By Katy Goforth
She rummaged through the console of the ancient red Toyota Tercel. The paint used to shine like a forbidden apple. Now it was a dull pink and wearing in spots. She could relate.
No name tag. Must have left it on her dirty uniform. Damn it. She wasn’t supposed to be working this shift anyway, but they always called her. They knew she would make herself available.
The heavy door swung into the alley, and the smell of old grease and fried onions instantly coated her. Not the perfume she chose, but it was the one she often wore. As she made her way back to the small break room, she stopped to clock in and check the board for her missing name tag. Most left them here, but she would end up halfway out to the parking lot before realizing hers was still attached to her.
Her eyes scanned the board with no luck. They settled at the bottom on a tag that said, “Mel.” Lord, Mel was the old line cook and hadn’t worked here in almost a year. Whatever. She would be Mel.
Her first table was a six top. Time to sparkle. The guys barely looked up from their phones to tell her what they wanted. She turned to take the order to the kitchen and heard two sharp snaps. One of them wanted her attention to change his order. Couldn’t even call her Mel.
As she cleared the six top, the smell of Heinz 57 sauce hit her nostrils. It was smeared down the front of her uniform. Those university fellas were the worst. Like pigs bumping into each other at the trough, only pigs were smart.
Grabbing a wet rag from behind the counter, she worked at the brick red stain. It spread out like the ugly watercolor portrait above her bed. She found it at the yard sales she frequented on her rare Saturday off. Her body felt like that painting. Discounted and unwanted.
Looking down at the table littered with half-eaten plates of hash browns scattered, smothered, and covered, she saw the bill with two pennies on top. Those sorry sacks of farts and too much confidence had stiffed her on the bill. Tipped her two damn pennies.
Her grandmother told her the worst thing about getting old was becoming invisible. She already felt like a ghost.
As she gathered the dirty plates and began preparing the table for the next set of diners, she heard someone clear his throat. She turned. Long, Wrangler clad legs spread out in her path back to the kitchen. No. Just no. She yelled to the back, “Smoke break!”
The cool night nipped at her bare legs. As she rounded the corner to the alley, she spotted her. A raven-haired woman blowing smoke rings up above her head. She looked like an angel. There was a fresh tattoo on her bicep. Betty Boop as Rosie the Riveter. She gave her a tight-lipped smile.
She pulled her lighter from her apron, but there were no cigarettes. She knew where they were. Right on top of the fridge at home. A hand touched her arm.
“Here you go. You look like you could use it. Take two.” An offering from the raven-haired angel.
The touch felt like real electricity traveling from her arm all the way down to her lower belly. She blushed and nodded as she accepted the kindness. She lit her cigarette and took a deep inhale to calm herself. With her other hand, she smoothed down all of her flyaway hairs, and then let her hand continue traveling down her neck and hovering at her bosom.
Her words caught in her throat as she watched the woman flick the still lit cigarette into the darkness. The woman made eye contact and flashed a wide smile. “I hope your night gets better, Mel.”
And the raven-haired angel was gone, disappearing like the smoke rings above her head.
* * *
Katy is a writer and editor for a national engineering and surveying organization and a fiction editor for Identity Theory. Her work has been published in The Dead Mule School, Montana Mouthful, Coalesce Community, and Pigeon Review. She has work forthcoming in Reckon Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Gastropoda. When she’s not writing, she’s traveling the country following her favorite musicians and collecting oddities for her menagerie. She was born and raised in South Carolina and lives in Anderson with her spouse and two dogs, Finn and Betty Anne. You can find her on Twitter at MarchingFourth and katygoforth.com.