If the daytime brings out the families, and night brings out the party goers, then the earliest hours of the morning had the rejects. Most were okay. Some were a pain. Many would return week after week, month after month, to the Denny’s on the corner of Main and Dufrey. Wendy McFee had to deal with all of them.
Her shifts would always begin with prayer at 1 am. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…”, a thorough hand washing to keep from getting sick, and a shot of gin to keep her nerves in check. She kept her gin in a small steel canteen in her faux leather purse, among half a pack of cigarettes, hair ties, old playing cards, and a four-year-old course pamphlet from the Fernglade community college.
“Can I get you anything to eat?” She was hardly aware of her own presence as she began to write a trio of teenager’s orders. When she walked away, her ghost remained to watch. Her ghost could tell, the pretty farm girl was getting hooked onto opioids by her trailer trash boyfriend, and her goody two shoes best friend was trying to save her. It was a tragedy.
It was a quarter past three when she rushed to ritual. “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus…” Her hands stung under the burning water, and the gin went down like honey.
“I’m feeling it tonight.” Patricia, her fellow waitress this evening stopped by her side in the back, one hand hugging her swollen belly, the other held forward with open palm. Wendy handed her the canteen to take a swig.
The first time the pregnant woman had asked her for a drink of her gin, she defended herself with an indignant, “Did Gela fall to a single soldier?” Wendy had no idea.
A young couple reeking of liquor and weed were up next for Wendy. “Can I get you anything to eat?” Her ghost could read them like an open book. The young woman was a successful divorce lawyer, and her boyfriend was a used car salesman. They got along well, but she was turning on her faith to do her job, and when they weren’t self-medicating, he resented her for it.
Wendy stepped out for one of her smoke breaks, placed a cigarette in her lips, and left it hanging there unlit. Staring at the gathering clouds above, she let her ghost float on the wind. Up into the sky. She could hear the moon whispering, preparing to break the dark cover. Before her ghost could call out to the moon, she had to go. Wendy flicked the unused cigarette into the trash and walked back inside.
Two minutes before five and she was at it again. “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now…” She quickly washed her hands in eleven minutes, then hid in a corner and took a swig of gin. The waitress was right as rain.
“Can I get you anything to eat?” Her ghost watched the two closely. It felt the girl’s womb and life swelling within. Wendy’s ghost could tell, this punky looking girl had pressured the mild-mannered boy into sleeping with her. She was after his family’s fortune. Rain was growing outside the window, and this girl must have brought it with her, against the wishes of the moon.
The waitress stood there, staring out at the pouring rain.
With a jolt, Wendy looked up at the line cook. “Yeah?”
“For table seven.” He pushed a plate of mozzarella sticks across the greasy hot counter towards the waitress.
She gathered napkins, a small plastic container of marinara, and the plate. There was a shout. Across the Denny’s in the corner booth, the drunk couple burst into arguing, crying, and shrieking. The divorce lawyer ran across the restaurant floor into the women’s restroom, bawling her eyes out. Soon her used car salesman tried to follow, but Patricia was quick on the draw and stood in his path. The man stormed out.
Wendy made her way to table seven where the punky girl and her prey sat. “That lady works at the dollar store down the road,” the young man spoke as he glanced back towards the women’s restroom. “I think every time I’ve gone through her checkout line she’s been talking about how excited she is to get off work.”
Now and then Wendy’s ghost was wrong. It only took it a moment to reassess the situation. It was crystal clear now. “Poor baby.” Her ghost saw the truth, without her overhearing a word they spoke to each other in their drunken state. The reason for that woman’s despair. “Her soul is hurtin‘,” she explained. “If she don’t like her job, she don’t got much going on in her life, y’know what I’m saying?”
“What happened?” the young man asked.
“Oh,” Wendy’s ghost whispered through her. “He was being romantic and telling her how much he loves her. Then he tells her he’s been cheating and she probably has AIDS.”
The girl, whose devious eyes shut tight tried to suppress a laugh, a swinish snort coming from her nose instead.
Her friend was quick to defend her. “Forgive her, she laughs when she’s nervous.”
“Nah man.” The girl’s elbow came down like she was trying to break the table, as she spoke with a devilish glee. “It’s funny. Well it’s ironic. I was going to tell you that Marco’s poz and you gotta go get checked.”
Wendy turned and skittered away from those two as fast as she could. Her ghost was wrong. It happened. It was okay. It was okay. It was okay. She stopped in the back. Her arm reached into her purse. She retrieved her canteen. “Hail Mary, full of grace…” She opened the canteen. “The lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” She took a quick swig. “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.” Carefully, Wendy twisted the cap back on and slid it into her purse, taking a deep breath. Her eyes slowly traced across the wall of the back room, until it found the clock. She had three hours left to her shift and chose to spend the next fourteen minutes washing her hands.