Hands outstretched. A quick slap. Retracted. Still waiting at the table, he watches the waitress’s back. She keeps an eye on him.
“No hands on the table!” she laughs, shaking her hips.
He hasn’t eaten in weeks. All the other men laugh and jeer. Such poor service. Why doesn’t he just leave?
Long and slender, the cuttlefish is his favourite breakfast item, but she always brings him bacon and eggs. Everyone else gets cuttlefish. The truck drivers smell it but refuse to eat it. It gives them something to discuss over their C.B.s though. The C.B. wire is wrapped around their necks and connects each of them. To communicate with one another, they just tug on the wire and yell across the cafe. While driving in their trucks, however, a lot of them are accidentally strangled to death.
He’d love some cuttlefish. How he craved it. But she, a simple waitress, rules his life with her playful games and mixed up orders. How flirtatious she is with him, when she sits, naked, on his lap, while he strains to read the menu. Truck drivers pull their wires at the sight. One of them is yanked off his stool.
Amongst all of this, he has a right to be angry. It is his house after all, and they are all unwanted guests. All friends of the waitress; all part of the game. He doesn’t know why he married her. It certainly wasn’t for the food, and the service leaves a bit to be desired. But she likes to entertain guests of all sorts. He should have known she was trouble the moment he laid eyes on her. He recalls that night with relative ease. She jumped atop his shoulders, and beating on his head with her fists, announced at the ambassador’s dinner party that she wanted to be a waitress. Luckily, cuttlefish was being served. Why did he love her then? Was it her exuberance or was it that gold locket that she wore? Yes, that gold locket! It was attached to her nervous system via a system of wires and pulleys. You could hear her squeak as she leaned over to serve guests their cuttlefish. She had inherited the gold locket from her dear departed mother; it was surgically removed from her – father insisted on it – so that it could be passed down through the family.
How her eyes lit up. The gold locket had everything to do with it. That was it! The eyes! So simple; that’s why he loved her. Looking into her eyes, he saw Poseidon, dripping wet, standing on a street corner in New York. Waving his trident in the air, he tried to hail a cab, but to no avail. Defeated, he sits on the curb and quietly removes the herring from his beard. He is a god, but in New York he can’t even get a cab! He is approached by a young prostitute who, not recognizing him, simply asks for a light. He pulls two herring from his beard and rubs them together until they are hot enough to light her cigarette. It was the worst tasting cigarette she’d ever had. Regardless, she thanks him and sits down next to him. She asks him if he works at a fish market. Throwing back his robe, he replies:
“I might as well!”
Together, they get a cab, at last – more due to her effort than his. Having stayed at the bottom of the ocean for most of his life, he is not familiar with New York etiquette.
Together, they open a fish market. It is a success. He finds happiness with this child of the night, but the day soon comes for his return to the ocean depths. Forever indebted to her, and not being able to stand an hour without her, he brings her along. It was a mistake, of course. Unable to breath underwater, she drowns. He decides not to visit New York again for quite some time.
He is disturbed from his thoughts. Her telling eyes have turned away. Someone asked him for a clean fork. Of all the nerve; the man of the house fetching a clean fork for a truck driver! And where’s his wife, whose idea all of this was? She certainly wasn’t making sure that his cuttlefish was ready. The wires pull, and stretch, and hum. All the other truck drivers want forks too! What lack of manners. They drag each other around by their C.B. wires. When one gets up to use the washroom, the others must follow; everything is a group effort. With the door closed, they wait patiently outside, some of them munching on toast and coffee, while negotiating how much slack wire they can spare. It’s never enough; a tug of war always ensues between the person in the washroom and the group gathered outside the door. If the person in the washroom is strong enough, he can pull the others to the ground, right up against the door, thus reaching the urinal without incident. Needless to say, the weaker truck drivers have the strongest bladders – and better aim.
When finished, it’s back to their stools, their favourite spot at the cafe. If one of them falls to sleep, perhaps after eating too much pie, he is dragged out of the cafe by the others. This interrupts communication, of course – a weak link in the chain. A message can’t be sent when the wire is too tight. Tensions do run high. He often finds them flirting with his wife. Without warning, they encircle her; the wire entangles her and prevents her from taking fruit juice to table one. He remedies the situation by standing up and hollering:
“Someone out in the parking lot is giving out free motor oil with every flannel shirt you can pull out of a pack of cigarettes!”
That always cleared the place of truck drivers. They all race out – dazed, confused, excited – dragging along all those who fall. The web of C.B. wires trips customers just arriving. One thing’s for sure, the truck drivers enjoy the parking lot almost as much as they enjoy the cafe. Just set them out there with a pot of coffee, some cigarettes, and a package of French mints and they’re in heaven. Not that they eat the mints; they just like to read the box; it gives them something to do. They probably don’t know that there’s chocolate inside.
Left in peace, at last, she comes over and sits down next to him, and lights a cigarette. She says she wants a raise. He plays along; she likes it that way, and he knows his lines well after years of practise. He lets on that he wants to hire another waitress, and then her hours will be cut. She likes the dramatic edge. She should have been an actress. But, in retrospect, she should have never given up politics, although it’s a lifestyle that can drive someone to become a public servant.
“I’ve worked here for well over four years,” she cries, shaking her cigarette at him, “and I deserve a raise and more hours – not less!”
He can’t improvise for too long; he must get to work. Breakfast is out of the question now. At least everyone else got theirs.
“You seem so distant,” he complains, “and I’m so hungry. When will you give up this waitress charade? Your father, the Prime Minister, keeps asking about you. He’s concerned about your future. Oh,” he paused, suddenly remembering, “your father is in the far booth. He wants bacon and eggs, sunny side up.”
“You leave my father out of this!” she retorts, obviously angered. “I’ll serve him just like I serve anyone else. After all, he’s nothing but a normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill man – beneath that gorilla suit.”
“Why does he wear that anyway?” he saw fit to ask. “It’s not proper attire for a cafe, let alone the House of Commons!”
“He has a saying,” she began, by way of explanation, “walk softly and dress as a gorilla. Everyone fears him,” she continued. “No one doubts his decisions. How I hate him! He ordered mother around like a maid, God rest her weary head. Why, I’ve got a good mind to give him cuttlefish instead of bacon and eggs!”
“Ask him if he’ll trade with me then,” he interjected, in an act of pure optimism.
Suddenly, her father leaped up and started hanging from the chandelier. He swung from one to another. Beating his chest as he landed on the counter, he sent cups and plates flying. The customers immediately recognized him as being the Prime Minister. How viciously he growled at them. How quickly he snatched the food off their plates, and even out of their mouths!
“Look at him,” she stamped her feet, “stealing my thunder. He always has to have a hand in my affairs.”
“Your father is rather rambunctious for his age,” he began, trying to calm her. “Maybe you should just serve him decaf.”
“Father,” she hollered, hoping he’d notice her plea, “there is the issue of unemployment, and political turmoil overseas.”
Father dropped the young lady, scratched his head, and raced off to the parliament buildings, where they anxiously awaited his arrival.
“I must be off to work now myself,” he said, taking his briefcase in hand, and moving towards the door.
“Must you leave?” she spoke with a sadness that caught him off guard at first.
She dropped her pen and pad and ran over to him. Very discretely, she presented him with a bill for food he never received. Quite unexpectedly, and with great passion, he took her in his arms.
“But the customers!” she laughed.
“I don’t care,” he admitted, squeezing her tightly, “damn the customers, damn your father, and damn the lack of cuttlefish. You’re such an odd ball; you give me such joy. But tell me, when will this little charade end?”
“Do you want your change?” she said slyly, pulling away from him and heading to the cash register.
“You keep it as a tip,” he replied, taking her arm and turning her to face him. “You’re so elusive with me,” he began, while caressing her cheek, “but it only heightens my pleasure. Remember our wedding?” he paused and smiled at the spontaneity of this particular thought. “How well hidden you remained,” he continued, looking into her eyes. “No one could find you for hours – and with all the guests assembled in the church – when finally the minister chuckled and you came out from beneath his robe. What a riot!”
“That wasn’t me,” she frowned. “That was your first wife.”
“Oh yes,” he paused, “but I never really did get around to marrying her, because of that slight complication. How easy it is to block something like that out, only to laugh at it upon reflection many years down the road.”
“Would you like a breath mint?” she asked, holding up the tray.
“You’re really something,” he shook his head, in a good sort of way, “I know that you’re so busy, running to and fro, taking orders, but I really must tell you,” he pressed her hand against his chest, before continuing, “regardless of the fact that I haven’t eaten in weeks, and our house is constantly abuzz with nonsense, I still love you as much as ever and I …”
“What was that?” she suddenly cried, pulling away from him and heading toward the kitchen.
“What was what?” he asked desperately.
“That damn chef,” she cursed, “he’s broken another plate!”
She disappeared through the swinging door, only to return shortly thereafter with two orders of home fries for the elderly couple in the back booth.
“So,” she sighed, wiping down a particularly dirty table, “you’re off now?”
“Yes,” he replied dryly, putting his hat on.
“When will you be back?” she asked, once again seeming saddened, as she prepared her pad for the new customers at the counter.
“I should be back by eight o’clock.”
“Note the new hours on your way out,” she shook her pen at the sign near the door, “I’m closing early tonight.”
“Why close early?” he turned, holding the door open.
“Because I have something special planned for you,” she smiled. “Did you say you wanted coffee with that?” she turned back to the customers.
He waited at the doorway for a while, knowing – hoping – that she was not finished. He wanted to leave for work in a positive state of mind. He was always strangely optimistic about things like this.
“Oh, you’re still there,” she smiled, looking towards the doorway. “Well,” she began, while approaching him, “make sure you’re back by seven o’clock this evening or you’ll be locked out.” She concluded by kissing him on the cheek.
“I wouldn’t want that to happen again,” he smiled shyly.
She raced over to clean off one of the front booths. He loved her surprises; that’s what kept them going for so long; there was always something around the corner.
“I’ll be sure to make it on time then,” he hollered over to her, feeling much better now, “but don’t worry about dinner; I’ll cook it myself!”
By: Cameron A. Straughan