by Sally K. Lehman
At night I dream of dying. I dream that my soul walks the streets around my Place and listens to the night. That my soul stands sentinel over the alley behind the diner. I dream of slicing the sallow skin on my arms and watching it bleed.
These are my silent screams of anguish and insanity.
My dreams are for my Grandmother who is dead.
My dreams are for my mother who seems dead.
* * *
My search for the man who hurt Alison, who killed Eduardo, continued another day. I woke up with 5:30 blinking wildly at me, served food to people who called me Dottie, and looked into the faces of every man I met at or near Dee’s. No one was offering up confessions.
I drove to and from the diner, not bothering to hold my breath near the graveyard. Death had been courting me since Grandma’s death. Had almost taken Alison; had taken Eduardo. I was tired of being the mouse to Death’s cat.
It was time to set a trap.
I took risks. Offered to take out garbage. Had my coffee breaks in back, looking toward the Dead End then the Street. Maybe Death had taken to occupying the alley, so I was prepared to find it there.
Death wasn’t holding up its end of things.
* * *
I’ve got Seniority now. I’ve officially been at Dee’s longer than any other waitress with the glaring exception of Barb who works Graveyard.
It would be an impressive accomplishment if all the other waitresses working days and evenings hadn’t quit after Eduardo died. It also made the place a little lonely. I know the cooks and busboys — less than a dozen all put together. None of them quit. The whole “machismo” thing came into play on that one.
I was asked to train the New Girls.
I came up with Four Simple Training Steps.
1. Here’s how the tickets have to look. 2. Here’s where you put the tickets up. 3. Here’s how to carry three plates on one hand and a fourth on your arm. 4. Go work your station.
I had never realized how many tricks I’d picked up during my eleven months as a waitress. Important life lessons that would certainly serve me in the future when Prince Charming came along. And we had three children. And I was willing to wait on them.
* * *
The manager who insists we call him Mr. Sevick became annoyed that I kept taking out the garbage, kept taking breaks in the “Danger Zone” behind the diner.
“Are you trying to get a law suit out of this, Audinita?” he asked.
“A law suit?” I asked.
“What kind of law suit?” I asked.
He snorted at me and walked away.
* * *
In the small minutes of day I take my last chance to meet him. I step out the back door with my bag of trash. Close the door behind me.
In the alley, I stand between the relative quiet of the morning street traffic and the absolute silence of the alley Dead End. There between the quiet and the silence I wait.
The polyester uniform I wear pulls heat from the surrounding air and holds it against my skin. A long trickle of sweat slides from my blue ponytail, down my shoulder blade, under my bra strap, into the waist band of the wrap-around skirt. My brown shoes pull up the cold held in the concrete. The soles soaking between the humid feet within and the chill below.
My mind tells me that I need to get back into the diner.
I need to want to be out of this place where bad things happen.
The manager who insists we call him Mr. Sevick slams open the diner’s door out to the alley.
* * *
People do odd things when they’ve been at a certain job too long. Like Barb who works the Graveyard Shift.
Barb refuses to leave the shift, even for more money. She likes the power of being the longest running Graveyard waitress in the place. She also likes to bully people in the shifts before and after.
Barb checks out the whole diner before the outgoing shift can go out. Runs a finger along the back counters to check for whatever she hates that day.
“There’s grease on this counter,” Barb says one night.
“There’s water on this counter,” Barb says the next night.
It’s not possible to make her happy. The happiness of Day Shift doesn’t matter.
“There was no time for cleaning,” Barb says in the morning.
“I was running all night,” Barb says the next morning.
Barb doesn’t want to be happy.
Barb needs to get laid.
* * *
Grandma’s Death didn’t surprise me. She had become pale and withdrawn and began to cough. She was dying for so long, the fact of her death became true long before her body and soul caught up with it.
My mother shrugged Grandma’s death off within two weeks of our visit to the river. She began to selectively revise the history she and her mother had lived.
“I just never thought she was so sick,” my mother said.
“I tried so hard to take care of her over the years,” she said.
All of it was said with dry eyes, dry tones, and drunken disregard.
My mother had already forgotten the woman who was her mother. Left that woman behind in favor of an idealized false memory. My mother has lost a part of herself by changing her own history.
I never glamorized my Grandmother. She was the person she’d been born to be. She was difficult and opinionated and odd. She believed in things that other people regularly made fun of. She’ll always be a part of me and I will never forget the reality of her, never forget the part of me that she made.
* * *
In the small minutes of day he pulls me down. Down and aside and away and back toward the Dead End of the alley behind the diner.
His hand slips across my mouth. I drop the bag of trash on the ground by the diner’s back door.
Who is this? This man I’ve wondered on and sought out? This man who hurt Alison and scared away Jenny and slit the throat of Eduardo?
My eyes look over my right shoulder and I look.
I know this person. This man of many hats. His name is Andy.
Andy who cooks on the weekends for extra money to support his family. Andy who whistles while he cooks without realizing it and annoys the hell out of certain customers. Andy who stands a head shorter than anyone else in the staff and flirts with all the waitresses and is so damned charming.
Andy, who’s about to rape me.
* * *
I drank my wine at The Olive Garden during the last Saturday lunch with my mother. I watched as she sipped her way through a plate of Fettuccini Alfredo and six glasses of Chardonnay.
When the bill came, my mother seized it from the waiter’s hand before he could set it on the table. “I’m paying for this,” she half-yelled at him. “Taking my daughter out to lunch,” she half-yelled to the people dining around us.
She tucked the bill on its little black plastic tray next to her recently emptied wine glass. Went for the purse sitting on the seat next to her.
As my mother looked down to the right of herself, looked down to find her purse, she began to slowly fall. Her face nearly landing on the table before she pulled up again. She leaned in again, slowly bringing her face to the table again, pulled up with a jerk. Her wallet retrieved and her body giggling.
“D’you see that,” she whispered loudly to me and the nine people at the tables around us. “Almost knocked m’self out.” She was laughing now in a barking drunk way that’s so unattractive in women.
“Yeah,” I said. “Saw that.”
“I think I might’ve drunk too much wine,” my mother said in another loud whisper.
“No! Couldn’t be!” I wear mock astonishment well with my mother. She rarely works her way beneath the façade.
“No! Really! I’m a little, bitty, bit tipsy.” To illustrate her level of tipsy she held her thumb and finger a half inch apart and pulled the hand up to her right eye to make sure she and I both saw the amount.
She opened her wallet and thumbed through the three cards within to decide which one to use. One of the cards was her Visa, one was for Macy’s, and the last was a library card. It took her thirty seconds to choose one. She chose the Visa — or alternatively realized we were at neither Macy’s nor the Public Library. She spent another ten seconds carefully pulling the Visa out of her wallet in that exacting way drunk people have of doing things.
I watched her slap the card onto the black plastic and over-carefully hand it all to the waiter. who had to juggle to keep it in his own hand. He smiled tightly at me and left. My mother picked up her empty wine glass and tried to find another drop or two. When no drops found their way to her tongue, she looked at my glass. Before she could look for drops there, the waiter returned with the black plastic tray.
I watched her figure in her head the amount to leave as a tip and then try three times to add the tip to the total.
I watched her scratch out the amount she’d come up with twice and make large initials onto the changes.
I watched her dig into her purse for the car keys she thought she was going to use to take us away.
As we walked to the car, I said, “I should probably drive.”
My mother looked at me as if I’d suggested she go walk through the grocery store naked. “I’m driving,” she said.
“If you’re driving, I’m walking,” I said.
We stood facing each other for less than a second.
I walked home.
* * *
I watch the tendons lift and fall as my fingers tap out the beat repeating itself in my mind. It’s the same beat every day. Every night.
My hand is brown. It’s long. It’s worn from the hours of carrying hot plates and washing up at the end of shift. The fingers are hard with dry skin and bad cuticles. The tendons stand out even when my hand rests. The music my fingers make is echoed in the rhythms of the dancing tendons. I watch them strum through the song again and again and again. A diversion from the words that won’t find their way onto an index card.
* * *
In the small minutes of day I see my body festering in the alley behind the diner. I always liked the word “Festering” and have decided in death that it should apply to me just like Thoughtless and Blunt and Selfish and Inhospitable did before death.
My body lies in stillness so complete that no one can see it but me. I can only see it because I know to look.
My polyester wrap-around skirt almost covers my knees, my thighs, my underwear. The tear in my yellow panties exposes me in ways the words on my index cards can’t. They expose the utter core of me to anyone who would look.
And I want them to look.
I stand at the street end of the alley and scream. I stand in front of a man and drench him with rage. I stand amidst a crowd of women passing the diner and try to push them to seeing me.
No one hears me.
No one feels me.
No one sees me.
An old man in a gray cardigan comes by. His poodle on a red leash tries to pull him toward me. The old man pulls back and wins the tug-of-war.
My body remains the muted witness to it all as it sculpts itself into the pavement beneath it and the trash bag above it.
* * *
When I am found, I watch. I watch my mother try to cry through the frozen veneer of her Helpless Woman Alone face. I would follow, go to the morgue or the funeral parlor or the ovens, but I am drawn instead to the graveyard that I passed every day.
Among the stones that mark the moments others have lived I see those Others. The Recently Dead are confused, lost in those moments before they fully understand.
The Long Dead are bored, they don’t greet me or waste their attention on any of the rest.
The Young Dead cry but can’t be comforted.
And Souls Stolen are directionless in a labyrinth of confusion, their last thoughts those of a person driving past a graveyard and breathing.
I find a stone with no Souls attached to it and claim it as my own.
* * *
Maybe my mother was right.
Maybe my Grandmother misread the long life line on my palm.
Maybe this, all of it, is just another one of those life lessons that refuses to be a crime.
Copyright © 2009 by Sally K. Lehman