The next few weeks were like a slow thaw. Nothing abruptly changed, except we did have a few days that were really amazing. Well, the sun felt nice and warm, and the air was not absolutely freezing. I actually dragged a chair from the house and sat in the sun in the back yard (away from the wind), and enjoyed some warmth, well as much as I could. I guess I really enjoy the warmth of the sun. Maybe too much of that might be bad, but too little was… I don’t like the cold.

I heard one of the locals say the sun was shifting. I have absolutely no idea what that meant. But over the next few weeks, the weather gradually shifted from absolutely freezing cold to not quite as freezing, to very cold, to not quite as cold… We had one more snow storm early in those few weeks, but the snow was gone by the next morning. That meant I had to work. I was hoping for a day off, and slept in. When I woke up, I peeked out the door and realized my mistake. I think Edna was right about wearing clean work clothes to bed. I grabbed my work keys right away, and ran to the Diner. I was only a little late. I blushed as I explained I had slept in. Customers smiled when I told them that as I apologized. Maybe they wanted to sleep in that day too. But, towards the end, I had to start worrying about how the blinds were set. Especially in the late afternoon, the sun was pretty bright shining in our front windows. At some point in the middle of the afternoon, I would drop the west facing blinds most of the way. Some wanted to feel the warmth of the sun and opened them. That was fine, I just had to remember to lower them after they left. The bright sun beaming into the Diner at such a steep angle, well it made it hard to see anything not in the direct sunlight inside. It was just another detail, I guess.

And, as I slept, I went from two blankets wrapped tight to seal out any cold, and listening for the quiet whoosh of the master of fire at my house… I was down to one blanket, then I didn’t even really need the heater. It only came on occasionally. And, at the Diner, I think the warmest place in the deep freeze of winter, was in the kitchen. The grill makes a lot of heat. That meant the grill was my friend! I think the big gas heater in the dining area warmed the dining area up tolerably well, even on the coldest days. Customers kept their coats on usually, and so this worked fine. Well, I would be lucky if I could keep Edna’s old, gray sweatshirt on… When I did dishes, I had to take it off anyway. And, with all the other stuff I did, taking orders, delivering food to tables, and stuff. I couldn’t wear my nice thick coat all the time. Well, the kitchen is where I went to thaw out. The cook laughed when I would run over, and lean up against all that nice heat, and put my hands near the grill surface to try to warm up some. As the sun shifted, I needed to do that less and less. Towards the end of those few weeks, my sweatshirt was plenty warm, and I ususally took it off if I was real busy. Just doing everything I needed to do, run from one table to another, cleaning, taking orders, delivering food… I kept mostly warm enough just doing that.

And, all that stuff I was holding at arms length… It had become frozen there as the freezing cold of winter set in. As I mentioned, that gave me a little more peace than I was used to. I was just so busy trying to stay warm, I really didn’t have time, emotional bandwidth (I heard someone say) for much else. But as the temperatures slowly climbed above freezing, all that stuff began to rattle around. I absolutely felt that. And, as those weeks progressed, I began to sense that more and more. I actually had to invest some emotional energy in pushing things back away.

But one afternoon late in those few weeks… I was in a hurry, and we were swamped. Emptying the delivery truck took far too long because I actually had to root through other people’s stuff. The substitute driver apologized, and tried to help me sort it all out. The cook finally brought his list, and with that… I was trying to catch up… A big family came in, pulled two tables together, and ordered dinner. When their food was done, I was still behind, and so I grabbed as much as I could. Balancing plates full of food is not as easy as it sounds. We have a few of those big serving platters, but those are a LOT easier to drop. Well, trying to get caught up, and with most of that families’ food balanced across two hands and arms, my foot caught on the corner of the long low singles table near the order up shelf. The food fell, and I fell on top of the food… All that stuff inside that had been frozen comfortably away; it all tried to fall on top of me right then. I laid there in the food briefly. Choking back tears, I had to shove all that emotional baggage, each painful… What did I want to do? Cry fiercely, shoo everyone out, lock the Diner, run home, and cry for hours. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t do any of that. And, when I tried to get up, a few of the local kids were standing there, laughing… That didn’t help…

I grabbed a clean shirt (we have some at the Diner), went into the restroom, and tried to get cleaned up, as quickly as I could. I apologized to the family, and at least they were understanding. It looked like they were enjoying family time together, and they didn’t seem to care how long it took to get their food. They were just enjoying their time together. I finally got them their food, but their… That family that I would never be able… That just became another thing to push away at arms length. It was only then that I realized… Everything was un-frozen… All that stuff was back, barely at arm’s length… I felt it… That battle began to rage anew…

Well, and I had trouble doing my journal, too. Not a whole lot was going on, and Kasey never explained that part, and I had been too cold to remember to ask her, or ask Delores to ask her. I wasn’t behind, but there didn’t seem to be much to add. And, I was having this growing… It seemed more and more that my journal was becoming… What did that girl say, an exercise in futility. I think that might fit.

The salesmorons clearly came back to life as the temperature climbed out of the cellar, I heard an older farmer say. Maybe they had some good family time or something. Maybe the cold dimmed their hopes for anything from me, maybe they didn’t even want what they wanted when it was cold. I had no clue about any of this. But as it warmed up, they were slowly but clearly back on the prowl. I caught a few trying to touch me, but my look hopefully stopped their intentions. But the fact that they were even trying garbage like that now… And again, they were reducing me to just a thing to trifle with, each time they did that. And when everything inside me melted and tried to fall, their actions just hurt me worse. One warm day, a salesmoron tried to… I was bringing food to the table next to his, and trying to get the right plate to the right person. I saw him reach his hand around behind me. I moved away as far as I could, since I was still passing plates of food, side dishes out. When I was done doing that, I looked at the salesmoron, and said quietly, defiantly “Don’t you ever…” I wanted to sound mean. I wanted him to get the hint, I don’t know. I had already served him though, so he finished eating.

Maybe five minutes later, I was carrying a full booth worth of food, and walked past his booth. That salesmoron put his foot out and tried to trip me. I didn’t fall, but four honest customers’ food crashed to the floor. I glared at him right away. Sipping his coffee, he said quietly “It would be to your advantage to…”

I was furious. I looked up, closed my eyes, pointed to the door, and screamed “GET OUT!” He didn’t move at first, so I yelled that again. After the third or fourth time, he finally got up, took our coffee cup with him, and walked slowly out the front door. I just didn’t care about him paying for his food. I just wanted his horrible hide out of my Diner. I did clean everything up, and I did apologize to the people in the booth, for the added delay before they got their food. But, I guess one of the husbands there had seen the man trip me. So they were patient with me. I didn’t cry until I got home that night. Another summer of… that… Another summer of… them…

And Camille’s beautiful picture that seemed to banish the blue lines across the paper it was drawn on… Well, I had to put it away. I put it into one of the boxes in the kitchen, hoping I would be able to remember which box. That picture really was very beautiful. But, one night towards the end of that march, a saturday night I think, I had a horrible dream, a vivid nightmare. That saturday was slow in the afternoon, so I took Camille’s picture out from between the glass next to the register, and just admired it some more, then I put it back when we got busy again. That night I had a nightmare, that I was that horse. It was awful; a bunch of horrible things happened to me. I remember hardly any of them, but that dream left me feeling just like my life overall felt right now… so totally abandoned… I woke up early the next day (sunday) crying fiercely, which hurt my head. I cried softly most of that day… I had to move that picture… I didn’t need any more reminders…

I was unloading the food delivery truck one afternoon, by myself, of course. The driver was the regular one. He just spoke once. “Hi Zombie…” I wanted to lock him in the truck… He just stood there, smiling, watching as I unloaded everything, even large boxes of milk… I thought I was done. “Here, this is yours, too.” He held the box out to me. It didn’t look like anything we would order, but he said it was ours. Well, the regular driver knew what each box on his truck was and who it was for. I walked that box into the cook, while the driver closed the back of his truck and drove off.

I showed the box to the cook. “I… Where should I put this box?” I asked quietly. I was trying to not cry. I didn’t like being called a zombie, even if…

He smiled at me. “Open it up and look” I put it down next to the sink, took a steak knife and opened the top. The box was full of cookies. The cook smiled and motioned to me, I think he wanted me to try one. Big chocolate chip cookies, with big chocolate chips, they tasted amazing. “Maude, I ordered them for you” the cook said, still smiling.

I put them in the small frig. Next time I looked, the cook had written “maude’s cookies” on the side of the box. When things got really hard… Well, a chocolate chip cookie is better than nothing… Silver lining, I guess…

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1. Maude: Beginnings is copyright 2017 by Shysage.

 

 

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