I slide into a booth at the diner. I wonder why the benches are blue, not orange, or even purple. Did the owner buy that cat clock for the diner or was it lying around extra? Did the waitress apply for her job cold, or did she know somebody who knew somebody?
The waitress marches up to my booth. “You got money?” I decide she got the job cold, but somebody had just gotten fed up and quit, making her timing perfect. I had good timing six months ago. Maybe I’ll have it again someday.
I say, “Define money.”
She scowls, more than she was already. “I didn’t sign up for this.”
I think she’s had a bad night. It’s three o’clock in the morning, and the other people in the restaurant look just like me. Which is to say, questionable. Each in their own way, but still questionable.
She drops a menu on the table in front of me.
“It’s my birthday,” I say. “I get free pie and a song.”
“That’s only for kids.”
“Bait and switch. I don’t want the free pie. Just a song.”
“Bait and switch,” I say again.
“Prove it’s your birthday.”
I hand her my driver’s license. In the photo, I’m clean and shaved. She looks at me. Looks back at the license. Hands it back. Sighs heavily.
Fatigue dribbles through me. I slap a five on the table. “Never mind. Coffee and French fries.”
The waitress returns with coffee, French fries, and a forty-year-old man in cook attire. She sings happy birthday. Not well. Her timing is off. But clearly and strongly. The cook follows her lead, but English isn’t his first language, and he doesn’t know the song. His effort is heartwarming. The ten people in the restaurant—not counting the one with his head on the table—clap when they’re done.
The waitress lays a cartoony drawing of a pie on the table. “We were out,” she says. “So I made you some, fresh.”
I leave a hundred dollar bill for a tip. I’ve got three dollars left to my name.
Tomorrow I’ll buy another lottery ticket and take the bus to my old job to ask for it back. And I’ll tack the pie drawing on my wall to remind me. Of what, I’m not sure. But it seems like the thing to do.