It was a small, tickling idea in the back of her mind. It was a dream so close to her heart she never noticed it clinging there. It just moved with her through the day, through the years of working in various restaurants. She’d put in her time until she could no longer stand the management, then move on to another place. She was making money. She was trading a service, relaxation to others for their dollars, a paid ‘mother’ to businessmen or first dates or families with a bunch of kids needing a break.
The green leatherette booths that lined the café had thousands of people occupy them over the years, thousands of conversations about misinformed current affairs, what homework was due tomorrow, which bitch he was fucking now. Thousands of people from every station of life. Donny Osmond ate here once, a little reflected glory, a story, something to talk about when the conversation about the weather was exhausted and the people didn’t enjoy enough of the same television programs to share their exasperation over the most recent plot developments.
The waitress is cute, smart too. She’s out of place here, pouring coffee for the industrial workers’ breakfast. You can see it trying to burst out of her blouse. I mean her heart- heart of a lioness. I left the hay bails and rural life to make my living in The City. There is a girl back there who I miss sometimes, but only for a moment. I don’t think on her too long. City life was going to be over her dead body so it ended.
I sat in the corner café, dreaming of another life. Across the room was a woman about ten years older, somewhere in her late 40’s. She was well dressed- a professional- and carried on a conversation with a stool, the empty stool across the table from her. She was glassy eyed, her voice trembled, pleaded adamantly with the person who was no longer there. Most people would dismiss her as mentally ill. I knew better. I recognized her as a woman deeply, desperately in love with a man who suddenly cut her off, rejected her unceremoniously. He had gotten what he wanted and was now done with her, on to the next. But this woman loved, still loved deeply, and could not accept that he was never coming back. She continued the relationship by herself, laughing at the jokes, explaining her day, clinging to the interactions, to the shreds of love that he had offered her. Her unrequited desire had driven her into madness. It drives so many of us. She was desperate for love and unable to reconcile being used.
French toast. Full order. Topped with strawberries and whipped cream. Bottomless coffee. The City. Quality of life beyond many. Forced to moved away. No Parking. Violence, house poor, unemployment, corruption. The rat race piling on more rats. They believe it is merit earned not enslavement.
It is a January morning in single digits. A homeless man paces in desperation, approaching customers as they get out of their warm cars, asking for change. He comes inside when he can’t stand it anymore, plunges his dirty hand into the free candy dish, asks for water. The shelter won’t let him in until evening. He is staying out of the usual neighborhoods for reasons that are known only to him. What is a business, a café providing food and warmth to paying customers to do? What to do with this man in desperation. They let him take the candy, give him the water but allow him to stay only long enough to drink it. He makes the staff nervous. He makes the clientele nervous. Desperate people will do desperate things. Our humanity and our Faith push us to help him but he seems beyond it.
Here, like everywhere, it is exciting to visit to feel the pulse of the people, the local culture, the day to day grind that you are free from only for the moment. But it is not what matters in the end. If you stare in longing at the belonging too long they will get nervous. They will see you for the outside element that you really are, a stranger with weak if any local ties, and not invited to dinner at their house. Welcome to our city- now go home. But if home is not home-like, if the pressures and the grief have made those inside the house collapse inside themselves and nobody, nobody, not even the family dog can escape it, where do you find home. The kindness of strangers is a real thing. But they too are only just clinging to their lifeboats and there is just no room for you.
-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2017