“Well, I’ve been here thirteen years now. No big deal, really, because I’ve got no other plans. I like it here.”
“That’s very impressive. Most diners aren’t even open for thirteen years, and you’ve held a job that long? Congratulations.” He realized she wasn’t terribly busy, but seemed not to want to talk much, so he started again: “You must have seen a lot of changes over the years. What’s changed the most since you’ve started?” He was trying to get her to open up to him. He could tell clearly that she did not have any close acquaintances, or if she did, they were in the form of cash registers and aprons. He looked at her left hand, and there were no rings, and there were no other signs of family or human interaction.
Before she could answer the question, and he could see her preparation to respond, she was called away, and headed toward the kitchen almost violently. Mr. Horner paid no attention at first, but soon heard shouting and ruckus from behind him, as he had turned to look out over the diners and through the windows that looked out over the street. He turned back to see what could have been going on, and as he did, he could see through the food window that something had been ordered wrong, or that there was another error somewhere, and also that Polly’s response was not favorable. In fact, she was yelling at a young man who was nearly in tears. She grabbed him by the back of the arm and dragged him around behind a corner where they couldn’t be seen; they were still heard, however, and when the tirade stopped, she came out from behind the corner red-faced and clearly trying to regain her composure. The young boy, no older than fifteen or sixteen, was foreign and in tears. Mr. Horner could not immediately decide whether to make eye contact with his former acquaintance. She deserved to be acknowledged for what she had done, but she also did not seem to deserve that much human interaction. To further confirm that conclusion, she leaned up against the back wall of the kitchen and lit a cigarette, not relaxed, not passively, but as if it were the lifeblood that kept her heart pumping; it went beyond the act of smoking: it was vile, the greatest act of dependence and craving, and she nearly trembled until it reached her lips. It didn’t take Mr. Horner long to sum her up differently than he had before, and he was also quite sure (that is to say, he knew) he needed to see no more of her than to know what she was like as a person, for he had seen her react in what she thought was privacy. He took the last sip of his coffee, which had become cool and bitter, and left a dollar bill on the table. He walked out.
As he reached the street again, he turned around to see what had transposed since he left. He saw that Polly had gotten the dollar he left and it would have only been appropriate for any average person to look up to acknowledge their customer had left, especially when it was so obvious to even the less discerning person that the (former) customer was standing just outside your window, waiting to see if you would make eye contact. She did not, or not within the brief moment that Mr. Horner would have allowed her to. He walked on, and with the five or six steps he took on the sidewalk and around the corner, any bit of anger or resentment slowly turned into disappointment and sadness. Not for him and the failure to open up to her, but for her failure to recognize kindness when it is shown, and to take it upon herself to donate this damaging mentality to others. He walked around the corner to his right, down a small alley, and this wall (to his right) would have been the wall to his left when he was sitting inside the restaurant, except there were no windows along it. Most of this side would have been the kitchen, and therefore it was all brick. He knew there would have been a few booths on the other side of the wall, and continued around until he reached another corner. The brick wall ended abruptly to go down what looked like an alleyway, but it stopped. It was simply a square space made by the backs of three of the units. The one to the right would have been for the diner. He stepped over some soggy cardboard boxes, walked around some barrels of grease and by a dumpster to reach the rear kitchen door. It was a double door, and was very heavy, as it was made of solid metal. One half was open, and he could smell and hear the sizzling of grease. He knew that if he weren’t careful, Polly would see him, and it would become obvious what he was doing. He waited outside until he heard her voice, and it was far off. He fairly jumped inside the kitchen and looked to his right, where the scolded boy would have been. He was standing over a large industrial range, preparing omelets. He had just finished an order, and there seemed to be a lull in his work. He turned away from Mr. Horner, but did not seem to see him. Mr. Horner waited for him to turn so he could see his badge, and then whispered “Yong…” The boy heard him and looked that way, and Mr. Horner motioned for him to come outside. He took a quick look around and started walking toward the door.