Waiting

Photo by Matt Crump : Story by Kayla King

Sophie pinned her hair at the temples, and swooped out the sides of her eyeliner; she found safety in symmetry.

She slipped the black t-shirt over her head, ignoring the faint hint of fresh ground coffee and fried food still trapped in the fabric. Once she got to work she wouldn’t notice the smell on herself anymore.

Her first customer, a weekend regular, arrived with a smile. “Sunshine,” Neil said.

“You know I’m not a morning person,” she said.

“Fine, Galaxy Girl.” He smiled back.

The shift started slow, and Sophie rolled silverware at the bar where Neil sat and stared and sipped his black coffee.

“How’s the new apartment?” Neil asked.

“How do you know about the new apartment?” she asked.

“Your Gram’s awful sad you moved out.”

Sophie meant to explain, but she heard her name from the kitchen. She delivered food for the elderly couple who ate the same thing every Tuesday: two over easy and white toast; yolks would bleed across their plates by the end.

Her shoes stuck to the floors on the way back, not because they weren’t clean, but because too many years had built up over the linoleum.

“I think I need the space right now,” Sophie said, trying to explain the move and her mind to someone who knew her as a real person and not just the girl with the coffee pot and bleach-stained apron.

Neil nodded.

She wondered if this was what her own mother had said before leaving.

She’d written Sophie a letter once, which she now kept in her order book. The paper was thin and worn and no longer smelled of vanilla. She thought of the words like a prayer.

Someone will hold you the way they should. You’ll fall. And they will love you better than I ever could.

Sophie still waited for that kind of person.

Sometimes when Neil smiled at her over the rim of his coffee, she imagined what it would be like to take his last name, Archer. It fit with her first name, she thought. He was nice. And he had a pentagram tattoo on his wrist, which reminded her of the first boy she’d kissed, who talked to her about the stars and the planets and the possibility of fate.

If she married Neil they wouldn’t live in her grandmother’s house, but they’d find a Victorian with ghosts and old wallpaper and bookshelves and she would be happy.

She would never leave.


Sophie’s mother left, traveling before bringing back treasures tacked up behind glass.

Her mother pinned the butterfly’s wings in place; Sophie learned young that there could be beauty in brutality.

As always, her mother had softened the creature after death, pressing it between damp paper towels.

Sophie always admired her mother’s hands as they separated the wings. The fluidity of forefinger and thumb over thorax bewitched all who saw her work.

“Be gentle,” her mom said, tucking Sophie into bed. She put her hand to Sophie’s face, thumb beneath her chin, and she held her like she was more fragile than those winged things.

Sophie feared she would be the next thing to live behind glass; her mother never liked her to climb the trees in the backyard for fear she’d break a bone.

Before her mother traveled back, she hung the butterflies splayed behind glass frames, adorned the walls of Harper House.

She would leave.


“I have the week off if you need — ” Neil started when she returned to the silverware.

“Sit anywhere?” a couple asked from the doorway.

Neil smiled over his coffee cup, and Sophie said, “Yes, anywhere you’d like.” She motioned to the empty cafe; too early for the lunch rush.

She grabbed menus, knowing it would be one of those tables that went down on the blacklist she’d started at the back of her order book.

“And how are — ”

“Water. With lemon. Original Galaxy Grilled Cheese. Hold the star-pepper relish.”

Sophie clicked her pen into purpose: h2o — lem. OG.

“So, no relish. Just a grilled cheese?” she asked.

“I said: I want the Original Galaxy Grilled Cheese. Hold the relish. I’m probably allergic. And my wife, yes, Sandri will have the same, but hold the bread. She can’t eat gluten. And — substitute the chips for greek potatoes.”

Sophie couldn’t imagine what a grilled cheese with no bread would be. And though they served a savory baklava, they didn’t have greek potatoes.

She took a breath, and then another.

“I’m sorry, but we don’t have gluten-free bread. And we don’t have greek potatoes.”

“Well, what do you have?” he asked.

“We have everything else that’s on the menu.”

“Hmmm.”

“Would you like a few more minutes?” she asked.

“No. We’re. We. Are. Hmm. Ready,” he said.

Sophie waited with thoughts about the dessert they would order, nothing with gluten, and the chocolate sauce she could use to decorate the plate, the fuck you she’d write in syrup and then spread in a Jackson Pollack design before plating the flan they’d order, which wouldn’t be in the dessert case because it, too, was not on the menu.

She stared out at the empty dining room while she waited, knowing she would never see her mother again because she was dead.

And though she’d become used to the empty chair at the dinner table growing up, she always knew her mother would have to return.

But now, she wouldn’t.

In her head, she said what she always wanted to say: “Oh, Mother. You know we mustn’t pin the wings because once you kill their magic, those souls will stay.”

The words were ones she’d practiced for too many years.

“Okay, we’ll just share the side salad with the house dressing. Two waters. Lemon. And a side of lemon for the salad, and that’s all for now. Did you get that?” he asked.

Sophie said, “I’ll put that right in for you,” instead of all the other things she wished she could say. She put the order into the computer, and returned to the counter where Neil had left a $10; he’d folded a piece of the placemat into a small bird.

She tucked the bill into her pocket, held the crane in careful hands.

She would never let anyone hold her this way because Sophie wouldn’t be a thing with wings, but something less fragile.

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