Ms Jarvis came into Mawde’s Diner down here in Cut Off, Louisiana nearly every day, besides the holy one.
She sported a lime-green overcoat, spotted with grease stains; the hem draping over her chubby thighs. She always carried a purse which was held together by sewn-on canvas binds, every so often reaching into her coat pocket and pulling out a strip of foul-smelling meat, before dropping it into her purse.
She was a regular here at Mawde’s.
Being a roadside diner, which operated at almost all hours, odd characters showed up at odder times, often bumping into Ms Jarvis who would sidle up to them with bullshit talk about where they came from and complaining about the hot weather, before taking them back to her place.
I served her most nights and she grew on me like mould on a damp wall, even showing me what was kept in her purse.
She pulled back the zip ever so slightly and a narrow snout showed itself.
The zip pulled back a little more and the head of a dark brown rat was exposed.
It hissed, squirmed, and a rotten smell wafted out of the bag, most likely the meat.
“Travers,” said Ms Jarvis, “say hello to Lucy Belington. She’s the nice young lady who serves me.”
There was a strict rule against pets, especially sewers rodents, but Travers never bothered anyone.
She stumbled upon him when she went to move her late husband’s clothes from the wardrobe, only to find a long-nosed rodent curled up inside one of his old work boots.
“It was a sign,” she told me, “that he come to visit me and stay.”
Since then, I felt obliged to bring an extra strip of bacon for Travers, who she told me was named after her husband who was killed in a construction accident when his body was pulled under a Grader when someone forget to set the handbrake.
She didn’t say much after she told me that, but I watched her as she left the diner with a stumbling stranger.
Drunks are the easiest, she once told me.
The next morning, she sat at the bar table.
Her face sagged and her jowls trembled when she sat.
According to her, none of the men she brought home stayed for so much as a sausage and egg breakfast the next morning.
The loneliness she felt since the passing of her husband was a breeding ground for depression.
Her deep-cut lines above her brow boasted her age which she tried so hard to hide with layers of foundation and concealer – today her face was naked.
She huffed and took the piece of bacon I gave to her, feeding it to Travers who popped his head over the half-moon seal.
Those who suffered loneliness seemed to die a little each day, unseen, while all I could do was serve her coffee and bacon baps.
By the evening, Ms Jarvis returned and I was there to take her order.
“Not tonight,” she said with a smile.
I followed her line of sight and saw a man with a face like the ass end of a bulldog.
He wore a heavy black coat, despite the weather, and stroked his knuckles that showed faded blue letters.
I understood her goal from that child-like smile she gave; bed the man tonight, serve him breakfast in the morning and hope something can be made out of the relationship.
“Get him something, on me,” she said, “whatya think? He looks like he needs a warm cup of joe. Tell him to come over here as well.”
I did as she said and poured his drink.
“It’s from the lady over there,” I said, nose crinkling. He smelt like a medicine cabinet. “She wouldn’t mind if you sat with her too.”
He eyed her, looked at the drink and pushed himself up.
The diner was practically empty so I took my place back at the bar and watched as everything unfolded.
They sat at the corner booth by the window; I couldn’t hear what they said, but if an outsider looked through the window now, it would seem like a slice out of Hopper’s Nighthawk, but perhaps something you wouldn’t admire as long.
I followed Ms Jarvis’s lips moved up and down, up and down – most likely telling the man that she came from Denham Springs and was born on the back of a pickup truck.
The short-order cook called me and told me to take out the trash.
I sighed, peeling my eyes away from what might’ve been the start of a proper romance, and took the trash bags to the dumpster out the back.
The night was still young and when I got back inside it seemed the happy couple were beginning to leave.
Ms Jarvis left me a generous tip and said, ‘what a lovely man, not much of a talker, but very physical, I bet. His name’s Dean.”
I looked at him as he tried to walk in a straight line and he returned a smile; his bad teeth betraying a weakness for getting fried on nights out.
She took his arm, gave me a wink and left.
I watched as they walked away, thinking about how Ms Jarvis felt about leaving with a different man each night.
Her safety often crossed my mind. The people down here weren’t always kind as seen on television commercials. There weren’t always bright, pearly smiles or kind gestures, but that didn’t matter to Ms Jarvis.
Mawde’s felt empty without Ms Jarvis’s antics. She hadn’t stepped foot into the diner for over a week.
The behaviour was peculiar, even for someone as strange as her.
I didn’t know whether to feel worried or relieved.
The man she left with didn’t give me any comforting signs, nor did he seem like the person you’d want to wake up to in the morning.
Ms Jarvis was a kind old woman who I liked to think managed to find happiness, even if it was to a pill-crushing junkie.
To her, loneliness seemed to become a matter of life and death.