Shifting on the cracked seat of the booth, Gwen stares out the window, wishing she could see even a few familiar stars in the small tent of night sky visible over Main Street. But the sky, anymore, is a pool of fading city glow, its dirty green turning darkness to murk. She’d need to drive miles, to the edge of the desert, to see ground-light dissolve into true. Gwen catches the eye of the waitress in her canvas shoes, a dandelion splotch of mustard on one toe, and gestures with her empty cup. Sees her gather plates—fish bones and corn cobs, crumpled napkins and meager tips—and cart them behind the counter, then head toward the booth, thumb on the trigger of the coffee pot. In what seems like one motion the cup is filled and the thin woman moves away. Before the sugar’s dissolved in Gwen’s coffee the waitress is already at the table by the door listening to the man with the scarred leather vest and enormous belt buckle complain about his eggs. If she was a gambler, Gwen would lay odds he’s a lousy tipper.
Back behind the leatherette booths they’ve put in an old pool table, and the three teenagers in their canvas high-tops, hair like dandelion spikes, can just squeeze in on the window side to make their plays, gamble small change. When her shift is over Tina will brush flour or sugar from her vest. She’ll step out of the steam and stale fry-smells, past the splotched green garbage can overflowing with gristle and grounds, day-old fish and broken cups, and walk out beside the river edge—see if she can hear that owl again, watch stars shining up from the water, then dissolving back into it. But right now, the lady in the tenting muumuu who always wants to talk about her trigger toe is eyeing her, ready for her blueberry buckle, her gesture clear, “cut it wide.”
Doug shifts a tray of clean cups to the end of the counter, keeps an eye on the cash register. He’d needed somebody part-time, wonders if it was wise to gamble on this new gal, skinny as a fishbone, legs that look like they might buckle under a heavy tray. Doesn’t know yet if he’ll start out kindly (let her pitch a tent in the backyard full of dandelions and beer caps, till she earns enough for an apartment) or make a quick move and be done with it. She’d be easy to pin in a booth after closing when the windows are still steamed up. He could drive her to the bus station after, give her a wad of bills to get to the next town—another diner at the edge of factory row, sign half lit, torn felt on a dirty green pool table. If he pulls that trigger, he’ll be stuck without help for the Saturday crowd. Maybe he’ll wait. They come and are gone, dissolve and disappear from the daily canvas of his life like stars fading in the pre-dawn sky.
is the author of three poetry collections: tesla’s daughter
(March St. Press), Walking Back the Cat (Bright Hill Press), and
Light That Sounds Like Breaking (Mayapple Press). Her chapbook,
Matryoshka Houses debuted in June 2020 (Kelsay Press).
Her work has appeared in Bear River Review, Brilliant Corners, Harpur Palate,
KYSO Flash, Moon City Review, New Flash Fiction Review, Pinyon Press, Rattle, Rhino,
Slipstream, Smartish Pace, The Atlanta Review, The MacGuffin, Tinderbox, and
The Notre Dame Review, among others.
Her writing has also been nominated for Pushcart recognition and inclusion in
The Best Small Fictions, and has been anthologized in several venues,
including Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse
(Lost Horse Press, 2017), in plein air: poems and drawings of the natural
world (Poetic Licence Press), The Cento: A Collection of Collage Poems
(Red Hen Press, 2011), and The Dire Elegies: 59 Poets on Endangered Species
(Foothills Publishing, 2006).