THE WOMAN IN RED wouldn’t stop smiling. She just stared at him through the drive-thru window with that idiotic grin pasted on her face. A face coated in more make up than most normal people were engineered to endure. In fact, she looked like some kind of damned clown framed there in the window, which was funny considering where he was.

“It’ll be just another moment,” she said. “We’re a little short staffed this morning.”

“No biggie,” he said and tossed his own smile her way.

He didn’t mean it. Of course it was a ‘biggie’. They don’t always have your food waiting to hand off to you as you pulled to the window. Sometimes you had to wait. In those cases they would have you pull forward to a specially designated parking spot. They did this so that they could move on down the line and serve those waiting behind. But at four in the morning there was no one but him in line. So they had him waiting here at the window.

The waiting wasn’t bad. He didn’t mind waiting. What he minded was the painted up cow who insisted on watching him wait. That was intolerable.

His name was Edward. Not Ed, and especially not Eddie. Most people tried to shorten his name. Most people were idiots.

The woman continued to stare and smile.

Edward tried to ignore her and pretended to mess with his phone. But he could still sense her there. Watching. Waiting.

Couldn’t she move on?

Didn’t she have stuff to do?

He wanted to punch her in the face. He wouldn’t. He’d never hit anyone in his life. He wasn’t a violent person. But the thought of leaning out his window and seeing the look of surprise crack the paint on her face as his knuckles connected with her mouth made him smile.

Eventually the sausage and egg biscuits he’d ordered were ready and she presented them to him in a paper bag.

He thanked her and drove away. He’d been polite. He was always polite. That’s how his mother had taught him. He often wished that others would have as much courtesy.

Instead, he found most who shared this world with him to be selfish and rude. Not everyone. Like with anything there were always exceptions, but in general Edward found it more and more difficult each morning to get out of bed.

He slowed the old Honda as the traffic light ahead went from green to yellow, then to red. As he eased into a complete stop — the stop line visible just over his hood — he toyed with the bag of biscuits. He was hungry, but could wait till he got to work. He didn’t like eating in the car, too many chances for spills or the falling of crumbs into places he couldn’t reach. So he’d wait.

The light turned green and he continued east along Iowa Street. He’d gone just a block when he noticed the lights in his mirror. Emergency lights. He pulled to the curb with a sigh, his annoyance festering, threatening to become an all-encompassing vexation. It was the third time since he’d left the apartment that he’d had to make way for a wailing ambulance, fire engine, police car, or pack of all three.

In fact, as he sat there and let that thought simmer, he realized that apart from the occasional emergency vehicle, the streets of Lawrence were practically empty. You’d expect a bit of void on the streets at such an early morning hour, but he’d never seen the city so lacking of meat heads behind the wheel before.

As he moved the old Honda forward he contemplated on what might be going on. No one out but first responders, and those in apparent abundance. The drive-thru was open, so the town hadn’t shut down. But then, it did take them an annoyingly long time to cook him up a pair of sausage and egg biscuits. Didn’t the clown-woman say they were understaffed?

Maybe this is it, Edward thought. Maybe the world was finally moving toward that apocalypse all those religious nuts were always talking about?

The thought made him smile as he turned right onto 6th Street.

To be continued . . .

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