Lettuce, tomato, onion, four pickles, set aside, repeat. Lettuce, tomato, onion. Lettuce, onion, pickle. Grab the bacon, ‘scuse me I’m behind ya. Hey! I need an egg on that. I need an egg. YO I NEED AN EGG. Here comes the buns, then the burgers. Cheese, mayo, ketchup, mustard. Close it, now wrap it. ORDER UP. Repeat. I try to ignore the clock ever since I noticed it hanging in the lobby. I don’t know why I have the urge to count down the minutes, it’s not like I get any relief when my shift ends at 4am. I know all it means is that I’ll go back home to my loneliness and boredom. Maybe write a little or read, hug Brooklyn and have a beer. I look forward to work every week. It’s the only chance I get to get outside my head for a bit, focus on something else. Yet there I am, counting down the minutes with every lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle, which is what we call The Works at The Brown Bag, by the way.
By time I get home I always feel sick. It’s a pit of my stomach kind of nausea. I don’t know if its smelling the food without eating all night, or stress from having to be alone again, or maybe I’m just kinda tired and it’s my body’s way of saying fuck you. Hell if I know, but it’s always there, making it hard to eat, hard to sleep, hard to focus on anything really. Tonight I sit in my car for a minute and force down some cold pizza that Barry at the Tavern gave me before my shift, then I slip inside and turn on my light. Its 5:23am now, and I’ve settled in with my computer. I’m half way through my first beer, sitting cross legged on my futon in my underwear. Brooklyn is passed out on the body pillow that he claimed for himself the day I got it. I hear Ziva say something upstairs, the mice beneath the heat vent, Duchess whimper on the porch, my clock ticking, ticking away. Just like the one on the wall at The Brown Bag. Counting down the minutes to what I don’t know anymore. Maybe sleep, maybe tomorrow. Or maybe just SOMETHING. Something that I don’t know, something that I need, something that will change this mundane routine of loneliness, self-pity and the wounds I never licked from all those yesterdays.
There is no lack of things to do. My room desperately needs cleaning and I never fully unpacked. My instruments are in the corner waiting to be played. I’m half way through a Charles De Lint novel and in the middle of three writing projects. Yet I’m stuck on the bed helplessly staring at the walls, whispering to them of my sorrows, listening to the clock, counting still. The sun begins to rise. Black silhouettes of bare trees emerge out my window before a teal colored sky, making my white curtain glow. I smoke one more cigarette and finish my second beer, then curl up deep inside my sleeping bag. When I sleep I dream of strange lands and people I’ve never met before, or maybe they were traveling acquaintances once who I have long since forgot. A man in a space ship takes me away. In Africa an owl attacks me, suspended on a rope in the middle of a cavern, I kill it and we float to the ground together. The man takes me to more far away lands. Athens, Egypt, home, space. I have a kangaroo and take it back with me. It walks on a lease beside Brooklyn, with boxing gloves. I dream of a friend I have, he won’t speak to me. I sit on the floor before him, “Tell me what you’re thinking.” I beg. There’s only our silence. Then I wake up with the Kangaroo still in my head.
I think it’s the morning still at first, the house is silent. Brooklyn has pushed my door open and is nowhere in sight. I call to him and he returns good naturedly. After a quick puppy snuggle I reach for my phone and see that it’s nearly three. 8 hours to work, a new count down has begun. I finish off the pizza Barry from the Tavern gave me and play guitar for awhile, but I haven’t been able to write a new song since I’ve moved here, so I get frustrated quickly. At sunset I go to the swing sets and listen to music, watching the sky turn from orange to pink, violet then indigo. It’s cold, and I forgot my stupid raccoon hat, but I don’t go home till well past dark. I stay there, swinging away, only pausing to light a smoke every now and then, while my cheeks and ears burn with the wind, but I don’t notice that. I’m lost in a daydream, somewhere far away. Somewhere where I’m confident and laughing, and I don’t feel alone anymore. I cross my fingers and call it December, then hop off the swings and slowly walk home, hands stuffed in my pockets against the cold.
When I get home there’s still nobody but the dogs, so I hug Brooklyn close to my chest and settle back into my novel, flipping the pages above his head, lost in somebody else’s day dream now. 8:30pm, 2 and a half hours to my shift, I walk Brook one last time then head over to the Tavern again.
I’m expecting a crowd at the Tavern, it’s Saturday night, so I’m surprised when I find the parking lot to be empty. It’s a good thing for me though, I don’t like crowds. For a minute I think maybe nobody’s there, but then I see Barry at the bar, and Amanda bartending, she’s my favorite. They greet me warmly as they always do, and for the first time all day I start to smile too. That’s the thing about the Tavern, you can’t help but feel good there, at least, I can’t. Barry starts to talk about last night again and Amanda plays me at pool. She beats me twice but I don’t mind cause she’s so happy about it and I just like to play really. By 10:41pm, we’re smoking a cigarette and I need to start heading to work. 19 minutes to my shift. Amanda runs to the cashier and returns with a Tupperware of potato soup.
“Here,” she says. “there’s cheddar and bacon and stuff in it.” Everyone in the Tavern has been saving my ass feeding me and Brooklyn since I ran out of food last week. I don’t know how to thank her enough, or tell her what I really feel, about how the Tavern is the first place to feel like home in so long, and how it’s the best part of my day. How I wish I could give the world to everyone there, but I’m just a poor kid and really, they kinda give the world to me. How I don’t understand why they’re so kind to me, and how much it means, especially right now. But she doesn’t know the full story of how and why I’m here, nobody here does, so I can’t explain to her how much it means. All I can say is “Thank you, thank you so much.” Then run to my car and drive back down the hill from where I came, one right turn on Fourth Street, straight on to The Brown Bag.
Lettuce, tomato, onion, four pickles. Repeat.