Ooo-hoo. Oh man oh man oh man. You really want the best? This is what you have to do: Make sure you have plenty of cash. They don’t take credit cards or any of that. What hotel are you staying at? Okay, head south from there, go two miles down whatever road that is, two blocks past the third gas station. There’s a little shack of a place with bars over the windows and all the lights out. Park in the back near the pile of old Christmas trees. Watch your step. The asphalt’s like waves. If you become disoriented, look up and try to find familiar stars through the sodium lights. There will be nothing but a swirl of yellow-glazed bugs. Despair and then strengthen yourself. Let the shivers run down your spine and out like gutter water.
Knock on the door marked DELIVERIES. Use your knuckles. Don’t use the palm of your hand. Knock three times, each one louder than the last. Don’t knock again. Don’t doubt that you knocked right. You did just fine, just fine. Make sure your shoelaces are tied. Be on guard. There are killers and thieves in the shadows of the laundromat across the lot. They will strike if they feel you’re not on point. They may strike anyway, so keep your wits a-fucking-bout you.
A woman will answer the door. She’ll ask you if you need to talk to Arturo. Don’t answer. After the silence becomes unbearable, she will ask you if you have a reservation. Say Yes. You won’t, but say Yes anyway. She’ll ask your name. Say ‘Frankfurt Burns, party of two.’ Make sure you have two in your party. Say you’re Rich’s other nephew and cough twice into your fist. Don’t forgot to mention that you’re Rich’s other nephew or she’ll become suspicious. Technicolor spiders will appear on her shoulders and you won’t know whether you’re awake or dreaming, and you may forget your mother’s maiden name.
She will open the door and hand you a manila envelope. Accept it immediately. In the envelope will be a map and a postcard with a picture of a horse on it. On the back will be a number written in pencil. Memorize this number. Say ‘Thank You, Sharon.’ She will crinkle her eyes as if her name is not Sharon. But it is.
Return to your car. Pray no dogs come out, but do not pray out loud. Watch your corners. Make sure no one’s in your back seat before you open the door. Drive back to the gas station. Fill up your tank and buy a two-gallon container. Fill that as well. Turn off your headlights and flip the map upside down. Follow it to the letter. The drive will be long, and you will abandon hope of ever reaching your destination. Keep going. You can’t fail. Your appetite is on your side.
The moon will appear to pixelate and shudder. Night clouds will turn blood red and take on a horrific majesty. Suicidal ideations may take hold, and your steering will pull left a bit. If you’re a praying man, pray. If you’re not, don’t. Hold fast and breathe slowly into your hunger.
In your rear view the road will chase you. You will know sorrow and you will know fear. Your bones will make sounds that your ears will doubt. You will come to the end of the map and still you’ll see nothing but corn, and the howls of animals will remind you of past loves. Don’t ignore the rush of nostalgia. Feel it fully, cry until you’re dry, let the memories become small enough to fit into the glove box, then place them there beside the flashlight, the tire gauge and the gun you didn’t know was there. If you must doze, doze. The rumble strips will bring you back.
Press the radio on and scan the AM band until you hear something like the laughter of children. Signal right but turn left and drive until the laughter dies. Pull over and kill the engine. Leave your keys in. Get out of the car, take three deep breaths and follow the sound of footsteps through the kicked-up cloud of gravel dust. Feel free to fear, but don’t doubt the maker of the footsteps. Just follow and keep your own thoughts hidden from you.
A screen door will find you like a spider web in the dark. You’re here. Squeak the screen door alive and open. The cicadas won’t be there to cheer you on any longer. Step inside and go blind from the neon light of beer signs. When your eyes tune in, your Hostess will be standing there. Her hair is a black majesty. The scar on her forehead will do nothing to hide her beauty but don’t gaze too long or she will own your soul and the pink slip to your car. She will take your coats and offer you salvation. Let your face fall down into her breasts without embarrassment. She will hide you and heal you. There is a blue rose tattoo on her collarbone. Count the petals. This will come in handy in future lives. The number on the coat check ticket will feel strangely damning.
Hand her the postcard and tell her your number from the postcard. It’s no longer written there, but you remember it, don’t you? Of course you do. Follow her into the dining room and when she offers you a seat, ask her for another; for a booth, closer to the window. She will try to talk you out of it. Do not, for Christ’s sake, let her talk you out of it.
Your Waitress will come by about a half hour later. You’ll think it’s Sharon but it’s not. You’ll then think it must be her twin sister, but Sharon has no twin. She’ll ask if you want the buffet. There is no buffet. Say No. She’ll ask if you want to hear the Specials. There are no Specials, but don’t, Do Not, let her know that you know this. When you’re very sure she’s done with the Specials, say you’d like to see the Tuesday menu, unless it actually is Tuesday, in which case simply ask for ‘The Menu.’
A doughy-faced man at the next table will grab your shirtsleeve and ask how’s the weather in El Paso. If you happen to be from El Paso and have only left recently, feel free to tell him, but use plain English and avoid meteorological jargon (this will enrage him and you’ll have to fight him to first blood in the parking lot with silverware and jumper cables and you will lose). Otherwise, laugh like it’s an old joke and say, ‘Oh no, I’m not that easy,’ then give a little laugh, then he will laugh too and slowly release his grip from your sleeve, leaving a runish mark that you will ponder in your old age when all of your friends have died.
Study the menu. The words will spin slow and settle onto the page and into the sauce-smeared fingerprints of past diners. The fingerprints are mysteriously, Pygmi-ish small. The jukebox will cue up Walter Pitchfork’s Pigfucker Lacrimosa No. 4 and it will make you fear for the lives of your children. Especially if you have no children. Resist the urge to call and check on them or all will be lost. Concentrate hard on the menu. There is a troubling wisdom in the description of sauces if you’re the kind who can find it.
This is your time. Do not falter. Easy now.
The Burnt Tips are gone by the time you get there. Don’t even ask. The Pickled Sow Cunt is what the place is known for. Order it with beans and slaw or not at all. The Pulled Pork Platter has tons more meat then the Sandwich but costs the same. The Chicken is just okay, but if you’re a chicken guy, I guess you’ll like it just fine. The Ribs are excellent, but they’ve been known to induce temporary blindness in whites and Chinese. Small price to pay, some say, but know the odds. They only do full racks, no halves, and don’t even think about splitting it with your partner because fingers are lost that way more often than they’re not. The Devil’s Cock-n’-Balls is exactly what it sounds like. Do not order this unless you literally want to eat the Devil’s cock and balls.
The 66-n’-6 Sampler is the way to go. I always get the ol’ 66-n’-6. It of course comes with the Devil’s Cock-n’-Balls, but just let them lie there if that’s not something you feel comfortable digesting.
The needle will mysteriously jump from Pigfucker Lacrimosa No. 4 three bars from the end, and either Whammy Bar Mama or Slaughterhouse Kate’s Cuntrag Blues will come on. They have identical guitar solos but are otherwise nothing alike in sound, substance or mettle.
The sauce cart will sidle up hot and loud and Gravy-Face Gary will ask you what sauce you fucking want in a voice that brings to light all of your father’s infidelities. There’s Miner’s Lung No. 6, Death Throes Rose, Bonnie’s Special Red, Ragwater No. 5 and Bonnie’s Xtra Special Red. If you’re braving the Devil’s Cock-n’-Balls, I’d use the Xtra Special Red and man oh man let it flow. Otherwise you can’t go wrong with the Special Red. Miner’s Lung is an acquired taste but if you’re like me, you should always be acquiring more tastes, right? Ragwater No. 5 doesn’t hold a candle to Ragwater No. 4 but that recipe died violently with its progenitor Polly ‘Pretty Please’ McGuillicutty at a Greyhound station in Joplin. Death Throes Rose gives me fevers and the shits so I rarely touch the stuff.
The bathroom is to the right of the aquarium. Don’t mind the chickens hanging from the Bible-blackness of the drop-ceiling grid with no drop-ceiling tiles. Those are just the Voodoo chickens. The chickens they use for cooking are in the mop closet, which is inspected quarterly in accordance with local bylaws, so breathe clear and easy.
When you exit the bathroom, mind the Irish Wolfhound chained up to the slop sink. He doesn’t bite or leg-hump, but lose yourself in his gaze and you risk a hellish vision quest, suspended in a mist between two waxing crescent moons, descending into a bright blue madness, remembering all pre-verbal pains and soul scars, before reemerging awash in glory fire and a new soul-skin, released from his spell and placed safely back in your seat by the mighty oaken arms of Gravy-Face Gary, also in accordance with local bylaws. Also, the Wolfhound will own the pink slip to your car (if you’ve already lost this to the Hostess, you’re fucked, brother).
If you’re lucky, your food will be waiting for you when you come back.
Enjoy your food and eat sloooow. Chew each bite thirty-seven times or the chef’s allowed to leave a trace of his soul in it (again: local bylaws). Chef’s a decent guy but I wouldn’t want a goddamn mote of his soul in my belly, and I eat most anything.
Now when you’re done, and if you still own the pink slip to your car, pull out and drive in an easterly fashion with the headlights off until you hit the main road. Take nothing but lefts until you’re back on the highway. If you sweat something that doesn’t smell like your own sweat, don’t worry, that’s situation normal. Ignore the sounds of hooves clopping beside you. Now suck on that starlight mint and let that toothpick do its work and drive, drive, drive.
And of course there’s Porkin’ Mama’s just two blocks that way. They’re pretty good too.
Matthew Myers studied film at New York University in the 90s but somehow ended up working on an ambulance in the Midwest. He now works in an office, where the leftover adrenaline from his past profession had been redirected and is now secreted as fiction of both short- and long-range capability. Apart from one accidental short-form publication, this is his first published work.