The drive-thru cashier watched the small gray rodent on the opposite side of the parking lot. It was lucky there weren't too many cars coming through right now.
Someone had pointed it out to her when they'd come past her window to give her cash for their meal.
A kind lady in a red car, just pointed at it and exclaimed, "Did you see that mouse? It's so cute!" She had smiled and agreed without looking.
The lady had driven on and she'd moved on to the next person in line with the standard cheerful greeting.
"Hi! Did you have the two sausage Mcgriddles?" As usual, they'd thrust money at her without looking at her. It's not like she was really human. Just a voice and a smile.
Most only really noticed her when she messed something up. They didn't like the tracks their lives ran on to get jostled by the faceless smiles that were supposed to help keep everything smooth.
Then after the rush ended and everything was still, she again noticed the small gray form in the parking lot.
It was pressed up against the curb, trying to hide from the roaring cars and the smell of gas and people. There was nowhere for it to hide though.
It was out of its element, in a world where it didn't belong. Maybe it was dead. Then it moved, and she knew it was not.
It ran in a nervous trot, its tiny legs a blur. It kept along the curb. That was good, maybe it would survive to get to the woods near the McDonald's. Probably not.
For a moment she entertained a wild fantasy of hopping out of the drive-thru window and carrying the mouse to safety in her shirt.
That would require her to leave her post and do something that was most definitely against the rules. If more cars came while she was out, there would be honking, yelling, angry questions.
She'd just been hired a week ago; she couldn't lose this job.
The mouse stopped and cowered up against the curb again. It stayed very still, as though convincing itself that it was camouflaged and safe.
She could almost see its tiny brain trying to figure out a way to survive. An AT&T van went to pull into a parking space. She winced.
For a moment she thought it was going to pull into the space the mouse was in, but it went into the one next to it. She was glad, she wanted the mouse to live now.
A bearded man got out of the van. He had a distinct pot-belly and appeared to be at peace with the world. He called across to her, "You just hanging out, enjoying the nice weather?"
"No," she called back, "There's a mouse. I've been watching to see if it gets hit." She didn't know why she didn't answer with a usual response.
She supposed it was because he seemed to genuinely be amused and curious. He looked around, and she pointed a finger at the mouse.
He saw it and glanced up at her. "Just been running around?"
"Yeah, I think it's confused."
The man walked over to the mouse. She watched him nervously. She knew how people thought of animals like mice. Any minute now he could squish it under his boots.
He stared down at it, then looked back to her. He made a running motion with his fingers and raised his eyebrows questioningly.
"Yeah," she nodded just in case he didn't hear her, "It's been running around."
He studied it for a minute more and then walked purposefully back to his van. He got a length of wire out. The cashier watched with interest. The man walked back to the mouse and prodded it.
The mouse jumped. The man jumped. He'd obviously doubted it was really alive.
The beeping that meant someone was in the drive-thru came through her headset. *Beep* Beep* Beep* Notice me.* Beep *Beep* Beep*
She pressed the appropriate button. "Hi and welcome to McDonald's! What can I get for you today?" The beeping for the second lane started but she ignored it. Her coworkers could take that one.
Now the mouse was running towards the road and the man was trying to shoo it away. It stopped moving abruptly and flattened itself.
He looked up at her and seemed to be indicating that the mouse was panting. She shrugged, holding her hands up. Nothing she could do.
"So you wanted the Quarter-Pounder with cheese meal, a large fry, and a hamburger, no onions. Will this complete your order?" She asked in the bright and cheerful voice people wanted to hear.
She paused. If people started to come through the drive-thru again, it could spell the end for the mouse. She couldn't stop them though. "All right that will be $8.90 at the first window."
She had approximately twenty seconds before the first car pulled up to the window. Now the AT&T man was pulling safety cones out of his van.
Maybe he was just supposed to use those whenever he parked. Someone else pulled up in the first lane. *Beep* *Beep*. The second order taker was still occupied with lane two.
She pressed the lane one button on her headset. "Hi, and welcome to McDonald's! What can I get for you today?" A car rolled up to her window.
She pressed mute on her headset and opened the window. "Hi! You had the Quarter-Pounder with cheese meal?" In her ear she heard the lane one person rambling off a long order.
The older lady outside the window wrinkled her brow into a look of disapproving concern. "I had the Quarter-Pound cheese burger meal....and the large fry...and the...."
The cashier nodded, smiling reassuringly. "That's right."
"Oh....alright." She handed over eight crumpled ones and then began rooting carefully through what sounded like a cup-holder full of change.
Now the mouse had run out of the parking space into the lane where people drove to avoid the drive-thru lane. A car drove over it. The cashier felt something drop in the pit of her stomach.
The mouse had tried so hard.
The cashier turned and quickly inputted three hamburgers with only pickle, a chocolate milk, and a 6-Mcnugget Happy Meal with yogurt and apple juice, as requested through the headset.
The person outside her window counted carefully through her change. She unmuted her headset.
"Alright sir, I have three hamburgers with only pickles, a chocolate milk, and a 6-Mcnugget Happy Meal. What sauce would you like with your Happy Meal?"
"Uhhhhh....." There was a discussion with someone in the backseat. Now the lady outside her window was done counting her change and waiting impatiently. She held out her hand, smiling.
The lady dropped a handful of coins into the cashiers hand that looked like they'd been residing in a tobacco chewer's spit cup for several years.
Beyond her, she saw a small gray form skittering back to safety. The tires must have passed beside the mouse. A curt "no sauce" came through her headset.
She quickly counted out ninety cents, smiled at the lady, and asked, "Would you like your receipt?" The lady shook her head and drove off to the next window. The cashier unmuted her headset.
"Will this complete your order sir?"
"Yup, that'll just about do it."
"That will be $17.73 at the first window." The sound of a truck moving off came through her headset. She had approximately twenty seconds until the truck came to her window.
Lane two would be behind the truck. The bearded man was getting something out of the back of his van. It looked like a cardboard box and some gloves. Good, that was smart.
The mouse was still not in a safe spot. The man walked up and tried to poke it into the box, but it ran away, fortunately towards the curb and not the road. The truck pulled up to her window.
"Hi! Did you have the 6-mcnugget happy meal?"
He nodded and handed her a debit card. "Yup, that was me."
She let the window slide close and slid the card into the card reader. She glanced out the window, searching for the mouse and the man.
The man was stooping down, gently shooing the mouse into the box. The card reader beeped. Remove card now. She pulled it out. A receipt printed. She opened the window.
"Here's your receipt and have a nice day!"
"Thanks," the man muttered.
"Thank you!" The cashier replied enthusiastically.
The truck drove away. Now it was the next car's turn. She glanced at the screen that showed the orders. They had two hamburgers along with other things. Someone was in lane two.
She had five seconds before the next person got their car in drive and got up to the window.
Now the man had straightened up and was carrying the box away from the parking lot towards the nearby woods. She pressed the lane two button.
"Hi and welcome to McDonald's! What can I get for you today?" She muted her headset and opened the window. "Hi! Did you have the two hamburgers?"
"Yes, ma'am," the teenager outside said. She liked teenagers. They were still uncertain enough about the rules to be polite to everyone. He handed over his debit card.
She slid it into the card reader and turned to the monitor. Two Double-Quarter-Pounders, no pickles, no onions and a large coke. The card reader beeped. Remove card now. She slid it out.
A receipt printed. She unmuted her headset. "Will this complete your order ma'am?"
"No, I still need...let me see...A large iced coffee..."
"What flavor would you like?"
"What flavors do you have?"
She read the flavors off to the person in the drive-thru, then muted her headset and turned to the window. "Here's your receipt and have a good day!"
"Thank you, ma'am, you too," The teenager said awkwardly. He plainly hadn't figured out drive-thrus yet.
"Thank you!" She glanced over, now the man was coming back through the parking lot.
Before she inputted the large hazelnut iced coffee with an extra shot of espresso, or went on to the next one in line waiting to pay, she gave the man the briefest of questioning thumbs up.
He smiled and shot one back at her. So the mouse was safe. It wouldn't die out on the pavement, alone, confused, and in pain.
For a moment, the smile she used as a mask disappeared, replaced by a genuine one.
For a moment, she wasn't a faceless smiling cashier at McDonald's; she was a person, happy that a small and inconsequential life had been spared. Then she turned back to her monitor.
"Will that be all for you today ma'am?"