Walter Campbell

Tommy's - Late Night Snack
Photo Credit: Ernesto Andrade

You’re at the Frankie’s Chiliburgers that’s downtown, fries still untouched, when you get the call from your vet telling you that Becky’s surgery went well, tumor removed like a skater in a country club. You rejoice by using a spare fry to scoop up some chili you dropped on your shirt because your shaky hands couldn’t hold the tray steady.

You found Becky seven years ago—marred and malnourished—while at a Frankie’s on the south end of town, wiping spilled chili off your clothes. You offered her a fry, and timidly, she approached.

Two days after Becky’s surgery, right before she’s supposed to be released, you’re at a Frankie’s in the suburbs when the vet calls again.

“I don’t want to worry you,” he says, which worries you, “but we want to go in for exploratory surgery.” The word “exploratory” makes you think of that time you and Becky devoured chiliburgers after a ten-mile wilderness hike.

You’re at the Frankie’s near the vet’s office when you learn that the exploratory surgery didn’t go so well, and your interpretation of exploratory surgery immediately changes. These guys aren’t Lewis and Clark, you think, they’re the killing squads of Cambodia, proclaiming death like it’s nothing. But you aren’t going to shoot the messenger, so you politely ask about chemo.

“I’m sorry, at this stage chemo isn’t likely to help. It’d be a lot of pain with almost no chance of recovery. I’m sorry.” Damn Khmer Rouge.

For a year prior to the cancer’s discovery, Becky couldn’t run much, so you’d pretend that you wanted to go to one of the further-away Frankie’s so you could drive. You finally took her in for a check up a month ago, after you went to the Frankie’s an hour away and she didn’t eat even one of her fries.

But this guy doesn’t work for Pol Pot, you think at the vet’s office as he tries to console you while petting Becky. Far from it. The cancer is Pol Pot, the spreading cells are his ruthless army, and this guy’s just trying to get Becky on the first flight out of Cambodia. It’s not his fault that all he can do is offer you guys a plane; it’d be nice if he could overthrow the violent totalitarian regime, but you can only expect so much from one man in loose-fitting baby blue scrubs.

Frankie’s, with its endless vats of chili, non-stop burgers, and unceasing fries, is open 24 hours a day, and there’s rarely a time when it’s not busy. But if you wait there all night, ordering boxes of chili fries, way too many burgers, and a maybe a few drinks for good measure, eventually you’ll find a time when no one’s ordering. And if you find enough of those times, you’ll also find a time when the staff steps away from the window. That time is the only time when you can scatter a dog’s ashes at Frankie’s without anyone noticing.

Walter Campbell lives and works in Philadelphia, went to school in New England, and grew up in LA, but he’ll write pretty much anywhere. Recently, his work has been published in Dog Oil Press. Email: walter.campbell02[at]

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