An Uncapped Pen

May 12, 2008

Chapter 17 – Everyone Called Her Angel

Filed under: Writing — cindylv @ 1:51 am
Tags: , ,
March, 1981

Scottie’s Pub

“Number Four! Number Four! Dammit! Don’t you ignore me when I’m calling you,” Millie bellowed over the din of the exhaust fans, the dishwasher, the radio on the top shelf and the noise from the crowd in the restaurant. “Get in here and pick up this order now!” She turned, grabbed a ticket stub from Wendy and yelled, “King chicken and ribs, and a filet – medium rare. Order In!” The ash from her cigarette hung precariously as she swung her bulk behind the counter to clip the ticket on the rack. “What you want back here? You working tonight?” she asked Bridie.
“I’m packing. I leave in the morning,” Bridie wiped the top of the steam table with a rag.

“Heading off into the world tomorrow,” Millie said over her shoulder to Sophie as she pulled the fryer basket out of the grease and shook it to drain.

Behind the broiler, Sophie flipped a T-bone and slid it away from the flame. She didn’t look up as she dropped her tongs on the counter and reached for a stack of platters.

“Boot camp,” Millie added.

“Uh hunh,” Sophie grunted, arranging the platters for the next order coming up. She picked up a basting brush, bent down and opened the oven door. “Get me another rack of ribs from the cooler, while you’re standing there.”

“I leave at seven. My recruiter, Sergeant Lang is picking me up.” Bridie said as she opened the cooler door and emerged with a pan of boiled baby back ribs. She edged behind the counter to set it on the counter between the two cooks.

“He’s driving me to Kenosha and then I’m taking a bus to Milwaukee,” she continued. “Then the next morning, I’m flying to St. Louis—“

“Number four! I’m gonna dump this order in the trash if you don’t get in here and pick it up!” Millie shouted over her shoulder, interrupting Bridie. “Get me some more potatoes from the back. This here won’t last past eight o’clock,” she said as she pushed an empty box to Bridie.

“Well, anyways . . .” Bridie tried again as she refilled the potato box. “Once I land in St. Louis, I’ll have to find the bus to Fort Leonard Wood.”

“I was taking an order for that eight, and I couldn’t just run in here because you called,” Mary, the waitress assigned to station four explained. “Order in.” She reached over Bridie’s head and clipped the ticket to the rack. Then she grabbed a tray from the top of the refrigerator and began stacking plates. “Bridie, hon, get me a cocktail sauce and a ketchup, will ya?”

Bridie finished loading potatoes and opened the fridge, setting the condiments on Mary’s tray as she whizzed past. “It’s about three hours from St. Louis. Fort Leonard Wood. I’ll be there for eight weeks,” she finished.

“Number four, how do you want that rib-eye? You gotta write it down, you know,” Millie yelled at the swinging door. “Damn waitresses! Think we‘re mind readers!”

“After that, I’ll be going to a post in Arizona.” Bridie straightened the tops of the pans on the steam table and wiped the crumbs off the cutting board. “Fort Wha-choo-kie or something like that. I don’t know how to pronounce it.”

A buzzer interrupted, calling Millie’s attention back to her fryer. “Un-hunh. How you doing on that pike for this one,” she asked Sophie, pointing her tongs at a ticket on the rack.

“’Bout a minute.” Sophie slid the rack back into the broiler and tossed a hotpad on the counter.

“So, I was wondering if you thought any more about what I said. You know, coming out to see me there. In Arizona. After I graduate from–“

“Hot stuff coming through! Mind yourself!” Millie swung the basket of shrimp from the fryer to the tray under the warming light.

“So you’ll think about it then? You, too, Soph.”

“Pike’s up. Get a baked potato on that plate,” Sophie replied.

Bridie slit the center of the potato, pinching the sides to fluff the middle. “I might have lasagna for dinner, for my last night. Tonight. I still have to pack.”

“Lasagna. That’ll stick to your ribs!” Millie chuckled.

“She should be more worried about it sticking to her ass.”

Bridie turned around to see her father heading into the kitchen. “Surely, the Army cannae take a jenny with an ass as big as—“ His hands were spread a yard apart.

“Da-ad!”

Bridie slammed the cooler door shut and ran out of the kitchen. She was halfway to the lake before the screen door banged behind her. She ran across the grass and up the steps to the boathouse to avoid the parking lot and the small groups of customers on the beach waiting for tables. Inside the dusty workroom, she made her way past the skeletons of old motors and unused tools, choking on her own tears and the smell of gasoline. Bridie sat on a bench with her eyes closed and hugged her knees to her chest rocking back and forth. “Mom? He’s doing it again. Why does he hate me? Why does he have to be like this? It‘s my last night.” She spoke to the boxes on the floor under the counter just barely visible in the evening light. “Why does he say things like that? He doesn’t care if he hurts me. I hate him!” After a few minutes, her sobs turned into the hiccups. “This is my last night. He doesn’t even care. He never even said he’s sorry about what he asked me. Mom! Why did you leave us? Why didn’t you take me with you?”

Bridie pushed herself up off the bench and peeked out the window. He hadn’t followed her. She was alone. She reached out and touched one of the boxes, running her fingers over the cardboard and across the smooth tape. Without thinking, she slipped her fingers under the edges of the end flap and tugged it out from under the counter. The old tape, dried and shrunken, peeled off easily. She opened the flaps and stopped. Her mother’s clothes, the pink sweater she wore in the picture on the mantle; and underneath, a cream-colored blouse, silky, with pearl buttons. Bridie plunged her hands into the forbidden treasure. She imagined that she could still smell her mother’s scent on her old clothing. She slipped on a black wool double-breasted coat with large gold buttons. From near the bottom of the box, she pulled up a mink collar, and attached the clips to the collar. She rubbed her face against the silky fur.

The next box revealed shoes and jewelry mostly costume pieces and her gold watch with the tiny diamonds next to the three, six, nine and twelve. Scarves, hats, and gloves — leather driving gloves, and white satin evening gloves that would reach all the way up her arms to her elbows. Her mother’s comb. Her handkerchiefs embroidered with her initials, EA – Evangelina Artemis. Everyone called her Angel.

An accident. That’s what he told her when Bridie was seven years old. Her mother had been driving to the City. She’d gone by herself. He didn’t know why. He didn’t even know she’d gone until the police showed up at the restaurant. A few days later, just before he took her inside the church for her funeral, he told her, “Bridget, you’re a big girl now. And there’ll be no more of that crying and carrying on. I’ll have none of that. People don’t wanna listen to you caterwaulin’ and snifflin’. Don’t make me get the strap to you today.”

She was surprised that her Mom wasn’t at the church for the funeral. Just her picture on a wooden box. Everyone from the pub came. Sophie, Millie, Phyllis the bartender, all the waitresses and busgirls. Even the dishwasher, Rock, came. He wore a long-sleeved shirt with a collar and buttons, and he had gotten a haircut. Bridie didn’t recognize him all dressed up like that. And most of the regulars came, too. Charlie Sideburns, Wally-the-fisherman, Lyle, and Mons. Afterwards, they all drove back to the pub and lifted a glass before the evening rush. Everyone wanted to buy Dad a drink all night long. And the singing–Skye Boat Song, Highland Cathedral, and of course, Amazing Grace. Bridie remembered that Rock and Sophie had to carry him up the stairs to bed that night.

She sighed, wiped her tears with the back of her hand and slipped off her mother’s coat, leaving the mink collar attached. She refolded the clothes, closed the box, and rubbed the taped back into place. Bridie turned her back and left her memories in the boxes under the counter.

She crept down the steps and cut across the small beach to the pier. Sunset and the fish were rising, rippling the surface of the lake. She walked the length of the wooden planks where John kept a small rowboat secured to the pier to ferry customers to their motorboats anchored at the buoys. She released the lines and lowered herself gingerly onto the middle seat, facing the rear. Oars seated in their locks, she pushed off and rowed to the reeds at the south end of the lake near one of John’s secret fishing spots.

In the dying light, it was too dark to see the bottom she knew was only three feet under her keel. She didn’t bother dropping her anchor, letting the boat drift in the shallow water. It was a little too early in the season for mosquitoes, but the fish were hungry. She leaned over the edge of the small rowboat and spit gently into the water, teasing the fish. She watched their greedy mouths nudge the surface as they looked for bugs.

“Goodbye fish. I’m leaving in the morning. I‘m going to the Army.” The fish swam past, oblivious to the girl talking to them just inches away.

******

Back upstairs in her apartment, she poured herself a glass of Chablis and sat on the edge of her bed. Dresser drawers open, closet ajar, she looked out the window. She had to decide what to take with her, which items to pack for shipping to her after she graduated Basic, and what to give away to charity. Whatever was leftover would most like join her mother’s boxes in the boathouse, she guessed. Maybe some jeans, she thought, and a sweater. Another shirt. Pack for three days, Sergeant Lang told her. Probably some underwear, and a couple pair of socks. She’d wear her tennis shoes.

Music from the jukebox downstairs filtered its way up through the floor. Debbie Boone. That meant Mons was here. Whenever he came in, he always asked for a couple dollars’ worth of quarters and played You Light Up My Life, over and over. She looked out the window at the parking lot and saw the blue Chevy Impala next to the kitchen door. I’m not gonna miss that, she thought. I’m not gonna miss the drunks, the cigarette smoke, the noise, the smell of greasy food. I’m not gonna miss this apartment. This town.

She leaned back against her headboard and closed her eyes.

“So many nights I sit by my windowWaiting for someone to sing me his song

So many dreams I kept deep inside me

Alone in the dark but now

You’ve come along…”

What was wrong with that guy? Didn’t he know the jukebox had 59 other songs on it? She finished the wine, and went into the kitchen to pour another glass. It would be a long time before she had another, she thought.

She moved on to the bathroom and packed the few toiletries the list stated she could bring, tossing the rest into the trash can. She added the small bag to the stack on the bed and decided it would be easier to box up what she knew she couldn’t take with her. She sorted the accumulation of her lifetime. Band medals. Photographs. Sea shells from that trip to visit Dad’s old Army buddy in Clearwater. The clip from grandmother’s sweater. Chicago Cubs baseball cap – Maybe next year will be our year, she thought. A dog collar that belonged to Boo, her mother’s Cairn Terrier hit by a car in front of the restaurant.

“You light up my life
You give me hope

To carry on

You light up my days

and fill my nights with song”

Jeez, there he goes again. When is that guy gonna go home? It’s almost midnight! Doesn’t her Dad know that she needs to get some sleep. And she still had to pack. She looked out the back window. The Impala was gone.

She opened the private door to the restaurant and leaned in. The lights were on, but she didn’t see anyone. The jukebox blared in the corner, repeating the same song.

“Dad?”

No answer.

“Dad?” She stepped in and let the door close behind her. As she navigated between tables toward the kitchen, she glanced toward the front door to ensure it was locked. She froze. Lying on the floor against the front door, was her father, unconscious.

“Dad!” Was he drunk again? “Dad, wake up!” She stood at the end of the bar, afraid to approach him. “Dad!” A little louder this time. No response. Was he breathing? She unglued her feet from the floor and inched toward him, watching his chest. There. It moved. He’s alive.

She knelt down and shook his shoulder. “Dad, wake up! It’s after midnight.”

No response.

“Come on, Dad. Not tonight, okay? Just wake up and go to bed, will you please?” She stood up and turned the deadbolt, locking the front door. “Come on, Dad. Let’s go.”

When he still didn’t respond, she knelt down again and shook him. His mouth had dropped open and he was drooling on his shirt.

“Cause you, you light up my life,
You give me hope,

To carry on

You light up my days,

And fill my nights with song”

She crawled over to the jukebox and reached behind the damn machine yanking the plug out of the wall. She stood up and ran to the phone to call the rescue squad.

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1 Comment »

  1. Everyone called her angel. I like that… :-)

    Comment by angel — May 15, 2008 @ 8:15 pm | Reply


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