The carcass bobbed around in the pot, simmering for the day’s Christmas special. A dinner consisting of turkey, stuffing, green beans, and a choice between sweet potato, mashed, or baked russet potatoes would ring in at a whopping $6.99. For the less discerning crowd, Jake was making turkey and rice soup; served with soda crackers, along with a side of his signature house french fries that he liked to douse in melted margarine the second they made their way out of the deep fryer. Two industrial sized cans of turkey gravy sat unopened on the counter. He will open the cans of cranberry sauce upon request, slicing it in circles.
The last of the drunks had let himself out. Stacey locked the door behind him and switched the sign around so that it read: We Re-open In 1 Hour. She pointed the cardboard arrow on the clock to 5 A.M. and pulled the black shade on the window to dissuade any bums from hanging around; anxious for a cup of Christmas cheer. She was pulling a double and had slept a straight twelve hours the night before to prepare herself for the shift that she would soon liken to “tea with the devil.”
The dining room was a disaster. The patriarch at a table for twelve had brought his entire family lineage with him. A soiled plastic baby bib sat on the floor next to a forgotten soother. The older kids had left their signatures in the wood grain using a multitude of different coloured crayons. A mountain of used tissues occupied another corner of the table; left there by the defeated mother with a head cold. A glob of denture cream was puddled on a chair right next to a blob of strained carrots. Stacey couldn’t tell whether the carrots belonged to the senior or the infant.
She finished cleaning up and walked to the bar and put out her smoke in the ashtray. She faced the dining room when she rested her elbows on the wood and placed her hands on her belly; pushing hard to quiet the rumble from hunger pangs. She had thirty minutes to eat and rest for a spell before the new crowd shuffled in. She was craving a Cobb salad with extra bacon. She also hoped that Jake remembered to put a fresh pot of coffee on to brew. She walked across the room, picking up a discarded napkin along the way and stopping at the pool tables to neatly stack the cues against the wall. She would soon celebrate her fourth year as head waitress at Jake’s. In her world, it was akin to moving up the corporate ladder, sans briefcase in tow.
The lights in the kitchen were bright, making her dizzy.
“All done out there?”
“Finally,” she told him, sitting on the counter next to him. She grabbed a slice of baguette from his cutting board and gnawed on it gratefully.
“When’s Trix and Rudy coming back?”
“Soon, I hope. If they don’t go for a joyride.”
Jake shook his head. “Does it really take two people to go pick up the Pointsettia?”
“That’s what I said!”
“No you didn’t. You said, Point- settia.”
“You knew what I meant. Does it?”
“You know them. Anything to get out of work.”
“I don’t know why I bother,” he said, going back to the business of bread slicing.
She watched him, studying his eyes. She wondered what he looked like when he was younger—back when he was a sailor. She imagined him journeying from port to port, breaking hearts along the way. His left ear was mangled and scarred for life. He had rescued a toddler from a dog attack. The kid was playing on her front lawn in their neighbourhood. Jake had been walking by on his way to the local tavern. He noticed the dog growling from across the street; baring its teeth. It was collarless and showed signs of madness. Jake walked faster, hearing the growl escalate to something meaner. The child was playing with a large cardboard box. She was oblivious. He picked up his pace to a jog, and then ran to the girl, just as the dog made its way across the street, heading for the target on her back. The girl’s mother finally made her way outside. She screamed when she witnessed Jake pick up the girl and toss her across the lawn, where she landed on her bottom, stunned. He fought the rabid canine with his bare hands until he had no choice left, and pulled the switchblade from his jeans. The mother had run inside with the baby in her arms. Jake threw his jean jacket over the dead animal and stared at the flesh-coloured hunk of cartilage on the lawn. He put pressure on what was left of his ear with his handkerchief and continued his journey to the Tavern. A true hero doesn’t wait for applause.
Stacey shifted her body to turn up the radio and started to sing along with Tina. “What’s love got to do, got to do with it. What’s love, but a second-hand emotion…”
Her boss raised his eyes towards her and pointed his knife at the ghetto-blaster. “You’re pretty good. Should try going big-time.”
She laughed and kicked gently at his calf, “Yeah. Right. And leave all this behind?”
“Yeah. It’s freakin’ Paradise. Go eat before we greet our loyal fans.”
She jumped from the steel table and stood next to him. “I want to do the thing first.”
“You know. The thing.”
He slammed the knife down. Its rattle echoed endlessly. “Christ, Stace, not again!”
“You… helped me the other times,” she said timidly; afraid that he wouldn’t help her. She placed her crucifix in her mouth and sucked on it.
“Why do you want to do this shit to yourself, eh? Why?”
She stared at her feet. Tears threatened.
She looked up at him and spit out the cross, “You know why, Jake! It’s Christmas and I… can’t do it alone.”
He paced back and forth a few feet away from her. He stopped abruptly and rested both hands on the work space before him. “Why the hell do you have to do it at all?”
“Because it helps.”
“Well,” he said, sarcastically, “shit. Since it helps…” He walked quickly towards her, grabbed his knife and then her wrist. She instinctively turned her head and squeezed her eyes shut. The pain was equivalent to the needle-prick administered by a tattoo artist. She felt Jake press a clean dishcloth against her skin. She kept her eyes closed. It was a rule of his. She could only open them once she heard him walk away. His boots thudded angrily across the kitchen floor.
Her stomach growled.
About The Author
Barbara Avon is a multi-genre author who has opted to independently publish. She lives in Canada, and the majority of her work is written through the male protagonist’s perspective.