishness, she was captivated.
“Hi, sorry to keep you waiting,” he said.
Daphne felt shy and confused about what to say. After a long pause, she managed, “My assistant suggested I come here. She told me to order Mike’s Special Burger, but I don’t see it on the menu. Oh, I almost forgot—I’m supposed to say, ‘Blanche sent me.’”
“Is this your first time here?” he asked.
Daphne nodded. “Is this Mike’s? Do you have a Special Burger?”
“I’m Mike.” He smiled again. “Do you like sunshine and beaches?”
“Sure,” she said. Her captivation having evaporated, she added, “What does that have to do with anything?”
“I usually recommend the Tropical Burger for first-timers,” he said. “The Special Burger is so delicious the bliss can be disorienting for someone unprepared.” He smiled again.
This time his smile did not charm her. She was hungry. “So, you have a Special Burger that you won’t sell to me because it’s too delicious, and you want me to eat something not as good?”
“I’ll tell you what. Since this is your first time, I’ll give you a Tropical Burger—on the house.” She made a frustrated hiss, and he added, “I’ll make it a Deluxe. Find a seat. I’ll bring it out.”
She wanted to leave, but she had neither the time nor energy to find another restaurant. Resigning herself, she looked around. The decor (if anyone could call it that) was comprised of mismatched tables and chairs, and Naugahyde booths—some with duct-tape patches—on a floor of old checkered linoleum. The clientele was an unlikely mix of scruffy—almost dirty—people sitting next to suited professionals. An old woman sat in one corner reading palms.
Daphne chose a small booth near the front of the restaurant. Mike appeared at her side, before she’d even managed to warm the seat. Setting the plate with her burger on it in front of her, he cooed, “Enjoy,” a habit she considered an annoying affectation. Cautious by nature, she lifted the sandwich with both hands and took a tiny bite. It was impossibly delicious! Taking a larger bite, she closed her eyes, and savored the remarkable flavor.
She was slightly dizzy and then felt warmth on her. Opening her eyes, she found herself on a white sand beach, looking out on a turquoise sea. The waves broke on the offshore reef, leaving only tiny surges on the beach. She saw a large man, dressed in white pants, carrying folded white towels and a basket with the pump tops of lotion bottles visible, walking toward her. Looking down, she realized that the platform she was sitting on, and had assumed was a chaise lounge, was really a massage table. She rolled onto her stomach, pulled the sheet over her, and waited.
She heard the pump of the oil and the sound of him rubbing it in his palms. Then he touched her. His hands were enormous, warm, and soft. He put one on her tailbone and the other at the base of her neck and made a small chant-like hum. Her body relaxed into a blissful calm. Slowly his powerful fingers dug into her back, tracing stiff muscles that burned then popped as they released their accumulated stress. Her mind wandered to another time and another beach as he massaged the backs of her legs, waking thighs too used to sitting for hours at a time.
She rolled onto her back.
He took her feet, which had suffered the indignity of high heels for decades, one at a time, rubbing and stretching them, working his powerful fingers into the soles. He pulled her toes and ran his finger between them, and she thought about what it had been like to be a child walking barefoot, in long cool grass.
Under his ministrations, the muscles in the front of her legs and then her arms released their stress, freeing a sweet song from her heart that brought tears to her eyes. Her keyboard-weary hands loosened; she moaned as he worked on her tired fingers, then stretched and rubbed each palm.
Finally, he probed the perpetually stiff muscles along her neck and then her face. After he finished, she lay for a long while, relishing the feel of sun on her body.
Opening her eyes, she was back in her small booth at Mike’s, looking at an empty plate. Mike sat across from her. He spoke softly. “Was it okay?”
It took a moment for her to recognize him and remember where she was. She looked down at herself to make sure she was dressed (she was) and then around the room to see if people were staring (they weren’t).
“Oh, yes,” she said, then laughed at how deep and sensuous her voice sounded.
Mike reached across the table and touched her hand. “The Special Burger is a little stronger. You can have it next time, if you want.”
“Thank you,” she said.