Monday, July 13, 2009
a story for you
I had a story in an online magazine a couple of months ago. For those of you who missed it, I'm putting a version of it here.
A Life on the Side
By Kay Day
A bell jingled as I walked through the door into the dim diner. An old screen door squealed behind me and shut with a bang. No body’s going to sneak up on these folks.
The Last Chance Café was the only place in town to get a meal. That’s what the guy at Gus’s Gas told me, anyway. The only other establishment, he said, was Carl’s Bad Tavern, but the only food they offered was pretzels.
I took a seat on a squeaky Naugahyde booth that used to be crimson, but now was faded in spots and patched with duct tape.
“What can I get you, hon?” A busty redhead asked. Of course she was popping gum. What is this place anyway? Stereotype land?
“I’ll take the special. Fried chicken, right?”
“Yep. With mashed taters and coleslaw. Anything to drink?
I really wanted water, but wasn’t sure I trusted it. “Coke, please.”
I shifted in the seat and looked out the window. “What in the world?” I said, jumping from my seat to get a closer look. “What is that on my car?”
“Oh, that’s just some of the buzzards. Didn’t you see them circling the restaurant when you drove in?” The waitress, Peg, according to her name tag, waved a hand in the air after setting my Coke on the table.
I could feel my eyes bugging. “No. I don’t think I would be here if I did. What kind of restaurant has buzzards circling it?”
The one on the hood reminded me of Brad. Just the thought inspired beads of sweat.
“They nest in the trees out back. The owner wanted to chop the trees down but some animal rights people won’t let him.”
“Well, calling this place the Last Chance can’t help matters any.” I said, squeaking back into my seat.
“We’re all used to them. You’re the first stranger been through here in a year, at least. We don’t need to impress no one.” She snapped her gum and scrubbed the counter.
A phone rang and a gruff voice answered from the kitchen. I could hear mumbling and Peg was flat out eaves dropping. The phone hung up with a clatter and Peg rushed through the swinging door into the kitchen. “Fred? Fred! Wait. Don’t go.” I heard a screen door bang shut and her voice grew fainter.
I looked around the empty diner. Was Fred the cook? What about my chicken?
I walked over and peered through the serving window into the kitchen. There was a pan of chicken on the stove. Fire still on. Nobody around. “Hello?”
Shoot. I was hungry, and that chicken smelled good.
I went out the front door and looked around, then walked to the back and looked up and down the alley. Nothing.
I slipped through the back screen door and picked up the tongs to check my chicken. The front bell rang; the door slammed shut. “Hi Fred. Hi Peg,” a voice said. A florid face peered into the window. “Who are you?”
“Sandy” I said. “I don’t know where Fred and Peg went. They took off that way.” I waved the tongs toward the back.
The man watched me turn the chicken. “I’ll take an order of that. Double taters, please.” Then he moved to a seat at the counter.
“No, I’m not cooking. I don’t work here.” I said.
“Looks like you’re cooking to me and doing a good job of it. “ He snapped open a newspaper. “I’d like some tea, too.”
“Well, help yourself.” I said.
He just looked at me and went back to his paper. Well, he can just be thirsty then.
The bell and the bang again. “Hey Clyde. What’s shakin?” I peeked out to see a scrawny guy in overalls. They proceeded with some banter until Clyde said, “We got us a new cook. Peg’s not here, so just tell this lady what you want.”
“I am not cooking. I’m not taking orders.” I said. “You guys get back here and fix your own food if you’re hungry. Or better yet, go find Fred and Peg.”
They chuckled. “We don’t cook, ma’am. That’s why we’re here,” Clyde said. “As for Fred, my guess is we’ve seen the last of him. Everyone knows he’s on the lam and he’s been awful jumpy lately. Ol’ Peg is probably somewhere crying in a beer.” He rearranged his rear on the round seat. “So it looks like you’re chief cook and bottle washer, whether you want to be or not.”
“Well, maybe I’ll just eat my chicken and go, then.” I said, putting it on a plate and scooping up some ‘taters’ and coleslaw.
“You wouldn’t leave us hungry, would you? We’ll make sure it’s worth your while.”
I was running low on funds. Searching for a new life wasn’t cheap. “How do I know that? And what do you mean exactly?” I narrowed my eyes at them, as if I could ever look scary.
“Shoot, ma’am,” scrawny guy said. “Clyde here owns this joint.”
Clyde nodded and grinned. “Looks like I need a new cook. Can you do it? The pay is fair and includes a place to stay. Its just one room, but its free.”
I crammed some chicken in my mouth and chewed on it a minute. I’d been on the road six months. How long did I need? This place was remote enough. I could maybe feel safe here. Maybe this was the answer I’d been praying for.
I took another bite of chicken and nodded. “Where’s my apron?” I said. “ You got yourself a new cook.”