I snapped out of my afternoon daze by the sharp ding of the run-down kitchen bell. The cook’s spatula had dripped some of the oil off and on to the bell when he hit it, creating an opaque, greasy puddle around the left side. After an obviously pointed look from the cook, I quickly grabbed the warm, ceramic plate sitting in the kitchen window and punctured the completed chit on the ticket spike just as another came out of the chit machine.
Roy went back to cooking the eggs with the same spatula. Nothing new, honestly. He essentially used one spatula to make just about every dish in this establishment.
′Waist o’ time’, he would tell me in his gruff southern accent, while he brushed me off like a pouting toddler. He never showed any other emotion than annoyance towards, well, everyone.
I used to give him an ear full the first few weeks I started working here at Sonny’s Diner, a full verbal lesson on sanitation and cross-contamination, but soon came to realize that the guests that came through here didn’t seem to mind. He struck me as the type of guy who wouldn’t give a damn even if the customers had complained.
Roy was our head chef here at the diner, albeit being pretty much the only chef here. Hailing from Memphis, he was a tall 6′0, making his beer-belly and balding head the most prominent thing about him, which he often kept covered up with his apron and cap.
Being the simple man that he was, living his life in his mid-40′s, he often proclaimed that he was nothing more than his earned ‘head chef’ title and a ‘dead beat dad’. I don’t know much about the guy, but from what I hear from the other employees, his daughter hasn’t spoken to him in years.
When I first heard that, I couldn’t stop the surge of pain that ricocheted within my chest. It was a natural reaction based on my own personal experience in which I could relate to.
I’ve never seen him with any family aside from last summer when he invited his nephew from Michigan to come to visit. It was a valiant effort on his part, seeing as someone who cares so little about everything cared enough to get his brother’s kid down here.
Half-way through June, he recruited his nephew Trevor to the diner to help him cook. I doubt Roy needed the help, seeing as he was able to handle the shifts even when we were ‘in the weeds’, but I figured it was a bold effort to try to bond.
For every shift that Trevor was scheduled for, he showed up late, out of uniform, and barely helped. Roy gave up any visible signs of motivation a few weeks later, feeling it was a futile effort. If Trevor wasn’t out smoking pot behind dumpsters in alleyways, he was at the bar countertop wearing the same discolored, worn-out, forest green Michigan State hoodie every time I saw him.
At least he has a family, I would think to myself on occasion.
He has no idea how lucky he is.
I dropped off the plate to an older gentleman wearing bifocals in the corner booth. His newspaper showcased coffee stains in the top left corner, and most of the job application Ads he was staring at had either been circled or scratched out.
“One Sonny Special, with eggs over easy, extra sausage and bacon!” I announced in a cheerful voice, probably too cheerful for 9:30 in the morning.
Eggs over easy, scrambled, fried, or ‘Sonny-Side’ up. These were your choices. All with an option of white, toast and your choice of meat. This was the first menu item I learned.
I startled him out of his focus for a brief moment before he inquired about adding on a side of white toast to his meal. Adding a head nod to my smile was enough of a response for him as he went back to looking over his bifocals at the job positions available.
I understood this man’s struggle. Work was hard to come by in our small town of Pagosa Springs, Colorado. It was so small we barely had any modern, larger structures that most larger cities had to help with employment. It had more of the older Western Colorado feel, while greater cities sped to start modern development.
One post office, two quick marts (that most used in place of a real supermarket), a k-8 center, a few clothing stores on a strip mall, and our diner were the main highlights of the town. There was no big college town, Cinema
Plex, or bowling alley to go to on a Friday night, just scattered outdated houses that sat on solemn plots of land. Hell, if we wanted to rent a movie, we had to drive at least 40 miles to the nearest town of Granite.
Most people left Pagosa Springs in hopes to make something of themselves, but I did the opposite and relocated here from the lively city of Fresno, California.
I wanted simple. A simple life. Yet, life has been anything but simple so far.
I walked through the cut-out portion in the countertop, back behind the bar to put in the order of toast as Bonnie and Angela rounded from back behind the kitchen.
“I know how badly she wants it, I-“, Bonnie started to say before she cut herself off with a known sigh.
She took a deep breath, retied her apron string around her waist before she continued. “I just want to be a good mother to her and provide her with a happy childhood, not like the one I had. If Grace caught wind of how behind on bills Ted and I were for this month, she would flip out.”
“She’s Seven, Bon,” Angela smirked as she pointed out.
“And certainly smart for her age!” Bonnie added.
Bonnie and Angela had been the only people I really connected with since I moved here 2 years ago. Bonnie was a struggling mother, alongside her husband Ted, to a beautiful baby girl named Grace. I’ve met Ted a few times when he came to pick Bonnie up from work since they share a car. The few phrases we’ve exchanged have been short and to the point.
Despite the constant financial struggles, you can tell the love they have between all three of them is priceless.
“She wanted the bike for Christmas but we couldn’t swing it. I don’t want to disappoint her on her birthday too.” Bonnie admitted dejectedly.
Angela pushed a stray hair back across her ear as she pursed her plump lips out sympathetically.
“How much is it?“, I jumped into the conversation.
Angela moves closer to me to wrap an arm around my shoulder as she leans her head against mine for a moment in a casual greeting.
“Hey baby, how are ya?“, she asks as Bonnie huffs out the number $120.
That was the nickname she called most people, including Roy, as just a term of endearment.
One thing I loved about Angela was her loving and motherly nature. She has two sons and a daughter, all of whom have grown up and left for college before proceeding to start their own lives.
Angela was a big, beautiful, dark-skinned woman who wore her heat on her sleeve. When I first met her, I assumed she would be like everyone else in this town, plain and simple, but she had one of the liveliest personalities I’ve ever met.
To say I’ve grown fond of her would be an understatement.
She refused to leave Pagosa Springs despite being the last member in her family here.
‘I can’t leave Arthur’ she gravely mumbled to me as she thinks about her deceased husband. Her answer was the same every time she was questioned about staying here. I don’t think her answer will ever change.
“$120 huh...” I repeated, snapping out of my flashback.
It was a lot, especially for waitresses who make minimum wage plus tips. That’s easily an entire week’s worth of work, but even I know that Grace is more than deserving of it. Her birthday was just about a month and a half away, so I started calculating some basic math. If I picked up an extra shift on Tuesday and Thursday night, there should be enough-
My thoughts were interrupted by another sharp ding of the kitchen bell.
Roy slams the bell a little harder this time with his spatula while giving me a dirty look. I noticed the toast sitting in the window, probably a little cold by now. I looked behind me to the gentleman in the booth to see him staring intently at something in the newspaper he was reading.
I slipped out of Angela’s grasp to half-roll my eyes at her in response to Roy’s attitude.
“I’ll be back”, I softly spoke as I grabbed the plate of toast. Angela just laughed in response while she went to Bonnie’s side. Bonnie was too busy staring at the ceiling in distress to notice anything at the moment.
“Shit!” I cursed when I grabbed the side of the plate. It was boiling. Must’ve been sitting in the window for a bit. Luckily, I used my apron to grip the edge of the plate before I had the chance to drop it.
That burn was for sure going to show later.
I heard Roy grumble something slick under his breath when my back was turned but decided to not fight back. Making my way over to the same corner booth with the cloth covered plate in my hand, I set it on the edge and warn the man against the temperature of the plate. He was still staring closely at an article in the paper, not even indicating he noticed my presence. I stood there for a few seconds before I slowly started to turn away when his voice stopped me in my tracks.
“Hey, you uh, did you hear about the animal attacks up North?” His question caught me off guard. He didn’t seem like a chit chatter, and the only other words he spoke were his order.
“I didn’t actually, and its Scarlette, by the way,” I added with a smile while pinching my name tag for him to see. While I didn’t appreciate being called ‘You’, I was not about to scold him when I was working for my tip.
“Well uh-” he squinted through his bifocals at my nametag before continuing, “Scarlette, stay out of the woods. It’s dangerous. Always has been, always will be.” He finishes cryptically.
I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but his tone didn’t leave me wanting an explanation.
It was hard to see Pagosa Springs as something dangerous. The craziest thing to happen to us in a while was when Mrs. Whitehall accidentally caught her wig on fire from smoking a cigarette.
The Town was buzzing with the insignificant drama for weeks.
Sonny’s alone brought a lot of happiness to the 847 people in this town. It was a ‘go-to spot’ for any occasion, accordingly to voices on the sidewalk. I’ve seen my fair share birthdays, baby showers, and engagement celebrations here at Sonny’s. While I would questions their location, Sonny’s was probably one of the only spots these people still had.
I responded lazily with a small smirk. “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind”. He wasn’t paying attention to me anyway, as he was instantly back staring at the article. I leaned over a bit to see the image he was staring at when he turned his head to look at me with questioning eyes.
Didn’t mean to invade your space, bud.
I awkwardly smiled and walked away, leaving him to himself while I felt his eyes on my back.
I leaned on the countertop by the kitchen and watched the patrons come and go for the duration of the hour. Bonnie with her frazzled hair and scrunched eyebrows mixed with Angela’s soothing and calming charm, filled the diner with all sorts of emotions.
I took this time to examine my burn. My hand hurts. The lower half of my left palm was red and irritated and the skin covering my lower thumb joint was starting to blister. The red of it looked like it was in a bad accident.
After carefully placing the check on the edge of the table to the gentleman in the corner booth, I returned to my spot behind the counter and waited. He took his sweet time leaving, too. Never once turning the paper around to work on today’s’ crossword, or read this weeks version of ‘Archie’s Comics’, just strained his eyes to continuously examine the photo from that article. The rest of his stay here left me wondering what he was staring at so intently at in that picture.
Once finished, he strategically folded his newspaper in a tight, oblong shape before tucking it away under his arm and trudging out the front door and into the cold August air. This time of year was most preferable to me, seeing as it was cold outside yet no snow hassle yet. It wasn’t an unmanageable temperature, usually tending from about 35-60 degrees outside on a normal night. August always brought chilling weather and a round of hustling wind to the patrons of Pagosaa Springs, and it was normal to see people walking around in thin jackets and shorts.
I iced my hand for a portion of the shift in hopes to further down the swelling, but it was a useless effort. The damage was already done.
Surprisingly, I had a few more customers that day that bring the animal attacks to my attention, but I brushed it off as nothing more than talking about the weather. If you were stupid enough to go into the Colorado woods at this time of the year when you know the animals are out, be prepared for the worst.
Little did I know how those words would come back to haunt me.