By Adam Haynes
On Halloween, Amy dressed as a pregnant nun. Outraged customers complained to management, which forced Amy to remove her costume and finish the shift in proper restaurant attire. Later that night, she drank mixed drinks and tequila shots with her coworkers at a bar near the restaurant. “The customers are lucky,” she said loudly to anyone who would listen, “that I didn’t dress like a priest with a papier-mâché boy underneath my frock simulating a blow job.”
Another waiter, Sean, objected. “Why are you so proud of being so juvenile?” Amy laughed at his ‘boring priggishness,’ so Sean spent the next couple hours pretending that her words didn’t bother him.
But later, after watching Amy and her roommate belt ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” on the karaoke stage, he shattered a beer bottle against the floor and walked out the bar ranting in a mumbled voice about ‘Aristotelian proofs for God and the purely actualized actualizer.’
He woke up on his couch. On his apartment window’s closed blinds, the shadows of tree leaves fluttered with the Houston sunlight. As he sat up, his feet knocked over an empty beer bottle and a soda can overflowing with cigarette ash and butts. He picked up the butts and, while coffee brewed, covered the carpet stain with paper towel.
Amy’s roommate, Natalie, had witnessed everything. A couple weeks prior, Natalie and Sean had shared a joint in his car before the dinner shift. She’d told Sean that he was ‘so smart’ after he explained Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and its relationship to the flashing screens of today’s cell phones, an idea he borrowed from a book but claimed as his own. But when Amy called Sean a ‘boring prig,’ Natalie smiled connivingly with Amy. When he shattered the beer bottle, Natalie, while rolling her eyes with Amy, sarcastically waved bye from the karaoke stage.
After his third cup of coffee, Sean found his copy of Pascal’s Pensées. He needed the perfect quote to impress Natalie and shame Amy during the dinner shift later that night. The quote read, “Man must not believe that he is equal either to the beasts or to angels, nor must he be ignorant of either, but he must know both.”
While he drove to work, Sean recited Pascal’s words confidently while his car stereo blared “Seven Nation Army.”
The dinner rush clamor began at five. Bussers arm-swept crashing glass plates into plastic bins. Managers obsequiously catered to angry guests. Waiters balanced heavy trays of food and scurried back and forth from the kitchen to their tables. Bartenders hurriedly mixed expensive cocktails for impatient customers. In the kitchen, ceiling speakers pounded hip-hop music while animal flesh sizzled.
Amy, who’d just received a four-dollar tip on a sixty-dollar bill, glared at the guests huddled in the crowded waiting area. They looked like mindless cattle waiting fatuously to chew on overpriced cud. She wrote those words down in her customer-order pad. She aspired to write a scathing book about the restaurant industry. As she rounded the staff entrance to the kitchen, she collided with Sean and toppled over his tray of beer mugs; beer and glass burst against the tile.
“So,” Amy said, “you’re a sheepish thinker and an incompetent walker?”
Sean seethed while he knelt and picked up broken glass and placed it carefully on his tray. Amy wiped herself with paper towel by the dish pit, where Natalie was pushing a rack of dirty plates through the steamy, hissing dishwasher. Natalie asked Amy what happened, but Sean’s reading of their lips translated as shared laughter at his expense. Ashamed, filled with hate and envy, he needed Amy and Natalie to love him.
“I’m not sheepish,” he shouted above the music with a strained look of confidence. Natalie, unprepared for his desperate look and his unironic use of the word ‘sheepish,’ laughed hysterically. Amy shared in her mirth.
Now with an audience, Amy spoke calmly while staring at Sean, intending her words for him and Natalie. “Sean doesn’t know what he believes, so he’s just behaving like a child because he has no comeback. You know, Sean, unlike you, I believe in science, in Reason with a capital R. What you think you might believe in is all just fairy tales, magic, and superstition.”
Like a violet flash of heat lightning that suddenly illumines the night sky, Sean realized that Amy’s words were borrowed from a TV show. Sean smiled gratefully at Amy and Natalie. “Everything you just said is verbatim from a TV show, that HBO one about the doctor who’s a serial killer. He says those lines about ‘science and reason and fairy tales’ every time he murders religious fundamentalists. Actually, Amy, you’re the sheep, you’re the one who borrows ideas, and you desperately want people to believe you’re smart, but you’re just a lackey.” He savored a second, slower pronunciation of ‘lackey.’ At the same time, Amy and Sean both noticed a smile from Natalie in Sean’s favor.
Amy, unaccustomed to shame, abandoned wit and walked past Sean with a vulgar riposte. “Fuck you, Sean. You’re a college dropout and a loser.”
As the restaurant tumult continued, the staff witnessed Sean follow closely behind Amy, or Amy follow closely behind Sean, each whispering harsh vitriol into the ears of the other. As the dinner rush slowed, coworkers questioned Sean and Amy individually about their argument, but Amy and Sean, exhausted, soon realized that the staff just wanted to gossip maliciously at their expense.
Ashamed to face their coworkers, Sean and Amy didn’t go to the bar that night, but the rest of the staff did. At one point, a waiter attracted to Natalie asked if she’d heard any of the words Sean said to Amy after she called him a loser. “Not really,” Natalie said, “but I did hear him saying something stupid about beasts and angels,” and the waiter and Natalie, moving closer together, laughed exultantly as they each drank another shot of tequila.