We walk into a small cafe, spot a table for two against the wall and seat ourselves. The hostess walks by, drops off two menus and keeps going. She looks like she'd rather be driving heavy equipment. It would make loud grinding sounds, tear up pavement; she is not to be ignored, dammit. She deserves better than her good-for-nothing husband who never lifts a hand with the kids. She wears a small cross, a wedding ring, and moves from table to table like she intends to slap the back of any customer's head for misbehavior. I decide to sit up straight.
The waitress comes to our table and looks at us, smiles and makes eye contact, a brave thing in this world when perfect strangers could be anything, but we are just middle-aged, not-even-close-to-crazy-but-you-never-know white people. "Good morning, how are you doing today?" She looks a few years past college and into young motherhood, maybe nearly divorced or starting on a big idea like getting a real estate license but not sure of it yet. She has brown hair pulled back, clean, not looking to flirt, doing her job. We order, she nods, thanks us and whisks away to the clattering kitchen where sizzling sounds come from, filling gaps in conversations around the room.
We talk about lots of things like laundry needs doin', when's the next day we have off together and did you call whatsername. We wake up sip by sip.
The food comes and the baby two tables closer to the window who looks just like wiggly six-month-old babies always look in cafes filled with slow-moving adults, starts doing that riding-a-wild-horse move that means either the diaper is full or is going to get full really quick unless we exit outta here, mom. Mom, a sleepy-looking, young, almost-professional woman sitting there with baby's grandmother, misses the clues coming from bucking baby's rear end. Vaguely, she holds out a forkful of food to him. He flaps his arms no, bicycles his feet that dangle a few inches below the edge of the chair, squirms.
The hostess leads two older women past our table. She is keeping it at a simmer, that anger. I get my elbows off the table, chew with my mouth closed, imagine smiling at her but reconsider.
I notice my food is good - blackberry and banana pancake - and that the baby begins riding two wild horses now and mom is offering him even more breakfast. Grandma is staying out of it, seems resigned to a day of watching her daughter miss cues and love her wiggly little bald-as-a-cue-ball son all sideways, obviously a new mom with a lot to learn.
"How is everything?" The waitress's jeans make that flapping denim jeans sound when one pant leg slaps against the other, shwipatt, shwipatt, shwipatt.
"Fine. We're good."
The baby is not making as much noise as a baby with a full diaper has a right to make when sitting in a high chair in a cafe with his sleepy mother. He is doing pretty well but will make a good rodeo bull rider one day. Eventually, he stops, and I don't want to imagine his diaper, but the more I try not to, the more I can't not imagine it.
My mind switches from this cafe to a few other cafes years ago with my own little buckeroo and her penchant for grabbing all the white sugars, fake sugars, any packet of any kind in small containers at the dinette booth table and how I just let her do it to keep her from taking off for the door or letting out a shriek that might peel the paint off the walls and kill my chances of eating out for a change. It was a tacit agreement we reached without words, knowing how much either of us could tolerate and oh so slightly pushing the boundaries just beyond that. I would leave a healthy tip and cleaned up the litter afterward, leaving before the first scream and right after the last bite. I think it was more of an offering of thanks at an altar than a tip.
The jeans sound is shwipatting back to our table and the check lands there with a quick thanks from the brown-ponytail waitress. We wave off a third or fourth cup of coffee - we've lost track - and feel very full of cafe and talk. Sleepy mom and grandma are gathering up, rooting under and around the table and baby. They load up three diaper bags, purses, pockets and baby who must surely stink by now, but mom still loves him anyway.
The hostess comes by, stacks our plates quickly and her motions are like the motions of a person who has just about had it dammit. I lean back and give her room, do not make eye contact, hope her husband stops lying to her, tells her she's as pretty as the day he met her and that he will help her with the kids. Not a word. The dishes, stacked harshly, disappear. Four cups of coffee do not taste as good as three, I decide, and we get up to leave. The check is on the table with a good tip. I'm pretty sure the sleepy mom has not left much for the help. Her table is a wasteland, but they've long gone.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way