Sundays can be rough in the diner. Craig and Jim are always hung over. Joanne sips her “low oak Chardonnay” that’s actually a mild alcohol Verdejo. It’s not very good, but it does the job and it keeps the customers drinkin’. The regulars are half asleep – most of them either hidin’ from their wives or their kids. The register is low on singles and change. The apple pie is a bit dry and doesn’t quite have the kick it normally carries. And I bite my tongue a lot.
“It’s too hot in here.”
If I could go one day without Tom complainin’ about the weather, I might be able to count the money at the end of the night with a smile on my face. In November, it’s too hot. In July, it’s too cold. No wonder his wife sends him to me instead of cookin’ his dinner herself.
“Can’t you get a heater?”
He just won’t shut up about it tonight. His mid-grade “Choice Chuck” is getting cold he’s complainin’ so much. At least he’s in Joanne’s section. Just means another coffee mug of wine for her. She’d never dare drink it from a glass; someone other than me might find out. I’ve only seen her drink outside of work once; it was at my summer bar-b-q, so she had to use the red plastic cups I had bought from Stop and Shop. But, I often wonder if she drinks from coffee mugs at home. Maybe her and Eunice, her mother who just won’t seem to die and leave the house to Joanne, sit around all night sippin’ their white wine and whiskey, respectively, from coffee mugs. It’d make sense. I’ve never seen her drink coffee, and mugs are a lot tougher to break than a wine glass. And a few glasses in, she gets a bit droppy.
I like the feel of a stemmed glass myself. Makes me feel classy or somethin’. I took a wine class a couple years ago. Some guy moved into town from Chicago; his wife, Anne-Marie, had been hired as the new principal of Harper High. She didn’t last long. They couldn’t handle the small town pace. Needed that city speed. But, while he was here, he taught a wine class. Only three of us took it – me, Marjorie O’connell, the local accountant, and Gerald Hayward, who I had never met but am now great friends with. I thought he was so cute and really wanted to ask him out. But, Marjorie told me he was taking it for a very specific reason – Anne-Marie’s husband. He was convinced that any man from the city was part gay and he had a chance. His pickings in Harper were slim, so the idea of a new man in town was like me hearin’ about a new diner opening up. Not that a new diner would ever open up. Jim’s Place could never be replaced.
“Oh, come on, Joanne, can’t we do somethin’ ‘bout this damned heat?!”
I can tell this isn’t gonna go well. Joanne pours a big cup of coffee, she adds a bit of milk and two sugars, then walks over to Tom and dumps it square in his crotch. It’s gotta hurt.
I gotta say, I would’ve never had the guts to do it, but it’s about time someone shut the old cuss up. Craig storms out of the kitchen; he’s still a bit shakey on his feet and he can’t focus in the brighter lights of the dining room.
“The hell is goin’ on out here?”
Joanne fills him in, leavin’ out no detail and hidin’ no part of her guilt. Craig absorbs it slowly. After she tells him about the coffee, it takes a minute for him to really get what had happened. He’s confused why she put milk and sugar in it. Tom is still sittin’ there. Not sure why he hasn’t rushed to the bathroom or nothin’. Craig tells Joanne to head to the back and yells for me to handle it, then he hobbles back into the dark kitchen. He and Jim keep the fluorescent lights off on Sundays.
“You alright, Tom?”
First time I’ve ever heard the guy be quiet. I’d be screamin’. That coffee is damned hot. Makes me wonder if it’s not the first time someone’s covered his shame in hot coffee. Maybe that’s why he eats dinner here instead of at home.
I grab him a towel and some ice, but he won’t take neither. So, I just leave him to finish his “Choice Chuck.” He finishes quickly and leaves some cash on the table. I don’t really bother to count it; I was gonna tell him dinner was on the house tonight. Wonder if he’ll be back tomorrow. And if he’ll complain about the temperature. Gerald is gonna get a kick outta this.
Something crashes and breaks in the kitchen. I figure Craig it’s lettin’ Joanne have it. Not that he’d ever really hurt her. He’d rather break everything he has back there than lay a hand on her. He’s been in love with her for years. Told me about it my second month at the diner. He invited me out for his and Jim’s Saturday night drinking. I was new and wanted to make a good impression, so I went. I’ve never been so drunk in my life. I don’t know how those boys do it every week. But, Craig gets real honest when he’s drunk. Don’t hold nothin’ back. He told me that he’s been in love with Joanne since high school. He only hired her to be close to her. That she’s a shit waitress and drinks half his stock of white wine. It was kind of sweet. Then he threw up on Jim’s shoes and burst out laughing. That’s when I left.
Jim comes outside and reacts similarly to how Craig had before. He can barely open his eyes. He asks me for some coffee. I make a joke about havin’ Joanne get it for him. He doesn’t get it and stumbles back into the noisy, dark kitchen.
There’s another loud crash. The six customers still sitting all look up, and I have to come up with somethin’. I tell them they’re cleaning and sometimes the shelves fall. It’s not a total lie. Those shelves aren’t too sturdy. I think Jim and Craig did a lot of the kitchen construction “on a Sunday,” if ya know what I mean.
Joanne slowly comes back out with her head hangin’ low. I’m not sure if I should go ask her if she’s all right or just leave her alone. I figure too much support is better than not enough.
She nods but doesn’t say nothin’. Never seen her this upset over getting yelled at. Maybe she finally pushed it too far. It was pretty dangerous. She could’ve done some damage to Tom’s man business. Maybe that’s why Craig took it so personally. I give her a hug and tell her she was kind of my hero for doin’ it. She smiles a bit and asks if I can close up for her. I really don’t want to, but I could use the extra couple hours of work, and I think she needs the time more than I do.
“Yeah. Go home and get some rest, Hun.”
I’d love to say this was an unusual Sunday, but, to be honest with ya, it’s pretty normal. Not every week has Tom walkin’ outta here with a pant full of coffee, but it usually ends with Joanne doin’ somethin’ to piss Craig off. I’d say the night ends more often with her cryin’ than with me actually leavin’ on time.
Craig sticks his thick head through the kitchen doors.
“She go home?”
I nod. He shakes his head and ducks back into the kitchen. Wonder if he and Jim are talkin’ ‘bout it or if they just cook in silence. Probably silence today. I think Jim is even more hung over than Craig. When I got here this mornin’, he was taking a nap on top of a bag of frozen ground beef. Craig showed up fifteen minutes later with his pants on backwards. I should’ve known then I wouldn’t be home in time to watch nothin’ good on TV. Oh well. At least it’s quiet…