Stories from the magazine - Issue 30
David Francis (New York)
The middle-aged man with plastered hair and a short jacket filed out the door. "Awright, Lorraine," he said without looking back.
There was a clunk against the door. A delivery man, young guy with a goattee, wheeled in a dolly stacked taller than him with boxes.
The cook, about forty, in a blue apron met him at the elbow of the counter. "Turkey, bacon, cheddar cheese, American cheese," he recited professionally fast, seemingly quicker than he could mark them off, but he did. Looking around, waiting, the delivery man said, "If I don't fall asleep on the way." The cook said, "I heard that." Lorraine, an old woman with boy-length hennaed hair, and the amount of rouge one normally associated with a sunset, barked at the cook from behind the register, "Clear the driveway for me." He looked at her. "Huh?" He was busy unloading the heavy boxes into the freezer whose door was the culprit blocking the round-edged counter access to the kitchen. "I've gotta get to the ice cream," Lorraine said, watching him with narrowed eyes. He was ignoring her, didn't even look up to acknowledge her existence. "I've got a to-go order," she said. She went over to him. "You're not talking to me?" He finished and slinked back into the kitchen. Lorraine said after him: "I didn't do anything to you, Billy." She whistled as if to say "Phew!" and walked around the counter.
Then she returned to her ‘driveway’ and in a voice barely under a yell, her emotion disguised by the mask of an order: "Western omelette with cheddar, hash, rye, o.j, this is a to-go!" Billy remained well hid. "And I need to get to that ice cream!" This provoked Billy into a volley of muttering. "And I need that in a go-cart," Lorraine fired off. She strode back to check on the two early-morning sad-faced men waiting for the order. Over the tile wall, white with green tiles in a Maltese cross, Billy peeked; Lorraine scrambled over. "What is wrong with you?" she said. "You sure are grouchy for a man who's not even married." Billy looked at her with a gray late-night face, he was almost off, and said nothing.
A relief waitress came in with an expression on her face like the arrival of doom. She didn't look sad, she looked resigned to being executed, this was the day, all appeals had been rejected.
The two waitresses exchanged the mandatory cursory greetings of fellow workers, and then Lorraine with her superior energy and her indefatigable personality resumed her carping and pacing.
"What he needs is an attitude adjustment," she said to no-one in particular.
A minute later, Billy the cook, in his street clothes and coat, went out the door; quickly, but he looked back with a strange almost triumphant martyr-consumed-by-fire expression.