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Small Minutes

by Sally K. Lehman

part 3 of 4

“Every soul has a Spirit Guide,” Grandma always said.

“Even my mother’s soul?” I always asked.

“Even your mother’s soul.”

“Although your mother’s Spirit Guide is sorely under used.”

* * *

Alison stayed in the hospital for one night. She was not pregnant. She was not infected with any sexually transmitted diseases. She was going to have to go back to the hospital in three months and six months and one year to be tested for HIV again and again and again.

Alison quit her job at Dee’s and moved back to Washington. Sometimes I try to remember her as more than just a name, but her face is lost to me.

The customers in the morning didn’t know me, so I took another name tag from someone who had left. I was now Dottie. Good ole Dependable Dottie. Always on time and ready with a smile Dottie.

There were more customers in the morning. Dee’s is well known for breakfast. More customers equals more tips equals the shift going by more quickly.

* * *

Grandma used to talk about her family a lot. They were all either dead, dying, or no longer talking to her.

“Family gets in the way,” Grandma said.

I got names, relationships to me, and status in Grandma’s life. It was the only information she ever gave me about my extended family on that side. My mother never really knew my father — a one night stand with some guy named Phil — so my mother’s family was the only family I had.

* * *

Sometimes my head could explode with all the words rolling around it. Time for writing when that happens.

Yellow index card. Character descriptions.

A man. Silver hair. Blue eyes. Thick fingernails from ranch work. Six feet tall.

Now let’s dress him carefully. He needs to be prepared for all the terrible things I decide to do to him.

Snap down work shirt and Levi’s. Thick belt buckle and a pair of old cowboy boots. The kind of boots used for work, not for looking at.

And now a name. “Phil” comes to mind.

* * *

“Construct your own Symphony of Life with the music your gods have provided,” my Grandma would say.

“Shut up and smile already,” my mother would say.

“Let your soul smile through any adversity,” my Grandma would say.

“Put a smile on your face before I smack one on it,” my mother would say.

As a child, I smiled a lot.

* * *

Pink index card.

New character: woman, slender, average height

Hair: blond, curly, short

Eyes: two, green

Clothing: long skirt, halter top, sandals, silver earrings

The truth of a character is in the deconstruction of its pieces.

* * *

My Grandmother was a big proponent for the Death Penalty. She wanted to put every criminal down for anything from murder to interracial marriage.

“What about your Grandmother?” I asked.

“That was different,” Grandma said. “She was sold into marriage.”

That was all she’d say about it. I figured she was only against marriage between races when it was an enjoyable experience.

* * *

“Audi,” Eduardo said.

“Shh! I’m Peg here!”

Eduardo was the only cook to know my real name. The only person other than the boss and me. The only person in my life to shorten Audinita.

“You really moving to days?”

“I have to,” I said.

“You have to?”

I looked over the wavy air created by the heat lamps on the pass through. No food right then because it was slow.

“Better money?”


“You like mornings?”

“God, no!”

“There’s got to be other reasons.”


“But you have to?”

“I have to.”

He looked at me with his ultra-brown, Latin eyes that are always so incredibly sexy and worried right then.

“You’re moving because of what happened?”

“I just have to know.”

“Is this like when you ran out after that guy who stole out of the register?”

He glared at me.

“That guy deserved it. He reached around while I was cashing someone out.”

I glared back.

“That guy shot at you, Audi.”

“He missed, Eduardo.”

* * *

I lost my “Night Owl” status. I couldn’t spend my nights looking out the window to see what wasn’t there. I couldn’t give a legitimate reason for driving to work, since I wasn’t passing the graveyards in the dark anymore. I still drove.

My habits had to change.

I started the change with a new hair color.

“I never know which daughter I’m going to see when I come over,” my mother says. It annoys her the most when I choose odd, un-hair-like colors like green or orange.

The new color is called Turquoise Morning and comes with a bleach-out kit to make it as blue as possible. It made my hair into shoulder-length curls the same color as the sky in the first flashes of early morning.

Can’t wait to see my mother again.

* * *

A nasty thought came to me. A thought my mother could have put into my head.

“Did you do it?” I asked.

Eduardo glared right through me. The only Mexican cook in the place, he’d already been asked that question by the Police. He’d already been asked that question by the boss and by Andy, the other cook on duty.

“Screw you, Audi.”

He was so angry at me, we didn’t say any more words that night.

* * *

In the small minutes of morning my alarm clock springs to life. I look over and the ridiculous time of 5:30 am flashes at me like a taunt. My first day shift begins today.

I want to turn off the clock and to go back asleep. To forget Dee’s in favor of dreams. It comes back at me.

Alison from day shift was hurt. Jenny from day shift quit. Dottie is the new, shiny, happy waitress in day shift. Perky Peg was no more.

I inhale some resolve from the air around me.

Getting ready to take orders from people I don’t know, to cart plates to the table then away again, to let my skin and hair and clothes bathe in the essence of used grease. It requires brushing my teeth, not taking the Prozac my mother insists I take, and pulling my blue hair into a ponytail. My uniform gets picked up from the floor next to my bed and thrown on my back. My feet slide into well-used brown shoes. My car keys are on top of my purse.

* * *

I roll from bed in the morning. There are pieces of poetry on the pad of paper by my bed. I’ll have to wait until I get back to transcribe them onto purple index cards and add them to the bathroom wall, but my fingers inch toward the paper, unwilling to leave these pieces behind.

Grandma always said, “Never let your arms and legs, fingers and toes, think for you.”

She said the same about genitals.

* * *

I drive the half mile to the diner. I look at the faces of the men in cars around me.

Could one of these men be the one?

Could it be this man’s sperm that slowly leaked out of Alison before someone found her?

Could it be that man’s infected blood that might bring an HIV positive result in three months or six months or a year?

None of them wink at me in some telling way.

I just go to work.

* * *

My Grandmother was dying for all of my life.

The first memory I have of Grandma is her saying, “You know, I’m not going to live forever.”

The last memory I have of Grandma is her saying, “You know, I’m not going to live forever.”

The last time she was just a lot closer to the truth.

* * *

Day shift has its own set of Regulars who all ask after Alison. Or Jenny. Or both.

As Dottie, I don’t have answers. Peg might have had some, but she’s not here anymore.

My first day goes from 6:00 am to 2:00 pm.

I take the trash out the back door three times, looking each time for any sight of the man. It’s starting to frustrate me that I have the question “Who?” but no one comes trotting up saying “Me!”

Maybe tomorrow. Or tomorrow. Or tomorrow.

* * *

I asked my mother what Grandma was sick with. She refused to answer. Wouldn’t give a name to whatever disease ate Grandma up and took her away.

“What were her symptoms?” I asked.

“She didn’t have any,” my mother said.

End of conversation. Put a period on it.

“But she looked sick near the end,” I said.

“Oh. That!” Like the sick looking that Grandma did was only done to annoy.

End of conversation.

End of Grandma.

End of the game.

Thank you for playing. We have lovely parting gifts.

* * *

Another day of puking out my heart and soul onto small pieces of heavy paper so I can add them to the many pieces of myself already written and inspected and rewritten and reinspected and rewritten again. Add more of me to the color that surrounds me on my walls.

How many times should it take for me to put myself on a piece of paper?

To make it right and whole and acceptable?

How many pieces of myself can I let go of without losing all of me?

* * *

“She had no symptoms? So she just died?” I said.

“Well, she went demented first,” my mother said.

“Went demented?”

“Yes. You know, you know!” my mother would wave her hand around in the air. “The way old people get all forgetful and stupid like that.”

This was where our conversations about Grandma’s death generally ended.

There or when my mother said, “Of course, her soul is burning in Hell since she died Unforgiven.”

* * *

I sit in my chair and look at the walls that surround me. The words that I’ve pulled from my head like knotted yarn. The yarn I’ve knitted together into paragraphs. The paragraphs that don’t want to assemble themselves into coherent thoughts. The thoughts that are becoming more incoherent every day.

I stand up and walk into the bathroom. I look at the pieces of poems that I’ve attached to the wall around the sink. Each piece came in the dead hours of sleep. They wake me and demand to be written down on whatever surface I find. Too many mornings with ink-stained sheets and walls, I keep a pad of paper next to my bed.

Poetry doesn’t come from thought and sweat. It comes through remembering nightmares. The terrible thoughts that take you someplace you know but don’t know. Poems are hard and honest and unflinching things.

That’s why I keep them in the bathroom. The place where every surface is hard and sterile, white and unyielding ceramic.

Poetry is an unwieldy thing for me.

* * *

In the small minutes of morning Eduardo died. He was found in the same back alley as Alison. His throat sliced across and his eyes wide open with fear.

I met Eduardo on my first day at the diner. He was this young, handsome guy that I would flirt with while I sent up orders and he cooked the food to fill them.

I had thought about having sex with Eduardo. I could daydream him into existence and imagine the hottest, steamiest scenes. Never did it with him for fear it would screw up my writing. My ability to think sensually.

Now he’s dead.

The manager who insists we call him Mr. Sevick said the neck was cut so deep you could see his spinal cord. Andy the cook said the eyes had turned red where the white should be.

All I saw was the dark brown puddle edges left over after they cleaned things up.

* * *

On a Thursday in 2007, one of Grandma’s “they ought to give him the death penalty” convicts got paroled. My mother was elated.

“Can’t you see?” my mother said.

“He found Jesus in prison,” my mother said.

“So that’s where Jesus has been hiding,” Grandma said.

I never took sides in these debates.

* * *

My mother used to say, “Someday Prince Charming will come and take you away from all of this.”

I was generally confused by what “this” I needed to be taken away from. Why I should be taken anywhere — especially “away.”

I am sure that Prince Charming was supposed to be capitalized since my mother said it the same way she said God, with booming and angels and heralding from on high.

I would ask my mother, “Why do I need to go away?”

She would sigh loudly and turn away.

I never asked her, “Why don’t I dream about a Prince Charming?”

I never told her that I was pretty sure that the Glass Slipper wasn’t going to fit.

She stopped mentioning him completely when she first saw the index cards on the walls of my Place.

* * *

Proceed to part 4...

Copyright © 2009 by Sally K. Lehman

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