I have few recollections about those first days I was alone in Edna’s house, now my house. I mean those few days after the funeral and before I… started the Diner up… all by myself…
I had already closed the door to Edna’s room after she died, and I closed the other doors soon after. Well, the kitchen, and front bathroom… I started sleeping on the couch in the small livingroom (Edna called it), that was my bed. I know that I spent a lot of time sitting on the front porch crying. I used a cushion from one of the chairs in the livingroom, leaned up against the house, and stayed there for hours. It was cool, so I was wearing one of Edna’s old dirty white sweat shirts. I… A rattler or two slithered slowly by, and I dared them to bite me. I don’t know, as much as I hurt inside, death seemed like a lesser of two evils. I felt so utterly abandoned. The rattlers ignored me and slithered on. There may have been more, but I cried a lot… well, quietly. Crying hard still made my head pound. That was… I avoided that. I cried softly for hours, ignoring the fact that streams of tears were soaking my work shirt. And I wasn’t even at work…
At night, I would cry into my pillow, also trying to avoid crying hard, so my head didn’t… Well maybe it would, what, disown me, I heard a girl say at the Diner. That sounded bad anyway. But crying hard just made my head hurt worse, which made me cry harder… I think you get the picture. But I fell asleep only when my crying tapered off. That was usually later than earlier.
And I know that on at least two occasions, Delores brought one or two of Edna’s other friends over, and they cried with me. That really felt… It made it a little easier. Delores said that Edna’s friends would all be at the Diner monday when it opened again, to help me any way they could. That was happening already; they were helping me just being here. It helped me to not feel so alone. Both took turns talking about me, but I really didn’t understand any of that. I was, well, shell shocked, is the phrase I think. But I hugged them and told them that I really appreciated them stopping by. Then they left, and I cried some more.
I think I was cried out again on sunday. I knew I would need to walk to the Diner on monday (tomorrow), and start everything back up, doing what I was doing before, as well as what Edna had been doing. I was scared to death. I wanted to cry buckets, but my head wouldn’t let me. Besides, I don’t think I had any tears left. I grabbed the cushion, sat on the porch all day with my back against the house, and just looked out across the desert. It was quiet. But I was alone, and felt so completely abandoned like I said. And tomorrow would just be utterly painful for me. But thats what Edna wanted for me. Of course I would do it. I just sat there in stunned silence for most of the day. I tried to calmly accept my doom. My head hurt the least that way. And I kept telling myself this. I would do it for Edna.
I even tried to go to bed early that night. My plan was to try to get to the Diner an hour ahead of time, so I could at least check my cleaning chores, and see where they stood. My last day at the Diner was… Edna died that morning, and I just left everything… The cook must have locked everything up after. I don’t remember anything about where things were with my cleaning chores. I guess Edna had made the importance of this aspect stick pretty good. I knew we couldn’t open until everything was clean. I just didn’t know how much work that would take. That’s why I wanted to get there early.
Well, I overslept. I wasn’t crying, but felt so totally exhausted; I tossed and turned for the longest time before sleep finally took over. But I… It was very late when I woke up. I got quickly up, locked the door behind me and walked to the Diner as fast as I could. I was walking fast, and had to take that sweatshirt off. When I rounded the corner to the front of the Diner, there were a bunch of people, standing… waiting… They all cheered and clapped when they saw me. I wish I felt happy. I walked up to the door, unlocked it, and said quietly “Please don’t come in until I get everything ready. I apologize for the delay.” My voice was trembling so bad, I almost couldn’t finish. Still, the cleaning absolutely needed to be done first. I headed into the Diner, and Delores and a few of Edna’s other friends followed me in. The rest stayed outside and waited.
One of Edna’s other friends, Angie, said “Goodness gracious Maude, you look terrible…”
I answered calmly “Well, I feel terrible…” I almost started crying. But I had work to do. Angie took a towel into the bathroom, got it wet, then carefully washed my face. That felt really nice, and I quietly thanked her.
“Maude, how can we help? I know you did a lot of the cleaning, tell us what to do. We can at least clean for you.” Delores said this, and so I tried to start thinking.
“Bathrooms… tables…” That was the extent of what I could say, what I could remember. The other two ladies got to work though. Wow, I was thankful for that.
Delores came back. “Maude, the cook is here and ready, can–”
Ya, I could smell that, and I also saw a growing smoke haze coming through the order up platform from the kitchen. I stopped Delores right where she was, and said quietly “We need a few windows opened, and fans set up so it doesn’t get hazy in here.”
Delores smiled, and said quietly “Let me see what I can do.” Well, she did that, and it really helped.
I went to the door, and opened it, and said people could come in. I explained quietly that Edna had passed away last week, and I was… Service would probably be a little slow. A bunch of the ladies cried softly at this news, and I did too. But everyone came in and found a seat. I already knew the numbers of the tables, so I started at table 1. Nobody there. Table 2, I would take their order first. Then I realized that I had no clue where Edna kept her little notepad and pen. I scrambled for a little while looking. The cook brought it out to me. I think he realized I would need that.
Everything went very slow that morning. Still, Delores stayed after her friends left, and cleared and set tables for me all through the lunch rush. We were behind, and people had to wait outside until a table was free. Many left. I couldn’t blame them. It didn’t bother me though. There was absolutely nothing I could do… about anything… I was doing the best I could. I thought it was probably just barely enough. But I kept reminding myself… This is what Edna wanted me to do… I did it.
Delores had to leave in the middle of the afternoon. We hugged briefly, I thanked her, and she headed out the door. Now, I really was solo… Everything… I just slowed down even more, having to clean tables after people left, too. That was just, I couldn’t do anything about that. I tried not to let it bother me that a bunch more people climbed back into their cars and went elsewhere. There was nothing I could do about that. And right before the dinner rush, the cook said I was doing fine. I wish I felt like I was doing fine. I guessed that we probably served less than half of the people that we could serve with Edna and I working together. Again, that just couldn’t matter. I heard this once recently, and only that day understood; I was barely keeping my head above water. It would have to do.
More impatient people climbed back in their cars and drove off during dinner. I couldn’t blame them; it was pretty cool outside, and to have to wait out there until I got a table cleaned for them… Well, it often got pretty hazy inside too; I kept forgotting to adjust things until cooking smoke began to fill the Diner. I guess… I had a lot on my plate at the moment. The locals were very patient though, and offered some kind words when they could. “Maude, we are praying for you”, I heard that a lot. I didn’t understand, but appreciated their concern. A number of people said I was doing fine, it would just take practice to be able to do things like Edna could. But words like that usually just made both of us want to cry. But I think it was kind words from Edna’s many friends throughout the course of that day that helped me stay… Otherwise I would have closed everything up, ran home, and just cried quietly on the couch.
I was starved, and realized I had not eaten for days. I took a break long enough to eat a hamburger the cook made for me. I had been sipping soda all day. Carrying that burger with me, I calmly asked everyone to wrap their dinner up by 8, and I stopped taking orders at around 7:30. I put a sign up on the door that said we were closing at 8, and a number of people would see that, grumble, get back in their cars, and probably went elsewhere. I couldn’t help any of that. But after 9 hours of this, I was so far beyond beat. I was fried, I heard someone say recently. I felt fried. I felt burnt up. And it was only monday… At 8, the Diner was empty, and I started the end of the day cleaning. The cook was cleaning the kitchen. He poked his head out and said I did fine. Then he left, locking the back door behind him. I did all the required cleaning, bathrooms, tables, floors, because… Edna asked me to take special care of that aspect. I left the Diner at 9, limped slowly home, took a very fast cold shower, got new work clothes on, and fell into bed and was quickly asleep.
I woke up earlier the next morning, and was basically all ready to walk to the Diner. But I realized something about yesterday. I was terrified by what I had to do, I didn’t want to let anyone down, especially Edna and her friends. I wanted everyone to be happy, even though I felt absolutely horrible, abandoned inside. Yesterday I had just pushed ALL of that maybe an arm’s length away. That was the only way I could function. I did not allow myself to feel anything, if I could help it. I just barely coped by taking one task at a time, one table at a time, and ignoring the fires burning inside me, and other things going on around me. I don’t know; that realization was unsettling, but it allowed me to make things work. That allowed me to remain fairly calm, and plaster on a smile long enough to serve customers, and hopefully they would want to come back at some point… I would do the same thing today, and each new day. That was all I could do.
That second day, Delores came by as I opened, long enough to fiddle some with the windows and fans. Her husband was home, and they were heading to the mall for the day. I still thanked Delores, and hugged her. I smiled, even though smouldering inside. This was still very unsettling. But it was working, too. I groped my way through that day (tuesday), and the next (wednesday), usually our slower days. Heading into thursday, I just gritted my teeth and dove in. Smile while smouldering… Push the pain comfortably away. Serve people with a smile, and talk as calmly as I could until they left. Clean their table for the next group. Table by table, meal by meal, I slowly worked through my day. I remembered a little more often to adjust the fans, the windows. I had to be careful, it was fall and cool outside. The grill kept it a little warm inside the Diner, but blowing the smoke away was the problem. And I just knew I would need to crank up that dangerous gas heater at some point soon… I was not looking forward to that at all.
I barely survived friday and saturday doing this. The Diner was closed sunday, and I stayed home. Then I cried…
1. Maude: Beginnings is copyright 2017 by Shysage.