Happy Faces
Bev Vines-Haines
Ezra was the chief cook and bottle washer at Dopey’s Roadside Bistro. Dopey himself did little except read the Wall Street Journal from front to back every day including ads and legal announcements.  In his opinion, Dopey had been dealt a rotten hand.  He’d been destined for greatness.  Every day he resented the bad breaks he’d experienced.  He’d failed two or three high school classes due to poor instruction and a tendency for teachers to spend extra time with their ‘pets.’ His parents, never worthy of a boy with his potential, made no plans and saved no money for his higher education.  Born to be a world shaker he’d ended up running this coffee and burger joint on skid row.
Every day, after he’d foraged through his paper, he would pour a cup of coffee and watch Ezra. Ezra always smiled.  Man had nothing to smile about! Dirt poor, he raised seven children with a plump jolly wife.  Dopey would lose his mind if he had to put up with all that cheerfulness. Even now as Dopey watched him, Ezra cleaned the grill until it shined.  Every time a new order was placed on the wheel by a waitress, the man would make it nice and straight as if it mattered.  Every burger he constructed carefully like a fine mansion for some rich fool.  Meat precisely placed in the middle of the bun.  Pickles centered on the meat, not overlapping or falling to one side or another.  Worse, he had these happy face stickers with little messages he’d bought with his own money and no burger left the kitchen without that encouraging flag.  First he’d told Ezra he couldn’t use those faces but the customers complained.  Whatever. 
A few weeks ago Ezra told him he’d been saving tips and he’d just enrolled his third child in the local community college.  He had to be stealing.  Dopey had cameras installed over the register and seemed like every penny they’d sold went straight inside.  Ezra’s oldest boy had finished four years and won a scholarship to medical school.  How unfair was that?
This family picnicked, swam and went to the zoo.  Endless pretense proclaiming they were happy. Ezra planned all seven of his children would go to college. Dopey had seen those children since they were born.  Not one of them appeared to be marked for greatness.  He folded the paper in preparation for going home.  He would add another camera, a different angle, just to make sure Ezra was on the up and up.  If the customers weren’t so crazy about that man he would be pounding the streets for work.  He’d like to see him smile then.

First published: May 2015
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