I know I repeated the title. This is the second time I had to do this. It doesn’t matter because nobody else will ever read this anyway. I like the title.

I actually was early the following monday morning. This was the start of my second week running the Diner solo, after Edna died. I guess I was getting pretty good at keeping how I felt at arm’s length, while I served meals to customers… one meal at a time…

But I woke up early because I couldn’t sleep any more. I just washed my face with a wet towel, because it felt so nice. Then I checked the string holding my long hair back. I had found a roll of itchy string Edna had called Twine; I was using that for my ponytail. I replaced it every time I took a shower. There was a garbage can in the bathroom, and that was all it had in it. But I walked to the Diner early that monday. I had plenty of time on my hands, because I had done all the cleaning the previous saturday night. Maybe I just forgot about that, I don’t know. I had cried softly most of yesterday (sunday; the Diner was closed), some on my pillow, and some sitting out on the front porch.

After I checked everything at the Diner, all the cleaning stuff, and had found my little tablet and pen, I just wandered around inside a little. There it was, towards the back of the main room of the Diner, that scary old gas heater. Well, even with my sweatshirt on, I was cold. It was cold in here. Well, it was December anyway. But I just sighed. I knew I would need to fight with that heater at some point. I had some extra time now. I quietly hoped I would survive.

I had never seen Edna light this thing up. Oh, she told me about it a lot; she said enough to scare me to death. Edna laughed as she explained that, her first winter here, it was very cold, and she asked one of the men down at the hardware store to come out and put a gas heater in for her. This springy yellow line went back to the wall, and I remember Edna saying that was dangerous too. Well, even Edna was scared of this thing. I remember that I asked her once about lighting it. She said “Oh, Maude, don’t worry about that, I’ll take care of it. Anyway, the directions are on the little panel on the side where you light it.” And that was that. So now Edna was gone, and I had to get this thing started. I was pretty sure, with the fan blowing kitchen air out a window, we would probably need this heater.

I pulled it away from the wall, away from where it had been stored since last winter. It was heavy, but slid pretty easily on the tile floor of the Diner. And the springy yellow thing unwound all by itself. I was scared to touch that yellow thing, but made sure it wasn’t stretched. I remember that from Edna. She also said the heater needed to be more out in the open to work right. I was suddenly glad Edna loved to talk, and that I was remembering. I decided I couldn’t cry right now. Well, I opened the little panel on the side of the heater. I found the directions, and had trouble making heads or tails… And I found a box if matches stuffed inside there too. I knew how to use those. Well, I had watched the cook use them on the gas burners on the stove in the kitchen. But I didn’t think putting those matches back inside this heater, this master of fire; that just didn’t seem like a good idea. Still, I… It said to push this little thingie down, then put a lit match up against some other little thingie. Well, it took half an hour, and a LOT of matches. That little fire called the pilot, I finally got that working. I let it run for a few minutes like the directions said. Then the directions said to turn the thing around the little thing I had to push. I did that, and the pilot, the little fire went out. So, I had to light it again. It only took 15 minutes and not quite as many matches this second time.

I turned the little thingie the other direction this time, and… big whoosh… Boy was I glad I was off to the side; flames jumped out of that heater a good three feet. Maybe I played with the little fire too long, I don’t know. After that initial explosion, the heater calmed down, and just got hot. It was constantly making that quiet whoosh sound, deep inside. Edna said that was the right sound, I remembered. But I backed away from it, and just left it alone. The adjuster thing for the heater was on the wall some distance away, and behind the heater. It was pointing to 60 I think, and I was afraid to even touch that. Who knows what else that heater would do… Well, I brought the sign over that we never use that says ‘please wait to be seated’, and made a new sign and taped it on. It said simply ‘Hot!” I wasn’t feeling especially creative. And I hoped the locals would know about those heaters, and keep their kids away. Well, the kids liked to warm their hands in front of it, and that just made me cringe. But the heater did its thing, I guess. It kept the Diner a little warmer as we opened a few windows to blow cooking smoke outside. Well, and a few days later, the wind shifted, and a single fan at the back door, blowing out, mostly took care of the cooking smoke. It stayed pretty clear in the kitchen even. But it got so cold… We had to run that heater most of the winter, even with all the windows closed tight.

That second monday went ok, I guess. The Diner was still open, and people still came here to eat, and that meant people had not given up on coming here. Maybe I could thank the locals for that. But I also think that everybody else had realized that I was stretched pretty thin doing Edna’s… well doing everything.

But, I guess that second week… Edna really had kept the salesmorons pretty calm, and more importantly, away from me. As busy as I was during the day, I didn’t even have time to think about that, to think about them. I did realize that some of them still came. They just had to be patient for their food like everybody else.

But that wednesday night… We were closed, and I had finished all the cleaning. I turned all the lights out, and locked the door on my way outside. Usually, some big lights from the motel across the street lit the front of the Diner, the parking lot, up pretty good, until long after I left. Well, they were off that night. It was very dark. I knew my way in the dark, and just headed around the Diner, around to the back delvery lot. It was pitch black back there…

A salesmoron grabbed both my arms, and stopped me immediately.

“Hey, Maude. You looked pretty busy in there today. Well, listen. We just want to give you a little fun, and us too. We are just trying to make your life a little nicer, right?”

I didn’t need to hear anything he said. His friends were laughing, and what he had in mind was… Well, it would not help me in the slightest. Edna said it would ruin my life. I trusted her. These guys were bad news. Without saying a word, I pulled away and started to walk again, and the same man easily stopped me.

“Maude, you don’t understand. You ain’t goin’ nowhere until we get what we want. You are our little girl tonight!” The rest of the guys laughed in agreement.

I was angry. I was scared to death. There were four of them, I couldn’t… I didn’t have a chance… I was quickly crying buckets… I tried to run… I fell, I think… They… caught me again…. were swearing at me… “Hold still, you little…” I squirmed away again… and again… Then, somehow, I started running really, really fast… I didn’t think I could even run that fast… legs… arms… I was really flying, and felt the cold wind blow past my body… Less than five minutes later, I slumped down onto the porch of my house (a mile away). I have no idea how I had made it home that fast… I didn’t care. I let myself in, and locked the door behind me. I was alive… I still had what nobody could ever give back if they took it… Tonight, anyway…

I didn’t get to sleep until very late. I cried for a long time. I felt so alone, so helpless, and against four men… Why were they so intent on crushing me like that? I cried as hard as my head would allow, until I finally fell asleep…

The next morning, the trip to the Diner was uneventful, anyway. I just added scared to death of salesmorons in the dark to what I was pushing just a little away. I had to do that, and just go on. In the middle of the afternoon, one of the sheriff’s deputies came in for some coffee. When I brought him his coffee, he was reading the paper.

“Officer, four salesmorons tried to attack me last night out back. I managed to get away–”

Still reading his paper, he nodded, and said “I see”, interrupting me.

I still finished. “I managed to get away, but I don’t think that is the last… They will probably try again…” I stopped there because I was about to cry.

Still reading his paper, he said quietly “Ma’am, I’ll see what I can do.” I just stood there, dazed for a minute. The order up bell rang and I went to serve someone their meal. He finished his paper, his coffee, came to the register and paid without saying a word, then he left.

“I’m doomed” I thought to myself as I watched him leave. “I guess I’ll just have to give myself away… well, watch them take away what… Just one more thing to hold at arm’s length…”

Thursdays are busy, and I totally forgot about those four salesmorons until I had locked the front door to the Diner. Then I realized that the lights were still out across the street. Then I realized immediately that I really was doomed… I walked slowly, and could see nothing it was so dark. The same voice, the same man, the same arm…

“Well, hey, Maude. You looked so busy again today. We have a few presents for you tonight!” His buddies were all laughing again. “And you won’t get away this time. We have improved on our methods! Tie her up boys… Then we get a little fun, Maude style!” Two other men started to tie me up with this big yellow rope.

I screamed, and cried…

“Can it Maude, you are our little playtoy tonight” the first salesmoron said roughly.

“FREEZE!”

The headlights of two police cars blazed brightly and immediately. The sheriff and his three deputies were… Gun things out, pointed at these terrible salesmorons… The salesmorons put their hands up right away.

The sheriff was outraged… “WHAT KIND OF TOWN DO YOU BOYS THINK THIS IS? TWO COUNTS OF AGGRIVATED SEXUAL ASSAULT FOR EACH OF YOU…” I had absolutely no clue what this meant. It didn’t really matter.

The salesmoron who had grabbed me tried to, I don’t know… “Come on, officer… We were just trying to have a little fun, and give our friend Maude here, a little fun too, we just wanted–”

This made the Sheriff angrier… He picked up one end of the rope they tied me with… “RIGHT, WITH THIS?”

Whining like a little kid… “But officer…”

“CAN IT, MORON… You can tell all that to the judge. Once you are in jail, THEN, you can explained it to your WIFE…” Then the Sheriff bellowed “Stanley, get them zip-tied, read them their rights, then book them. I want them in my jail in an hour.”

The sheriff waited until all four were in the back of the sheriff’s cars. I just cried softly the whole time. Only then did the Sheriff untie me. “Maude, are you ok?”

“Sheriff, thank you. I think so…”

“Maude, listen. You walking home at night is very dangerous.” He said this, then he handed me a small, well it was a cell phone thing, along with the charger, I guess. Then he continued. “Maude, this is my wife’s old cell phone. Service is switched, but it still does 911. Keep it charged, and use it if you get in a bind. Remember just press 9 1 1.”

The Sheriff was silent a minute, in thought. A little more quietly, he said this. “Maude, there is a very good chance one of these idiots will come back, angry, for revenge this time. You need to be ready.” Then he got into one of the cars and they drove off with those four salesmorons. I just cried a little harder. One more thing…

I walked quickly home, and locked the door behind me, and cried some more. I did put that phone in the charger in the bathroom though. But I couldn’t ever get the buttons to work, to come on, I don’t know. And I had a hard time remembering to take it with me in the morning. I didn’t, wouldn’t need it until I left the Diner at night, and I usually forgot about it until right then… And the next night, the lights across the street at the motel were fixed.

Well, and I mentioned I was getting pretty good at holding how I felt, well far enough away so I could function. This was mostly true. But that second week seemed so harsh. There were some days that I would smile as I took orders, explained menu items or delivered food, only to find myself near tears as I turned away. I just didn’t know if I was winning or not.

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1. Maude: Beginnings is copyright 2017 by Shysage.

 

 

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