Edna told me often, from as far back as I could remember, that I was a ‘pretty little thing’. I doubted it, and so it didn’t really stick. Still, Edna warned me repeatedly about the piranha that visited the Diner that would surely be trying to get “a piece of me” is how she put it once.
Early on, it was all I could do mentally, just to keep up with my part of making the Diner work. It was a labor of love for me; I wanted to help Edna before she killed herself. I just didn’t have any mental capacity left for much else. Edna warned me constantly about these men, but I don’t think any of that sunk in for a while. And if Edna saw that one of these men had cornered me, she would immediately send me into the kitchen and have me wash dishes until that man left.
Most were salesman who traveled a territory. Some sold shoes, or suitcoats, or irrigation supplies, or… whatever. Their actual territory was usually two huge areas straddling this stinking desert. Well, the only way across that desert was the interstate, and we were on one edge. They stopped by for lunch or dinner on their way across, or at the end of their day before checking into one of the few motels here in town. Most of these men dispised both their job and their territory (the worst in the country, I heard one say). They were not very happy as a result. And since they were on the road, Edna explained that they tried to get away with a lot of things that their wives would not appreciate. I soon learned that Edna had… It was a lot worse than that. These men were usually after just one thing, and only a woman could give it. They were miles away from home, and, well, it just didn’t matter what they did. Nobody important was watching them. But, constantly eating restaurant food… Most were overweight or smoked constantly or drank a lot, or all of the above…
Well, maybe a month after I started working at the Diner, I was cleaning a table. One of these salesman, sitting in the next booth, put his palm on my, well, one side of my bottom, and squeezed. He didn’t pinch me, and it didnt hurt. But I just didn’t… No… I screamed. Edna ran quickly over, and asked me what was wrong.
“That man pinched my bottom” I said through tears. Boy, was Edna mad.
But that man thought nothing of it. “Aww, lay off, Edna, I was just asking if she wanted to come to my room tonight. Can’t a guy have any fun?”
Edna was seething. “Don’t you EVER touch this young lady again. I may be old, but I can still…”
“Relax grandma, I’ll leave your daughter alone” he said, then he calmly turned and sipped on his coffee, and read his newspaper.
I wish I could say it never happened again, but it did. It happened a few times early on. I always did the same thing. Edna always said the same thing, too. It didn’t finally end until I firmly slapped one of the salesmorons that did that. Me actually fighting back, well that was that. The bottom grabbing stopped, but they were still on the prowl, one way or another.
But walking home that first night, Edna called them piranha. I didn’t know what that was. She said it was a kind of fish. If a Zebra or other large animal fell into the water near them, well they could clean the flesh off that animal to the bone in a matter of minutes.
“Those bad men are like those fish. But Maude, you know what they are after…” Edna said that, then she looked at me. I rewarded her with a blank stare; I had no clue. “Mercy, Maude, you don’t know what the ‘s’ word is?” Another blank stare. “Well, I’ll be… I thought I was over giving this talk, old as I am… Well, youngin’, you need to know…”
Edna explained “the birds and the bees” she called it. She explained the basic difference between men and women, briefly. It sort of made sense. But the thing she stressed… “Maude, they just want to get their thing inside you… That’s all they want… And they will run off to the next one and throw you away after they are done…” Almost pleading… “Oh, Maude, don’t ever give in! Stay away from them, or they will take away what nobody can ever give you back.” This was one of those rare occasions where Edna broke down and cried on my shoulders. Well, Edna’s concern was all I really needed to know. I ignored them and kept my distance.
Well, there was one exception, a traveling salesman named Dan. He seemed friendly enough, and he asked me to sit with him a time or two. No warning lights came up. He came through on thursdays, and we sort of developed a friendship, I don’t know. Well, he meekly complained about how his wife treated him, but that really didn’t sink in. He did ask me once if I could come to his motel, and that sent up all kinds… I politely said no. The next thursday… I was bringing him his cup of coffee. He didn’t need to ask, I knew he wanted it. I tripped over someone else’s foot (maybe it was Edna’s), and spilled that hot coffee all over his shirt. He exploded, shouted obscenities, tore me up good with his mouth, too. He ranted for minutes, then walked out of the Diner in a huff. Edna was quickly standing right next to me as I cried. “Good riddence… Maude, we do not need their money. They are more of a problem than they are worth.” Then Edna sighed… “They only come here to try to get you, Maude…” Well, Dan never came back. I was glad. And I thought about those piranha that day, and decided that was it. Edna was right. From then on, salesmorons only got barely civil treatment from me. And if they so much as touched me…
A few months later, I was whacking weeds in the lot next to the Diner. It is a part of the land Edna owns, but nothing is there right now. But I guess the fire chief wanted her to get rid of the weeds. By then, there was no way I would let Edna do it. I wanted her to relax… I couldn’t do it during the week, so I did it on a sunday. Edna stayed home. It was a very hot day, and she was really beat, and needed a day of rest, she said.
I had gotten part of that lot cut down. A salesmoron walked up, and said “Here, give me that.” Well, he grabbed that thing away from me. Then he started whacking weeds. I thought at first that he was just being nice. “Maude, I am going to finish this lot, then you are coming to my motel with me tonight.”
I was angry right away. That he thought he could take me? That he thought he could just take that whacker away from me, and demand that I do what he said, and let him take away from me what Edna said couldn’t ever be replaced?
“Hey, give me that back…” I said as loudly as I could, which wasn’t very loud.
“Oh no, Maude, I’m working for a night with you, honey-bunch.”
I went inside the Diner, pulled the plug, shut the window, locked the Diner up, and walked home. I think he had enough sense not to follow me. Edna would not be pleased if he did. And I explained what happened to Edna when I got home. She was relaxing in her rocking chair on the porch, and was surprised to see me so soon. I told her about the man who thought he could buy a night with me by doing the weeds for me.
“Maude, don’t worry none about that whacker, We can easily get another, you are far more important to me. And that vile man… Good riddence to him, too.
Over time, I became more and more aware of exactly what they wanted, and their sneaky ways of trying to get it. Going for a ride in their shiny new car was one of those ways. Edna pulled me aside and said plainly. “If you get in their car, you are giving your body to them.” After that, I had no intention of ever getting in any car.
But, I think, as time passed, Edna felt more and more protective of me. I can’t help but wonder… It seemed like she was trying to prepare me for not having her around, I don’t know. That part was just scary. Edna was like a mom to me in so many ways. I needed her. But she didn’t pass up any opportunity to explain to me how things needed to be done when she wasn’t around. That was very unsettling.
1. Maude: Beginnings is copyright 2017 by Shysage.