Missy liked being a waitress. She especially liked it at noon when the Sour Dough was so busy her mind was totally occupied by the messages she brought to the kitchen and the completed messages she brought back to the impatient, hungry customers. She thought of food like that, the need for it a message, the return of it an expressed, made-real message.
She also liked the money which was more than she'd ever made as a secretary or receptionist. Her Mom and Dad and her step-Dad all disapproved of her working at the Sour Dough. They said it degraded her because it wasn't "clean" work. Missy and her parents had never gotten along and she was grown-up enough--at twenty-seven she better be!---to do as she pleased.
The third thing she liked about waiting tables was the amount of free time she had. At 2:00pm, while most of the world was still slaving away, Missy could visit a museum, go to a movie, exercise, masturbate, or just stay home and read. Missy loved books, especially biographies, and she attended two book discussion clubs regularly. She had always been an independent sort: she did not have a boyfriend right now nor any special desire for one. Long ago she had decided that relationships--especially long-term ones--were more trouble than they were worth. She rarely communicated with her family because whenever they talked, her parents (at least her Mom or Dad; her step-Dad just echoed whatever her Mom said) would start a fight about her job or bug her about getting into college or stuff like that.
Driving to work, Missy had a tape of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights playing. She had read it twice before as a teenager but she was reading it for the Janet Weinberg book club which was meeting next week. She had always like novels from the 19th Century, though she didn't like Charles Dickens much, she didn't know why. She loved the eerie romance of the Brontë sisters and their isolated moors. Also, the role of nature in Wuthering Heights and the closeness of the characters to their natural setting (that's what she was making notes on for her club discussion).
A light turned yellow and Missy probably should have slowed but instead her foot went heavier on the peddle. She made it through before the light turned red.
The voice from the tape deck was impersonating Catherine's passionate put-downs to her husband and her defense of Heathcliff. She remembered hearing someone say that Heathcliff was supposed to be Catherine's illegitimate step-brother and their unconsummated romance represented Emily Brontë's taboo love for her failure brother Branwell. Then she'd read somewhere that Heathcliff and Catherine were supposed to represent two sides of one person and the separation of an individual from himself. Or Linton and Heathcliff could be different sides of one man and Catherine the women forced to choose between them who kills herself because of the conflict.
And, of course, literature has so many layers it could represent all those things at the same time.
Missy made a left turn at the intersection of MLK and Baldwin Ave. She had held her first job at the Wendy's on the corner of Baldwin. It had been her first time in a restaurant and she remembered the smell had bothered her and so many of the customers were kids like herself--she was fifteen--that a lot of them were rude. And of course you don't make much in tips at a place like that. She'd quit after a few months because she'd gotten a job as a receptionist in a lady dentist's office. It had been a big improvement because it was clean and quiet and it had helped her improve her typing. Missy kept driving down Baldwin till she reached the on-ramp to the I-87.
She carried a large tray loaded with the plates for Table 4 (party of five) and Table 2 (party of two). She carried the heavy thing gracefully, balanced on the pad of her hand and on her shoulder. Smiling at the smiling customers. Carefully but not slowly, she lowered the tray onto the cart. The baby had started to fuss and she put his plate down in front of him first (which she would have done anyway because Carmen said to serve little ones first, get them out of the way).
Then she looked at a round-faced man with a burnt-brown tan and saw Prime Rib and a Bloody Mary; looked at the fat, blonde woman with glasses and saw Boiled Shrimp and a Strawberry Daiquiri; the pimply teen-aged girl had Chicken Enchiladas and Sprite glowing from her damaged skin; the pimply, teen-aged boy shone Double Burger and Sprite from his.
"Can I get you anything else?" Missy asked.
"Some more water?" the woman asked.
"Sure thing." Then Missy pushed the cart to Table 2 (all the while "H2O, H2O, ho ho H2O" bounced softly in her brain, behind an open door but in another room of her mind) and looked at faces instantly covered by transparent dinners which just as instantly evaporated when she set the plate in front of them.
Missy drove away from the library with the three books she had checked out on the dashboard of the passenger seat: a biography of Mikhail Gorbachev, an Agatha Christie mystery her step-Dad had recommended, and an Isaac Asimov book on the solar system. She'd read the Asimov book before but usually she had to read a science-type book three or four times before she got anything out of it. She loved mysteries (it was the only thing she and her step-Dad could talk about without fighting) but she knew she mustn't start this book when she got home because if you start a good mystery--Christies were her favorites--you have to read it all the way through. She always read them on days she didn't go to work.
Missy went to the Fielding Museum. It was a Tuesday and anyone can get in free on Tuesdays.
Missy's feet hurt.
She was used to a little ache after work but this was different. It started at the balls of her feet and got worse--much worse--in the arches. She felt like some ligament or muscle or blood vessel or something wanted to come down. It wanted to flatten her feet. Oh, the surprise of pain! And she still had almost an hour of work left.
She forced herself to walk fast--ouch--fast to the kitchen to fetch a tray and bring back breaded shrimp and a hamburger with extra mayonnaise. "You had the shrimp." The woman nodded. "And you had the burger." "Yes," the man said.
Table 3B was a man who came in regularly and usually alone. His glass of water was about down to the halfway mark. Ouch, ow, she thought while keeping her mouth tightly, self-consciously shut. She brought a pitcher of ice water to Table 3B.
"Missy." He looked at the tag. "That's your name."
"Could I have an extra thing of ketchup?" He held up the old bottle with a look of disappointment. "This one ran out on me."
"Certainly, sir." Why did she have to be bothered like this when she hurt so? She just wanted to go home, to bathe her sore feet in a pan of warm water. But she got the bottle of ketchup from the kitchen, she walked back to Table 3B--it wasn't his fault, it sure as shooting wasn't his fault--and sat the bottle noiselessly before the customer. She smiled. "Thank you," he said.
She walked quickly and gracefully, her neck held up despite the pain, her smile fixed firmly and properly in place.
She was a good waitress.
"So what seems to be the problem?" The podiatrist was a young black woman with very dark complexion who wore her straightened hair in a short pageboy.
"It's my feet," Missy replied. "They hurt. I mean, they start hurting just real bad so I feel like I can't keep walking or anything. I feel terrible and the other day I started crying at work because of it."
"Do they hurt right now?"
"No. They don't hurt all the time."
"You're a waitress, aren't you?"
"Do they just hurt badly when you're at work?"
"No. I mean, sometimes when I'm at work I'm fine, I'm just fine. Then the next day I'll be so terrible I don't think I can stand it."
"It only happens when you're on your feet, doesn't it?"
"No, actually it doesn't. It usually does but not always. A couple of nights ago I woke up from sleep because my feet were hurting! And then when I went into work they weren't hurting though I was so tired from not getting enough sleep I wanted to take the day off."
"No, of course not." Missy though: what kind of question is that? You ought to know people can't take time off just because they feel like it. Heck, Missy was going to have to pay for this doctor's bill without any insurance. Without any insurance. Damn, damn, without any insurance. When you don't have insurance being sick can make you sick. A waiter named Peter told her that but she didn't think it was funny.
The doctor looked at her feet and examined them with some metal and wooden instrument.
"Have you had any injuries recently?" she asked.
"Ever injured your feet, Missy?"
"Never broke a leg?"
"Never. I've always been healthy as a horse."
Missy came to work on time and got started with readying the place for business. She danced from table to table (no pain in her feet, no pain anywhere) sponging the tables, the booths and chairs too. Then she set placemats and silverware and glasses.
At time to open up there were two people outside waiting. She couldn't remember seeing them before but she certainly didn't mind serving them (even for breakfast a man and a woman together was often good business, the man tipping big to impress the woman).
It was 1:00pm when the pain struck again. This time it started in her toes and ended at the back of her heel though once again concentrated in her arches.
But Missy had a job to do and she would do it. May I take your order please? Smiling. Careful, hot plate. She put plates down expertly so they didn't make a sound, the glasses didn't spill though filled almost to the brim. Will you have anything to drink? Are you ready to order? Though Missy still carried a pad and pen she was confident she could do without it. She never got mixed up about which order went to which customer. She looked at a face and saw shrimp salad across the forehead or chicken tandori or burger with extra mayonnaise.
Missy forced herself to walk quickly. She did her job. But oh, how relieved she felt when her shift ended!
"Excuse me," the man said.
Missy turned around. It was a man who came in quite frequently, almost always by himself. He was a blonde-haired guy with an open square face and deep-set blue eyes.
"Hi. My name is Steve. I'd like to see you if--"
"I'm sorry, Steve, but I don't date customers."
"I'm not a customer right now, Missy."
"Sorry Steve." She opened her car door and got in.
"Wait." He leaned against the window on her side that was halfway open. His voice changed: a solemnity, sadness entered it as he asked, "Do your feet hurt, Missy?"
Missy looked shocked, as shocked as if he had just struck her. He ran over to the passenger side. She let him in.
"How did you know?" she asked, feeling like a dark secret had just been exposed.
"I looked at your face and there was just a little bit of tension. You were gritting your teeth kind of. And I looked down at your feet and I just knew."
Missy stared straight ahead. She was driving and she didn't want to cry while she was driving. It wouldn't be safe.
When they got to Missy's apartment, Missy led him to her bedroom where she sat on the edge of the narrow bed.
He knelt before her. He untied the shoelaces and gently slipped them off, reverently, as if her were handling fine china. She raised her skirt up and together they divested her of her pantyhose. But Steve showed no interest in groping her. He was absorbed by her hurting feet. He massaged first one foot, then the other with his hands and Missy cooed and sighed as her pain flowed out through her pores and into the air. Then Steve began kissing her toes one by one, kissing them dry, then licking them, then taking each individual toe in his mouth and sucking on them, commanding every last particle of pain to fell this sacred territory, oh yes, pain is powerless before such love, and Missy fell back against the bed, not staring up at the stuccoed ceiling but looking right through it, her eyes blinked away the ceiling to gaze into the velvet of darkest space twinkling diamonds at Missy as the balls of her feet were kissed, as her arches--oh! passionate pits of pleasure--were kissed, as her heels were kissed and licked and sucked and fondled, tickled here and there and loved, loved, loved. She was Missy the good waitress and her feet richly deserved to be kissed.