In Three and a Half Parts... two
2:00 am, nearly 2:01 and she thinks "shit." Maybe she says it out loud. She sees the stretch of highway like a cardboard sidewalk, always ready to give, like canvas shoes in the rain. She is extremely hungry. The moon gives her that Cheshire cat half-grin, sans cat, and the trees that befuddled look of people left twice over and not sure what to do about the rain. No, the look of people being rained on halfway home. She has left, she is leaving, she does leave. She is going away, she is headed towards, all her bags are packed and she's ready to go, she's got a ticket to ride, ad infinitum. She is hungry, half a tank of gas, and sort of pretty, wondering where she can go without having to spend more than $7.00 on dinner. She spots a Dennys. Familiarity killed the cat. She wants to go to Dennys.
She likes the smell of asphalt. She thinks she is in Georgia, but has been driving so long without direction, simply away, that she is not sure. This place is thick with smells, and she enjoys the thought of it being the peach state, of Georgia asphalt being more pungent than anywhere else. All the stale smiles of the south make scents much stronger, humidity much wetter, road slicker. She is afraid of Georgian rain, if this is indeed Georgia. As she parks, she flips her hair first to the left and then the right, checking the shape of her eyebrows and the cut of her shirt in the rearview mirror as best she can, multitasking, feeling new, feeling without. This is the hole left in the world. The car shudders as she slides out, something demure about her even in khakis and cynicism. Her feet have a good rapport with parking lot skin. There is something of a mystic in the way she walks in, but no one stops to stare. They're tired. They know what is and isn't their business to see.
"Table for one, please." You don't have to ask for a table at Dennys, but she's caught up in this. its 2:06 am and this is funny.
One menu, four suitcases, a 1990 honda accord. The snap decision to go, and the real story is inconsequential, she wonders if she even remembers half of her life. she wonders how easy it is to lose herself, her memories as fleeting as the times she tries to remember them. She wonders how many men in a restaurant with surprisingly numerous customers for such a late hour want into her permanent press pants. She smells a bit like a safari, but the smells of bacon, butter and soap are too strong here. The man with the rotted grin stares at her, one tooth absent from his smile, two tables to her right. The two women with fortysomething acne and off-white blouses avert their eyes. She likes to smile and move on. The truth is, everyone is better at leaving than she.
She has a variety of slams to choose from. These are her options; grand slam breakfast, the sausage lovers slam (which has 68 grams of fat, she remembers the statistic from somewhere), the country slam, the slim slam (without topping) and the meat lovers skillet. She chooses the meat lovers skillet because she is sensitive to the underdog. She closes her menu and waits. She enjoys waiting half as much as she enjoys moving. She enjoys waiting quite a bit.
The waiter, Ralph, has a nose like a question, "question" which looks like "quesadilla." The word, not the shape. She thinks things like this as she wipes the menu's sweat off her fingers, onto her polo shirt and, staring with deep honesty into the abscesses of Ralph's pock marks, deadpans an attempt to order liquor in her orange juice.
"....I don't think we do that, ma'am. I mean, I'd have to check your id. Do you have id, ma'am? I mean, it's just a...a...precaution...it's a...I'll have to ask the manager..."
"I was kidding, dear"
"Oh. Well. I'll have your order out soon, ma'am."
"Yes. Thank you, Ralph."
The table is resigned and smiling like someone who deeply enjoys their own company. She waits for her meat lover's skillet, picturing two nonspecific pieces of meat smoking cigarettes and practicing sincerity beneath satin sheets. She laughs.
I think they leave me better. They are better at it, she thinks, not understanding quite what she means. She is speaking like him, now that she has left. Now that she is gone, she is repetitive, talking in fragments that would wax poetic, if only someone could make sense of them. This was part of what made her stay with him. She never knew what he was going to say next, what big, smart word he would latch onto and repeat for weeks. He was an e.e. cummings poem, a short story with pretty imagery and creatively-placed...punctuation that didn't really have a point. But she was brought up with a sense of moral indignance, inbred into her commune childhood, and a you-cant-treat-me-that-way acoustic guitar sensibility. Her mama was a rolling stone and her papa was a hippie. She likes adventures and learning to let go and packing up big, clunky cars and the name "tom," though she's never met a man who could wear it just right.
"Here's your ...meat...lovers skillet...ma'am. Please enjoy." Ralph has a dial tone voice. The please sounds clunky, and he spits out the word "skillet" like a stale carrot. She thanks him with some rehearsed-looking-but-yes-its-genuine grin and waves him away with a pretty hand. She notices the Dennys essay competition flier, tacked on the wall to her right, next to the man with the tooth. "ranked number one," printed in nauseated colors that match the blue and yellow Dennys scheme. Would these kids write essays about me, she wonders. she will later, upon her half asleep recollection of this poster, concede to how good the slams and skillets here are. she could easily write six 1.5 spaced 12 font pages about any item on the menu. It's true.
It tastes like sausage, though the meat is unnamed. She trusts that it is sausage, and douses it with syrup from a plastic container. There is a beginning to her meal. A middle. Finally, an end, and she lingers on, past the punch line of the early-early-early morning breakfast, waiting until her fingers go numb from the air conditioning, until her smile is final, resolute, and she tips Ralph a solid $4.00, $1.00 more than necessary. She is good at killing time. He had known this, when they were together, and he probably wasn't really in love with her at all. She leaves.
The asphalt is steaming with some combination of southern rain and hospitality. She clicks her heels together three times and slips into the car. She peels out, because this has a certain romance; the sound, the smell of rubber. She looks in the back, eyes appeasing, calming the impatient children of suitcase and duffle back in her backseat. She's sure they somehow feel displaced. But there is a Dennys across all state lines, so wherever she is going, she'll be fine.
How many dead ends are there on an American highway, she asks herself rhetorically. She smiles. She flips her hair over her shoulder and notes her own killer wit. She shifts her hands on the steering wheel. There is static on the radio, but she leaves it on anyway.
next week: one and a half.
About the author:
Griffin Jaye Epstein writes plays, short stories, poems and songs, mostly on the subject of food and Kurt Cobain. She has been an actor/writer/costume designer/stage manager/production assistant countless times and has attended NYU; playwrights horizons, circle in the square and the stella adler conservatory. She is currently spending a year in Ireland studying language and liquor. she likes super furry animals, not to be confused with small, furry animals (i.e. rabbits, gerbils..she likes them, too), electric blankets and speaking in the third person.