by Camille Gazoul
Runestone, volume 5
Runestone, volume 5
by Camille Gazoul
The four of them came in like they were dressed for some Halloween costume ball. I mean, the guy was wearing a cape for pete’s sake. And the woman, she was tiny, and wearing so much fabric she was swimming in it. All you could see was a puff of her feathery, dull colored hair emerging from a cockeyed fur stole. The other man was tall with a clouded lazy eye. He never said a word the whole time, I wonder now if he was just a shadow.
Maybe it was the lighting, the day was cloudy and the sky and lake had swirled together into a greenish-gray soup. It was that lighting that draws the color out of everybody’s skin. These people looked halfway between gray and yellow, almost as if they were made of wax.
I figured the second they came in they were a little off. So of course, they sat in my section. It was ten minutes until my shift ended and with this new addition it seemed I would be here another hour, so I went to the table wary, ankles aching in my white waitress shoes.
Going to his daughter’s wedding, he said when I asked about the get-up. It’s on a boat at the marina next door.
They’re an hour or so early for the reception and wanted a place to sit and wait, in case it rains. I’m thinking these people look more like they’re dressed for Count Dracula’s funeral, not a wedding.
I tell them our specialty drink menu, summery stuff like rum runners and mojitos. The kind of drinks the boaters order when they pull up to the docks and smile at me with their white teeth and their wrinkled, brown faces.
These people weren’t interested.
Diabetics he says, all three of them. Bring us coffee.
Setting up the coffee cups on my tray I start to get a funny feeling. Couldn’t drink alcohol, caught with a loose hour before the reception in that awkward “I’ve just walked my little girl down the aisle” mindset, sitting in this shitty restaurant, dressed to the nines.
I get all cut up inside. Shouldn’t he be somewhere better? Shouldn’t he be treated with some respect?
I decide to give the best service I can, to make up for this imagined discomfort I created for them. But I got so distracted that I forgot the cream and sugar and had to run back for it. Where was his family? Was this lump of a woman his wife? The shadow his brother?
I watch them from the bar, leaning my head on my crossed arms behind the pop machine so they didn’t see me staring. I spread my feet far apart on the mat to stretch my back a little.
I watch the guy drink his coffee. The blue half-moons under his eyes were deeply pronounced. I imagined them at any moment sliding down his face into the mug like slugs.
Man, he looked sad.
A few minutes later I go over there, ask them if they want some food. They don’t, he says. Then he starts asking me about my life.
Customers do this when they get bored of talking to each other. But it somehow always ends up with them telling me stories about their own lives.
Maybe that’s just a testament to how I’m answering these questions.
He tells me he’s a Korean War veteran, he tells me he worked in a high school. I ask him which subject he taught, he laughs dryly and tells me he was the custodian, for 35 years. And that I should be so lucky that my father works hard, maybe someday I can get married on a boat too. I smile and nod.
I’m sure that would be lovely, I say. I refill their coffees and waters.
I try to imagine my dad working with such a goal in mind and it made me feel kind of sick.
My wrist starts to ache from holding the coffee pot while he talks. I can’t decide how to extract myself from this conversation. The woman and shadow stare off despondently as the guy chats, he doesn’t seem to notice. I check my watch and make an awkward excuse and walk away.
My stomach is lurching and acidic, I feel wobbly on my feet. I lean my forehead to cool on the wooden waitress station. I hear a whistle and it’s Jimmy, the dishwasher standing over by the sinks with rubber gloves on his hands. He gestures that we should take a smoke break. I peek at the motley crew and see their coffees are still full up and head out back.
We sit on stacked milk crates and Jimmy lights the cigarettes, two in his mouth, one for me. I always liked how he did this because it reminded me of an old movie with Bette Davis. Whenever I see him do it I have the urge to call home and ask my mother which movie that is, she would know. I always forget to by the end of the shift.
That’s what happens here, in this limbo restaurant. People come in and your head fills with names and orders and questions, and at the end of the night you’re so beat by the time you’re done it’s like being caught in a permanent state of déjà vu.
Jimmy hands me the cigarette and starts complaining, like he does.
“Mother fuckers eat too much ketchup,” he said, the smoke streaming out of his nostrils. As he gets more and more riled up I imagine it coming out of his ears too.
“I go home every night and have to scrub ketchup out of my pores! I smell it all the time!”
He looks at me and I give him my typical wry smile and shake my head.
“Why do they eat so much of it?” He asks himself, looking off into the distance.
“Because the food here is terrible,” I remind him.
We laugh. I like Jimmy because he makes me laugh, even if he’s just passing me by as we hurry around during the dinner rush he always gives an eyebrow twitch or a wink that makes me smile.
Jimmy was always asking me out to breakfast, after the night shift. When the customers are gone and everyone starts to feel giddy and hyper while flipping sauces and emptying pitchers. I could never tell if he was kidding, so I never gave a definite answer. To this day I’m not sure, but we never did end up seeing each other outside of work.
I inhale the smoke deep and breathe it out slowly from the corners of my mouth. I don’t know why, this is just how I smoke. I watch the busboys huddled around the dock posts, their hunched backs like gargoyles facing the water to hide cash tips and cigarettes. I could hear the rise and fall of their conversation, but not the words. As I watch, the clouds break a little in the distance, over the water, and for a minute the sunset shines through. The bus boys release sounds of relief at the sight and straighten their stone backs. A gentle breeze slaps the ropes and halliards on the sailboats creating that clanking music the dock feels empty without. I smell fish and water and gasoline. The color leaks back into the world, replacing the gray.
A little girl is playing with her dad farther out on the dock, throwing bits of hamburger bun probably soggy with ketchup into the lake, giggling at the fat ducks snatching up the crumbs.
I ask Jimmy if he’s ever heard of people having a wedding on any of the boats at the marina and he laughed. He’d never heard of that, the boats around here were mostly sailboats, not quite wedding reception worthy.
I shrug, maybe it was coming in from somewhere else.
I stamp out my cigarette in the paint bucket filled with butts and head back inside, adjusting my apron.
When I round the corner, they had gone. The man, the lady, and the shadow. They left cash on the table because I wasn’t around to bring a check or run a credit card. I felt bad for a minute but pocketed it and started my end-of-shift report.
I count my tip money in my car at a stoplight on the way home. It was a slow day. Just as I’m leaving it’s getting sunny, maybe the dinner shift will do better.
Out of the corner of my eye I see movement from the water. On the lake there’s a showboat looking thing, people are milling around deck, some dancing, the rails decorated with fluttering ribbons. I roll down my window and hear light music drifting over from it.
I scrutinize the boat, searching deeply for any sign of my guy. The traffic light has changed to green and people are honking at me but I can’t go, I have to see if this is it, the honking rings in my ears and I feel the pressure and frustration from the cars behind me as some whiz by on my right. I can’t stop searching, I feel frantic, like if I can’t find him some dark fate would be confirmed.
Finally, I find him. Standing right at the bow of the boat, don’t know how I could have missed him at first.
His cape was billowing in the wind around him, exposing a crimson lining. He looked out at the lake, even at the distance I could see the smile on his face. To me he looked like some kind of pirate captain on a frigate ship standing above double-decked cannons, the sails puffed full of a strong salty wind, looking out at the vast oceans, ripe with treasures for his taking.
With a final blaring honk from behind me I snap out of my gaze and lurch my car forward. The noise from the road must have gotten his attention.
I swear, he looked right at me.
I drive around the curve in the road watching the boat disappear from my rearview mirror. When my eyes release the mirror and shift to the road they lose focus, and I follow the motions of my lane. The air feels warm on my face and as I pull a strand of hair from the corner of my mouth and tuck it behind my ear where it tickles my neck in the breeze. I notice my cheeks are tingling from a smile that I hadn’t realized was lingering on my lips.
A quote slips into my head. It repeats a few times, like I’m turning an object over in my hands to get a sense of it. Softly at first, and then stronger. The words breaking through a haze in my brain. “Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find.” What do I know that from? A movie, I remember. A woman shrouded in black and white, with that charcoal look to her lips when she says it.
That was it, the movie with Bette Davis that Jimmy’s cigarette trick reminds me of, “Now Voyager.” I smile to myself and find that I had drifted into the middle of the road. I swerve my car and my eyes finally focus up.
I guess I wouldn’t have to call home after all. Though, maybe I should, just to make sure.
University of Michigan
Camille Gazoul hails from a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. She is a senior at the University of Michigan and is pursuing a degree in anthropology and creative writing. Her work has also been published in Xylem Literary Magazine.