Sweet Tooth

By Tony Palmieri

Under spattered fluorescents in the Millerton Diner, they fed. Friday midnights found them always salty, so they hitched in for the sugar. He had cake. Yellow with white lard icing and two big sides of syrup. Not the pure stuff. Cheap. We're talking Aunt Jemima at best. She took hers dry. A crumbly tart, baked hard and sprinkled with a quarter inch of confectioner's. Plus, she never shut up and the inhales dusted her lungs – a hack and a spray of wet powder. When she barked, he seized the moment to raise a jelly-stick finger and shout, “More syrup!”

Once a week for ten years now, Betty the waitress curled her lip and watched them stuff sugar packets, whole, into their cheeks like squirrels while they read the menu. She knew when the paper burst by the climax in their eyes. The table was lousy with spit-soaked wads of chewed packets. Tonight, he'd mistakenly ingested a small dose of Sweet-n-Low – sugar's arch nemesis – and the maple wasn't quite doing the job. As Betty delivered his third helping, he stopped her leaving with a quick finger to the wrist.

“Bring me a shake.”

At this, the wife inhaled deep, lodging a chunk of tart just below her larynx. She snatched the syrup from his hand and chugged.

“What kina shake you want? We got chac-lit, vanilla, strawberry. No mixing.”

“Vanilla. I want it quick. Double ice cream, triple whipped, six cherries. Don't dilly dally. Fast, I said.” And he snapped a little nip to her arm flab.

Betty ran up to the counter and down to the shake machine as fast as her old legs would take her. By the time she hit the table, their plates were clean and they were working on the jellies, feeding them to each other and laughing, spitting bits of orange peel from the marmalade. They looked up quick and lurched for the shake. In their frenzy, they cracked heads and what spilled across their faces was not blood, but dark drips of thick molasses.