I guess I should have known things were going to go badly when the milk curdled.
I been coming to Maxie’s for my coffee for more than 40 years, and I never got curdled milk before. But there, I added my sugar, two spoons, stirred it up and picked up the little cow-shaped cream pitcher and poured and it all sat sickly white and lumpy in my cup.
Depressing, that. Waste a good coffee.
It was Wednesday, so that means Wilma was working, except it wasn’t Wilma at all. It was some new girl with blonde curls who kept looking at the phone she was holding like she was waiting on lottery ticket numbers. Now, I don’t see how you can do a job and also be looking at your phone, but it’s been more than fifty years since I was 20, so maybe that’s how it’s done now.
Alls I know is it took me a solid five minutes to get her attention with my little waving finger. The finger always summons Wilma in seconds. She knows I’m a tipper.
By the time this blonde girl brought me new coffee and milk, my toast was cold, but I endured this hardship, because God knows, it’d a been twenty-five minutes for new toast.
The new girl’s name tag said Alyshe, and I was puzzling out in my head whether that would be Al-ee-sh-e or Al-ish, or Ah-lye-she as I stirred my new coffee. And then a gentleman slid into the seat across from me. He said, “Hello, Delores,” and I said, “Hello yourself, sir, I don’t recall asking you to sit down.”
“You shouldn’t be impolite,” he says.
Is it polite to plant yourself in someone’s private breakfast time and then start calling them by name like you know them? I don’t think so.
“You got me at a disadvantage, feller. I don’t know your name,” I said, kind of crotchety-like so he’d know this wasn’t conversation, this was just encouragement to shove off.
“Perhaps not, but we have been getting closer to being friends your whole life.”
Riddles leave me cold, is what it is. I decided to ignore him.
I slowly chewed a bite of my cold toast and squinted at the word search in the paper.
“Delores, you can’t ignore me forever.”
He placed his hand on the page. He had shiny nice trim nails, a thing I normally enjoy on a man. But he was starting to get up my nose.
“What do you want, buster?”
“Your immortal soul.”
Imagine. Tossing a line like that out at an old lady who was just minding her own business.
“Is that right? So’re you the Old Scratch?”
He kinda sat up and maybe I imagined it, but I thought he looked worried when I said that. Good. Maybe that’s his boss, and I’m a-getting him in trouble, I thought.
“I’m Death. Honestly, I thought you recognized me and were just playing hard to get.”
“Death, eh? Didn’t I put the run to you twenty years ago? Don’t remember the goatee then.”
“You like it? I think it makes me more distinguished. Yes, you escaped my collection when you managed to recover from the flu. But, Delores, it’s really time this time.”
“Oh, izzat so?”
Blondie came back to ask how my food was, and I told her plain it was cold, thanks for asking. She smiled and said okay and asked if my friend wanted anything.
“You see him, eh? Yeah, better bring him a tea then.”
She walked away and I shook my head, taking another slow bite of cold soggy toast.
“How come that one seen ya? Am I gonna murder suicide her about the sad state of this breakfast?”
Death’s forehead was creased. “I don’t know why she saw me. That’s weird.” He took a phone out and started flicking his finger on it. “Nope, just you scheduled here this morning.”
“Maybe you should ‘text’ her and ask if she’s feeling okay.” I cackled. Watching Death freak out a little was good entertainment.
I kept picking at the toast. It was awful, but supposing I was gonna die, I sure wasn’t leaving with an empty belly. I considered ordering bacon, but that missus was so incompetent she’d probably screw it up, and I can’t bear the thought of wasted bacon. It’s a gift from God, that.
Mind you, I generally have as little truck with that one as I do with the Old Scratch, but when it comes right down to it, I guess it would be better to be bored for eternity than to roast. Never could stand the heat.
Blondie plunked a black coffee in front of Death who stared at it blankly.
“I tried,” I shrugged. “It’s almost a wonder she ain’t brought you a roast beef sandwich and a pet squirrel.”
I leaned in and beckoned him close to whisper, “She ain’t that smart.”
Death sighed. “Look, Delores, can we move this along? I have a 2:30 over in Paris, Texas and I’d really like to take the scenic route for a change.”
“Hold your pale horses, buster. I still got a half a toast here. I ain’t one to waste a thing.”
I chewed slowly and deliberately in case he was going to try a fast one like making me choke on the bread. I sipped my coffee.
It was Wednesday, so my buddy Paco came in. I saw him and waved. “Hey Paco! How’s the road west?” Paco drives a vegetable delivery truck. Last time I seen him he gave me a fine rutabaga and a little bag a potatoes. Paco’s good people.
“Clear as thinly sliced ham, Delores! The smokeys are hanging back and the potholes are filled.”
Excellent. “Do I get one last ride?” I asked Death, who was acting twitchy. Like, I’m the one that’s sposed to be dying, what’s his problem?
“It’s your death,” he shrugged. “Make it what you want?”
Well, that’s interesting, I thought. I never expected that. Like, to get the choice of how to go. I swallowed the last of my coffee. My helmet was beside me on the seat, but if this was gonna be my last ride, I figured I’d make it good, have the wind in my hair.
“Why don’t you pay the lady, moneybags? You got steady work.”
I got up and headed out. I inched my leg over my hog’s seat. Them new hips is good, but they ain’t exactly like the originals, and I gotta be careful. I put the key in, pulled my gloves on. Tipped it into first and rolled out of the parking spot. This was gonna be glorious.
Death had come out and was standing watching me. I revved up and shifted into second as I approached the exit onto the highway. Bye, Maxie’s, I thought. Hope Wilma don’t miss me. I glanced back to make sure nothing was coming down the road and as I did, Blondie came wailing out of the restaurant, wavin’ my helmet like it was a baby I forgot.
I did that classic stupid move of turning my head toward her, which turned the bike. I was already near the top of second and had no time to react. Blondie’s eyes were like saucers when Death suddenly barrelled her out of the way. I went down on top of him.
Pretty sure he died instantly, but he did that weird thing where his whole self disappeared. The bike went down and so did I but the kill switch got kicked so it wasn’t as bad as it coulda been. Blondie’s phone got busted. The police came, a course, and I told them some of what happened, and they told me to be careful and don’t be driving without that helmet. They also picked the bike up for me, for which I was grateful because it’s over 1200 pounds and it’s a bitch to do alone. They weren’t bad for pigs.
I went back in to pay because of course that frigger stiffed Blondie, who is apparently Alice. Too bad her parents couldn’t spell. She brought me a hot coffee and a free plate of waffles. Maybe she’s okay after all. Now if I could get her to bring me some syrup.