"Darlin'... hey darlin', you got a little somethin' on your shirt."
Carl snapped out of his reverie long enough to shrug his shoulders and smile up at the waitress before diving back into the best damn sloppy joe he'd ever tasted. It seems he had lost all sense of proper dining etiquette after his first bite, but it didn't faze her for a second; she'd seen that glassy-eyed gaze many times before. She tossed a few more napkins on the table and shuffled away to top off a customer's coffee.
A little while later Carl dipped a napkin in his water and dabbed at the greasy red splotch on his shirt. He did it more for the sake of appearance than anything else. The shirt was easily written off in his mind as a worth while sacrifice for discovering the best damn meal he'd ever had. "Oh darlin', I don't think that's comin' out," said the waitress with a motherly tone.
He glanced at her name tag. "Can I get one more to go, Nancy?"
Nancy smiled, "Sure thing, sugar."
The three hour drive home was almost unbearable. He kept glancing at the greasy paper bag in the passenger seat. Carl couldn't possibly eat another bite, but all he really wanted to do was pull over and eat that sloppy joe. He wiped the escaping saliva off the side of his mouth and revved his car up to fifteen MPH over the limit.
Carl didn't even think about unpacking his car. He just grabbed the doggy bag and rushed into his house. Moments later the paper bag lay in shreds beneath the dining table. He carefully peeled back the foil wrapper revealing the monster of a sandwich within. The cold, congealed mess before him seemed to taste even better than the fresh one he had earlier. Its soggy six inch bun didn't dissuade him one bit. He devoured it quickly and wished he had another.
The long drive between him and the only thing he cared to eat anymore was beginning to weigh on him. He'd make the trip straight from work on Fridays and sit down in his booth to two delicious sloppy joes. Thirty joes would make the long drive home with him, but eventually that wasn't enough to last him until the weekend.
He was putting on so much weight. His girlfriend was always lecturing him about his eating habits. "Carl, you've outgrown your clothes four times in three months. That's not healthy." Carl hated to admit it, but he knew something had to change.
His new place was less than a mile from the diner and his job at the only gas station in town gave him plenty of chances to eat between transactions. He felt bad about how he left things between him and his girlfriend, but the remorse didn't last long. They even displayed a framed picture of him in his booth at the diner which he visited at least three times a day.
Seven months since that first life changing joe and now he could finish off four of them at a time: two for breakfast, three or four for lunch, four for dinner, and of course the occasional one as a snack. Carl didn't really think of much anymore other than that next sloppy joe, and he couldn't have been happier. The world seemed so much easier to traverse now. Everything just fell into place once he sloughed off all the trappings of his old life and focused on what was really important to him.
"What can I do for you, hon?"
"Well, I've been wondering. You guys are out in the middle of nowhere, but you stay so busy. How do you do it?"
"Nothing to it, sugar. It's all because of our loyal customers; years and years of regulars like yourself. Just look around at all the pictures on the walls. Oh, that reminds me. I'm sorry to tell you this, but due to the rise in food costs we have to start charging you two more dollars per joe. You okay with that, Darlin'?"
This most recent cost hike didn't seem to even register in Carl's mind. He just absentmindedly said, "Uh huh" as he looked around at the photos of heavily obese people all the way to the ceiling in some places. He looked at his picture hanging on the wall in his booth. It showed him sitting there with two sloppy joes on the table; his double chin accenting the wide smile on his face.
He glanced down at his table and realized it was pushed as far as it could go to the other side of the booth to allow him to slide in and out. There wasn't enough room for even a child to sit on the other side and his gut already pressed against the edge of the table. Carl took the picture off the wall, pushed past Nancy, and headed towards the bathroom.
He stood before the mirror and compared himself to the photo. The guy in the photo was much bigger than he used to be before all the sloppy joes, but his image in the mirror looked like someone who had eaten both of those guys. Carl pinched the rolls of fat under his chin and jiggled them. He thought about how he used to view fat people as lazy, insecure, and even stupid. It seemed strange to him that since he started putting on weight he never once saw himself that way.
His gurgling stomach reminded him of the four joes being prepared for him right then in the kitchen. He suddenly felt sickeningly hungry. He came out of the bathroom and started to scrutinize the photos in the hallway. Nancy stepped up to him. "I wouldn't count 'em if I was you, hon. Your order will be up soon. Why don't you go sit down? I topped off your sweet tea."
She began to walk away as Carl spoke up. "All the people in these photos are dead now, aren't they?"
Nancy sighed and turned to face Carl. "Most of 'em, but don't you think about that, sweetheart. All our regulars are the happiest they ever been right to the end." The ding, ding, ding of the order up bell yanked Carl from his depressing epiphany. "I bet that's your joes right now, darlin'." She gave his fat shoulder a reassuring squeeze and headed over to the order up window.
He stood there at the hall entrance and looked out into the diner. The place was crowded as usual with familiar faces he'd watched over the months bulk up like himself. Foot long chili dogs, fried chicken with pasta, double bacon cheese burgers, chicken and waffles, sloppy joes, and all sorts of other huge portions of artery clogging foods were being devoured by the perfectly content customers. He wondered how many of them would succumb to heart failure within the year.
Carl slid into his booth, sipped his sweet tea, and thought about the overwhelming contentedness he'd felt since he'd moved to the little pass-through town. He hung his picture back on the wall as the thought of the photo it had replaced came to mind. He vaguely remembered Nancy telling him her name was Ginger and she loved their chicken and waffles. He recalled how happy she looked with a bottle of maple syrup in one hand and a fork in the other.
Nancy showed up with two trays and expertly transferred his four joes to the table. "Let me just get you some extra napkins."
Carl looked down at the four huge sloppy joes before him and uttered, "Happy right to the end, huh?"
Nancy beamed a wide, toothy grin at him over her shoulder, "That's right, sugar."
Carl patted the sides of his belly and expertly grabbed a joe with both hands. "Well, then tell the cook to get one more ready for me. I want to try for five today."
Written by Kolpik