"Tipping Etiquette" by Mark Hummel
|Mark teaches writing at the University of Northern Colorado.|
© 2004 Mark Hummel
"Don't mistake being wanted with being loved," she said. "They are not the same thing."
"Excuse me?" he looked up, blinking, from the table.
"Your friend. It's obvious she wants you. More so because you're not her type. You're the type she wants to be her type but isn't." She moved then to the left, shifting her weight to one hip, and doing so she blocked enough of the sun, just twenty minutes over the horizon now, that he could stop squinting. The sun formed a kind of halo behind her head, lighting the hair that escaped from her ponytail and curled at her neck. Part of her right ear glowed red and transparent beneath where she had a pencil tucked like all the other truck stop waitresses. "More coffee?" she asked.
"What did you say?"
"Do you want more coffee?"
"Not that. The other."
"Oh that. Nothing. I'm out of my place. Bad habit. Do you think she's done here?" she asked, indicating the half-eaten plate of biscuits and gravy opposite him.
"I have no idea," he stammered. "She just went to the restroom."
"I'll come back then."
She turned and once again the sun caused him to squint. She stepped to another table where an elderly couple was seated, the man adding sugar to his coffee, the woman consumed with a paperback novel, her glasses threatening to slide off the end of her nose. The waitress patted the old man on the shoulder and said something he couldn't hear from his booth. He watched her walk towards the kitchen.
Once she was out of sight, he turned back to the table and the window. His eyes adjusted to the light. He could see vapors playing in the sun where men pumped diesel into their rigs. The red lights of the three story tall "OPEN 24 HOURS" sign showed faintly. He imagined he would hear its neon hiss if he were outside near it. Hadn't he parked near it last week? He had stopped here with his family, on the way home from a baseball game for his son. His son had needed to go to the bathroom. They decided to eat something, even though the kids turned up their noses at "truck stop food." They sat in this same booth. He hadn't paid the slightest notice who waited on them.
He watched now as the waitress brought the old man a bowl of something. "Miss," he called to her. She strode to his table.
"Whatcha need, sugar?"
"What you said before."
"Listen, hon. Forget it. I just can't ever learn to keep my big mouth shut or my ears pinned to their own head where they belong."
He looked at her white nurse's shoes, at where her pantyhose disappeared into the shoes and then up her legs. She had good calves. "You said she's not my type."
"No. I said you're not her type."
"Warm your coffee?" Her voice smiled but her mouth did not.
"Okay." He looked at her closely for the first time. He decided that she must have been quite pretty once. She had good features still but the years showed. She looked tired. There were several other waitresses on shift and he suddenly became aware of the murmur of voices and the clatter of plates. Some of the waitresses were twenty or less, attractive if rather plain, all with hair in ponytails and all with firm, good legs, to which the short-skirted uniforms called attention. He imagined her working here at their age, imagined what she'd witnessed in all the years in between.
"Need anything else?" she asked.
"What do you mean? I'm not her type."
"Well, sugar. Truth is I think I'm more your type."
"Now you're just playing tip lines on me."
She smiled and started to turn away.
He reached out and grabbed her wrist, causing her to turn back swiftly. She looked angry. He let go. "I want to know what you meant," he said gruffly.
She seemed to sigh. "She's the drama type. Loves chaos, particularly when she's at the center of it."
He nodded, as if confirming. "And what type am I?"
"The steady. The one who has to believe he will always do the right thing."
"Yet I don't. Isn't that what you say next?"
"She wants you to love her. She thinks everything else will be all right if you do. That she'll like herself then. We all think that."
He started to respond. Stopped. Looked in her blue eyes. "How do you know all this?"
"I don't." She took his plate. The remaining egg was cold, three bites missing. "I'll bring the check in a jiffy." His lover's plate of biscuits and gravy remained across the table.
He watched the couple at the next table. The old man was reading a newspaper now. He laughed at what he read and said something to his wife. She lowered her novel for a moment and smiled.
He fingered the handle of his coffee cup then returned to looking out the window. He watched as a semi pulled onto the scales then watched a family spill from the opened doors of a mini-van and approached the café with the stiff-legged stretching walk of having been confined in a car for too long.
He removed a twenty from his wallet, more than the check would be. A hefty tip. He laid the bill on the table and put his wallet away. Stopping here had been her idea, a bit of nostalgia, he assumed, for the one other time they had stopped for a roll and coffee on their way back to their lives after an overnight venture in the mountains.
"Miss me?" she asked, sliding into the booth with an exaggerated flourish, pushing the plate of congealed gravy away in the same motion. He didn't reply. He was watching the highway now, streams of cars moving in opposite directions, the morning sun glinting off their windshields and back bumpers.
All poems are copyrighted property of Mark Hummel.
© 2004 SubtleTea Productions All Rights Reserved