Peggy V Paula

Peggy, pink apron,
pig nose, complexion like a pepperoni pizza, on her period, pooling plasma, pad in position, pen to paper, plucking orders professional from Paula's customers: "Did your water girl tell you about the specials?"

The poor people placed their orders but had no idea what was coming: the police and paramedics said Peggy put cat poison in the pumpkin pie and paraquat in the potato pancakes, killing Paula’s customers perfect. It wasn’t personal: it was just waitressing.

Life was tough at the Table Talk: the busboys had a half-life of sixty days, and the ones who lasted past were under psychiatric evaluation. Their hair fell out in clumps, clogging the sanitizer, and their heart palpitations and epileptic episodes shattered more than one water pitcher in a thousand pieces. The diner was a perilous place: a packed powerhouse nearly 24/7, with hungry mouths and open wallets, people pounding pasta and packing pickles until they passed out. For the staff there was never any break, never any lull, and a waitress had to die or miss parole before a new one could be hired. Still, there was never a more polarizing pair than Peggy & Paula: pure, passionate, perennial, permanent.

Legend had it- and I’m paraphrasing Pepe the paraplegic proofreader- that they both started on the same day, both fell into a physical relationship with Nick the manager, both under the impression they were the only pie on his plate. When Paula caught Nick porking Paula in the pantry she pulled her pigtails out her scalp, leaving Peggy with two purple pockmarks and a perpetual prescription for pain pills.

Since then it was war declared: both competed for the regular tables, the parties of eight or more, the good-looking men, the tips, the tips... oh my God the tips. And sometimes, yes, they killed each other’s customers.

Paula, face like a concrete abutment, skirt so high she spilled thigh in the breadbasket, bending over slow, C-cup spilling pretty in the French Onion soup, giving jiggle silly good to Peggy’s table of frat guys: "Okay you studs- your waitress had to run. You can pay me." Paula all smiles as she pocketed her partner’s proceeds.

The next day Peggy had one ton of pig manure piled into Paula’s parking place.

They kept a running count of tips on their shift: Paula would bring her customers expired peach parfaits to pump up her gratuity. It would piss off Nick: “It isn’t right,” but twenty percent was twenty percent. Peggy, pathological, would do her shifts without panties and bend over backwards for her customers, bringing half-price Pepsis to parched pot heads, and when Paula found out she peeled a ply of skin from Peggy’s chest with her freshly-painted Passion Pink fingernails.

“There’s a birthday party of 17 tonight,” Peggy said persuasive, her puckered mouth around Nick’s swollen member, “make sure you put those people in my section.”

Paula, later that night, in the ladies room: “The cast of that play is having their after-party here… ” She pounded Nick’s pelvis as he lay passive on the porcelain. “I could really use the paycheck.”

It was impossible to please them, the other waitresses paranoid, petrified, afraid to show up for shifts or look any of the diners in the eye. Peggy & Paula were pushing everyone around, their hatred so profane and so profound it threatened to destroy the fabric of the food-service industry as we know it.

After the death toll peaked at one hundred Nick knew it was time to get proactive. He pulled Peggy and Paula from the floor, pointed them to the back and prayed for peace: "We are running a business here." He made them shake hands and promise to play nice.

It was an unlikely pact, transitory, but the girls pressed the flesh with pokerfaces.

That was when Nick decided to introduce the new girl in the pink apron.

"Peggy, Paula... this is Punky. She’s gonna be waiting tables with you."

The busboys made the sign of the cross.

The Specials

"What can I get you, faggot?" This is my waiter, possibly kissing his twenty percent goodbye, but I looked up from the menu anyway, a newfound respect for the boy with no respect for me at all. He's got grease in his hair.

I play along. "Tell me: what is it that makes your lobster ravioli so special?"

The kid looks East, looks West, and then with the dedication of a bad actor auditioning for a role he could never play: "I could tell you that... but then I'd have to kill you- and stuff your entrails into our lobster ravioli."

He paused for the laugh track, turned left and made his exit stage right, amusing if not brand new, and in my head I clicked the tip meter back up to seventeen percent. Seventeen if the mozzarella stick could remember to keep my water glass full.

He wouldn't.

I looked across the restaurant, at the women waiting to get fucked. They came in multitudes, in hungry throngs, in dripping swarms... they came with boyfriends who had embraced complacency and forgotten how to set their velvety lips on fire. They came with husbands who had found mistresses decades ago. They came in teams, in squads of micro-mini's, for support, for defense, to secretly hate the teammate who got chosen as the target of the juice.

They came with their parents on birthday dinners, begging to be stolen away and ravaged in the ladies room, freed from the prison-like convention of the day. They came in the bravest of forms: all alone, no pretense, perfume soak up the skin, pheromones dripping off the nape of their neck, loose strands of hair falling out the tight bun, teeth sink into their own edible lower lip, the itch between their stretch pants making them cross their legs involuntary, bat their eyes and look away, oh no I couldn't, you misunderstand, you just don't get it, you sick brutish man...

A waitress who was not my own drop a blank check at my table with her phone number scrawled on the back, and her name- Martha- written in liquid love above the digits. I watch her ass bounce away in her black lycra sandwich wrap, promising myself I will never call, but her cheeks grind good, her hips functioning independent, and my god I'm only human, can only hold out so long...

The sad secret of this restaurant is that they're all beautiful, all worthy of the sonnets and operas I keep deep inside. Tonight I'm not asking for perfection- just a girl to help me forget the last one. Just a heartbeat and a soul and a pink place where I can lose myself, where I can share my power. Just a woman I can hold a mirror to: give her a night to stop thinking and start feeling, start being, start melting in my arms... our bodies tangled alive in the universal joy. She's out there. In here. In this restaurant tonight. I get to choose her off the menu.

"Have you made up your mind, faggot?" My buddy the waiter is back, faux hawk & lisp & two-day stubble, and I'm tipping the kid 25% because he'll never get it.

I close the menu & hand it to him.

"Yes, my friend..."

I smile and inhale, take a breath of scented air, take in the all beauty in the restaurant around me.

"I have."

Khami, Midnight

Khami stepped out small, pudgy foot hesitate over kitchen tile, walk out slow from the foyer corridor, bare skin of white heel against icy porcelain, the cuff of her powder blue pajama bottom loose around her little ankle, this tiny girl of nine years old awake, alone in this lonesome hour of midnight: out of her bed, out of her element, out of her mind with the cold sink of fear.

Outside it was hot Summer, heart of a heatwave, but the family HVAC was working overtime, pumping refrigerated air into the house and the little girl's lungs. Outside the mosquitoes sting and buzz, the flowers wilting dry and the grass shrug in overgrowth, but in Khami's house: the weather so chill she could almost see her breath. Her feet left wet footprints on the Victorian hex, but still she walked, still she took her steps. The world as she knew it was deep asleep, headline news on repeat, tweets slug slow and liquor-laden, everybody pads & cells recharging. But she was drawn here, like a grown man to cinnamon, to the cool blue of fluorescent sunshine in the dark of night, pausing at the island counter, looking up at the man sitting stiff at the kitchen table, impossible tall: Daddy still inside the suit he wore to work.

He looked different than he usually did. He looked like someone else. Daddy looked like Daddy’s brother if he had a brother but Daddy didn’t have a brother. Or a sister. He looked far away, and distracted, like he didn't see her standing there. Khami expected this, take a step deeper inside the kitchen and sure enough, Daddy's eyes still looking off and out the sliding glass door, to the backyard and beyond, a look in his eyes like he was hypnotized, mesmerized, or somehow otherwise compromised. His briefcase was sitting by his side on the tile, his laptop out on the floor, closed and unplugged, on top of it a rock-solid everything bagel from two mornings past, cream cheese petrifying by the minute.

A breeze blew through the neighborhood, a quick rush of cool air as an apology for all the blaze. There was no one awake to accept.

Daddy look up- to the bedroom, the attic? He had his gold leaf business cards on the counter in a stack, just in case he should run into a potential client, just somebody happening by who might need a senior accountant for audit and internal control. On Frazier Avenue, at 12:04 AM.

On a Tuesday.

The untouched sushi platter sat on the counter before Dad, the one that Mom had delivered, the California roll going South, the spicy tuna losing taste. The wrapped fish, Daddy's favorite, was starting to smell like just seafood, turning green and going sour. Daddy just sitting in his spot, without clue, his nose closed off, unable to smell the ocean for the sea. In his head a sensory synapse fired- it must have- as he felt the pooling saliva in his mouth and came to the inescapable conclusion that it must be time to swallow.

And so, after a moment of consideration, he did.

The eyes in his head were hollow marbles, spinning without purpose or focus, their soul lost at some point last week in the debit columns of the accounting spreadsheets, trying in vain to reconcile the disobedient numbers as they multiplied, alive, unexpectedly, exponentially. It was too late. Eventually the junior staff would be brought in to audit, and they would discover, it would be revealed, they would find out...

Daddy’s hands, his fingers, were functioning independent of his blown motherboard. They had opened the cabinet and grabbed the Tupperware full of fresh Oreo cookies, placed them on the table, the zebra stripe of sandwich some cold kind of comfort. Daddy stacked them as he sat alone, one by one, climbing the corporate ladder, a series of tiny skyscrapers, ascending to glory and success, to heaven and return on investment and-


He looked up, missing Khami before him, not allowing the location of the sound or the fear in the voice to register. Daddy turned his head. Away.

Khami, across from him, now standing at the table, sensing wrong all day and yesterday as well: Mom on the phone with the therapist and Nana and Father Tighe, Dad’s car in the driveway all day, parked at the wrong angle, alternate interior, transverse the garage and cut off the walkway to the front door. She felt it too: tried to explain to Alexandra but the girl was too young. Some bad dreams fall on your shoulders alone, and there’s nowhere to go but the source.

Daddy add another story to the Oreo tower.


He turned his head to Khami, nine years on the planet, petrified beautiful and bold, and finally saw his daughter standing before him, her hands clasped together over her belly, her eyes blinking in the artificial bright. Khami was asking a question. Asking a question and praying for an answer.

Daddy’s first thought, for reasons unknown, was the Great Wall of China. He looked down at his Khami & smiled, told her to go back to bed, that he loved her, that there was nothing to worry about, reminding her that she had school & karate tomorrow and that she needed her sleep. Well… he tried to say those things… he even thought he had. He heard the words in his head, in a back alley off the boulevard, heard them spoken in his voice or an amazing imitation thereof. It was only when he looked into her eyes and saw them getting wet, boiling over, the tears ready to escape her face, it was only then that he understood he hadn’t said a word out loud. He had forgotten how. He looked at Khami’s brow, saw it conflicted, infected, overworked: it would never be smooth and sweet again, and he knew that there was nothing he could do. This is how the future happens.

"Daddy? Are you okay?" Khami's voice, like magic, like truth in music, filling the room, waking him for just a moment from his soul coma.

"What is it? What do you want?" and he knew he had said the wrong words, even before her eyes lost all stars and begin to spill, the tears coming steady now: real, hot and salty, and in spite of his state, in spite of his absence, as her father he could taste her tears in his own mouth.

"Mommy wants to know... why you won't go to work... and Alexandra & me... We're worried about you..." In the child's innocent voice he heard the cold fear, the alarm.

Daddy, the stack of cookies suddenly insane, broke out of the trance which had held him captive for the last three days, pulling his daughter close, his fingers in her hair, her head in his chest, and he began to sob like a small child, his chest seizing, his soul refilling his body.

“I broke it, baby… I broke the damn thing wide open.”

Khami, who didn't know what to say, said nothing.

Even through Daddy's tears Khami could sense the release, knew that her father was freed, knew that this crisis- whatever it was- was finally over. She looked up at him, smiling, as he dried his eyes with his loosened tie.

“Daddy, what happened? What's wrong?” Her chest heave involuntarily as she wiped the tears away. “Is everything gonna be okay?”

Daddy's knee made spasm, leap up and knock the table from below, and the Oreo infrastructure toppled in a mess of black crumbs.

Daddy, eyes on the wreckage, swallowed hard, and then, honest: "I don't know."