“I just don’t know if I’m ever going to have that kind of real confidence at this point, and I feel like I’m missing out on this, you know, big secret without it.”
Across from me, Ophelia nods along. I don’t know why I’m telling her so much about my life, she’s neither interested nor particularly compassionate. I figure it’s probably because she’s been alive for a million years, and because she’s around. Ophelia’s a strange bird. She has these really out there glasses she wears every day, bright purple, one frame the shape of a square, and the other the shape of a circle. She lives at the old folks home across the street, the fancy one with trees on the roof. She used to come in with her husband, Frank, but now it’s just her and her double scotch neat, which I think is a pretty cool drink for an old lady.
The restaurant is empty except for the two of us. The place is technically closed and I’m not supposed to have any customers left in here, but I’ve thrown a sweater over the security camera, so it should be fine. It’s a move that could get me written up, but I’m not even sure that there’s a real camera in there. It could be a scare tactic for petty thieves and public masturbators: lock up your cutlery, put away your penis.
The night was a shit show, about a million kegs blew and we ran out of oysters. Needless to say, everyone was real understanding about it. So about ten minutes ago, I grabbed the flask out of my purse and joined Ophelia. We’re seated across from each other at table 15, the two-top against the window. Outside the bar is a village square with this creepy water feature consisting of three sterile fountains lit from below by red lights. They’re creepy as hell.
“I’m serious, Ophelia. Look at this hair. See it? Grey. Shouldn’t I have been hot at some point before this?”
Ophelia is unmoved. She tells me she was confident from the get go, and it seems like with confidence, you either have it or you don’t, and if I don’t, I should try putting out more.
Sound enough advice. She tells me she likes my flask. Its body is thin and curved, pretty feminine looking. I hold it up in an ironic toast and tell her that it’s a pretty flask, but it’s what’s inside that counts.
Ophelia asks me if I need to close up, but it’s not a real offer, she’ll stick around until she’s good and done. I shrug. I’ve missed the last bus home anyway, so it doesn’t make a difference how late I stay. I tell her if she wants to keep drinking, I’ll keep serving her. She asks me if I’ll be in trouble, and I tell her quite honestly that I don’t care, that I’m kind of looking for a reason to get fired anyway.
She asks me why I don’t just quit, and I tell her what I was told over and over again by my well-meaning teachers: that a person should never give up. She wastes no time in telling me that that’s stupid. I pause and consider. It is kind of stupid. I can think of plenty of situations where it’s better to quit than stick with like, a job you hate or a relationship that’s bad for you. This is exactly the kind of perspective I was hoping for. Still, I need money, and employers aren’t exactly banging down my door. I don’t have a litany of marketable or even interesting skills. I try to think of anything fascinating about myself. The best I can come up with is that I played trombone in my middle school band.
“Anyway, about your looks,” she says, having a sip of her scotch. My stomach drops. “There are more important things than being a sexpot. Look at Warren Beatty. He was a sexpot, but a scoundrel.”
I tell her I think Warren Beatty was a babe.
“Good looking, sure, but not good in general.”
“People will put up with a lot of crap if you’re that hot,” I mutter.
“You couldn’t tolerate low lifery even if it came in a nice package. Look how upset you got when that woman ordered her steak well done and complained when it took twenty minutes. You have no patience at all for fools. You need that good inside.”
I have heard this brand of bullshit before, but I grin at her comment about the steak woman.
“Terrible way to eat an animal,” Ophelia says. “I’m no vegetarian, but that seems awful, ordering a steak well done.” I tell her I am a vegetarian and it all seems pretty off putting to me.
She says, “Well, that makes sense. It is kind of gross, isn’t it, eating bodies.”
I shrug. I don’t care what people eat as long as they tip me.
“I didn’t know you were a vegetarian. Haven’t you told me how much you like your burgers?”
“Probably. I say a lot of shit to increase my sales.”
She nods as if to say she finds that perfectly permissible.
“A vegetarian. Interesting. How long have you been that way?” She asks, which is exactly what she asked me when she found out I was dating a woman, Adrienne, though that relationship is since defunct. If I were better looking, it might have offset the things that drove her crazy about me. I try not to think about it and tell Ophelia the story of how I became a vegetarian when I was a kid, how I cried when I found out what meat was made of because I’d just been to the petting zoo.
“See, you couldn’t have tolerated Warren Beatty. He eats a lot of lobster. Probably every day, he can afford it.”
“You’re full of shit.”
“So what if I am,” she says. “You know, lobsters even scream in the pot, and he still eats them.”
I don’t correct her about the lobster screams, about how that’s just air escaping the shell, because she’s trying to sympathize with my viewpoint and I think that’s nice of her. I smile and she smiles and we don’t say a lot else. I pour her one more and let her sip it while I sweep and wipe down tables and put the chairs up. I think about texting Adrienne to see if she’s awake, but it’s a bad idea, so instead I just open her contact profile in my phone and tempt fate. If I pocket dial her by accident and she answers, so be it. I try not to think of her at some interesting bar with some femme-y burlesque dancer.
* * *
Ophelia pokes her head through the swinging doors into the kitchen when she’s done. I’m in there working on the computer, inputting inventory numbers. It’s boring, and my writing from a few hours ago when I initially counted all of the bottles is illegible, so I’m entering made up figures. My phone has not mistakenly called anybody.
“I’m not tipping you today because of all of the good advice I gave you, and because you were such a misery.”
“You never tip me Ophelia,” I say without looking up.
“Yes, well, tipping was Frank’s job.”
“He sucked at it too.”
“Poor us,” I correct her. “I’ll see you next week. I’m closing again on Thursday if you’re looking for a sucker who will let you stay here all night. And who knows, maybe I’ll get a makeover or something before then. For my confidence.”
“Couldn’t hurt,” she says, and she disappears past the swinging doors. I hear the beeping of the alarm when she leaves. I keep tracking inventory until almost 2:30. I call a cab, set the alarm, and wait in the square. I watch the water spurt up from the fountains and wonder which idiot city planner pitched the off-tone red lights. This is supposed to be this new, big money neighborhood. I could do a better job than the guy who thought of the red lights.
Across the street at the old folks facility, all the windows are dark. Ophelia is probably asleep by now. One day, she won’t wake up at all, and I’ll have no one to keep the bar open late for. It will just be me, my flask, and the spider in the women’s bathroom commiserating in the late hours. I wonder if I will still be working here when Ophelia goes, and if that’d be better or worse than working someplace else, thinking of her randomly some day when I’m 40, and realizing that she’s gone.
* * *
I’m the sad, drunk owner of an empty flask when the cab arrives. When the driver asks where I’m going, I think about giving him Adrienne’s address, and I think about saying ‘I don’t know’, but both of these answers seem pathetic, so I act normal and give him my home address. Nothing makes me feel lower than trying to act normal. It’s when I try that I notice the contrast. The driver only speaks to me again to tell me what I owe him, so I pay and tip well because he understands the value of quiet.
I try to behave when I get home. I heat up a can of soup for dinner and eat it straight out of the pot so that I make fewer dirty dishes. I brush my teeth well. When I finally get into bed, I feel high noon awake. I go online and find a Warren Beatty movie I haven’t seen before. The actress in it is beautiful, and I feel bulky and mannish in my features: my straight, thick eyebrows, my wide nose. I bet the on-screen waif was never a waitress. I bet she never had old women telling her to put out more to make up for being unappealing. I look down at my naked body in bed. It’s alright. Disappointing, but not appalling. Kind of like grocery store cookies, how they’re not like amazing bakery cookies, but they’re better than no cookies at all. The comparison soothes me, makes me feel like maybe I’ll be okay even without confidence. There are worse things to be than mass-produced cookies. I could be rat poison.
I search for a good sleeping posture as night edges closer to business hours. I lay on my side, then on my stomach. I hang an arm off the bed. I flip the pillow to the cool side and back. I think about Adrienne, how soft the blankets on her bed are. I try and try, but I can’t get comfortable.