Warm equinoctial greetings to you. This is the forty-fifth in a series of fifty-two weekly stories I’m publishing on this site. Thanks for reading.
Mayo, mustard, cheese, lettuce, turkey, bacon, rye bread, whole wheat, pumpernickel, kaiser roll, rye, there was no way Connie was going to make it to the kitchen with all this information organized sandwich by sandwich in her head. Not allowing waitresses to write down the customers’ orders while standing at the table was on a par with waterboarding enemy combatants to extract actionable information from them. She reached the window between the kitchen and the restaurant proper. The cook stared at her through it from the kitchen side. She stared back at him defiantly. The noise of the fourteen conversations behind her gathered in her ears. The cook rolled his eyes and turned back to his stove. Connie looked down at her shiny purple uniform to stabilize herself but instead the color and texture of it nauseated her. “All right,” she said, out on the street on a blustery late autumn day after having quit, “so restaurant work is not for me. What does that leave?” “You could go back in. I’m going to, as soon as I have my surgery,” said a young woman in a dark blue uniform who wrote on a bright orange piece of paper and slid it under the windshield wiper of a parked car. Connie said, “Go back into the restaurant?” “No, stupid, go back into the military.” “How do you know I was in the military?” “Let’s see, you’re about 28 years old, you just quit a low-wage job probably not for the first time, you’re standing on the street without a proper coat, you’re talking to yourself, and you have that look like bombs went off near your head.” “What’s your surgery?” “Hip. Humvee crash.” “You look to me like you’re walking okay.” “That’s because I’m a Marine.” “Army,” Connie said, “but if you’re going back in you should join the Air Force. Better accommodations.” The meter maid who was also a Marine sneered. “Anyway,” Connie said, “what, you’d get a desk job?” “Sure.” “And be ordered around by people who haven’t even been over there but think they know more than you because of the patch on their uniform?” “Better than being ordered around by a traffic cop. At least if I go back in I’d be serving my country.” “You’re serving your country now.” “Punishing some sucker who forgot to move his car? Where’s the honor?” Connie said, “Where’s the honor in punishing 100,000 suckers who didn’t even turn out to have WMDs?” Connie could tell the Marine was deciding whether to punch her in the face. Luckily this woman seemed to value even her no-honor job more than Connie had valued hers. “Have a nice day,” the meter maid said and moved on to the next car. A motorcycle came roaring down the street and Connie dove for the sidewalk. She lay there face-down and pictured the colonel who’d de-briefed her battalion when they returned, warning them this might happen. He’d put his right hand up to the left side of his chest and slapped his ribs a bunch of times fast to mime a racing heart. Marcel fucking Marceau saying “Hey, that just means your body’s working the way it’s supposed to after you’ve been in a combat zone. That just means you’re normal.” She stood up again and looked around for the Marine to see how she’d handled the blast of noise. Didn’t see her. There was a bar a few doors down from the restaurant. No, no bar today. It was two in the afternoon. Her mother was at work till six so Connie would have the house to herself for a while. She’d go lie on her bed and do the breathing exercises the colonel had taught them. Not even her bed was safe, but it was reasonably comfortable.