Why on earth had I bothered to come after the hardheaded woman? At this rate, it’d be spring before I could get her even to sit down and discuss the situation…
Sweet Jesus, give me patience, I thought; and though I was inclined to give the old finger to my mama in return, I refrained from such adolescent behavior. Hell, one of us needed to act like a responsible adult. Gritting my teeth, I snatched my purse off the seat, opened the Honda’s door, slammed it behind me, and headed for the diner.
The sign over the door said, “Maurice’s Place,” and painted on the plate-glass window was the boastful proclamation, “Best Burgers in Moose Pass.” Probably the only damn burgers, I thought as I pushed the door open and stepped into what I could only describe as a scene out of some old movie about the Yukon set at the turn of the century.
The walls were covered with assorted heads, not human, thank God, but almost as bad, especially considering the sheer number. In fact, there were probably at least 50, maybe more, that had once belonged to deer, elk, beavers, lynxes, and other assorted wildlife, all now starring down in glassy-eyed rage from every possible angle around the walls. And the tables were covered in red-and-white checked oil cloth, well-worn and faded; and each table was adorned with condiment containers – everything from salt to ketchup to Tabasco sauce – along with an old bottle covered with melted wax and out of which protruded the nub of a long-spent candle.
My eyes almost immediately began to water since, obviously, Moose Pass was a smoke-free town, although not in the usual sense of the word but in the sense that everyone was free to smoke and do so with reckless abandon. In fact, it seemed that everyone in Maurice’s was smoking, if not cigarettes then a cigar or pipe; and the smoke in the room was literally as thick as fog. Yet, despite the smoke, the odor of frying onions permeated the air; and adding to the ambiance was a jukebox in the corner, which, at the moment, was playing some old country song by some old country singer I didn’t recognize and didn’t care to recognize, but I had to admit the tune was appropriate: it was North to Alaska..
I saw my mama. She was refilling the coffee cups of two guys who looked liked bears dressed in woolen shirts and corduroy pants.
As she turned around, Mama shot me a glare and stormed toward the kitchen, which was located through a doorway behind the counter.
I watched her pink-clad posterior swishing as she disappeared through the swinging doors. Be that way, I thought. See if I care. Ignoring all the dead animals’ stares, as well as those of the patrons, mostly men, although there was one woman, I walked over to an empty booth and slid onto the seat. Sighing, I met the blue-eyed gaze of a burly man whose face was hidden beneath one of the fullest beards I had ever seen. In fact, his beard was so full and so thick that it covered almost his entire face, to the extent that his eyes looked like two blue buttons sewn onto a teddy bear’s head.
Nodding, he smiled, exposing a mouthful of gold teeth.
Not wanting to give him the wrong idea, I didn’t acknowledge the smile. Instead I picked up the menu.
“Francie,” someone yelled. “You got a customer in your station.”
I glanced up. The person doing the yelling was the cook, although I had a feeling he was also the owner, Maurice. Don’t ask me why. Maybe he just looked like a Maurice.
He wasn’t tall, perhaps five-eight at most, and fine-boned and slim. Fact was, he looked rather delicate, almost effeminate, but then I noticed the corded muscles in his arms and decided he was what my daddy would call “wiry and tough as whet leather.” Daddy also said such men were, more often than not, the kind you didn’t want to get riled because they would come out swinging and ask questions later.
Deciding I might as well eat (it had been a long while since breakfast), I opened the menu, which, much to my relief, offered a list of traditional foods and not barbecued bear or stewed sea lion.
“What’ll it be?”
It was my mama. Frowning, she said, “The burgers are the best-”
“I read the sign,” I said. “They’re the best in Moose Pass.”
She shrugged. “If you don’t want a burger, try the fried liver.”
“You know I hate liver. Hated it as a little girl, but you kept fixing it anyway.”
“But I never forced you to eat, now did I? I always fixed something else for you.”
“Sure, like a peanut butter sandwich.” I remembered having to sit there at the table, gnawing on my sandwich, while the rest of the family enjoyed a hot meal.
She rolled her eyes. “And was it my fault you were such a picky eater?”
“Mama,” I said. “I did not come all the way to Moose Pass, Alaska to talk about my eating habits.”
Another roll of her eyes and she said, “So why’d you come?”
“You know good and well why I come and-”
“It’s why I came, not come.”
I gritted my teeth to keep from screaming. “Mama, don’t start that with me. All you wanna do is change the subject.”
“No, I don’t,” she said. “I just want my daughter to speak like she has at least some education.”
“Mama, it don’t matter.”
She sighed and shook her head. “See, there you go again. It’s ‘doesn’t matter,’ not ‘don’t matter.” She tapped the pad with the pen she had in her right hand. “Are you going to order or not? I have other customers, you know.”
“Oh, all right, then bring me a burger, fries, and a large Coke.”
Sniffing, she said, “Not unless you ask a little more politely than that.”
It was my turn to roll my eyes. “And since when does a customer in a diner have to ask the waitress to bring her anything? I’m supposed to place my order, not plead with you to bring it to me.”
“Then get it yourself,” she said, whirled away, and sashayed toward a nearby table.
Oh, good Lord, I thought; this is going just great. Why on earth had I bothered to come after the hardheaded woman? At this rate, it’d be spring before I could get her even to sit down and discuss the situation. Then again, I knew I at least had to try. And knowing this, I decided to swallow my pride. “Please bring me a burger, fries, and Coke,” I yelled in her direction. “Pretty please with molasses on top.”
All conversation ceased and everyone in the place turned to stare at me. The silence was palpable – thick as pea soup.
Mama also looked at me.
The seconds ticked by.
“All right, Constance,” she finally said and shrugged one pink-clad shoulder. “I’ll bring you a burger. But you don’t need any fries, and you’d best have a Diet Coke.” She turned toward the kitchen. “Need to start watching your weight. Looks like you’ve gained a few pounds.”
To be continued
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