The Restaurant at the End
of the World

by Ashley Burnett

There is a restaurant at the end of the world. If you do not know where that is, I cannot blame you. Google Maps has yet to chart it. Take a turn off Memory Lane and it’ll be on your right. If you’ve hit Easy Street, you’ve gone too far.

You arrive at the restaurant at the end of the world during a family vacation. Your father cannot find your hotel (of course, because Google Maps has yet to chart it) and so the tires squeal into the parking lot and you all pile out and into the restaurant’s red vinyl booths. Everything is vaguely ‘50s Americana-themed, because it’s the end of the world.

At the restaurant at the end of the world, you can eat anything you like. Your father orders chow mein, your mother a croque monsieur, your brother a bowl of curry udon. You are seven and you order chicken tenders. You can order all of these things because the kitchen at the restaurant at the end of the world is the most diverse place on Planet Earth. You cannot put borders up at the end of the world.

The waitress who comes up to your family calls herself Rose but you know that this is not her real name. That most likely you cannot pronounce her name and will only butcher it on your tongue. She does not judge you for eating chicken tenders, although your whole family yells at you to eat something, anything else.

There are a lot of people at the restaurant at the end of the world. That makes sense. If you’re running away from something, as so many are, eventually you meet the end. Eventually you run out of road. Eventually you get hungry. The man at the counter speaks Vietnamese, the family in the booth next to you Swahili. Your family doesn’t speak much at all.

The food comes. You bite into your chicken tenders and you create the moment that Proust flashes back to. They are deliciously fried, slightly too salty in a way that is just salty enough, and the juice of the chicken breast runs over your tongue, fills up your mouth. You look around. Your whole family is in rapture. Everyone in the restaurant is.

When Rose comes back, you are already finished eating. She says someone paid for your meal. You are only seven and so you cannot articulate it, but this bothers you. What did they see in your family that told them you needed a free meal? It doesn’t bother anyone else. They are happy for the free meal. They will bring it up several times during the trip.

Eventually, your family leaves the restaurant and finds the hotel, your father counting every mile on the odometer. You enjoy your family vacation. You splash in the pool, you take naps on lounge chairs that leave stripes on your skin.

On the drive back home, your father cannot find the restaurant at the end of the world again, even though you are all so desperate to eat there. You eat at an IHOP instead.

When you get back home, your skin still peeling from sunburn, your parents sit you and your brother down and tell you they are getting divorced. That this was your last family vacation as a whole, uncracked unit. You think of the restaurant, the free meal, Rose, the pool. The end of the world. You feel something between anger and relief, sadness and pity. You cannot describe it, and cannot locate it within you. Google Maps has not been there yet.

Ashley Burnett is a writer living in California. Her work has previously appeared in Jellyfish Review, The Toast, Wyvern Lit, and other literary journals.
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