By: Todd Mercer
Either nobody had information on what caused the restaurant blaze, or they’re all in on it.
Each local station put out footage of smoldering char-wood that was previously the thriving Maguire’s Surf-n-Turf. Now it’s an issue of fraud. The claims adjustor was on site by mid-morning, swearing and writing furiously on her clipboard. It looked like she was paid by the word. The adjustor didn’t think the culprit was a lightning strike or another act of God. Not by the number of times she was heard to say, “You’ve got to be @#$%ing kidding me.”
Word around town says the Maguires held shouting matches in the office as the ledger turned redder. As they shifted from apparent prosperity to the brink of failure. But the crowds that lined up out the door on weekends should’ve done the trick. And Maguire was so upbeat when touching tables and shaking hands with customers. Everybody liked him, and Alma had no enemies, unless you count the gossips. Maguire was a warm guy, but not the best with the books. The two of them discovered how to make the place boom, yet rack up loss after loss. There is a way.
While tendrils of smoke still rose from the one remaining wall of the building that the fire department saved, the people picked up their telephones and granted their lovely rumors wings.
Fly, little hearsay, be free.
Alma was (allegedly) falling in love or something related to it with the Fry Cook. It was said she persuaded him to drop a match into the hot oil for her. Townspeople seemed to take salacious joy in repeating this theory to each other.
Maguire kept expecting to be arrested in the next moment. Not yet? How about now? Not yet? He spent the first few days waiting for that knock on the door.
Community leaders were concerned at the loss of foot-traffic downtown. Maguire told reporters that they would rebuild. After all, it was a local institution with ten years in business. A week later he downgraded that projection: they’d try to reopen in the Spring. Maybe Summer. After that he took a Florida vacation that he didn’t return from and stopped returning calls.
The bank foreclosed on the property, yet they couldn’t sell it for much without a building on the land. It’s zoned commercial, one acre. “Will Build to Suit” reads a weather-beaten sign by the road.
Alma was spotted exactly once at the grocery store. She wasn’t hanging her head, she was sporting a knowing smile. Of course, we wondered why. However she carried herself, some would’ve made a point of wondering why.
The cook left town, in search of another struggling independent eatery. Someone’s dream that soured. He had a forward focus, and little interest in past calamities. He had other fish to fry.
Todd Mercer’s short collection, Ingenue, was a winner of the Celery City contest. His digital chapbook, Life-wish Maintenance is available free at Right Hand Pointing. His poem “Overextended” won a Dyer-Ives Poetry Prize in 2022. Recent work appears in Literally Stories, MacQueen’s Quinterly and Spartan.