Betty said it would be a nifty way to make a buck. She’d been car hopping up in Bakersfield and was raking it in.
The whole drive-in concept seemed loony. If it was my dough, I’d want to sit at a proper table with proper silverware and china. A tray hanging off the side of my car, soggy paper plates and flimsy forks, ketchup on the dashboard? Not my style.
I needed the money, so I applied. I checked the boxes. Age: fibbed a bit. Marital status: that still stuck in my craw like a whale in a stable.
The manager, Mr. Hodges, told me to try on the uniform right there in his office: tap pants and open midriff.
“Don’t fret, Lorraine,” he said in a slick, cowboy drawl. “I’ll turn around while you change.”
He did a little quarter swivel in his chair, but he could see me undressing, clear as day, down to my brassiere and panties. To ease my own shame, I imagined what faulty part kept him out of the war, saved him from being shot out of the sky like skeet.
I kept up my end of the charade. “Okay. You can turn around now,” I said.
His beady eyes scanned my body. My skin puckered like a plucked chicken’s, even though it was nearly 100 degrees in his office. I held my breath and thought of the school supplies I could buy my kids if I got the job.
The next day, I hauled loads of greasy food and milkshakes to the cars, then picked up the leftover trash. Folks tossed disgusting things on their trays that they never would’ve left on their tables at a proper restaurant. The men were the worst. Ashtray contents dumped in their egg creams. Wadded-up tissues gummy with you-know-what.
I kept at it for two months until Mr. Hodges approached Betty, her cousin Gladys and me about the photo shoot.
“It’ll be great publicity,” he said. “Burger Babes serving the Boys in Blue.”
Like we had a choice if we wanted to keep our jobs.
“This could be my big break,” Betty squealed, after Hodges lumbered his potato sack body back to his office, where he would spend the rest of the day with a fan blowing on his bloated face while we sweated like pack mules in the parking lot.
“At least it’ll be a day off,” Gladys said. She snapped her gum and got back to work. She was dark and hard. I wished I was like her.
“Whadaya think, Lorraine?” Betty asked.
“I don’t like the idea of having my face in the papers, much less my entire body in this get-up,” I said.
“It’s your duty,” Betty said. “As a war widow. A patriot.”
Screw my duty and screw the war, I wanted to scream. Sweethearts like my Joe had gone to Europe to die, while we women cleaned up the muck of sad-sacks like Hodges, 4-F’s lucky to be left behind.
The day of the photo shoot I didn’t bring my midriff. I put on the Hawaiian shirt Joe bought me on our honeymoon. Wearing it, I could fake a smile.
Alice Kaltman is a writer, surfer, and parenting coach. Her stories appear in Across the Margin, 34th Parallel Magazine, Storychord, Luna Luna Magazine, Dialogual, The Stockholm Review, the Atticus Review, The Victoria Rose, and Joyland, where her story STAY A WHILE was selected as a Longform Fiction Pick of the Week. She’s on Facebook, but likes Twitter a boat load more. Her website is kind of nifty.