What the — how the heck do you kids still have candy left? Put down that Hershey’s bar and — hey now, cut that out! Jeez loo-eez you crazy kids are bouncing off the walls right about now. Okay, well I have an idea. Huh? I SAID I HAVE AN IDEA! Ahem. Now everyone sit down on the rug cross-legged fashion and — no not you Bones! Are you a kid? No? Thought so! Aaaand I’ll get you all some glasses of ice-cold milk and our lovely friend Martha Curren-Preis is gonna tell a stooooory! Yay!
Alright, Martha my dear, they’re all yours.
Lily’s window went black. In Paulino she was solid. Two women stood on the diner steps waiting for the wind to take them. “Would you mind watching while I smoke another cigarette?” Lily’s hair was wet. A streak of blue paint cut across Madeleine’s cheek.
“Did that hurt?” Lily asked.
“I can’t feel my face,” Madeleine replied, stroking it gently. The night before she’d let David lie on her. She pretended that his hands were flippers, his body magnetized to pull her down. Madeleine trained David to speak like the pinball machine: “You’re amazing,” he said.
“Astounding.” “Insert fifty cents,” she sighed. A wrench of bangs and bells, the siren tilt, and it was over.
“It’s only paint,” said Madeleine, and Lily smiled. She’d caught her parents at it that morning.
“Here’s a course for you,” her father chortled as he sent a piece of buttered toast flying towards her mother’s plate. Mama put it in her mouth, crooning “Chicken, chicken, give me a peck.” A teacup launched, chairs slipshod, and bodies fell against the wall. As usual, Lily left for work.
She walked to the diner, her arm extended to gauge the frequency of rain. The weather didn’t bother her—just the blurred vinyl bodies, faces pockmarked like wet rock. Doorway bells knocked against their frames: beastly bells, metal shells embedded in the rafters. The diner loomed on the corner. All the way through, beyond leather and linoleum, Lily went into the back office. Slowly, not to leak too much onto the floor, Lily peeled off her socks and tennis shoes, reinserting her feet—slightly clammy—into the requisite black diner pumps. She shook out her apron and tied it snugly around her. Locking the office door behind her, Lily slipped behind the counter next to Hattie who, at age seventy-one, harbored a strong proclivity for ice pink lipstick. That particular morning, Hattie was exercising her right as “Senior Staff” to defer the service of rather dubious clientele to the tardy Lily. Hattie squinted at the younger waitress and then, in greeting, sharply gestured with her chin towards the counter’s corner stool. Virginia. Colorless, the woman sat hunched over, her fingers clenching and unclenching in time with the raindrops that beat against the diner’s windows. Lily sighed, readied her pad, and walked over.
“Lily, hello Lily, I am so tired.” Virginia stopped, stared intently at Lily’s collarbone, and then began again: “This grazing rain plucks through my skin shell, even my eyelashes sweat away today. This is the place where I wait for my husband whose brother steals my money, I always hide my quarters in a rusted metal cup. He sees through things, he whips coins faster than doctors drown babies with air. I have a daughter, she has a boyfriend, he wheels paint as quick as water. My girl fell through puberty, tripped over her own belly. She’s always in heat. I don’t touch her on roasting days.”
“Hi Virginia.” Lily felt her lips begin to crack.
“Lily, you are like her—it was warmer and I wore my summer dress. They said things, men with the Devil in their mouths, they spit Him like tobacco. The smell, the smoke, I can’t see my feet. Before breakfast I chew nothing but the rinds of cigarettes. Yes I’m healthy, yes I heal myself. Born again I am a Christian so the less I eat the more He knocks against my insides. I am nobody’s body but His own.”
Inside the diner the light was dim. Shadows built a grid against Virginia’s cheek.
“Lily, I am like you.” Virginia’s voice broke. Slowly, she unclenched her hands, her knuckles turning a mottled pink. She reached for a menu: cream chipped beef and a coffee with milk, no sugar.
Hey, now wasn’t that just — what the…hey, why is everyone asleep? This is supposed to be storytime! Aw man, Martha you think you could just…Martha? Martha? Hey where’d everybody go? This is Friday night I thought we were gonna party! Oh well, oh hey STREET DOG, c’mere boy. G’boy. Sigh. Friday night and it’s just me and you, dog. It’s like you’re my only friend in the whole wide world. Sigh.