3 a.m. at The Café

It sits on a quaint yet poorly lit country road right alongside a towering willow tree that casts a sinister shadow over it. It is painted light blue with white trimmings, low windows – and upon closer inspection; the paint has started to come off. The café itself is also dimly lit with light fixtures that hang low on the tables and booths. On the walls, there is an array of autographed pictures of somewhat famous people who’ve been there; all of them in black and white. A country singer is singing on the radio about love lost. Behind the counter is a middle-aged waitress with her hair up in a beehive as if she stepped right out of a photograph of a 1960’s drive-in. She is chewing on a piece of gum and contour¬ing her nails. Suddenly, the bell on the door chimes and the waitress glances up. “Hi there, Billy Bob. It’s about time someone showed up. I’ve been bored ta tears in this place. Ya’ll have ya usual?” She asks raising her eyebrows while grinning; her gum is visible when she speaks. “Ya know it,” he responds as he climbs on the center stool while taking off his cowboy hat and gloves.

“So, how’s the truckin’ business? Pick up any weirdo’s on the road lately?”She asks from the open window in the kitchen as she prepares his food.

“As a matter of fact, jest yestiday I picked up this fella who said he waz headin’ ta Mexico and said he waz willin’ ta go as far as I would take ‘em and since I waz headin’ that way anyways, I told ‘em ta hop on in. So we started talkin’ and I asked ‘em why waz he goin’ ta Mexico? Cause ya know people on the run always seem ta go ta Mexico. And befo’ I knew it, the bastard pulled a gun out on me and told me ta shut up and drive. So I ended up drivin’ him ta the freakin’ Mexican borda and then he told me ta forget that I ever saw ‘em befo’ he leaped off the truck and disappeared inta the woods.”

“My goodness, ya jest never know who ya gonna run inta drivin’ that truck of yers, huh?” She says as she places his food and coffee in front of him. “Yeah, aint that right,” Harry says as he casually sips his coffee.

Cling, cling, cling, the door opens announcing a couple. The man has a goatee, is tall with a muscular build and broad shoulders, and his face is blank as he holds the door for the woman to come in. Her shoulders are stooped for¬ward with her head down. The man gets to a table and pulls her chair, he pauses and looks down at her for about five seconds and sighs before he sits down. “Matilda, can we get a menu,” he says with partial bemusement in his voice knowing that Matilda already knows what they want. Matilda smiles, puts her hands on her hips and says, “Don’t start with me Jimmy Dean…always sucha smart ass,” before heading to the kitchen. Jimmy Dean stares at his companion sitting across from him. She alternates between looking up at him and down at the table like a shy child. Sometimes she would open her mouth to speak, then changes her mind and closes it right back up again.

“I think its best. Ya’ll see, it won’t hurt a bit. I know plenty of weeman who done it and they all says it’s a cinch. Ya in and ya out, jest like that,” Jimmy Dean says with his hands over hers all the while stroking it with his thumb. “Jest like that, it won’t hurt a bit.” She looks at him briefly and puts her head down again as she begins to cry silently; her hand placed tightly over her mouth. The window where they sit now bears a luminescent glow as the moon creeps from behind a mass of clouds to light up the dimly lit surroundings. “Don’t cry…Ya know I don’t like ta see wee¬man cry, it jest breaks ma heart, honey please. Trust me, it’s fo’ the best.” As he wipes her tears, she stares at the wed¬ding ring on his finger and she cries even harder; her shoulders heaving up and down. Just then, Matilda brings them their food. “Hey, what’s goin’ on here? What’s wrong darlin’? Ya look like ya jest lost a child…” She says as she tilts her head trying to make eye contact with the woman. “It’s nothin’,” Jimmy Dean answers, “its jest her hor¬mones playin’ tricks on ‘er,” he says as he taps her right hand half smiling.

Cling, cling, cling. In walk two men with matching plaid shirts and salt and pepper hair. They take slow heavy steps to way at the other end of the café. Matilda walks over as she takes her pen and pad from her apron, still chewing on the same piece of stale gum. “Well howdy strangers, I haven’t seen you two boys for a while now,” she says with a sparkly and knowing grin. “I’ll bring yall ya usual.” Just as Matilda is getting ready to walk away, the man closest to her grabs her arm. “I know that we usually get the fish, but this time we both in the mood for a juicy steak, so it raises our blood pressure, at least we’ll both die happy, eh?” Matilda lets out a hearty laugh as she walks away and says inaudibly, “It must be the full moon.”

“Did you and Ann Marie have a talk?”

“Yes, last night.”

“How did she take it?”

“Not well. Twenty years down the drain. I feel jest terrible.”

“Well, don’t. It is what it is…Mary Ann balled her eyes out when I told ‘er. She acted like she never saw it comin’, which I think it’s a bunch of bull. She always had to chase me fo’ sex. I never once went after her.”

“Well, Ann Marie is ya typical dumb blond. She found a Hunks of the Midwest calendar unda ma bed and asked me why I didn’t jest hang it up instead of keepin’ it unda the bed. Unbelievable!” Just then, Matilda brings the men their order. They make eye contact as she grins and winks at them before leaving. “Remember the time when we were watchin’ the game while she waz workin’ the late shift at the Wal-Mart and she came home ta find me sleepin’ with ma head on yer lap? Well she thought that that waz jest the sweetest thing she ever did see….”he says in a high pitched voice in an attempt to mimic Ann Marie’s. “She’s as dumb as a bag of hammers, that one.”

“Well, at least now the cat is out of the bag.”

“I don’t care anymore. If people wanna talk, let ‘em talk!”

Cling, cling, cling. A woman and a man walk in. She is wearing white pumps, a tight short red dress, her breasts practically heaving over it, heavy make-up, big round white ear¬rings, a string of clinging bracelets in her right arm and bright red lipstick. The man is dressed in a brown suit and yellow tie. He is looking around the room and over his shoulders as he approaches a booth the furthest away from everybody else as possible. They both slide in before Matilda struts over with pad and pen at the ready. The man just requests glasses of water for them both while they pretend to peruse the menu.

“So, how much?” Asks the man.

“Depends on what ya want,” says the woman as she pops her gum.

“Well, I’ve never done this before and to be honest, I’m a little nervous.”

“Don’t be honey, I won’t bite. Unless ya want me ta, but that’ll cost ya extra…,” she tilts back her head and laughs. When she realizes that he is taking her seriously she reassures him, “Relax honey. I’m jest kiddin’. Ya so seeerious, loosen up a bit — ya married types kill me!”

The man leans forward and whis¬pers, “I just want to go to a motel and just talk at first,”

“Talk?! Well, it’s ya money honey. Lets go then,” She says as they both get up to leave.

They are the last customers to leave The Café. As Matilda tends to the task of cleaning up, she stops, walks over to open a window and sticks her head out. She closes her eyes, which are tilted towards the sky, and with a closed mouthed grin she inhales, holds it for a few seconds, and exhales. Outside the birds are chirping and the sun slithers from below the earth to greet the dawn¬ing of a new day.

Jacques Fleury’s book: “Sparks in the Dark: A Lighter Shade of Blue, A Poetic Memoir” about life in Haiti & America was featured in the Boston Globe. Sample or buy the book at: www.lulu.com. 20% of proceeds will go to Haiti charity Partners in Health. For person¬al appearances or comments contact Jacques at: haitianfirefly@gmail.com.

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