How I lost every friend I had and then scalded a waitress
That was the summer I got rid of all my friends. I don’t quite know how I managed it. I still think back in bewilderment. But they all of a sudden stopped replying to me over a weekend in mid May. What got to me most was how I’d lined up this amazing two week break for myself and Manny on the coast. Camper van, hot plate, wine rack, the whole deal. And up until the day I had it pencilled in, I still kind of supposed she was going to call me and explain herself. That it was like something about a family hassle or she wasn’t kept on in her internship or some guy drama. And I’d be the bigger person, brush it off, but maybe after a pregnant pause or audible sigh or something I’d practiced to death ahead of time. But none of that happened. Instead, I ended up leaving about five messages on her phone and just sobbing uncontrollably like a preteen into my pillow because it only then really hit me how utterly alone I’d wound up. And over summer. Worst was not knowing back then what it was I’d done. My mother tenderly suggested over the phone it might have been that I’d grown a little self involved that last while. That not everyone was as keen on the gym and talking about the gym. It was maybe the last thing I wanted to hear and, by the way, utterly impossible. It had been this running gag in the group, leg day or, arm day and they’d know I just wasn’t around to shoot the shit in some bar after work three nights a week anymore. But it wasn’t ever levelled against me. At least not to my face.
I wound up taking the camper van alone against everyone’s better judgement and spent the guts of a week sat inside of it looking out at the grey sea. I ran a whole lot. They say running on sand is how marines train. I drifted in and out of convincing myself some alone time rounds out the character. I texted my mom regularly. If I’m honest, partly to see if she’d keep texting back. Which led me to get a bit ratty with her if she left me hanging a tad too long. See, it’s stuff like this, I started needling out the reasons one might up and abandon a friend. Mom was pretty fair about texting back when she realised how messed up I was getting. After a couple of days, I was trying to suck it up and take the opportunity to visit my spiritual side a little. Deserted, wind-beaten sand dunes are a surprisingly apt place to meditate till it gets too cold or the tide comes in. It was hard not to keep arriving back at the same two or three thoughts all the same.
I tended towards some pretty saccharine music choices over the week too and I’m sure Mom could hear them loud and clear when she called. Thing was, I’d gone and planned it so that we’d run out of food after a couple of days and would have to drive to the nearest little town for supplies. Actually it was supposed to be an excuse to indulge ourselves a bit, maybe hit a bar, go dancing and cut loose. I pulled up alone and unkempt in my van in front of a 50s themed burger joint, one of only three eateries in the district, and guessed at how wet I’d get sprinting there from my seat. I cracked up right then at how bad things had gotten that this was actually the highlight of the week. I was running 3k a day easy and had already noticed the spring in my thigh muscle so I figured I’d earned one of those huge burgers dripping with toxic white glop that always falls apart before you’re done with it. That and a strawberry shake. They made the burgers fresh there so I had some time alone in a window booth with a replica mini-jukebox and photo of I think it was the Big Bopper, leering out onto a practically empty Saturday high street. I never really took selfies till that moment. I reeled off and deleted about four rapidfire owing to how I didn’t want to be seen trying out different angles. I smirked, remembering Manny used to take selfies with herself and slices of cake, so combing through her photos looked like the diary of some crazed binge-eater. By the time they served the burger I no longer had an appetite and it held more interest for me as something I could pick apart and examine and maybe nibble some gherkins off of while idling and getting my sugar kick from the shake. I had a fair portion of the sesame seeds off the bun in a neat hillock when I focused blithely on a 4x4 parked too far up the kerb on the other side of the street outside of a bakery. I stopped a second. I knew that car. That was Manny’s car. The door of the bakery had just swung shut and there were pieces visible of a person hauling a bulging paper bag in front passenger door. I was up out of my seat, hunched over the Big Bopper. When she came round the back to stow the other bags I saw her. It was Manny. She was in town. Forty miles from home. I set down the shake hard enough it splashed the novelty Jackie-O placemats and and careered out of the booth and the front door like a little girl freed from school. I was practically waving my arms. I called after her as she closed her car door. I had the presence of mind to look both ways before heedlessly gambolling across the street, still shouting her name. I mean why would she be there if not to make amends. Who was the cake for if not me. A big fat apology cake. I made it across in time to almost be in touching distance of the rear wiper as it pulled away, gunning it to make an amber light. I was left stood on the tarmac, my face halfway smeared with the yellow burger goop, horribly out of breath. Now, of course, was when people chose to appear out of shops. Pushing prams, and cradling designer shopping baskets and hustling past the panting crazy-woman, loping back across the street, hand on hip, to her booth. I started texting her. I let her know I’d seen her. I figured she must have seen me and I outright demanded to know what her game was. Deleted that, then tried something a tad more conciliatory coming back through the restaurant entrance.
I placed the waitress just in front of the opening door. I had it so she balanced two plates on one arm and held the other between thumb and palm and all of them had hot cooked food on them the way twenty year vets can do while they pour coffee and make small talk. I made the porch with a seven foot panel to the right, so they could stack sightseeing pamphlets for high season. I had the waitress turn her back to the door, busy flirting for tips so she didn’t see a thing. Oh, and I made the guy flipping burgers turn up the radio because he really loved that one song so nobody heard the door open with the girl looking down at her phone. I crafted the porch area so there was a short four step flight between the first few tables and the rest of the restaurant. I bustled into the joint unawares.
Stephen Hawking posits the idea of infinite universes. You should know that now before we get any further. He suggests that every imaginable possibility of every situation already exists at the same time. Even the crazy, extreme ones, the joke ones, the horror ones, the mindlessly boring ones. The point is the place he believes they all collide. The human mind. Of every car in an infinite showroom of car models, sizes, years, colours and stickers (she had Autobot stickers strewn across the rear bumper from a previous owner) I chose hers. Of infinite towns, I chose that car to appear in the town I was sat in smearing burger juice around my chops and of infinite possible outcomes, I chose to look up a fraction too late, a fraction resounding cosmically forever, I guess, and crash into the back of the turning waitress just as she manoeuvred her coffee pot between thumb and finger the way she’d done two hundred times a day since she was twenty. I chose to hit her. In an infinite array of possibilities, I made it so she flailed left and took the coffee pot down with her, and myself, falling hard enough to upend the table she was serving so a plate, an assortment of cutlery, some guy’s phone and the standard 50’s diner condiment selection hit her seconds after the coffee pot had upended down her front. It was maybe even funny prior to that. Like, this awkward moment of hips and shock and airborne teaspoons and sugar packets. But then I chose that she’d scream. From being scalded. Because it was all the way down her front and I didn’t leave even a drop in the pot. That pot was bone dry internally. The little that didn’t right away soak her blouse, apron and brazier and permanently scald the skin below, collected in a black, grainy pool along the gutters between the tiles headed toward where I’d fallen. And I scrambled away from it like it was a corrosive chemical. because from what I was seeing, it looked like it was. So, a hush befell the restaurant lasting a second longer than you’d expect, before punters fumbled over one another to get to the waitress and try and stifle the panicked screams filling the room. a slew of folks already had phones out researching what to do and knelt over the writhing woman, pulling apart the splashed apron, along with her blouse and brassiere beneath, loosening the necklace baring her wedding ring over her head and hastily applying cupfuls of lukewarm water until one of them was able to get through to the emergency services and confirm they’d sent out a team. I had it that I was a bystander, recoiling horrified with a hand clasped over my open mouth so I could feel my teeth mark into the fingers. I’m not sure I blinked throughout.
They kept me ousted to the periphery of the scene and I was getting a whole heap of glances to the extent of ‘haven’t you done quite enough young lady?’ which stewed with my already overwhelming guilt. I kept offering to give my details to someone. In case she needed financial assistance, or a shoulder to cry on during the rehab if there was to be that. But I was roundly blanked. On by one the staff ushered people out of the establishment and a lot of us waited outside for the medics to arrive. I mean I stood apart from those guys too. In the end, the light had changed outside.The ambulance had left. After quite enough time stood there alone I turned and walked back to the camper van and started her up. I didn’t go back to the beach, I drove straight home. All I was leaving behind in my camp spot was the ridiculous Snoopy beach umbrella, the sand and rain damaged yoga mat and the bags of rubbish I guess someone else could easily deal with. I tried hard to find apt music on the radio. I didn’t want to recover from this right away. No one writes guilt-music, to my knowledge. So it was a couple of hours of talk radio, a little James Taylor, and I pulled back into the car park below my building. By the time I was back on my couch I’d resolved to write a whole email explaining what happened from my point of view, volunteering any help I could be and promising to write the place up with five stars any review site I could find. Which was something of a gesture given the level it actually hit. I’d dumped my luggage into the washer and was about to get a shower when I had my doorbell sound about four times in the space of as many seconds and someone knock at length in an excited state. So, this wasn’t the most salubrious building in that part of the city. It was far from a salubrious part of the city. So when this kind of thing happened I tended to just go perfectly still and wait it out. It didn’t stop though. It only grew louder and now I’d stopped still I could hear a girl’s voice on the other side. It sounded desperate, weepy. I guess at these times you’re confronted with whether or not you’re the good Samaritan or the other guys. You know, the thoughts that plague you late Sunday nights, gaping into the void above your bed. With this in mind, I eased over and, keeping the chain on, opened the front door a crack so I could see her face. Looking back, I’m very glad at how I made her. I’d given her an English accent. Kind of upper-crust sounding, superior, and a bohemian-scatty kind of wardrobe and mannerisms. She was taller than me, had that nourished glow that people from money often do and she a whole heap prettier than me, but confident enough with it to forego a certain amount of preening and carry a little weight, more power to her. That said, right then her nose was running horribly and she had her teeth clenched in desperation like a pained animal, before she’d realised I’d opened up. Like this was a last chance or something. Right then, I recognised her. We’d actually shared a lift once a few weeks prior to. I’d stood the way I was brought up to, found my corner, real-considered lift-etiquette. I guess I wanted to have something to say. She had on a sweet She-Hulk tee, I could’ve paid her that compliment. Her head was in her phone, though, she had in earbuds and if she’d noticed me she didn’t acknowledge. That would’ve made for a really different cute-meet. I don’t regret one iota choosing the one with the tears. This one, red, wet eye, smeared in make up slid into view and she held my gaze a second.
“I know I should be all apologies about butting in on your afternoon, but I’m desperate. And no one else even opened as far as you.”
“Okay.” The eye lingered a few seconds longer until she took a step back to show me a box of belongings she was cradling and a shoulder bag bulging to bursting point. She rightaway seemed verifiably unhinged but somehow not in a threatening way. Maybe it was the continuous wiping of her cascading snot with the back of a hand covered in blotched biro notes.
“You’ve got to help me. No one else will, not even the police. It’s about my boyfriend. He’s been missing four months and I’m convinced he’s been living in a flat upstairs.”
“Right okay. So what can I do for you?” I hesitated with fingers on the latch.
“It’s not much. Don’t worry. It’s just, I need you to help me break in.”
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