Note: This story contains substance abuse, language, and thoughts about suicide.
Toward the end of the evening, I like to take a drink. The longer I work at the taco truck, the earlier the end of the evening becomes. You know, there’s that saying about it being five o’clock somewhere, a saying that a lot of people use as an excuse to get drunk before dinner. I always say it’s five o’clock somewhere, too, which irritates the hell out of me. I want to sound more refined than that. The gourmands I once starved to impress say they drink at 17:00. Well, I imagine they say that. I always thought their twenty-four-hour clock sounded so much more glamorous yet practical. It never repeats until a new day begins. I thought it sounded perfect for fine dining. When I opened my place, I listed my reservation options on the website using the 24-hour clock, but the elegance of that format confused a lot of people. Well, I think it did. I lost my restaurant trying to make taste buds tingle to railway time. My mother said I never had any business opening a restaurant, not even a lemonade stand. She claims I can't organize anything and that I hate the routine needed to survive in any business. She also said that I could fuck up a cracker for a starving man. Rethinking the whole thing, the 24-hour clock does make the American five o’clock seem like a long way off. For drinkers, a drink should always seem like it’s one minute away. Damn. It’s hard to tell time when you’re drunk.
The people that live here complained that I never honored our Appalachian heritage with upscale dishes from the area. That always infuriated me, so I ended the discussion by beginning it with a question like, “Which upscale Appalachian dish do you mean…goat balls?” Still, I know I messed up some of the dishes on the menu even though I love Europe. Europe’s a big place. It’s hard to create a decent menu based on a continent of forty-four countries. Hell, I can’t even name all of the countries and honestly, I’ve never been outside of the United States. It’s starting to feel like I’ve never been outside of this taco truck. It’s a country of its own. No, it's a continent full of American taco shells that collide like continental shelves when the owner farts. This thought made me laugh so hard that he asked if I’d been drinking again. I only had a sip or ten before work, so I said no.
If it wasn’t for the taco truck job, I wouldn’t have enough money to even consider suicide in a respectable manner, which to me means a suicide performed peacefully in a bathtub full of bubble bath while drinking the finest whatever I can get my hands on. Bubble bath and the finest whatever cost money. I’ve told my mother this a million times. The last time I mentioned it, she said her arthritis was the only thing that kept her from killing me.
“Ah, shit, here we go again,” Mom said. “You begged me to take you in after that dumb fucking bisto—"
“Bistro, Mom, bistro, for fuck’s sake.”
“Oh, whatever the hell you call it you shouldn’t have opened it and now you gotta live with Mama. Well, I don’t want to hear all the suicide talk. You better not kill yourself here. You get your own home if you want to do that because this is my home, not yours. There’s no peaceful anything for you here, not even a peaceful suicide. I’ll kill you before I let you do that to my bathtub,” she said, slamming her bedroom door. I could hear her opening her underwear drawer for the Southern Comfort.
About an hour later, I found her cuddling the bottle like most women cuddle a man. Well, that’s how I feel about being a woman. At forty-nine. I cuddle bottles instead of men. I leaned over to hear if she was still breathing and also because I saw whisky in the bottle. When I started to move the bottle from her arms, she sat up and swung the bottle into my nose, screaming, “You keep your suicide out of my bathtub and you keep your hands off my Comfort. This ain’t your party time.” Then she fell back asleep with a snore.
She didn’t break my nose, but it hurt.
Tonight, Steve suggested that I go to AA. I resisted the urge to say that I wish he’d suppress his ideas but let his farts fly free all the time because they sound better than any of his ideas. But the work line I walk is thin, and the home I make a living hell is no sure thing, especially without a bit of cash. There are many reasons to work a job but liking it usually isn't one of them.
“Customers complain about you a lot. They say you make the tacos soggy. I think it’s because you drink too much.”
“Yeah, I do. I do, and I need to change, ” I said, scrubbing the grill for the hundredth time in an hour. My God, I was standing there saying the same thing I’ve said for the last twenty years. I wanted a drink so bad.
It felt like he was reading my mind because he said, “You’re here because I love your mom, and she said that if we’re gonna get married, I need to give you a job. It might sound funny, people our age wanting to get married. But I don't want to be alone no more. I love your mom so much that she can drink all she wants. But you can’t do that because you work for me, and I’ll be damned if you ruin my place like you ruined your own. I mean to support your mother in the finest ways. I want to take her to Florida in the winter. And you really do need AA."
He waited for me to respond, but I didn’t want to look at him because Mom is never going to marry him and I'm probably never going to AA. He wasn’t the first of her men to give me a job. It hurts my heart, the things that old man doesn't know.
“Now, are you going to go to AA or what? It’s the start of a new life. For all of us. I may be the oldest, whitest son of a bitch you’ve ever seen, but I know Mexican food, by God. My wife always made the best tacos. And look, I know you like to cook so you can use some authentic Mexican food things that you like. If you just tell me what it is, I'll get it. Come on, Angie,” he said, opening his arms wide. “Put that big pretty head of yours right here on my shoulder and let me hug you so hard you bust your gut. We’re almost family standing here in this taco truck. This is where we can make dreams."
I squinted my eyes against the tears. Loners shun the family they have, and I hated to accept a hug from my boss who dreamed nonsense about my mother. But he was right. I had a big head. I hugged him back.
"Will you go, for me?” he asked, squeezing hard. "We really could make this work."
"Sure, I will, Steve," I said, not sure if I was lying or not. But I was going to a party after closing.
I stood outside Debbie’s house looking at a guy I wanted to light my cigarette. Just ask, I hoped. Just ask. Let me know I have something to offer. Say you see the sun in me, even though it’s midnight. Finally, I said, “Do you have a light?”
He lit me up then went back to scrolling, but my sun didn’t want to set.
“The great anti-smoking campaign worked, didn’t it?”
“Well, it did in some ways. I mean, we’re the only two out here. No one’s smoking cigarettes inside, you know. They’re all doing whatever and drinking, but none of them are smoking.”
He kept scrolling, but said, “I did whatever earlier. Now I’m smoking a cigarette. A good cig is hard to beat,” he said, walking toward the door. “I’m going to smoke inside from now on.”
I laughed. “Really? You’re brave.”
“I’m also bored, so.”
I’m on my way home, unsure if I’m going to bed or the bathtub.