“There are roaches in the restaurant,” I say.
Sometimes, I imagine there are roaches, at least. Crawling, stalking somewhere just out of sight, out of consideration. Maybe in the wisp of a peripheral glimpse they scatter or, just beyond the cracked surface, the splintered covering of the wall, they squirm and run. Sometimes I think this, but, most of the time, I don’t.
On Monday, I am at the restaurant from sun up to sun down. I don’t plan to be there all day, but breakfast starts busier than usual and runs well ahead of itself and far into lunch. Then, lunch does not take the normal reprieve until the dinner plates come out, and through it all I have barely a second to think to look at a clock. When I do, the time diagrammed within has already traveled well into the territory of late evening drawing dangerously close towards the horizon of tomorrow.
“And where do you think you’ve been?” Molly says just as I walk through the front door of our two bedroom, two bath, uptown apartment. A glance up at the clock reveals that it is 11:47 pm––where had the time been?
Standing behind the kitchen counter, Molly emits visible puffs of frustration like steam rolling out in waves from the top of a chugging locomotive. I hate it when she gets like this. She goes about huffing like a neglected and ill-greased engine and starts wondering out loud questions that would more helpfully remain within.
She knows where I was. She always knows, yet she always asks like she expects the answer to suddenly change–– I was out bowling, I was on a roll and just lost track of the time or Oh, out knocking off the neighborhood convenient store; I would have been in earlier, but I had to circle back on myself, cover my tracks, you know how it is.
“At the restaurant, baby,” I say, for what feels like the first time after the millionth time. From the look she gives me, I feel like I should have gone with the bowling number, though. After all, her heart had fallen for and beaten––thump, thump, thump––close with and so in rhythm for that of the sports star once; much more close, at least, than it ever had with that of the restaurant dreamer, now starless, standing before her. “Tommy didn’t come in for the dinner shift. I had to cover––we had no one else.”
“Damn it, Freddy. You knew about the recital. You knew what this meant to her… to me. It’s always someone doesn’t come in or you just can’t get away. Now, what are you going to tell her?” She says.
I know she is angry, mostly because lately she is always angry, and it has begun to be my natural expectation. Also, but less so, because she is talking in spurts again, waving her hands about in great big sweeping motions. I call her my machine gun girl when she gets like this, not to her or anyone specific, or really anyone at all. Still, though no one hears, I feel it’s fitting.
“Well, what can I do? We needed someone,” I say, trying––and failing––desperately not to picture her anymore as heavy machinery pumping iron into the air with each of her heavy bursts of perturbed air. The locomotive image had been bad enough. “I didn’t have anyone, Molly. You know we have to make sacrifices. We knew that before we started this thing. You knew it––we all knew it. I’m sorry, but the restaurant needed me. I’ll be at the next one.”
“Yeah, Freddy. It’s always the next one, isn’t it?” Molly says, and walks past me to the bedroom. I do not turn to watch her go. By now, I can just close my eyes, and it will play across the darkened canvas of my eyelids as if a movie projected against a screen.
I can see her just as well there––in the theatre of my mind––if not better, moving like a heavy stone dropping down, deep, descending quickly out of view. It always plays across like some scene stolen from out of a once treasured, now jumbled, family recording pieced back together from the bits that have happened not to have been taped over with re-runs of quixotic TV family dramas.
The door slams behind me. Alone, with the internal movie flickering to its end on the film reel of my mind––click, click, click––I turn and look across the room to the welcoming disposition of the slumping couch.
“Hello, old friend,” I say. “It looks like it’s just you and me again.”
I know the couch, at least. I get it, and it, with measured disregard for any true preference, gets me. In spite of the preferences of either of us––though surely, if consulted, they would not argue much––this has become our usual routine. It exists, a routine, to end a day of routines––delicate dances featuring wearied partners––the restaurant and me, Molly and me, all ending with the drooping couch and me.
It does not have to be this way. I can go knock on the door and try to talk to her. I can and, inside me, I think I hear a stinted voice telling me I should, but I don’t.
Instead, I let the dance continue.
Instead, my feet fall in step, fitting neatly into the grooves of the same weary worn paces. Instead, I turn towards the bathroom to relieve myself and brush my teeth. As I walk across the room, I almost think I see a dark blotch pulled by two thin antenna scatter across the floor and under the couch. When I look back, the slumping coach––alone, silent, antenna-less––greets me with its same tired used look.
I continue along my path and start my nightly bathroom rituals. A few minutes later, I return from the tiny washroom. This time, no blotches scatter across the floor. I look at the couch and imagine a California King with a thousand count Egyptian cotton sheet spread out before me.
I manage something of a smile and reflect that this might be the first time I have smiled all day. For some reason then, I just stop. A frown replaces the smile, and I nod, perhaps to myself, perhaps not.
“A spread fit for a king,” I say as I settle in amongst the gentle imagined waves of finely knit cotton. I am tired for sure. Sometimes, I do not think Molly understands this. Most of the time, though, I am just too tired to care. I close my eyes.
As I begin to drift off, I think of menu items, dishes, knives, and spoilt food overrunning the confines of dumpsters end upon end off into infinity. I drift up. I am taken away, carried off on a cloud of Egyptian cotton up over the scatterings of broken restaurant promises. I sit high, floating above a land that feels nowhere, perhaps lost, there stretched out before me––a strewn, across, a filled with crumpled, torn and tired plans. I float up high above a grand expanse until my land of broken promises becomes all I see––until the world goes dark––until all I know I know no more.
– Excerpt from Roaches in the Restaurant by TR August