“And how are we doing checks today?” I asked in my loudest polite voice near the head of the table of eight, my friendliest fake smile plastered to my face, trying to ignore the permanent stench of gravy-infused waitress apron emanating from my pores. It came with being on my feet carrying food and dishes for ten hours.
All at once, the church-bedecked party started talking over one another to divvy up their Sunday meal.
“My wife’s the one sitting way over there; we’re on one check.”
“I’m with the man in the necktie, and put the Johnsons on my bill.”
Of course. And I know exactly who the Johnsons are. “Okay then,” I said cheerfully. “I’ll take care of this for you.”
I let my waitress smile fall as soon as I turned from the table. Working the Sunday church crowd was the worst. The table with the Johnsons (whoever they were) was my last Sunday church table. For this shift, for this job, forever. Tomorrow morning, I’d be starting my internship for what I hoped would become my “real job”. I punched away on the touchscreen computer, dividing the table’s checks, ignoring the pain in my feet and hating myself for knowing exactly where each button was. I’d been doing this way too long. I’d earned this goddamned internship. Note to self: don’t say goddamned once you get back out there.
“Here we go. Y’all have a nice day, okay?” I said, handing the checks out like tip-candy. The Cracker Barrel powers that be liked it when you worked in folksy sayings like y’all.
“Oh, no, just give all those to me,” called an old man seated in the middle of the table – the one in the necktie, as it were.
Gee, Grandpa, where were you 10 minutes ago? I smiled and retrieved the thin paper slips I’d already laid on the table (no one else moved to start the typical ticket bidding war – “I’ve got this… “No, I’ve got this”) and circled the table number of each ticket with the pen I’d stolen from the receptionist’s cup at Silas Technologies, the company where I’d be starting my internship tomorrow at 8:00 AM. I collected as many dirty plates as I could carry, splattering the brown apron I couldn’t wait to burn with chicken fried steak crumbs and mashed potatoes.
I went back every five minutes to grab more dishes or ask politely (if not insistently) if there was anything else I could get them. Another cup of Dunn Brothers coffee, perhaps? My locker was packed. My last paycheck was waiting. I had to get out of here or I might drown myself in a vat of freshly-brewed sweet tea. It took them 20 minutes to leave.
“Bye. Thank you. Have a nice day.” Get the hell out of my eyeline so I can clean your table, collect my tip, and leave. As I picked up their dirty glasses the wrong way (five unsanitary fingers in five glasses – what were they going to do, fire me?) I noticed a crisp $20 bill peeking out from under necktie’s coffee cup. Score.
I started to palm the twenty, but then realized it didn’t have the texture of cash. I unfolded what I knew to be not a tip, but a religious tract.
EXCITED? YOU WOULD BE IF YOU HAD JESUS IN YOUR LIFE!
Part of the internship requirements included tagging along on-site for a customer installation. As I straightened the lapels of my suit, I realized I was nervous. I hadn’t had to be “on” with anyone resembling a customer in over six months, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. Still, I was a professional now, I reminded myself. If I could fake it for tips back in the day, I could fake it for an internship now.
Seated in a plush executive chair of the Liberty Bank conference room, where my boss stood briefing us on our roles for the day, I fidgeted with the hem of my not-too-short skirt and ruffled the pages of the spiral bound installation guide I’d worked on for the last three months.
“Cora, your job is to walk people through the installer wizard. If they don’t want your help, politely hand them an install guide for reference.”
I nodded enthusiastically, temporarily unable to speak. I saw my boss’s head turn toward a figure in the door and followed his eye line.
“Mr. Morrison, the chief loan officer here will show you around,” I heard him call behind me. I recognized the tie before I recognized the face. The man who offered to pay for everyone’s Sunday lunch at Cracker Barrel but neglected to budget in a reasonable tip for the waitress. Naturally, he didn’t recognize me. No one pays attention to what their waitress at Cracker Barrel looks like.
“I just can’t figure this out,” Necktie – er – Mr. Morrison called in an obnoxious voice from inside his office. I’d been avoiding him and his crucifix-covered office walls, helping anyone who remotely looked like they needed it. I glanced around quickly to see if anyone else from Silas had heard and was around to help, but found myself alone.
He was stuck on a screen with two empty fields: Server name and password.
“Do you know your server name?” Of course you don’t. Why do I ask stupid questions?
“No,” he huffed in frustration. I stared at the installation guide in my arms, my last copy. How easy would it be to plop the thick book down on his desk and say Here you go; I know I could give you actual help, but instead I’m going to give you something I think is way more valuable?
“Why don’t I go look that up for you?” I said, the familiar waitress smile spreading across my face. This high road stuff is bullshit.
Kelly I. Hitchcock is an up-and-coming writer in the Austin, Texas area. She is author of various poems about the randomness of life, several short stories, random creative nonfiction works, and the coming-of-age novel The Redheaded Stepchild. She is world-renowned among a readership of five people and growing.
Raised by a single father in the small town of Buffalo, Missouri, Kelly has fond memories of cash-strapped life in the Ozarks that strongly influence her writing and way of life.
When she’s not writing manuals for money or writing poetry and fiction for unmoney, or training for the Twin Cities marathon, Kelly enjoys sewing, playing dodgeball, and politics. She is an avid volunteer and fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.