***Okay so this is where I have to think about exactly who this guy should be.
He could be her brother, her lover, her son, her husband, her father, her uncle, a stranger who just reminds her of someone. Okay so if this story is about wanting to blow this town, what would the worst thing be for her? That his appearance might force her to stay.
And who would do that? First thought that he is Beth’s father of course. Come back to see her, perhaps even to lay claim to her. And if this is true, wouldn’t she immediately recognize him.
Oh. What if he looks like an old man, done in by drugs and living on the street? She doesn’t recognize him because his hair has turned white and he’s rail thin and gaunt. She’s hated and resented him for years but here he is in front of her pathetic? Try this.
I waitress at night at the Starkville Luncheonette out on the Desert Highway, just down the road from Clancy’s Oil and Lube and about a mile before the first real intersection in town. Donnie lets me wear jeans and t-shirts, thank goodness, not one of those scratchy gold-colored uniforms with the white collars and starched aprons that my mom wore back when she worked the counter.
The place is empty so I’ve got time to ponder what I’m going to do about my daughter, Beth. She’s twelve and she’s already got some breasts. I think it’s time we get out of town, , head somewhere that has a winter to it, where blue geese dip through gray skies and old men build wooden houses on icy lakes.
I’m wiping down the counter for the millionth time when the door opens letting in the sharp smell of sage and a white-haired old guy wearing a tattered plaid jacket and polyester pants. I didn’t hear a car or truck out on the gravel so he takes me by surprise. I slip my own half-filled Pepsi glass off the counter.
“Hey,” he says. “You got pie?”
“Lemon meringue, no berry.” I straighten up, tossing the rag under the counter, and before I can stop myself, I’m smoothing down my hair with a damp hand.
“Lemon’ll do.” Grinning he slides onto the stool opposite to me. Puts his scrawny fists on the formica.
I let my eyes flick up to his wrinkled, sun-burned face, fading green eyes, crooked front teeth. His thin lips are cracked and flaky, like he doesn’t drink enough water. A down-on-his-luck old geezer. Seeing more of them every day. “Coffee?”
“Don’t drink the stuff. You got whiskey?”
This makes me smile. But my back is turned now so he can’t see it. I pull the lever on the hot water. Grab a basket of tea and place it in front of him.
“How ‘bout some herb tea?”
He digs through the assortment, triumphantly holds up a packet. “Only if you got Red Zinger.”
“I didn’t hear a car. Someone drop you off?”
“Yep. Hitched all the way from California. ”
“Aren’t you going in the wrong direction? Most people are heading TO California.”
“I been there, done that. Got my pie? “
I turn away to get that last piece for him and think, huh, there’s something about this guy.
When I put the pie in front of him, he’s staring at me.
He says, “You really don’t know who I am, do you?”
I get a little dizzy as the words line up as a sentence in my head. Know who he is? He holds his fork like a gentleman. For some reason I thought he’d have that prison grip thing going on.
“Kelly, com’ on. Think about it .”
“How do you know my name?”
“Good pie,” says the guy. “I’d die for a good piece of pie and a pair of long, long legs. ” He smirks and our eyes meet.
And I know who he is.
I take a step back away from the counter and the back of my arm bumps against the hot coffee urn, but the heat doesn’t penetrate to my head.
I swallow hard and then the burning pain jolts through me.
The man stretches over the counter, his dish and fork clattering to the linoleum, as he grabs me away from the coffee pot. “What the hell? Are you nuts?”
My face is wet as I pull away and clutching my arm, I scurry down the narrow aisle, but he comes around, quicker than I’d expect and stops me. Hand on my shoulder, he nudges me to ice maker near the sink. Grabs the cloth I use to wipe down the counter and fills it with crushed ice and places it on my arm. Holds it there. We’re standing close to each other now and a shiver goes through me.
I can’t believe it. This is an old man with white hair, a network of wrinkles across his gaunt face, legs so thin and crooked they could be made of manzanita.
blah blah blah here is where they confront and reveal and she decides what her course will be.
Have a lunch day and need clean hair. More later…