Breakfast Special

by Paul Briggs

 

(Anything can be an inspiration. In this case, it was a single innocuous phrase — "choice of meat.")


The woman behind the counter was short, fat and fifty, and wore a hairnet on her head and a professionally friendly expression on her face.

"What'll it be, hon?"

"What's the breakfast special?" said the old man.

"Scrambled eggs w/cheese, home fries, choice of meat, toast, coffee and juice. We serve breakfast till eleven."

"Okay, I'll have that with… sausage."

"You want that with white or wheat toast?"

"White."

"Orange or grapefruit juice?"

"Orange."

The next customer was younger, better dressed, and looked around him as if he'd never been in a diner like this before and wasn't quite sure how this worked.

"The… breakfast special…"

The woman behind the counter rattled it off again, in case he'd forgotten it.

"Choice of meat… what's that? I mean — what am I choosing from?"

"Well, what do you want?"

"Suppose I want… filet mignon?"

"No problem, hon. White or wheat?"

"What?" The man's jaw worked soundlessly for a moment.

"Do you want… toasted white bread… or toasted wheat bread?" said the woman, a little more slowly than necessary.

"I mean… you're kidding, right? About the filet mignon?"

"Nope. Choice of meat. That's the deal, hon."

"And it costs the same?"

"Yup."

"Okay, then, I'll have that. Oh — and wheat bread. And grapefruit juice."

At this point, there were several more people in line. Two of them ordered the breakfast special with filet mignon, another ordered it with braised pheasant, and another, really getting into the spirit of things, ordered it with truffled grouse. The next man in line, whose tastes were simpler, had it with venison strip steak.

The next four customers had the special with (in this order) bison brisket, emu drumstick, yak ribs and mooseburger. Then things started getting exotic — leg of kangaroo, grizzly pot roast, honey-glazed elephant ham. No matter what they ordered, the woman behind the counter never even blinked.

Next came a young couple, who didn't order the special at all, but had Belgian waffles instead, mostly in the hope of discouraging their seven-year-old son from ordering anything insane. This didn't work.

"I want the breakfast special with dinosaur!" said the boy.

"Don't be silly," said the boy's mother. "They don't have dinosaur. He wants Scrapple."

"No, I don't! I want dinosaur!"

"What kind of dinosaur?" said the woman behind the counter. The boy drew a blank.

"We've got some Iguanodon tail and leg in the freezer, from the Upper Jurassic," the woman suggested. "Just a little advice, though — the leg's all weight-bearing muscle. Very tough. I'd try the tail instead."

This satisfied the boy. The next three customers were more conservative in their tastes, ordering roast passenger pigeon, aurochs liver and megatherium flank, respectively.

After them came a pair of ecologists, who ordered the special with roast nutria and mute swan a l'orange, on the grounds that these were both invasive and destructive species. The woman standing behind them threw a fit on hearing someone order swan, but she turned out to be a vegetarian anyway. At this point, the noises coming from the kitchen were getting very strange indeed.

Then came another customer, an old woman with very sad eyes.

"I'd like to order the breakfast special, please," she said.

"Choice of meat?"

The old woman took a deep breath.

"I was only a little girl when my father died," she said. "He went off to war — the Great War, it was. Spanish flu took my mother not long afterward. I went to live with my grandparents, in a great old house out on the edge of the woods.

"My grandmother did most of the cooking, but whenever my grandfather brought home a wild goose, he insisted on cleaning it and preparing it himself. He glazed it with a special glaze made of honey and the neighbors' homemade whiskey — Dale and Martha Comegys, they were our neighbors at the time. He made gravy out of the giblets, and he baked the goose in an old, old iron stove.

"I don't think my grandfather ever cleaned out the inside of that stove. When he cooked something in it, you could taste a little bit of every other meal that had ever been prepared in there." She sighed.

"The happiest years of my life were when I lived with my grandparents," she said. "Tell me… is it possible… can you serve my breakfast with wild goose that tastes… just the way my grandfather made it?"

"Sure thing. With white or wheat toast?"

The next customer asked for "my ex-wife's big, fat, greedy ass. Well done." The woman behind the counter didn't refuse his order, but she gave him a definite dirty look.

The last customer in line looked at the clock. It was almost eleven.

"Is there still time for a breakfast special?" he said.

"Sure thing, hon."

"The thing is… I woke up this morning and I really had a hankering for some bacon, but…"

"What's wrong with bacon?"

"Nothing. I just… I'd really like some bacon, but… I don't know… with so many possibilities… I mean, when else in my life am I going to get a chance like this?" The woman behind the counter waited patiently, knowing from long experience that when you tell people they can have anything they want, their wants have a way of expanding to fill the space.

The customer finally made up his mind. "How about wild boar bacon? Like, from the really dangerous European wild boars?"

"Can do, hon."

 

It was about 11:30. All the breakfast orders had been filled. Behind the diner, a tall, weedy boy of about sixteen stepped out the door and leaned against the Dumpster. His white hat was askew, and his apron was stained with many kinds of grease.

He had a mass of curly hair and a complex constellation of acne on his face. His skinny neck, with its bobbing Adam's apple, made him look like a cormorant trying to swallow a very uncooperative fish.

He looked around to make sure no one was watching, then took out a joint, lit it and inhaled deeply. He held the smoke in as long as he could, then let it out in one long, thin stream of gray.

"Well, that sure was the morning from hell," he said to no one in particular.

Then he stubbed the blunt out on the side of the Dumpster and went back inside before he'd be missed. The lunch special was a hot roast beef sandwich with choice of soup.

 

This story is dedicated to Harlan Ellison, who showed me how to hallucinate properly.

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