American Fiction

It was only a coffee. How much simpler could that be? Decaf with skim milk and stevia. They didn’t have stevia; they only had Sweet n’ Lo. No big deal, she’d said. Fine, the waitress replied. Fine, again. Why had she had to say fine twice? That was weird.  

           Jenn wasn’t that hungry, and she told the waitress as much. The waitress asked twice can I get you anything else?  And twice Jenn said, no thank you. Twice. The first time she said it with a smile. No thank you, I’m not hungry.

           The waitress looked down at her and asked, Are you sure? You look as if you could use some meat on your bones.

           Who was she to say such a thing, thought Jenn.  Here’s this biddy with some ancient blue waitress outfit on, down to a lacey apron that held pens and her order pads, telling her she could use some meat on her bones. She’s the one who could use the meat! And who wears eyeglass chains anymore?!? She looked like some characters from a 1950s Woolworth’s Jenn read about in some old magazine.

           The waitress walked to the kitchen, but not before looking over her puffy shoulder. She smiled. It was a catty smile. Meow, Jenn thought. Jenn picked up a menu from its stand to see if, maybe, there was a minimum charge as if she had to order something she didn’t want. All she wanted was a moment to herself before the job interview. She’d come in early, deliberately, to give herself some time. Imagine, having to order more than a simple cup of coffee in the middle of the morning in a coffee shop of all places. But no, there was nothing about a minimum. There was though a list of muffins, homemade muffins the menu boasted, hot and fresh. Maybe she was hungry. Maybe the coffee would help her decide.

           A chunky girl who could have been the waitress’s daughter brought her the coffee on a tray with a small milk pitcher, an old-fashioned metal thing with a lid that flipped off, and a pile of sugar packets. “Here you go Miss,” she said. “A fresh pot!” Jenn looked at the tray and then at the waitress. “I asked for Stevia. This is sugar.”

           The waitress could have rolled her eyes. “We don’t have Stevia, only Sweet n’ Lo. Do you want that?” Yes, said Jenn. Yes, that’s what I asked for. The waitress said she was sure Jenn had just asked for Stevia, which they didn’t have. Jenn apologized and said Sweet n’ Lo would do just fine. Why am I apologizing? That woman should do the apologizing!

Real milk, not decaf.

           The waitress went through the swinging doors to the kitchen. She was there for an inordinately long time. What is she doing in there? Just get some Sweet n’ Lo. Jenn heard talking and was sure someone said something about “that woman at the counter.” Then laughter. At long last, the waitress came out, a small Lucite box in her hands with sugar, Sweet n’ Lo and, yes, Stevia. “Look what I found,” said the waitress. Well, isn’t she pleased with herself?

           “But you said you didn’t have Stevia,” said Jenn. There was an edge to her voice.

           “Apparently we do,” said the waitress. “That’s the last of it, I’m sure.”

           I just bet you are, thought Jenn. They probably have tons of it back there.

           Jenn added the Stevia to her cup and stirred. One, two, three. She always stirred six times. Six was her lucky number, but at three she heard more laughter from the kitchen and thought she heard her name. How dare they laugh at me? Then it occurred to her they couldn’t possibly know her name; she’d never been in the town let alone the coffee shop.

           An older man she hadn’t noticed spoke up from one of the booths. “I’d love to know what’s so funny,” he said. “I could use a laugh.” He was wearing blue overalls splotched with grease stains. A formerly white nametag with the word “Sully” etched in red thread was on a breast pocket. “You’d think they had some comedian in there,” he said. “I hope he’s clean. I don’t like the blue stuff some of these clowns do. Not my style.”

           Jenn swiveled on her stool. “Are you talking to me?” she asked.

           He looked around, exaggerating the effort. There was a smirk on his face. “I suppose I am seeing as how no one else is here.” He looked at her for a moment too long then lit a cigarette with a silver lighter. Zippo came to Jenn’s mind before she said, “I don’t think you can smoke in here. I don’t think you can smoke indoors anywhere.”

           The man shrugged and took a long drag. Drag, when was the last time I used the word drag? “I just mean I don’t want you to get in any trouble.” The man nodded, dropped the cigarette on the floor, and ground it out with his toe. “No ashtrays anyway,” he said before he got up and walked out. Most of a corn muffin was left sitting on a plate.

           Jenn still had a spoon in her coffee cup, which was cold by now. She called out “Miss” several times before the first waitress came out. “Sorry, but my coffee’s cold. Can I get a fresh cup? Decaf, remember?”

           The woman lifted the cup. “Doesn’t feel cold to me,” she said before spilling it into a sink behind the counter and refilling it from a pot with a green plastic spout on its edge. She looked over Jenn’s shoulder. “Say, what happened to him?” she asked.

           “He left,” said Jenn.

           “I’m not dim. I can see that,” said the waitress.

           “He was smoking, and I guess he knew it wasn’t allowed,” said Jenn.

           “It’s not. And walking out without paying isn’t allowed either,” said the waitress. “Did you say something to him?”

           Jenn confessed she’d mentioned she didn’t think cigarette smoking was allowed anywhere indoors, to keep him from getting in trouble. She didn’t, she insisted, ask, or even suggest he should leave.

           “Well, I’m out a coffee, a muffin, and the quarter tip,” said the waitress. Her face was a bit too close to Jenn’s. 

           “I didn’t ask him to leave or anything. I really didn’t,” said Jenn.

           The waitress frowned. She muttered, “It ain’t your problem.” That bothered Jenn. Ain’t. What type of person uses that word in polite company? She thought the same type of person who would come to a coffee shop dressed in greasy garage overalls, smoke a cigarette, and leave without paying. Those two should be married.

           The waitress swung around to return to the kitchen when Jenn called out, “Excuse me, but I’ve changed my mind. I’d love, love, love a toasted corn muffin if you have. And a soft-boiled egg. Can I ask for those?”

           The waitress wrote down the order on her pad, looked back to Jenn, and asked, “Is that all?” Is that all? What’s it any of her business anyway? Isn’t an egg and a muffin enough?

           “No, that’ll be fine. I just got a bit peckish waiting for the fresh coffee,” she said.

           “Not much of a wait I hope,” said the waitress. Her head was tilted to one side. Her garish red lip-sticked-lips were taut.

           “Hardly,” said Jenn with a thin smile. That’ll teach her something.

           The waitress brought out the muffin, untoasted. Jenn reminded her she wanted it toasted “and with butter please.” The waitress grabbed the plate spilling the muffin on the counter. “I’ll get another,” she said. That one arrived, toasted, with a pat of butter on the side, with one soft-boiled egg in a cup.

           “Anything else?” said the waitress.

           “Just the check,” said Jenn.

           The waitress again returned to the kitchen, where Jenn was sure she heard more laughs. What are they doing in there? They should be out waiting for customers.

           She took a bite of the muffin. It wasn’t bad at all, and she put it in a napkin and then in her handbag for later. The bill was in order; coffee (it didn’t say de-caf), muffin (it didn’t say toasted with butter), and one boiled egg (it didn’t say soft-boiled). She heard more laughs, louder, with a man’s voice saying “You’re kidding” to more laughter.

           Jenn spilled the coffee on the counter, cracked the running egg into the puddle, and made sure the bill was nice and soaked in the mess. She did leave two quarters in it as well. The waitress, after all, deserved some tip.

September 16, 2023 03:37

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Dena Linn
17:11 Sep 23, 2023

Yes very good..... you could have even waited till later to tell us where she was, your descriptions of the waitress and all are enough.


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Mary Bendickson
02:38 Sep 18, 2023

This strikes a familiar tune. Sure enough one similar was entered few weeks back. Did not compare to see if exactly same but seemed to fit this prompt well.


David Ader
22:29 Sep 18, 2023

the same. I thought it fit this prompt better.


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