"We need a refill on salt shakers at table two, a fresh ketchup bottle on tables three, four, and six, and for god's sake, see if we've got a spare pacifier for the kid at table five." Marcheline's lawyer-like voice rattles off instructions faster than anyone can understand them. Taking over her shift is like diving headfirst into an ocean current traveling at a million miles an hour.
I nod after every ten or so words; after sounding off eight commands in under a breath, Marcheline gasps, "Thank god you always show up for your shift on time." Then she flings off her waiter belt like it was on fire and throws it on the rung. I watch her dash out of the back room like she's being chased.
Poor Marcheline doesn't always do well with the evening rush hours, when anything can happen.
Already in my uniform, I make sure of three final things before I step out into the fray that is Elliot's Diner at 6 PM: 1) my nametag is straight and my name tag, because once I grabbed Pedro's nametag and got some strange looks from guests; 2) my waiter belt is full of straws, breathmints, and spare napkins; 3) my shoes are tied, because tripping during rush hour can be fatal.
Check, check, and check. Pulling my hair back into a ponytail, I glance at myself in the dingy mirror in the room. Brown hair relatively shiny. No stray eyelashes on face. No food stuck in teeth. I am ready to go.
There are some things about waitressing that you kind of learn as you go along: first, people are shallow. I've heard people debate a tip because they're arguing whether the waitress's cup size affects how good her serving was. So even though I'm not exactly blessed in the cup department, I make up for it with a pretty smile. My smile is the one thing that's never failed me, even though I'm awkwardly tall and my hair has a knack for frizzing until it looks like a brown dust bunny.
Second: Tips favor the prepared. Always be ready with a recommendation, a straw, a napkin, or a couple Tylenol pills if need be. If you can cure someone of a headache, you're guaranteed at least a 20% tip, maybe even 25% if you smile brightly enough.
Third: Never wait. I know the word 'wait' is in the word 'waitress', but honestly, the golden rule of service is to never sit still. Always be moving, always be covering tables, filling drinks, removing plates, asking people how they are and if the food's okay. In the service industry, there is no such thing as a pause button.
I whirl around on my heels and head out of the back room and into the diner. All but two tables are filled with chattering people, and the sounds of clinking glass, silverware scraping against plates, Motown music in the background, and food being shoveled into mouths fill the diner like music. Rush hour is in full swing, running at a quick tempo.
Once you figure out that tempo and start moving to the beat, waiting tables really isn't as impossible as it seems. Before ten minutes are up, I refill table two's salt shakers, mop up a pink lemonade spill at table four, earn a ten buck tip from table six, and am asked for my number from table five. The customers come and go, and I pick up small tidbits of gossip: Anna Epperly, the mayor's daughter, was caught with the pool boy last Monday. Mr. and Mrs. Carmichael are expecting their eighth child. Andrea Marcos found out her boyfriend was a she.
My best friend Johnny told me once that setting up a waitress spy-ring would give the CIA a tactical advantage.
"Hey, Jane," someone calls from table nine. Larry Birdstrom, a regular. Orders New York Strip Steak every Friday night, grilled medium-rare. Two diet cokes. In love with his secretary.
I navigate my way around the tables to him and say, "Hey there, Larry. The usual tonight? If you're feeling adventurous, how about trying the new tomato bisque soup Shawnelle's testing out?" Shawnelle may not be our head cook, but she's the main creative force in the kitchen. She comes from a hellish background, yet every dish she makes tastes like heaven.
"Sure," replies Larry Birdstrom with his signature too-white grin. "Anything Shawnelle makes is bound to be delicious." Larry Birdstrom is one of those unhappy corporate successes who finds pleasure in the smaller things, like our little diner on the corner of Seventh and Carter Street. Before I'm about to head off to the next customerthe glasses at table six look like they need replenishingLarry stops me and asks, "So how are things, Jane?"
I pause. Making polite, casual conversations with customers is generally a good move. However, it can slow you down.
"I'm doing fine," I say. Generic replies keep you moving, I've found over the years. People subconsciously decide that you're not interesting enough to press further questions.
"Any boys in your life?" Larry asks, and inwardly, I roll my eyes. That's the problem with being a seventeen-year-old girl and having many middle-aged regular customers. They always want to know about your love life. Or, in my case, lack of one.
"No sir, life's too busy," I reply. He grins.
"Your time will come," he tells me, a wistful look on his face. I know he's thinking of Maureen O'Leary, his pug-nosed, bushy-haired ginger of a secretary. Maureen isn't much to look at, but she's sweeter than the banana cream pie Larry orders for her every time they stop by for lunch.
I grin in reply, knowing my smile would net me at least an extra buck in tips. Then I hurry over to table three, who look like they're ready to order. Classic Cheeseburger and fries for Pa, Turkey Sandwich for Ma, Kids Mac N Cheese for Junior. Refill of sodas all around.
You know, you can tell an awful lot about people from what they order and how they order it. I can write a whole essay on a person's personality just by watching them ask for fried chicken and a colossal milkshake with a guilty color to their cheeks, or a fat-free salad and water with a hungry gleam in their eyes. Food service teaches human nature just as it teaches speediness, preparation, and flexibility.
Food itself can speak without words and reveals everything from personality to personal turmoil. A man who normally asks for a burger and chocolate shake but instead requests a lean turkey sandwich is reeling from an epiphany. A woman who passes up her usual fat-free salad for a thick, rich slice of Shawnelle's trippple chocolate cake also needs a box of tissues, a reassuring hug, and someone to agree with her that all men are scumbags.
I speed around the diner like a ping-pong ball, getting that adrenaline rush that takes over waiters' brains when they finally find themselves at the same tempo as rush hour. I am, as Johnny puts it, in stealth mode.
At table three, I bring extra napkins because Little Mimi Littleton can't aim for her mouth and her face is covered with more spaghetti sauce than I swear Moe, the head chef, put on that plate. At table one, a date goes sour. A complementary chocolate for the woman gives me an extra five dollars in tips. I see her here every Friday or Monday, each time with a different guy, and someday I'm going to work up the courage to tell her that dating a man in a suit does not mean you are dating a nice person. Money can't buy class. At table six, some three-year old knocks over the peppershaker and draws a smiley face in the mess. I come by with extra napkins and tissues, because the entire family erupts into a chorus of sneezes. At table four, a thirty-percent tip. Told you Tylenol for curing headaches comes in handy.
At table seven I stop short. No. Not here. Not now.
The reason I like waitressing so much is that the rush of the customers and food takes my mind off things. Like school. And the people who go there.
I groan inwardly as the five people I least want to see right now settle into the booth, flipping open their menus. Their leader, Tina Kimball--'Tink' to her cronies--makes a face while reading.
Tina Kimball throws her blond hair over her shoulder. Her cronies do the same two seconds later.
Tina Kimball launches into a story where 'like' is inserted every eleven words. Her cronies listen in like it's the most fascinating news they've heard all year.
Tina Kimball sighs dramatically, prompting her cronies to respond with looks of "I know, right?" and equally dramatic sighs.
I swear to god, they're all robots. Every last one of them.
Suppressing a groan, I step over to their table and try to pretend that I've never seen any of them in my entire life, even though Tina Kimball once hid my clothes during gym and I had to spend the rest of the school day in my sweaty P.E. uniform because Johnny and I never found them. Tina Kimball maintains that if she and her cronies are at a Level 10 on the social scale, then Johnny and I are at a negative one.
"Good evening," I say politely, smiling. I am imagining pouring ice water over her head, and the mental image pulls my grin wider. "Are you all ready to order drinks?"
"Look who it is," Tina Kimball replies, pursing her lips. Some girls think that doing this makes them sexy or something, but they look like overly manicured ducks to me. "What's up, Plain Jane?"
Plain Jane was my nickname from middle school that people still think is the most original thing in the world.
"Right now, the dinner shift," I reply quickly. "What'll it be to drink?" Come on, let me take your order so you can leave me alone
"Water," Tina Kimball sighs. "I'm on a detox diet now. Gotta watch the sugar content." As if Tina Kimball needs to diet. She's the head cheerleader, for crying out loud. When people watch the squad perform at halftime, it's not the cheers they pay attention to.
"How about you all?" I ask the other girls, already knowing the answer.
"Water," says Blonde #1.
"Water," says Blonde #2.
"Water," says Brunette #1.
"Water," says Brunette #2.
Yep, total robots. Fem-bots, as Johnny calls them.
I am about to ask them if they all are on the same detox diet Tina is, but think better of it. I walk away and hear some of them gossiping behind my back.
"Remind me why we're eating here again?" asks Blond #1.
"Daddy thinks I should get to know regular people better," Tina replies, sneering regular as if the word puts a bitter taste in her mouth.
"Like Plain Jane the Waitress?" asks Brunette #1. They snicker.
I make the rounds at the other tables, knowing at one point that I'll have to come back and actually take their dinner order, and dreading the moment when I do. They talk about the things you'd imagine cheerleaders and daddy's little girls talk about. How many guys they hooked up with at Kim Allen's party Saturday night. Whether Jenna Hale really slept with Whatshisface. If flirting with Coach Masterson will really raise their grade in P.E.
I wouldn't mind the cheerleaders so much if they didn't reinforce every single stereotype against them.
What had started out as a decent Friday night rush hour quickly spirals downward once I try to take table seven's orders. I have to ask them three times if they're ready, since they've been here twenty minutes and haven't ordered anything. Tina Kimball looks through me like she has forgotten I am I here (what else is new?), then mumbles something about a fat-free salad. The other cronies mumble the same thing, and as I walk away from them, gritting my teeth.
I start to lose concentration and find myself falling out of the rush hour tempo. Why do I let these things get to my head so easily? Johnny says that what the cheerleaders say doesn't matter, but somehow their words find a way to worm into my mind.
I know something is wrong when I accidentally trip over my own two feet and nearly douse the lady at table twenty with Shawnelle's tomato bisque soup. Apologizing breathlessly, I still hear Tina and her cronies giggle in the background. They may be chuckling about some inside joke or escapade, but in my head, I am sure they are laughing at me.
While passing by the open window that offers a view into the kitchen, I hear Moe call out, "Everything fine, Jane?" His thick caterpillar eyebrows are furrowed with concern. I yell that I'm okay so he doesn't worry. Moe makes it his personal mission to be a second fatheror even a firstto all employees here.
Around fifteen 'til eight, Moe and Shawnelle finally have table seven's orders ready and I am burdened with the task of facing Tina Kimball and her cronies again. My smile already feels strained from grinning at each ordering customer. The other two waitresses who work my shift, Tanya and Andie, glance at me with concern. Tanya and I share tables because of an agreement we worked outTanya's new to the job and really not a good waitress, so I try to help when I can. Andie takes care of the last few tables at the twenty-table dinermost waitresses typically care for five, but Andie is more of a waitressing machine than I am and I've seen her go through thirty parties on a good night.
"Need a break, Dalton?" Andie calls as I slowly make my way to table seven. Andie is one of those dyed-hair and multiple-piercing tomboys who calls everyone by their last name. Johnny has had the biggest crush on her since I started working at the diner. Too bad she's twenty-four.
"I can handle myself," I yell back, over the din of the restaurant. Generally, it's a bad idea for the wait staff to do anything that would distract the customers from their meals or conversation, but Andie can tell I'm not myself tonight. She glances over at table seven, sees Tina and the Tinettes, and frowns. She was in high school once, she knows the type. In the back of my mind, I am picturing Andie confronting Tina Kimball and giving Tina a piece of her mind. Andie's afraid of nothing and no one.
I carefully set the entrees on the table, avoiding Tina Kimball's gaze. The other girls regard me as though I am invisible. I make my way back to the kitchen and try to continue the rest of my shift without fainting. Or vomiting.
Table six leaves me a measly tip that I can't help but feel I deserved.
Table five orders seven entrees despite only having three people. And foreign countries wonder why Americans are so fat.
And then, Blonde #1 from table seven waves me over. Feeling like a mouse approaching a cat, I hesitantly pause before their table. I must look like a criminal about to receive their sentencing after a trial.
"There are chicken strips in my salad, Plain Jane," she says acidly. The other girls, especially Tina, are frowning.
"I'm sorry, would you like me to get you a new dish?" I ask quietly, amazed that my voice doesn't shake.
"Um, no, we have somewhere to be after this," she says snidely.
"Sorry," I say. My mind is blanking. What am I supposed to do? The customer doesn't like their dish, but doesn't want a new one. There's some sort of protocol to deal with his, but I can't bring it to mind.
"Chicken has fat in it," Blonde #1 says irately. "Didn't you know we are all on detox diets?"
I guessed that, yes.
"Is there anything you need me to do?" I mumble.
"No," replies Blonde #1. The look on her face tells me that it is my cue to leave. I slink off, back to the sea of tables. Andie shoots Blonde #1 a dirty look.
"What was that about, Brittany?" one of the other girls asks.
"The waitress doesn't know how to take my order," Blonde #1, Brittany, replies petulantly. I wish there was a way I could dump her entrée on her head that didn't result in my being fired. Should I have spat in her food? Andie did that once to a customer who was giving Tanya a hard time. And the best part is, Andie had mono that day. (I know, I knowyou shouldn't be working if you're sick. But if you had racked up over $40,000 in debt from student loans and had the option of earning money versus lying at home wearily, you can see why Andie still came to work.)
"I can slip a fly into her drink if you'd like," Andie says as she passes me. I manage a tiny smile.
At last, it is finally time for table seven to pay and leave. Tina and her friends leave cash for me to pick up, saying that they each are paying for their own meal. I don't say anything as I take their money and they get up and saunter out the door. They've only left me a ten percent tip.
Pedro, the busboy, comes up behind me and starts clearing their plates. He's deaf, and he's working here so that his sister, who is also deaf, can go to the special school he never had a chance at. He offers me a shy smile. Grinning with relief, I make the sign for 'dinosaur'. It's the only thing I know in sign language, besides 'Hello'. Pedro chuckles breathily.
Then I notice a dark red designer bag sitting in the booth of table seven. One of the Tinettes has left her purse. I know I should do the right thing and chase them down, but for a moment, I am wondering if it'd really be that tragic for the owner to lose one designer bag. It's not like they don't have hundreds more at home.
The door opens and in steps Tina Kimball herself, on her own. Her angular, heart-shaped face seems softer now that it isn't drawn into a sneer, and there's less malice in her overly made up eyes. She glances around, spots the purse, and heads over to table seven. It is not until she is about to leave again that she notices me. I am frozen.
"Hey, Jane," she says quietly. For once, I am not invisible to her. I am just another person. "Sorry about me and girls being so rude," she adds. "Brittany just broke up with her boyfriend after three years when she caught him cheating on her for the sixth time, so we've been trying to cheer her up." She pauses, then reaches into the dark red purse and pulls out a crisp twenty, leaving it on the table and giving me a tentative smile. "There you go, that's the kind of tip you need. And Jane you should smile more often. I mean really smile, not that fake smile you have to give customers." With a slight nod, she finally turns and heads for the door. I can hear her cronies calling for her outside.
I see her rearrange her features back into that snobby mask she puts on for the others as she exits, and the moment is over.
For five seconds, I just stand there, wondering what just happened. What was it she said about normal people? That her daddy wants her to be around them? In that moment, she seems as normal to me as any other teenager. Absently, I wonder if I stereotype her as much as she stereotypes me.
I remember what she had ordered: fat-free salad and water. People who order that kind of thing tend to be very self-conscious about what they look like. No rational person orders something fat-free unless her self-esteem is as low as the calorie count. Fat-free food tastes as empty as the person feels.
Suddenly, I almost pity Tina Kimball.
But then I turn around on my heel and head back into the fray that is Elliot's Diner at rush hour, because you are not allowed to wait around when you are a waitress. Every second you waste dwelling on a single moment is a second that could be used to refill someone's drink or take someone's order. With a sigh, I finally drop back into the rushed tempo of the dinner hour, when anything can happen.
This was originally going to be the first chapter of a novel (you know, the book you always want to write but never do...) but I like it better as a short story. Critiques welcome! Is the pacing okay? Jane's character? Tina's character? All comments are welcome
I was in a diner the other night watching the wait staff scurry around, and my dad said something about how the world would be a better place if every person was required to work as a waiter for a year. I've always figured that waiters know something about humanity the rest of us don't realize.
Resolution: Make first million after starting own business.
Progress: Applied for a loan. Declined due to excessive account activity. Note: Constant purchasing of rare (albeit mint) wicker chairs is not conducive to bank balance. Wife insistent on selling wicker chairs to find money to start business. Bought new donut recipe book. Learnt how to make category hard donut, 'Diamond Swizzler'. Delma loves them. James offered to lend the money if he can become a business partner. Potential. First million still a long way off. Wife still nagging. Spent savings on replacing the roof of the conservatory when neighbor's tree uprooted in the November storm.
Update: Dogs should never be fed over two donuts a day. Next Year's Resolution likely…? Find enough money to take Delma to the vets. And make more realistic resolution idea.
Resolution: Find an appropriate business idea.
Progress: Neighbor's rebelling. Tree apparently 'not their fault' and so they refuse to pay compensation. Bank account dangerously low. Wife threatening to burn the chairs if they're not sold by the end of the summer. Note: Wife is always wrong. James pitched 'Chaposta' a new taxi service that incorporates both Chaperoning and the relaxing coffee blends found in Costa. I suggested 'Costaroning'. Not well received. Idea has potential. Wife unconvinced. Finding affinity for donut making. Could this be a potential career? Note: Delma is recovering nicely. Felt down one day, so bought a new car. Wife still nagging. Unimpressed with car.
Update: Bonfire night was unusually bright this year. Wicker chair collection dwindling.
Resolution: See last year's resolution.
Progress: 'Chaposta' ridiculed in monthly newsletter 'Taxiing for the Masses'. Costa suing. Wife may have been right about the business idea. Neighbors moving. Too much hate mail. Wife becoming fat. I don't know why.
Resolution: Buy donut shop.
Progress: Started selling donuts to the local community. Great success. Wife still getting fatter. May be the donuts. James is moving to Canada. Costa cannot sue him there. He mentioned he has family living in Climax, in Saskatchewan. Note: Learn to stop laughing at Climax.. Wicker Chairs insurance came through. Less than half promised. Paid off outstanding payments on the car. Wife wants to spend excess on gym membership. New neighbors. Worse than before. Heavy rockers. Delma worsening. Realised I haven't made any progress towards donut shop. Found local shop, 'Little Gems' closing. Started enquiries to renting property.
Update: Bought the rights to 'Little Gems' retail plot after relocation. Cheap price due to owner getting hit by car.
Update 2: Wife admits she hit the owner of 'Little Gems' in our new car. That explains the dents. Missed funeral.
Resolution: Open business.
Update: Delma died. Update 2: Wife left.
Resloution: Find apartment. Find enough money for food.
Progress: Wife took everything in the divorce settlement. Except 1,500 premade donuts for the shop that never opened. I fear they've gone stale. Missing Delma. Found apartment. Named all thirteen resident cockroaches. James found wife in Climax. Joined threesome. Note: If I ever find money again, move to Climax. Wife claims I hit owner of 'Little Gems'. Manslaughter trails start soon. Outcome: unhopeful. Becoming known as 'local' at nearby foodbank. Accidently killed Samuel Cockroach. Moving funeral.
Update: Despite everything, Climax still hilarious.
Resolution: Stay alive.
Progress: Still alive. Pen runn ng out.
Up ate: S arted play ng lotte y. U da e 2: P n alm s out.
Res l tio : Win lo t ery
Progress: Done. £150 million Jackpot. Bought new pen. Moved to Climax. Found new wife. Bought new dog. Named Delma the Second. Opened 'Donuts Galore'. No wicker chair beyond grasp.
Update: Life is finally perfect.
Final word from Doctor Lewis Talbot Diagnosis: Patient suffering from final stages of CDF (Chronic Delusional Fantasy), brought on by stress following divorce.
Medication: 450mg of Diaproxaline 200mg of Antimorphaltrexaline
Prognosis: Recovery unlikely. Delusion has become reality. Credit crunch still in effect. Ex-wife still obese. Cockroaches recently exterminated.
Somewhere in the back alleys of the city's older section there was a crumbling brick building that had been around since before ragtime music was popular. Hanging above a faded green door that led down to the building's cellar was a wooden sign, and despite the peeling paint, you could still make out the bar's name: Pinetop's Tavern. Nobody really knew when Pinetop's first opened; local folks would tell you it had been there since time began, and the world had grown up around it. It was one of those places where the lighting was always dim and the cigarette smoke never dissipated and the cloud you were breathing now had probably been around since W. C. Handy was still alive.
Pinetop's Tavern was a blues joint, and it had been around almost as long as blues music itself. Blues music was a lot simpler than most kinds of musicsimpler chords, simpler lyrics, and most blues musicians couldn't read sheet music. The genre was born on some unknown plantation in the forgotten Deep South, where black slaves chanted with each other in the fields and their cries turned into music. Nowadays, you only found blues underground, on fuzzy radio stations and in smoky bars like Pinetop's.
Everyone showed up at Pinetop's at some point in their life. It was one of those places you never went to, but ended up at, and more often than not you were in such a sorry state that you didn't care whether it was a blues joint or a lonely bench in the park or a bridge over the highway. Most people came across Pinetop's by accident, and when they went back to look for it later on, they couldn't find it. You can't sing the blues when you aren't feeling them, and you can't find Pinetop's unless you really need to.
Walking in, the first thing you saw was the old bar, where Little John the bartender was filling glasses and sliding drinks down to patrons. Little John had never gone to school, but the man practically had a degree in psychology. He'd been in the business so long that one look told him your whole story. Childhood problems, woman problems, work problems. Bartenders are one part server, one part psychologist.
After you'd waved a space in the cigar smoke for you to breathe and your eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, you picked a table or sat at the bar. You'd stew about whatever misfortune sent you here in the first placeyour girl left, your dog died, your boss gave you a pink slip signed with a smirk. Everyone here had a different story, many of theirs worse than yours. You said nothing to the people around you as they shared their trials and tribulations. You weren't ready, you told yourself as you ordered another drink. Still not ready as you shared some peanuts with the guy next to you, who'd been laid off for the eighth time in three years. Still not ready as another man asked you why the long face. Okay, he answered, we don't pry around here.
The band at the corner of the bar would play, and your sadness turned into a melody and a rhythm and soon your feet were tapping on the wooden floors. Happier folks bowed their heads and remembered yesterday's tragedies, angrier folks calmed down and swayed to the beat. Blues could turn you a different color if you weren't careful, and no one made you forget the outside world better than Pinetop's band, the Back Avenue Brothers.
The Back Avenue Brothers played every night at Pinetop's, their repertoire ranging from the old standards to stuff they made up on the spot. Each of them had pasts and personalities to make even the most determined therapist ask for another drink, but their music got toes tapping and fingers snapping. Odd tempers, even tempos. That's how blues musicians are.
Their leader was called Freddy Four-Hands because of how he played the piano, or as he liked to call it, his 88-string guitar. Some say he hitchhiked up here from the boonies of the Louisiana Delta, and some say he crawled out of the deepest pit in St. Louis, but if you asked him where he was from, he'd say everywhere and nowhere at all. He was a demon on that piano, though. Local folks say he traded his soul to the devil to play the way he didand he liked to mix things up. He played things like Bach's Minuet in G with a jazz spin or "Fur Elise" if Beethoven had been a blues man. But his favorites were the stride piano songs, fast melodies backed by a steady left hand bass. His idols were greats like Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk and people whose names sounded made up.
The band's guitarist was an old crusty waif of a man named Jeetes, who stuttered so bad he couldn't form sentences, but he struck a nerve whenever he struck a chord and played your heartstrings on his guitar. Freddy Four-Hands found him under the 39th Street Bridge last year, plucking a manic version of Robert Johnson's "Hellhound on my Trail". Freddy wasn't the only one who'd sold his soul to the devil, local folks said.
Their bassist was a silent man named Loomis, who was thick as a tree trunk and nearly as tall. He wore sunglasses even inside and he played the bass as naturally as most people breathed. Didn't say much though. He didn't really mix with people, but somehow he kept the band together. Bass players are like that.
The drummer was a skinny, lanky fellow named Puck who always had a cigarette dangling between his lips. He was Little John's cousin whose life had veered off track long before he made it to Pinetop's. His shortcomings were long-staying and he had problems deeper than the blues could reach, but that didn't mean he didn't try.
And then there was that singer. Marla. The woman with a voice that turned angels green with envy.
Marla could've been Miss Universe if it weren't for the angry scar that ran down the side of her face. Some say her daddy put it there; some say it was a husband; some say God himself drew it upon her cheek because she would've been too beautiful otherwise. Either way, she was one of those girls with a great taste in music but bad taste in men. Some day, she'd probably learn that Loomis had been there the whole time, at her side giving her a bass to keep steady, but for now it was one loser after another, one more blues song for the road each time they left her.
After a couple songs and a touching rendition of "Ain't No Sunshine" you opened up a little. Told them a little about yourself. Talked around your problem before talking about it. Said you were a lonely kid, Momma wasn't rich, Daddy wasn't there, in and out of work since graduating from a school that taught you nothing. The guy next to you could relateonly he didn't even have the Momma part of the deal. Took care of eight little siblings while Momma was in the house but out of her mind on Lord knows what.
You had another drink. Freddy Four-Hands played Ray Charles and put Georgia on everyone's mind. Now you slowly got to the point of your tale. You'd found a girl fresh out of college and decided you wanted to be a director. Science fiction movies, that kind of thing. As a kid, space had been your escape, and as an adult, it was going to become your dream.
Everyone sitting around you could tell you a little something about the fragility of dreams.
You ordered another round, offered a toast to dreamsbroken ones, new ones, old ones not yet forgotten. The Back Avenue Brothers paused a moment to join in. Marla had tears in her eyes and her next song put tears in yours. Jeetes played like only madmen can, Freddy Four-Hands' fingers slid up and down the piano, and Loomis's bass throbbed like a heartbeat. Puck's skinny arms flew everywhere on those drums.
Marla and the Back Avenue Brothers took a break. You got back to your story. So this girl you had got sick of you going on about yourselfyou were going to fix the movie industry, put some color in a business that had gone gray with remakes and reboots and re-this and re-that. A guy the next table over said he wanted to be a rock star and do the same for the music industry before he learned every other guy had a similar idea. You all ordered another round of drinks, made a toast to a gray, colorless world.
"I'll give the gray some blues," said Freddy Four-Hands before taking to the piano again. "Suwanee River" this time, before he transitioned into something he made up this morning. Something wild, mad, delirious as Four-Hands himself. Something so insane and incredible that only a man who'd made a pact with the Devil could have dreamt it. After the song and following applause ended, Four-Hands said it was something he picked up when he visited Hell last weekend.
Next song was quieter, the piano barely a trickle and the drums nonexistent. Marla began to sing. She put her soul into her voice, her damaged, determined, enduring soul. Dancing up and down octaves, sliding easily through notes. The song was about a man whose woman left himeighty percent of blues songs are about that kind of thingand even though it was a woman singing it you felt the man's pain as if it were your own. It was your own. Suddenly you were remembering what your girl's back had looked like as she'd walked out that door. Tired of the dreams, she'd been. Tired of you telling her someday we'll this and someday we'll that. Someday was in some faraway future that wouldn't exist until you got through today alive.
Blues made you remember that. Blues made you remember what it was like to feel sad, what it was like to watch your dreams walk out the door like the careless woman every blues singer crooned about. It was the sincerest form of music, born from pain, born from loneliness, born from the simple fact that despite how everyone came from different pasts and headed towards different futures, we all felt the same aches, nursed the same wounds. Love. Loss. Starting over. Blues was the loneliest thing that brought people together.
The applause after this song was hesitant at first, but it grew steadily. Marla had this odd smile on her face despite the leak in her eye. It made you remember an old saying you read in a book long ago: Shared pain is lessened, shared joy is increased. Good book, you thought, even if you weren't in the right state of mind to remember the title.
The Back Avenue Brothers started up one last song for the road. Freddy Four-Hands joined in singing, his mad fingers racing up and down the ivory. He had a raspy voice from his three-pack-a-day habit, but there was genuine heart in it.
"There's something going on," he sang.
"Something going on," Marla and Loomis repeated in harmony.
"There's something going on."
"Something going on."
"There's something going on. Tonight's your night."
"Tonight's your night!" Marla's voice flew up half an octave and Loomis's steady bass harmonized.
The whole bar chimed in: "And if you come and hang out with us, you'll have a real good time!"
Applause. Marla took a bow and a tentative glance at Loomis. You ordered another drink and the room got fuzzy. Last thing you remembered, Little John was telling someone to call you a cab and check your wallet for your address.
Next morning, you woke up in your own apartment with an impressive headache but you felt weightless. You started humming that last song to yourself as you washed your face and realized that you were still in your rumpled clothes from last night. So you changed into something fresh. Made yourself some coffee. Went about your day. The world's a colorless place, yes, but something about the way the daylight hit the pavement and the tune you had stuck in your head made it bearable.
A week later, you wandered through the older section of the city, trying to find Pinetop's Tavern again. Several times you thought you smelled the cigarette smoke and heard the Back Avenue Brothers playing, but those were false alarms. The faded green door and the old wooden sign were nowhere to be found among the decaying brick buildings. Perhaps you'd dreamt of that entire night? Your ex always said you were a dreamer. But then again, Pinetop's was one of those places you only found when you needed to. Someday you'd stumble into it again, smell the cigarette smoke, hear the stories, feel the music. But for now, life had plans for you and your next visit to Pinetop's wasn't for a long time.
That was how Pinetop's Tavern worked: Some people came only one night and they were mended; some people kept coming back for years because life broke their heart that often. But whether you were there for a night or a decade, you were always welcome at Pinetop's, where the Back Avenue Brothers would play for you, Marla would sing for you, and Little John would serve you your poison of choice. And you'd sit at the bar or a table and you'd hear the blues music or the blues of other people down on their luck, and despite your misery and your problems, you knew you were never alone in this world.
Decide for yourself whether Pinetop's is a magical place that can disappear or reappear or if it's simply just hard to find :3
I'm from Atlanta, which has a pretty decent blues scene. We've got blues joints like Fat Matt's Rib Shack and Blind Willie's and stuff like that. They're probably more fun when you're actually old enough to drink though
"Pinetop's Tavern" is named after two people, both prominent figures in blues history: Pinetop Perkins, a fantastic blues pianist who was one of the last original Mississippi Delta blues musicians; and Pinetop Smith, whose song "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" was one of the most influential boogie woogie songs (giving the genre its name). Pinetop Perkins died last year and Pinetop Smith died in 1929 at age 24; there are no known photographs of Smith.
The line "Shared pain is lessened, shared joy is increased" comes from Spider Robinson's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon series, which is a good set of books to get into if you like puns and science fiction and Irish bartenders.
The song Freddy Four-Hands, Marla, and Loomis sing at the end (with the whole bar joining in) is "Have a Real Good Time" by Trampled Under Foot. This is the only video I can find of it: [link] They're a great band and their album "Wrong Side of the Blues" is one of the best things to come out in the last 10 years. Go listen to them, they're wonderful. Danielle Schnebelen has such a lovely voice.
And because why not, here's Dr. Gregory House playing "Suwanee River": [link]
I'm sorry. I thought maybe, after enough time, I would learn to move on, but I guess I was wrong.
I read exactly fifty poems you wrote while I was gone. If I still have to capture a surge of jealousy each time I read the word sex, or kiss, or hold, then I can't read those words anymore. If I still wonder whether any of the stories I read were about me, then I can't read those stories. If I still wish I had a chance, then I can't take one.
This is a really fun recipe I use for the Holidays and parties! ^-^ The steps listed below will make approximately one/one-and-a-half batches of twelve mini mixed-berry pies. Just use a regular muffin tin, and you can use paper muffin cups if you like, but if you don't I recommend spraying the ENTIRE muffin tin (not just the cups) before putting in the dough to help them come out easier.
The Oven will need to be pre-heated to 350 degrees before the pies can go in the oven.
2 1/2 cups flour 1/4 cup sugar 2 teaspoons of salt 1/2 cup shortening (I generally use Crisco) 3/4 cup butter (chilled) 6 Tablespoons of ice water
Making the dough:
1.) Cut up butter into medium-sized cubes and return it to the refrigerator for later use.
2.) Cut up the shortening and drop in chunks into a bowl of ice water.
3.) In a separate bowl (large), combine flour, sugar and salt and then mix well.
3.) After they are chilled, remove the shortening from ice water, the butter from the fridge, and then add them both to the flour.
4.) Using a pastry cutter (or two knives), cut and stir the butter and shortening into the flour. Don't over-mix, there should be some small lumps of butter and shortening in the flour mixture. This will keep your crust from turning our rock-hard after it's cooked.
5.) Add 6 Tablespoons of ice water to the flour/butter mixture. Using a spoon or rubber spatula, (or both :3), press and stir the water into the flour, folding it over until all the water is incorporated. If the dough is too dry and crumbly still, add up to 2 more Tablespoons of ice water. Remember, you just wan't to get the mixture to hold together, if you add too much water, the dough will get sticky and unmanageable.
6.) Lay out some plastic wrap, then separate the dough and form it into two discs.
7.) Wrap the two discs up in the plastic so that they aren't touching each other, then place them in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes. (you can leave it in longer if need be, it won't hurt it.)
4 cups of assorted fruit 1/2-2/3 cups sugar 2 Tablespoons of corn starch 1 Tablespoon of lemon/orange juice
*Always wash fruit before preparing. If you are using frozen fruit or berries, always be sure to wash them with warm water to get rid of the ice. The excess water can ruin the maceration process.*
1.) In a large bowl combine the fruit, sugar, corn starch, and lemon juice.
2.) Mix the ingredients in the bowl gently, then set it in the fridge for at least 20 minutes in order for the fruit to chill, absorb flavor, and for the juice to thicken.
Making the crust:
1.) Clean/clear out a work surface and thickly powder it with flower. (So the dough doesn't stick)
2.) After the dough has chilled, take out one disc (take out the other one when needed.) roll it out on your well-flowered work surface. (DO NOT roll out the dough too thin! Because the pies are so small, they can crumble up and die upon their removal from the muffin tin if the dough is not thick enough. About 1 1/2 or 2 cm. thick will do nicely. )
3.) I used a 4 1/2 inch bowl to cut out the circles of dough that would fit into a regular size muffin tin. ( 12 circles are needed. You should have extra dough. )
4.) Fit the circles into the muffin tins carefully so that they don't rip at the bottom (this can be a frustrating process.) Make sure some dough hangs out over the edge of the tin or paper muffin cup. (this makes it look nicer and it keeps the filling from spilling over in the heat of the oven.)
Putting it all together:
1.) Fill up 2/3 of each muffin-tin-pie-crust with the fruit filling.
2.) Roll out more dough and cut it into strips to lay on top of your mini pies in the classic under-over cross hatch style. (You can also cut out whole tops for your pie using a glass that is the size of the top of the muffin tin. Just make sure you add slits of some sort after you have sealed the cover onto your pies so that they don't explode :3 )
*For Crumb Topping*
1/4 cup of brown sugar 1/4 cup of flour 2 Tablespoons of room temperature butter
(Mix these ingredients in a bowl with a fork until mixture is crumbly, then heap spoonfuls of your topping onto your mini pies and cover the fruit filling. This is a great substitute for a top crust.)
3.) Put the muffin tin pies in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill again. (It helps with the baking process afterwards, trust me. This is also a good time to get your oven pre-heated to 350 degrees.)
4.) After they are done chilling, remove your pies from the frig and put them in the oven to bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top of the pie is golden.
5.) After they are done baking, remove them from the oven and let them cool for at least 15 minutes before trying to remove them. Hot out of the oven they are apt to fall apart.
Viola! You now have twelve, cute little treats that you can show off and be fancy with at holiday parties Enjoy! <3
OH, and since the US is like the only place that doesn't use a metric measuring system, Here are the conversions for the measurements listed above:
For one serving, you will need: 2 Hostess® Sno Balls® (one package) 1 cup vanilla ice cream 1/2 cup milk 1/4 tsp vanilla extract Red food coloring
Instructions: 1. Place all ingredients in a blender. Use 8 drops of food coloring. Cut the Sno Balls® into quarters, and use only 6 quarters (one and a half Sno Balls® total--what you do with the last half is up to you). 2. Blend until smooth. 3. Serve in a tall glass with a straw, and enjoy.
Brand new from the good people who bring us Fat Cakes, I give you... the FAT SHAKE!
Hey guys. Here's a recipe I came up with for Fat Shakes, as seen on iCarly! Feel free to try it out and let me know what you think. If you do try making these, please come back and rate it 1 to 5 s in your comment.
**NOTE: The sugar content for this milkshake is very high, so I suggest that you consume no more than a half-serving in one sitting.** I just downed a whole glass and I already have a headache... >.<
Also if you'd like to, you can substitute coconut ice cream for the vanilla ice cream. :] I really wanted to but I couldn't find any at the store.
Disclaimer: Fat Cakes and Fat Shakes belong to iCarly and Mr. Dan Schneider. Unless Sam found their stash... Sno Balls® belong to Hostess®.
EDIT: Hey guys! I wanted to say thanks for all the s; there were too many to thank individually, but I appreciate each and every one just the same!
Nightmarish Caterpillar Swarm Defies Control in Liberia Karen Lange
They came by the millions out of the forest.
From off in the bush, townspeople at the epicenter of the plague heard a low roar, like the sound of heavy rain cascading down through the leaves. It was caterpillar droppings.
In early January, when the long, black caterpillars reached the creeks that serve as the main water sources for the town of Belefanai in north-central Liberia, the creatures' feces instantly turned streams dark and undrinkable.
Moving through the forest canopy on webs, devouring the leaves as they went, the caterpillars advanced like nothing the townspeople had ever seen.
They ate food and cash cropscoffee, cocoa, citrus, plantain, banana, and cassava. They took over homes and people fled.
Venturing into the forest meant being hit by a wave of caterpillars that appeared to be moving forward about as fast as the average person walks.
"The worms would drop on you from all angles," said Moses M. Kolinmore, a mason who arrived in Belefanai just as townspeople realized they had to get word to the government.
"They would cover the whole groundthousands upon thousands of thick, strong, stubborn worms. It was fearful, very fearful."
You can read all about that here [link] at National Geographic.com
Ingredients: Noodles (any type, enough to feed everyone) 1 cup of grated cheese (any kind) ½ cup of bread crumbs ½ cup of flour 1 cup of milk ½ cup of butter ½ cup of finely chopped onions
Preparation: 1.Start boiling the water 2.Add the bread crumbs and flour to the grated cheese and mix together (the flour and bread crumbs add texture and help to stop the cheese from clumping) 3.While the water is bowling melt the ½ cup of butter in a pot. 4.Once the butter has melted add the finely chopped onions, fry until the onions turn clear. 5.Add the milk to the fried onions and butter. 6.Add the noodles to the water once it has come to a boil. Cook to desired texture and drain off the water. 7.Once the milk has started to bubble, slowly stir in the cheese bread crumb and flour mixture. Make sure to continue to stir while you add the cheese or it will clump. Add milk if needed. 8.DON'T stir in all the cheese mixture save some for the topping. 9.Preheat oven to 350 degrees 10.Mix the cheese sauce into the noodles so they are completely coated in the sauce. 11.Butter a glass baking dish and pour the noodles into the dish. 13.sprinkle the rest of the cheese, flour and bread crumb on top of the noodles. 12.Place dish in the middle of the oven and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. 13.Plate, serve and enjoy!
NOTE: DO NOT burn the butter or onions!!! If you do it ruins the consistency and flavour of the dish I would suggest throwing it away if that happens.
Jenna and Cindy filled their mouths with watermelon seeds, spitting them fast and hard until the air swarmed with seeds like shiny black dive-bombing gnats. “My seeds are winning,” twelve year old Cin yelled, her thin body tense and urgent with victory. Jenna just kept spitting seeds. Eight years old, she already knew the seeds that flew the farthest would be Cin's no matter what. Jenna puckered her mouth preparing for another losing bombardment. Suddenly she paused, lips plump and pouting as the mouth of a painted candy box cupid. Spitting the seeds into her palm, she stared at them for a moment, chewing the end of her pigtail. Then anxious with inspiration, she trotted into the house and minutes later reappeared hugging a fishbowl. Carefully placing the bowl on the steps, she solemnly stared at the rattled goldfish who darted and wiggled his copper penny of a body. But when Jenna scattered her handful of watermelon seeds into the water, the goldfish paused in his wiggling, struck still by the shadows above. “Seeds,” Jenna explained. Sensing the shadows were food, Gus started to suck pink juice from the seeds, the seeds too long and hard for him to swallow. “Look Cin,” Jenna triumphantly informed Cin, her short stubby fingers flapping excitedly like grubby little flippers. “He knows what to do with them.” Startled by her voice, the girls’ father looked up from his weeding. Before she had left for the grocery store, their mother had fixed him with a stare. “Make sure they don’t kill one another,” she had said in her measured dry voice and then she smiled, a small private smile. Then a pause, and a sly glance at her husband to see if he understood her joke. But he didn't. They never did. "Jenna, don’t," her father yelled as Jenna started to cascade seeds to an expectant yet puzzled Gus. “You’re going to kill the poor thing." "Gus is too smart to eat the seeds," Jenna answered, her fingers slippery with watermelon juice, her face rapt and content. Gus is too intelligent. His small mouth industriously puckered and swallowed the pink juice like a perpetual motion machine, leaving the seeds stripped and glossy. “He’s not smart,” Cin burst into the conversation. “And neither are you to think he likes seeds. You’re stupid, stupid as a...a...goldfish,“ she crowed, her pale brown eyes so hot and bright, they glinted like bottle caps. "Stupid as a goldfish, stupid as a goldfish, Jenna’s stupid as a goldfish." “Hush, your sister’s not stupid,” their father interrupted. “And Gus is just a poor fish.” His voice wavered, bewildered by whom he should protect: Gus from Jenna, Jenna from Cin, or Gus from the slight against his reputation. Their mother could had stopped them with one word, her mouth loosening into a slight smile none of them understood. Still it struck them dumb with anxious pleasure. They never understood why they made her happy just they could. But their mother wasn’t there so Cin just kept talking, oblivious to her father’s gentle voice, her own voice thin and blunt as a jabbing finger. “Stupid as a goldfish. Stupid as a goldfish.” Their father sighed and stood surveying his daughters. Cin's fair freckled skin flushed with righteous annoyance while Jenna just stared at her sister, her almond shaped eyes hurt yet accepting. But soon Cin would grow bored of her own voice. After a few minutes of sulking, she would remember she needed Jenna for some new game, and Jenna would say “yes”, her hurt carefully boxed and buried. And if Gus ate a seed and died, then Gus ate a seed and died. They would buy another goldfish, and Jenna would christen him Gus.
Jenna named all her goldfish “Gus”. Sometimes her father would call her "Cindy" in a fit of confusion, and Jenna never wanted to hurt any of her goldfish’s feelings by calling them by another’s name. The current Gus was number five in the series, bigger and plumper than any that went before him. Sometimes at night, their father would sit in his worn chair and watch Gus swim, his small body disappearing into the shadows of a plant or china turtle. His wife never noticed him slipping out of their bed, her soft breaths even as piano scales. He was glad he didn’t have to explain. He felt a kinship with the ever present goldfish, their presence so blurred, one name fits all as though each fish transmuted into the next, gold into gold, a Philosopher’s stone of obscurity.
“Jenna,” their father started to say, the weeds pricking his fingers and fraying his mood. Then he saw Jenna's intent delighted face, Cin’s name calling forgotten, her fingers calmly dropping seed after seed into the water. She looked at her father and smiled reassuringly. He reminded himself goldfish were as plentiful as weeds or seeds. Jenna smiled at her father hoping he would return to his weeds. She knew Gus Number Five would never die from eating a seed. Her goldfish were not stupid, just reserved and full of secrets like a watermelon with endless seeds.
When they did die, it was always something indefinable and unknown that killed them, nothing as tangible or simple as a seed. It was always something unseen that left them floating like small waterlogged balloons on the water’s surface. Jenna planted her goldfish cemetery beneath the pepper trees that lined their garden. With her father’s trowel, she clumsily poked a patch clear of sticky brittle leaves and there she buried their slippery bodies in cardboard jewelry boxes. “Another one,” her mother would say, whenever Jenna appeared, a dead goldfish cradled in her hand. “I should be worried about you catching some disease playing with a dead fish.” Then she would stare at Jenna and smile. She would give Jenna a box from her stockpile of white boxes, jewelry boxes that once held glass beads, copper disc earrings and creamy stone cameos: “little gifts” her mother bought for herself. Jenna always knew her mother would have a box, but other than to serve as dead fish caskets, she didn't know why her mother kept the boxes. But it didn't matter, they were the perfect size for quiet little fish. At each funeral, Jenna would surround her departed fish with memorial music and weeping. Gravely she would deliver an eulogy of goldfish virtues and mark each grave with a headstone of pebbles and dandelion heads. Jenna visited her dear dead fish two or three times a week. Kneeling in the dirt, she would sniffle, blink and cross herself. Jenna had only seen Catholics on TV so her hands would simply fly all over her body, haphazardly patting forehead, shoulders, belly and thighs. “You’re weird,” Cin once told her, watching Jenna keeping her ritual. But there was a question in her voice as though she was waiting for Jenna to deny it. Jenna just ignored her. “Patient,” she said continuing her list of goldfish virtues, “quiet, umm ah, shiny.” Then she stopped searching for more goldfish virtues. Then she smiled at Cin with a radiant dignity. “Weird.” She had preserved Gus’ honor. Cindy didn’t smile back and after a few seconds, she simply left. She never went near the goldfish cemetery again.
“Here Gus,” Jenna whispered, her mouth so close to the water’s surface she could have touched the seeds with her tongue. Her shadow frightened Gus. But he soon accepted this eclipse of the light as an irrevocable element of his world. Once again he gathered around the seeds, his tail shivering with delight. Cin defiantly resumed spitting seeds into the air, but it wasn’t the same without Jenna. She glanced at her father. Didn’t he see how weird Jenna was, talking to a goldfish? But their father kept weeding, whistling a tune that wobbled from note to note. “Time to go back inside,” Jenna told Gus and then carefully picked him up, the bowl filling the circle of her arms. “What do you want to do now?” she asked Cin when she came back out, squatting on her heels and rocking. Cin’s taunting never bothered her that much. “My little Teflon pan,” her mother would say and then kiss her on the forehead. Which always puzzled Jenna since she looked nothing like a pan. But her mother said things no one understood. Jenna knew Cin was mad because Jenna had been ignoring her. Unlike their mother, there was always a reason for why Cindy did things. Cindy taunted her only when she wanted Jenna's attention, like running up to someone, hitting them, hoping they would look and then pretending you didn't care if they did. Jenna would pay attention. Eventually. And eventually Cin would tell her the reason for why she was so mad at Jenna. “What do you want to do now?” Cin just kept ignoring her and spitting the remaining seeds into the air. Shrugging her shoulders, Jenna trotted off to play in the garden while Cin sulked, her eyes growing milky and sullen with the heat, seeds peppering the air. Jenna didn’t care. Cin would eventually stopped pouting. And Jenna loved exploring their father’s garden. She would crawl, poke, sniff and watch the spinning of webs, ants gathering bits of potato chips. She would rescue dusty moths from spider webs, leave sticky Popsicle sticks to excite the ants. Jenna saw the garden as a Chinese box with each pleasure opening onto another pleasure, a leaf narrowing into a caterpillar, a branch folding into a Daddy-long-legs. To Cindy, their father’s garden was her stage, ripe and empty, waiting for her to fill it. Slippery and lithe as a minnow, she would scramble up trees, hurl balls and sharpen sticks into knobby arrows. Jenna was her audience, companion and servant to all this invention and motion. Jenna quiet and contained as a nut would play every role Cin gave her. She was the evil dowdy stepsister, the hunchbacked henchman, the weak soon to be eaten Stegosaurus. Whatever Cin wanted, Jenna would try to do. Cin would order her to fetch sticks, sharpen stones, hide slices of bread until they turned green as grass. Cin always had what she called a practical reason for everything they did no matter how silly or unfathomable. That was a constant in Jenna’s world. “We need the arrows to fight off the bandits.” “If we have a flood, you will have to know how to jump from branch to branch.” “What if Daddy dies, and we have to take care of ourselves and Mom.” Jenna always wanted to hear these reasons. Although she doubted if her mother ever needed anyone to take care of her. But if she learned to understand Cin’s reasons, she would learn to understand the world. She would know what was and what would be. That knowledge would protect her from pincher bugs in her bed, from recess teasing and monsters, from car accidents, fear and death. She would understand her mother. Then she could wander through the world as easily as she wandered through her father’s garden, her skin glowing with pollen, half healed scratches and tiny brown spider bites.
“What will grow will grow,” was their father’s philosophy. Every spring, he cascaded seeds, haphazardly, unthinkingly, marigold tangled with young corn. He was too worn from holding down two jobs, mailman and janitor, to truly plant. He wanted a garden for his daughters, proof he was more than a slumbering shape in a worn plaid recliner, that he was more than a word in the sentence, “Wait and ask your father when he gets home.” His two daughters did wait, keeping each other company with riddles and games of jacks, hopscotch and double dutch. But they were often asleep when he finally did stumble into the house, his hands poppy red from scrubbing sinks. So he grew them a garden where they would be safe, where he could protect them, a fitful random tangle of irises, watermelon plants and prickly leafed weeds. On Saturdays, he would weed and listen to his daughters play, listen to them bicker and make up new games. His wife would sit on the porch and smoke, watching him weed and tie tender vines to poles. Occasionally she would ask him to buy certain seeds, poppies and nasturtiums. “Nasty babies,” she called them. She never helped him in the garden as though she knew the garden was his gift to his daughters with no touch or taint of her.
Cin kicked her heels against the stone steps, and watched her sister from the corner of her eye. “Jenna’s just a baby,” she thought, “a baby with a stupid goldfish. I don’t want to play with her anyway.” Cin stared at her gawky long colt legs. There were times when they didn’t feel like her legs, as though some childhood monster had stretched her legs while she slept, twisting the wheel and rack. Once her mother had looked at her and then looked at her legs and said, “You may have to start shaving soon.” Cin looked at her legs and saw hair sprouting into dank tangled thickets. She felt feral and prickly, and she wanted to cry. Nothing seemed right anymore, as though something was pulling her taut, making her clumsy, raw and disjointed. “You’re going to look like your mother,” her father would tell her with a wistful puzzled look on his face. But she didn’t want to think about that now. So she glared at her sister. “Probably going off to play with her dumb fish,” she thought. She then glared at her father. Didn’t he realize Jenna was going to grow into some strange kid with no friends. Everyone would look at her and wonder if there was something wrong with Cin as well, having such a weird sister. Jenna kept peering at a spiderweb she found in the orange tree, humming to herself. Their father kept grasping weeds, twisting them out of the ground, tearing the fragile stems and leaves. They acted as though Cindy was extinct, trivial and insipid. With a guttural sob, Cin pushed herself off the steps and threw herself into the house. There was nothing to do inside so she stomped into the kitchen, each foot hitting the floor with a determined thud. But nobody paid attention to her, no one called her back into the garden. Not knowing what to do next, she peered into the refrigerator and saw two cans of beer, still caught in their plastic rings, her father’s indulgence. Her mother drank pale drinks, gin and vodka she poured into jelly jars. “Tastes sweeter,” she would say to the girls. Unlike their father, her voice never stumbled when she drank. Instead she would linger on each syllable, sharpening the consonants until the words snapped apart in the air. “I could always drink you under the table,” her mother would say affectionately to their father. They would both laugh even he never understood why they laughed. Listening to them, Cin would imagine her father under the table snoring, curled around their mother’s feet. Cin touched one of the cans leaving foggy fingerprints on the aluminum cans, then she ran a finger down the frosted glass of her mother’s bottle of vodka. Their coldness was so different from the hot concrete steps outside. She popped open a can and tentatively sipped the beer. At school, some of the older kids bragged in anxious voices about how many beers they drank each Friday night, how they scammed beers off dumb clerks with fake ID’s and siphoned vodka and gin from parental stashes of liquor. Cin didn’t recognize the things they bragged about; but she knew they lived in an enigmatic land, frightening and mesmeric, no father’s garden. She took a swallow from her mother's vodka bottle and held it in her mouth, her eyes widening with bewilderment. How could anything so cold, burn. But she swallowed. Like Alice in Wonderland’s potions, the alcohol would shrink her or make her a giant. It would transform her. She wouldn’t need Jenna or her father anymore. She would fulfill her father’s words and grow up to look like her mother. She and her mother would sit on the porch, magazines sprawled on their laps like limp cats. Sean one of the cutest boys in school, would pick her up in his car. She would never stammer, blush or feel awkward again. Her hand wavered between the open beer and the vodka, but she was going to be her mother’s daughter so she took another swallow of the vodka and almost gagged. The older kids talked about being buzzed and after another gulp, Cin felt a rough humming in her head, a cache of bees, and she swallowed again. Then she stared for a moment at her father’s beer. Vodka was for her and her mother only. Beer was meant for Gus and her father. Gus Number Five shivered with anticipation as Cin held the can of beer over his bowl. Shadows meant food. His world always made sense, and he darted towards the first dark drops of beer. But the drops dissipated, leaving nothing to nibble and suck. He soon realized the beer was not flakes of fishy delight. So he stared at the growing dark stain with an unblinking complacency, waiting for whatever was next. He knew it would never hurt him because nothing had ever hurt him before. Cin didn’t hate Gus. Sometimes she would watch him as he swam in and out of his castle, fanned by ferns and other sea plants. Once, sleepily stumbling, searching for a glass of water, she found her father sitting in his chair staring at Gus as though he was waiting for Gus to answer a question he had just asked. That night Cin shyly stood in the doorway never entering the living room. She stood and watched her father watch Gus until he slumped into sleep. Cin didn’t hate Gus, but today the sight of his glassy doll eyes and rounded belly panicked and pinched her. “I can tell the other kids about it,” she told herself, picturing the older kids listening, then laughing. She would feel at home in her skin again, no more gawky angles and a restless unknown yearning. She felt bad as soon as the first drops hit the water; but she kept pouring, shrugging off guilt. “It won’t hurt you,” she whispered to Gus, “it doesn’t hurt Daddy. He likes it. He likes you.” But a part of her knew she was hurting Gus. She watched Gus as he stared at the cascading beer. She didn’t know what was going to happen. Still she poured. It was as though her hand was possessed by some evil spirit like the hand in that horror movie their father didn’t want them to watch. She could hear her voice saying, “Take that,” each consonant sharp and clipped. Then a small shape careened across the room as Jenna yelped and ran towards the fishbowl. She didn’t grab Cin’s arm, just glared at her, hot and amazed. She didn’t know how to stop Cin from hurting Gus, from hurting her. Jenna had never before tried to stop Cin from doing anything. Anxiously she stood, waiting for the beer to turn into water, waiting for what was to unravel into something that never was. She waited for Cin to see her, to tell her why she was doing this to Gus. But when Cin looked at her, her eyes were bewildered and detached, round and wide as a goldfish’s eye. Cin kept pouring, transfixed by the enormity of what she was doing, by how easy it was to do. She poured startled by Jenna’s intent eyes. Jenna had never stared at her that intently before. “I’m sorry,” Cin said, but she didn’t stop. She poured until there was nothing left, and Gus swam, lost in the walnut brown water like a car in fog. He bumped into the bowl’s side a few times; but whether that was because he was drunk or because he simply couldn’t see would never be answered. He wasn’t really that intelligent. Gus Number Five was simply a little rounded gold thing. Some experts say goldfish had such limited memories that by the time they circled the bowl, they had forgotten everything. The world was born again every three minutes. The world was born again for Jenna in the three minutes it took Gus to die. She stared at Cin as though she had been transformed into something alien and puzzling, a monster from under the bed. Jenna gently plucked Gus’ still body from the beer soaked water. She cradled him in her hands, her cupped fingers trying to protect him from Cin’s eyes while she patiently waited for Cin to give her a reason. Cin kept staring at Gus’ diminished body, no longer so rounded and shiny. Jenna was too short to properly protect him from her gaze. “The beer didn’t kill him,” she said over and over. “He must had cracked himself against the glass. The beer didn’t kill him.” Cin kept trying to convince herself and Jenna that Gus died because he collided against the hard glass of the goldfish bowl, even pointing out where he must had hit himself. But Jenna knew that Gus had died because of the beer, and Cin didn't have a reason for why she poured the beer. She was like their mother. There was no place to put this hurt. There was no reason for it, there was no reason for anything. The world was as indefinable and random as death. Anything could happen, and it would. Jenna realized there was no refuge, that monsters could roam anywhere. Their father just shook his head when he found the bowl of beer, the opened bottle of vodka, when he found Jenna cradling a very dead Gus, his poor limp body shingled with fins. He had been in the backyard, seconds away. Why didn’t Jenna yell for him, run and find him? He was their protector. They would be sheltered in the garden he planted for them. They should have known he would had done anything to preserve them. But they didn’t believe in his power to guard them. He was as innocuous and impotent as a fish to them. All he could do was scatter seeds. He said he would punish Cindy, no TV for a month. He said he would buy Jenna a new Gus. Neither of them heard him nor looked at him so he finally fell quiet. He knew what his wife would say when saw the fish. “Another one,” she would say and hand Jenna a white cardboard jewelry box. She carefully saved them, kept them in a bottom dresser drawer. She knew how easily fish died. He didn’t know why he felt like crying. It was just a fish.